IBI Watch 11/10/13

10 11 2013

A Critical Mess //

While we continue to argue and dither over manmade climate change, extreme weather events are multiplying, and thousands are paying the price. This week’s example is the estimated ten thousand citizens of the Philippines – a country that has done very little to contribute to the climate crisis – killed by Typhoon Haiyan. Of course our vast experiment in atmospheric morphing is a wreck in progress, but this storm has the potential of being the strongest ever to strike land. That Guardian piece explains the climate change connection – steadily warming oceans may actually lead to fewer tropical storms (consider this year’s quiet Atlantic hurricane season as possible evidence of that theory), but those that do spin up can tap a much deeper energy well, and reach ghastly levels of power. Here is more from National Geographic on the dimensions of the late-season monster.

Who could have predicted this? Well, no one really. No one except just about every climate scientist in the past 30 years, and going back decades before that. More carbon in the atmosphere from our fossil-fuel addiction enhances the heat-trapping capacity of the atmosphere, melting glaciers and polar ice caps and warming the oceans. Presto – changes in weather patterns including changes in rainfall patterns, heat waves, and the potential for vastly more powerful storms. While changes in global patterns are complex, those basics of the science are not, and each of us as a world citizen needs to know and face the basics.

In addition to dramatic weather events like this epic typhoon, climate change evidence mounts almost daily, along with projections that become more dire and urgent at a similar pace. For just a few examples, here are: an excellent radio presentation by Alex Chadwick’s Burn journal on the problem of rising sea levels; a reassessment (upward) of the pace of polar ice melt; and a warning of evidence of melting methane hydrate off the East coast. All this means rising levels of trouble for the foreseeable future. And if we don’t figure out a good way to mitigate and reverse all this destruction and endangerment, here is our destiny – a world without any natural ice at all. That apocalyptic goal is clearly within reach, according to James Hansen. And it is a world we will pass on to our followers, who will no doubt wonder about us, “What in the hell were they thinking?!”

People all across the climate change movement recognize the gravity of the situation, with some having concluded that the problem has gone too far, and that human civilization itself is on the endangered species list, so to speak. Here is a cogent, logical example of that point of view. I find much to agree with in that entry, and its author and people with a similar perspective may very well prove correct. But I say – how can we be so sure, when we have done so little to reduce and reverse the damage our fossil fuel usage continues to wreak on the planet?

Besides dividing climate activists on the question of hopelessness, the crisis has spawned at least another wedge issue. That is, should nuclear power be part of the solution.  A new video – which I have not yet seen – is at the heart of the controversy.  There is plenty evidence arguing for complete abandonment of nukes – with the Fukushima disaster the most recent and most persuasive argument. The darkest view I have heard comes at the end of this quote from a credible source, prominent environmental scientist David Suzuki.

When it comes to the nuclear option, I stand with James Hansen. The former NASA meteorologist, one of the earliest and most prominent messengers about the climate crisis, supports continued and stepped up research on next-generation nuclear power as part of the solution. Hansen’s approach should stay in the mix, but I see it as on a par with research into geoengineering. That is, we are doing so little in the way of less risky positive change.

A good start on the positive front would be to stop coddling the very industries that are building this crisis. And another would be to make carbon pay its way, via a tax or fee. How effective might this be? Think of what is behind this throwaway comment from a Koch brother. Remember how his family will continue to live well and prosper under business as usual. Do you think they will use that monstrous windfall to plant forests?

What we need is a critical mass to get us out of this critical mess. Start here, here or here. Or better still, all of the above.

 

Minnesnowta No More?

Not that anyone is complaining, or up to now, even noticing for that matter, but climate change has been hitting hard here in the upper Midwest. This should not surprise. Way back in the late 80s, scientists were predicting that changes would be more apparent first in the higher latitudes, in the central part of continents (away from the ocean’s moderating influence), and more apparent at first in winter and in higher overnight lows than daytime highs. Of course, all those things are exactly what has been playing out, as documented specifically in this recent MPR Climate Cast, and generally in Paul Douglas’s consistently well researched and amply illustrated On Weather blog.

Money talks, even screams, and no doubt that is one driving force behind a recent conference on climate change in our northern state. Money? Yes, the money being spent to pay insurance claims. It may be hard to believe that Minnesota, safely ensconced in the center of North America far from those big bad hurricanes, can make the top of the hit list for weather damage, but that is exactly what faces homeowners, insurance companies, and all manner of corporate and government entities. Hence the conference. Sadly, demanding job responsibilities kept this blogger from attending. But it will not be the last of its type, safe to say.

Just the fact that such a conference is held is a refreshing dose of reality. It is about time we start listening to local experts – like Mark Seeley – and create science-based policy. What a concept.

 

Climate Change in Fact and Fiction

A friend and ally suggests I get my nose out of non-fiction books once in awhile and sample some excellent fiction. Her advice, plus certain other high-powered recommendations, might get me to do that. Here is a short presentation by the author, who makes the kind of inspirational comparisons we need. Mike Conley’s website is also worth exploring. His message – we don’t have to be victims. Well said.

 

Teach Your Children Well

Parents of young children today – thinking parents that is – face some tougher choices than we of the older generation whose kids are grown. That is, with current trends showing the world going to hell in a hand basket in the express lane, how can you educate kids about the facts without creating Gloomy Guses and Cassandras, resigned to a hopeless future. Also, with all the technical gizmos relentlessly demanding their attention, how can you keep kids in touch with the natural world.

A new article has spawned, yes, another controversy within the climate change community. Some accuse this author of sugar-coating the truth. As for me, I think it is pretty right-on, a blend of individual action that can contribute, in small and larger ways, to a better future, plus awareness and action plans for the big picture.

Right-on is how few would describe a justly (and comically) vilified ad by Toys R Us. First, here is the ad. Cute kids aside, you may have had some problems with the commercial, nature-trashing message. You are in good company. First, here is Peter Gleick with the environmental perspective. And here is Stephen Colbert, with the mock-Fox perspective. (Warning – hilarious, and leads directly into two other commentaries on “shroom tombs” and that poor, put-upon pepper-spraying cop from those quaint, distant days of the Occupy demonstrations).

This is also the theme of a book I am reading right now. Author’s prescription: more nature (while we still have it). Here is a short video chat by the author, Richard Louv. Beats the hell out of Toys R Us, methinks.

 

Begone, Frankenfat

At long last, trans fats may be on the way out. Good riddance. It is not yet a done deal, but if the federal government follows through, it will be simultaneously a blow against a serious health problem, and the end to one of the longest-lived corporate scams on record.

First the health problem. Trans fats are an engineered product, a “miracle” of early 20th-century food science. Hydrogenation allowed all manner of food products – mainly but not exclusively baked goods – to be mass-produced and made virtually immortal. Read all about it here.

Problem – scientists have long known (at least 20 years) that these fats clog arteries, causing heart disease. And as research piled up, by 2006, estimates of total annual deaths in the US rose to 100,000. A few more of those, and we would be talking real numbers.

Here is the scam. Today, you can walk into your grocery store and buy a product that says in large print “no trans fats.” Now in my reading of English, “no” means “none,” i.e. “nada,” “zippo.” But now read the fine print. You will see those words “partially hydrogenated” in the ingredient list, and note that, if you eat the “recommended serving” of the cookies or chips, you will get “no” trans fats. But in this case, “no” means “less than 0.5 grams.” Eat a few more, and presto, you have more than your share of the minimum daily requirement – which is zero – of this frankenfat. That, friends, is a scam.

Expect weeping and moaning – probably funded by Big Snacks Inc. – about the loss of cherished snack foods. (Hold it – you don’t have to wait.) In truth, considering we are the home of the tobacco scam and the fossil-fuel-funded climate change denial scam, there has in truth been less of the “nanny state” outcry than would have been anticipated. Progress? Maybe.

Big Snack lobbying aside, this sure looks like it will happen. That emphatically cannot be said about another “full-information-disclosure” campaign that is raging right now. That would be the movement to force identification of all genetically modified (GMO) foods. That is a story for another time, but Stephen Colbert has a wry look at that one as well.

 

What’s Your Tribe?

This new map of North America is getting a lot of attention. It comes out of grim research on gun violence, but it also goes a long way toward explaining other ideological differences that we have allowed to paralyze our political system. The author, Colin Woodard, has divided most of the continent up into socio/cultural groups based on heritage and history. Curious – every place I have lived, though separated by 1200 miles, has been in “Yankeedom.” I guess I will always be a damned Yankee.

 

RIP Lawn

My wife and I have been on a campaign to vastly reduce our vast lawn. But what we have done is nothing compared to this guy. What could you do?

 

Tall Tales and Taller Tales

Who better to take on both sides of the Affordable Care Act morass than Jon Stewart? In his inimitable fashion, he lays it on President Obama, but shows also where the REAL dishonesty lies. Stewart’s penchant for bashing everybody seemed to be lost recently on our ideological friends at Fox News. Stewart of course had an answer to that, and brought a choir to sing about it. Yup, Wit Happens.

“We’ve arranged a society based on science and technology, in which nobody understands anything about science and technology. And this combustible mixture of ignorance and power, sooner or later, is going to blow up in our faces. Who is running the science and technology in a democracy if the people don’t know anything about it?” – Carl Sagan

Contributed links to this posting – Bonnie Blodgett, Allyson Harper, David Vessel

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

Advertisements




IBI Watch 9/29/13

29 09 2013

Too Late or Not Too Late?

The latest assessment from the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) offers plenty of evidence for both arguments – that it is already past the time where we can solve our manmade climate crisis, or that we still have time to mitigate and reverse it. But some things are clear in all the projections – human activity is altering the climate, the trends are not favorable, and we are pushing the climate towards the point where it will be too late to do anything.

The new IPCC report – its fifth and first since 2007 – certainly offers some openings for denialists. It acknowledges the fact that our uncontrolled experiment in altering the climate with our greenhouse gases is not a linear process. It also fine-tunes some predictions from previous assessments, and in some cases suggests that prior predictions – at least for now through 2100 – may have been too steep. But for all but the most die-hard denialists (think of tobacco executives in the 1960s or maybe of Baghdad Bob as US forces invaded Iraq in 2003), the message is clearer than ever – we are steadily raising atmospheric carbon dioxide, which is warming the planet and altering the oceans and the entire planetary climate system.

Thanks to various media outlets, getting the gist of the latest from this conservative, consensus-bound body does not require poring through hundreds of footnoted pages. Here is an overview pdf. It runs more than 30 pages, but is actually quite easy to surf. Just look for the orange-shaded paragraphs. When you do, you will see that the report contains little good news. The vaunted (by denialists) “slowdown” or “pause” in warming noticed over the past 15 years? It’s a natural variation, and an indication that the heat is being absorbed by the deep oceans. (Want to know more about ocean heating? See here.)Not all the recent heat is ocean-bound, of course (only about 90 percent!), but all that heat will eventually warm the atmosphere. And even with the ocean’s shielding the atmosphere – for now – from the most serious heating, we still have the dramatic retreat of glaciers, ice sheets and the Arctic sea ice.

To learn more, try one or more of these:

A summary from the NPR blog

A report at the Economist’s blog site

A summary reported by Reuters

A fine summary posted by Joe Romm at the Climate Progress site

A set of graphics posted at Climate Central

There is always another choice – learn less, think magically, insert head into sand or other dark space. This Buzzfeed collection of familiar denialist assertions can help in that regard. It even has brief video samples attached for entertainment value. And of course you can read variants of those and others in the comment section following virtually all postings on climate change. In fact, another came to my attention recently – the one about human activity (the 90 million tons of CO2 we send skyward every day) being dwarfed by volcanoes. Here is a fact-based debunker of that canard. And all those comments bring up one of the challenges in moving policy on climate and energy in a sustainable direction. Public perception of science is found to be affected by all the rants of trolls and thinkers who know more than the world’s scientists. Though I am not particularly fond of Popular Science – they don’t cover my favorite issues anywhere near as often as Scientific American, Discover and National Geographic – I want to relay  a step that magazine felt necessary. That is, remove the comment platform for the anti-scientists, “skeptics” and denialists. It really has come to that. And reader comments are not the only source of anti-science propaganda. When it comes to media, we have to consider the source, particularly these oily headwaters.

There are people who are committed to climate science and climate policy, and then there is Kumi Naidoo. The executive director of Greenpeace – an organization I support – appeared on Moyers and Company this week. A veteran of daring protests that have led to grave physical danger and arrests, this is someone who puts his personal safety on the line in defense of a livable planet. I like his rhyming mantra – “Leave the coal in the hole, and the oil in the soil,” and also his call to action – “If we can mobilize trillions to bail out banks, bankers, bonuses, surely we can mobilize much less than that to deal with the climate crisis.” Naidoo’s take on the “too late/not too late” question is also right on. That is, it is too late for people already in the bull’s eye of sea rise and ice melt. We need to act and act forcefully to make sure it does not get too late for all humanity. That time is just about upon us.

A “Ted Talk” that Speaks Volumes

You may be able to find a complete recording of the recent “Ted-athon” on the Senate floor, but you will need to order several pizzas and a case of No-Doz to make it through. Instead, I prescribe Jon Stewart’s two-part sampling of this spectacularly off-tune solo hypocrisy. In part one, Stewart hits the “high” points of Senator Ted Cruz’s not-a filibuster. And in part two, he latches onto the senator’s cultural contribution, in which he uses the podium to read Dr. Seuss’ famous Green Eggs and Ham, allegedly to his daughter. Ten minutes of hilarious satire or 21 hours of glazed eyes and nausea. Choose wisely. And remember, this guy wants to be president.

I have a couple of points to make here. First, this display continues a not-so-proud Republican tradition of having a tin ear for culture. Remember Michele Bachmann and American Girl? How about Ronald Reagan and Born in the USA? And though it was not as public, my favorite story in this regard is President George W Bush’s alleged affinity for the songs of Creedence Clearwater Revival. The question is, did he understand or even listen to Fortunate Son? Yes, as Snopes points out, the song was not about President W but was there ever a more fortunate son? Second, the good Senator seems to have forgotten that Theodore Geisel (i.e. Dr. Seuss) was a staunch liberal. And most important of all, what is the point of that immortal kids’ book in the first place? Try it, you’ll like it. Uber-blogger Tom Degan makes that point in his imitable way right here.

There are two things I would like you to remember here, as we head, seemingly inexorably, toward yet another pigheaded government shutdown. First, Senator Ted Cruz, playing to the Tea Party extremists who increasingly control his party, is a health-care hypocrite of the first order. (That’s not saying he is alone in that regard.) And second, keep in mind that this tea-addled majority in the House, that is willing to risk shutting down the government, and not long after that, defaulting on the debts that the US government accrued on both Republican and Democratic watch, is a gerrymandered, phony majority. So get this – an extremist minority within a party that is actually a minority itself is acting completely contrary to the will of the American people. And this is a group that purportedly opposes tyranny. Folks, you just can’t make this up.

Nerds Can’t Dance

Or maybe they just shouldn’t. When I watched this video of Bill Nye the Science Guy dancing and ultimately tripping up, injured, on Dancing with the Stars, I was reminded of some movie scene. It was the hair – Tom Hulce, playing Mozart in one of my all-time favorite flicks, Amadeus. But I digress. The Science Guy’s knee injury looks painful but, thank goodness, not career threatening. Get right quick, Bill. We need you to do more stuff like this, this and this. And hey, break a leg. Or maybe not.

Food Rescued

It’s a downright scandal. Consider how much energy goes into creating our food, and then imagine this – 40 percent of food in America is wasted. News features recently have highlighted that shameful fact. Here is a fine example from the Los Angeles Times. The former president of Trader Joe’s has a better idea. It’s a combination store/restaurant that will offer food items that are just past those expiration dates, but still usable. Though Peter Sagal had a good old time with the idea on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, here is hoping it sells.

Fix the Problem – Ten Ways

If asked to name the one problem to solve in order to create far-reaching, cascading positive change, I know what my answer would be. Get corporate hands off the levers of power. Their grip has been strengthening in recent years, thanks in no small part to the infamous Citizens United decision by the corporatocratic Supreme Court. Gar Alperovitz and Keane Bhatt have a wonderful, thought-provoking piece on Truthout. How many of these have you tried? It’s not too late . . . yet.

“I conceive that the land belongs to a vast family of which many are dead, few are living, and countless numbers are still unborn.” – A Chieftain from Nigeria

Contributed links to this posting – Allyson Harper

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN





IBI Watch 10/7/12

7 10 2012

Destroying the Climate in Order to ‘Save’ it  //

In June, Rex Tillerson – CEO of Exxon Mobil – raised eyebrows with his dismissal of the climate crisis as an ‘engineering problem.’  That sort of thinking – the planet as machine that can be controlled by us all-powerful humans and our techno prowess – is nothing new.  Edward Teller – the brilliant but misguided physicist often assumed to be the model for Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove – laid out a plan for managing the planet’s thermostat late in his long career.  Here is a recent link to articles on the topic offered by those fun-loving Freakonomics guys.

As it becomes clearer by the day just how seriously our fossil fuel emissions have harmed the planet’s climate – and how the future looks more threatened all the time – expect the talk of ‘engineering’ solutions to rise, and even translate into crazy action.  The most popular ideas – science fiction madness applied in the real world, every one – include mirrors launched into space to reflect sunlight, artificial volcanoes that spew sulfur into the stratosphere  (creating deliberate pollution that also reflects solar energy), and seeding the oceans with iron to stimulate plankton growth.  The consequences of such global tinkering cannot be predicted except to say this – expect the unexpected, and the unexpected will almost certainly be nightmarish.  And the sad, tragic, exasperating fact is that we will even contemplate this hubristic Russian roulette while not having taken more than a small fraction of the steps that have no consequence other than short-term investment costs – regulating carbon emissions  and rapidly harnessing renewable energy.

Geoengineering is just the latest, most audacious attempt to insure our continued fossil-fuel orgy.  In other words, its purveyors believe it is wiser to play God with the planet’s regulatory systems so that we can push ahead with business as usual, rather than start respecting the natural systems we depend on.  I was thinking about how this is the ultimate greed-driven willful ignorance, when a friend sent an insightful and inspiring link.

This presentation by Katherine Dean Moore, a philosophy and ecology professor at Oregon State University, brought a standing ovation at the Nobel Conference at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter. This year’s topic was “The Global Oceans,” and her talk was titled “Red Sky at Morning: Ethics and the Oceanic Crisis.”  She issues an urgent call for a ‘planetary ethic,’ to end our ‘moral monstrosity on a cosmic scale.  Her main point is this – more information is not going to persuade enough of us to create a critical mass for sustainable, respectful policies.  We have to tap into values, and understand that it is just plain wrong to harm the future.  This one is well worth your time, friends – including the panel at the end.  Just beware (or skip) the seemingly endless introduction.  If you watch through to the panel, look for Carl Safina – author of several important books about protecting the oceans.

Some Good Reasons to Act on the Climate Crisis

Yes, these stories fall short of the ethic demanded by Katherine Dean Moore, but they provide some valuable motivation, and potentially protect the future.  And hey – the last one is extremely funny.  First – a Huffington Post article on the island impact of ocean rise.  Next, a Common Dreams piece on the accelerating Arctic ice melt.  Here is an AlterNet piece on the immediate health gains of a cut in pollution overall.  And here, Stephen Leahy writes on how cutting soot pollution can slow ice melt.  This article in particular is useful, as it gets into clear, easy-to-understand effects of ice melt, and feedbacks.  But wait – I promised some comic relief.  Yes, the rogue weather girl – the one who tells the truth like no mainstream media weather forecaster – is back for round 2. Did you wonder how her sidekick got that neck brace?  (It happened in round 1.)

One Week, Three Debates

Did you hear there was a debate this week?  I’ll get to that one – briefly – in a moment.  But first – this NPR story is the kind of debate we NEED to hear.  Concise, courteous, on-issue, no grandstanding.  Needless to say, it involves neither major party.  No, this is an All Things Considered debate between the Green Party’s Jill Stein and the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson.  I wish we could vote for these people and not worry about helping the major party we oppose in the process.  How to do that?  Easy, sort of.  Ranked-choice voting.  And how can we get that?  Even ‘easier.’  Get the big corporate money out of politics.  And then there was a mock debate held Saturday evening, featuring two media heavyweights from opposite corners – Jon Stewart and Bill O’Reilly.  Here’s the video.  Who won that debate?  That is, who is now the Mayor of BS Mountain?  And oh yes, President Obama and Governor Romney took turns walking all over Jim Lehrer this week, and in between had something like a debate.  President Obama seemed detached, and Governor Romney shall we say, molded the truth.  He did admit that number 26 was not true.

Suppressing the Vote Suppressors

There is good news on the voter fraud scam.  First, Pennsylvania Republicans will have to try to cull the herd of voters again after the November electionOops.  Second, the exclusion syndicate is under investigation.

New Deal or Gilded Age?  Choose Wisely

Paul Krugman’s commentary describes the actual referendum we will have in just a few weeks.

“No action is without its side effects.”

-Barry Commoner

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

Contributed links to this posting – Bonnie Blodgett, Jeff Carlson, Tess Galati, Allyson Harper