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 9/22/13

22 09 2013

Preemptive Prefabrication //

The impending IPCC update on the climate crisis, due this week, has generated a lot of buzz, and a good deal of anti-science creativity as well. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), a fundamentally conservative organization, will state more forcefully than ever that climate change – a documented rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide, causing – so far – nearly a one-degree C. temperature rise, accelerating ocean acidification and melting glaciers and ice sheets, plus many other joyful phenomena – is due to humans’ burning our addictive joy juice, i.e. fossil fuel. Here is a concise explanation from the Live Science site of the consensus-driven, cautious process followed by the IPCC.

The IPCC has a high profile – its leaders won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 – so it is not really surprising that the denialist forces are seizing the opportunity for some “first-strike” messaging. It’s not hard to find writers trumpeting a supposed lull in planetary change as proof that climate change is not real, not human-caused, and not something deserving concern. Here’s the strategy. Pick any combination of those three assertions, falsely present the scientific consensus on climate change as predictive of a linear, lock-step process, and presto, you further inoculate the public against pushing for sustainable energy and environment legislation. So goes policy paralysis. Here is a survey of denialist commentary from the likes of Fox News, the Junk Science site, and  Matt Ridley, writing in the Wall Street Journal. At that last link, you will find an oft-heard assertion from the denialist crowd, that far from being a cause of concern, climate change offers benefits. Shades of the Heartland Institute.

If you suspect a coordinated, full-court press here, you are not alone. So does Joe Romm, writing on his Climate Progress site. Pay careful attention to his graphics on carbon pollution and the seven planetary boundaries. He also cites a particularly egregious example of vacuous, tech-supreme, happy talk that I linked to just last week. (Scroll down to “The Magical Techno-Fix.”). And for some succinct analysis of this pre-emptive campaign, I like the Guardians’ climate commentators, John Abraham and Dana Nuccitelli. This duo has posted a new article reminding us of the stages of climate denial, all of which are on display to varying degrees in the latest round of denialist commentary.  For the record, here are the stages:

  • Deny the problem exists
  • Deny we are the cause
  • Deny the scientific consensus
  • Deny it’s a problem
  • Deny we can solve it
  • Sorry, it’s too late to solve

Here is an assignment steeped in futility, a sort of mission impossible (should you choose to accept it). Analyze the commentary linked above, and determine which articles represent which stages of denial. Then, strategize on how to change the minds of the commentators. Right, impossible.

This course is far wiser – concede that a completely melted, transformed planet will never be enough to convince these guys. That includes an ice-free summer Arctic, which is definitely on the way (current denialist trumpeting alleged ice “recovery” notwithstanding), with chaotic weather pattern consequences. Understand that denialism is not really about skepticism (which implies a willingness to see things differently) and give up the idea of every winning over the likes of Bjorn Lomborg, George Will and Lord Monckton (and our own well-funded, powerful deniers inside Congress). And support the following organizations, which are working hard to sway public opinion in the direction of sensible, sustainable energy and climate policy:

Boulder: the Arctic Connection

It is not possible to blame a particular destructive storm on manmade climate change. That includes hurricanes, even monsters like Katrina and Sandy. And it even includes the freakish storm complex that gouged Boulder, Colorado last week. That storm, called a “thousand-year flood,” dumped many months worth of rain in the space of a few days, killing at least four people and washing away houses, roads and bridges. Worse, it came on the heels of a persistent drought. For a look at just how outside the norm the event was, check this well-supported Time.com article from Bryan Walsh.

Since we have one planet, interconnected, it is wise to study how planetary forces influence weather patterns. The original research of Rutgers University scientist Jennifer Francis got new attention this week, on NPR’s Science Friday. Francis – whose work I have previously linked to (see “Wacky, Wobbly Weather”)– looks at documented changes in jet-stream patterns and resultant weather phenomena. That includes “stuck” weather, i.e., systems that come into an area and stall for days on end. Those seem to be related to the slowing, bulging, dipping jet stream. That in turn is related to the well-documented, rapid warming of the Arctic.

Our response? Take a deep sigh, and check those “stages” above.

Animated States of Income Inequality

There’s nothing like a moving picture to tell a story. Check this Washington Post animation. Despite bizarre color choices, it depicts how income inequality has grown in the past 33 years across the continental US. Intriguing. Makes me want to learn more by watching the most recent Moyers and Company installment, featuring an extended interview with former Labor Secretary Robert Reich. As you probably know, he is one of the major advocates on behalf of economic justice. Here is the trailer for the movie Reich and Moyers discuss, Inequality for All – about to be released. And if all that makes you want to explore where you fit into the economic puzzle, NPR’s Marketplace has a new interactive data game – Income Upshot. You know you want to try it. Just enter your income and zip code, and prepare for some eye-opening facts. Then, compare your situation with such real-life scions as Warren Buffett and Jamie Dimon, and even fictional folk like Homer Simpson and Marge Gunderson. Remember her? (Think “wood chipper.”)  And then learn even more about the financial crisis – which has served to further push the extremes of income inequality – at this list of documentaries posted by Moyers. I am sure they are all worthwhile, but from experience I can strongly recommend An Inside Job.

Greenhouse Generators

Here is a quick check on sources of greenhouse gases that are accumulating in the atmosphere – carbon dioxide and methane for two. One finding is a bit surprising – and seems easy to influence. The other is not surprising at all. Good luck influencing that one.

Shut Up and Sing?

This pictorial tribute makes me want to buy more recordings from all of these outspoken musical artists. Well, most of them anyway.

Help the Oceans Clean Themselves – A Boy’s Bright Idea

A video like Boyat Slat’s TedX Talk is enough to give an old environmentalist hope for the future. His bright idea offers a solution to a seemingly insoluble problem that is a product of our modern throwaway life – the Pacific garbage patch.

“The more we exploit nature, the more our options are reduced, until we have only one: to fight for survival.”

Morris K. Udall

 

Contributed links to this posting – Bonnie Blodgett, Allyson Harper

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN





IBI Watch 8/25/13

25 08 2013

Unseasonable and Unreasonable //

If you follow climate change news carefully, and I hope you do, you know that an important event looms. That would be the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  The report is due in September. Though denialists have branded this organization as a club of worry-wart, alarmist exaggerators, the truth is that it is a consensus-bound body, which adheres to conservative protocols.

So it is fair to say that IPCC projections tend toward the low end of the effects of our uncontrolled experiment in atmosphere transformation. That said, let’s see what is on tap, based on some early releases of findings (shared by Chris Mooney of Mother Jones). Nothing much to worry about, folks. Substantial melting of the Greenland ice sheet, sea rise of five to ten meters, runaway ocean acidification. So what? This blog post by the Guardian’s John Abraham suggests that contrarians will have no choice but join the consensus and stop fighting policy to deal with the threat.

One thing is clear. The changes predicted by IPCC based on current trends are not some far-off theoretical possibility. They are happening right now. There of course is accelerating Arctic melting – clear for all to see. And there is that persistent drought in the American Southwest, dramatically lowering the flow on the Colorado River and showing the newly famous “bathtub ring” at Hoover Dam’s Lake Mead. Thirteen years and counting; bound to end any day now, eh? And let’s not forget the western fire season, now in full swing and threatening state budgets (and even the water supply of San Francisco).  A less dramatic, though arguably more universal, phenomenon has overtaken weather patterns – “stuck weather.” Though this can mean weeks of beautiful weather, or a hellacious heat wave that just won’t quit, it all results from the same condition – a weak, meandering jet stream caused by a vastly warmer Arctic. We are currently switching gears right now in Minnesota from a warm, settled regime into a possible record heat wave (for this late summer season) – as Paul Douglas reports in his consistently excellent weather and climate blog.

So though climate change evidence becomes clearer every day, I remain skeptical about significant action in the near term, for two important reasons. The first is the fact that a well-funded, powerful, persistent campaign of pignorant (pretend-ignorant) anti-science has lulled a significant slice of the public into somnolence. Adam Frank – author of About Time – chronicles our pathetic decline into science denial in this fine column he wrote for the New York Times – summarized here and commented on by Tree Hugger’s Chris Tackett.  (See a glimmer of hope there in the planned reboot of the TV series Cosmos.) The second is the pathetic power structure that has taken hold in modern America. With the GOP in the (gerrymandered) majority in the House of Representatives right now, this is the pignorant posse that passes for leadership of the House Science(!) Committee. It is so bad that I mainly agree with these two assessments of the cause and results of our spending decades dealing with denialists’ posturing rather than accepting the science and moving ahead. The first is by Jeff Schweitzer and the second by Robert Parry. Neither pulls punches in calling out the real engineers of today’s alarmingly science-dumb state of affairs among the public. I especially identify with Frank’s description of his earlier mistake in judgment – that public awareness and understanding of scientific reality would only grow. Sorry.

Surely, this state of affairs can’t go on indefinitely. And in fact a recent media shift may point to some hope from an unlikely source – the much-maligned (in some circles) Al Jazeera. Sure, the burst of coverage on the newly realigned network far surpasses typical American coverage because of the dismally low standard.  But we need hope on waking up the public, and allies of all stripes are valuable. And of course this is a global problem, calling especially for leadership on the part of the wealthy industrialized nations. Here is a call for action on the part of the United Kingdom’s David Cameron. And despite continued intransigence on the part of the pignorant right in the United States, prominent activists see hope for action. In this interview, former Vice President Al Gore sees a tipping point in public opinion based largely on growing consensus on the connection between ever-wilder weather and our continued dumping of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Gore holds onto his optimism despite interviewer Ezra Klein’s tough questioning.

This is no time for giving in to complacency and inevitability. Active groups such as the Climate Reality Project and 350.org are doing no such thing. And the single most helpful step – maybe even more helpful than killing the Keystone XL pipeline – would be enacting a carbon fee system. That’s the goal of the Citizens Climate Lobby, endorsed by former NASA scientist James Hansen.

One Observance that Really Matters . . .

There is a big buzz in Washington this weekend, with tens of thousands crowding the National Mall to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech. And that great, resounding speech was only one of the highlights of the civil rights movement, as this collection posted by Bill Moyers reminds us. But this is far from a mere celebration of important history. That is because these battles, sadly, must be fought over again. Here is a speech from John Lewis, calling out the Supreme Court on new efforts mainly (but not exclusively) in the South to suppress the poor and minority vote. Recently, Attorney General Eric Holder has put welcome attention on this crucial area. But remember – this won’t be easy.

And Two More that Really Should Matter

Not that most of us have heard of these, but Earth Overshoot Day shot past largely unnoticed the other day. That day marks the day when humanity exhausts the earth’s annual capacity to absorb our carbon-generating body blows. Fortunately, groups like Growthbusters and World Population Balance were keeping count. Those groups focus on the macro scale and the driving force behind environmental trouble – the unfettered and unrelenting growth in human population. The other recent occasion – World Orangutan Day – focuses on a micro scale – destruction of the habitat of one of our most amazing and beloved primate cousins. The saddest thing about this destruction is its driving force – clearing rainforest to make way for palm oil plantations so we in the comfortable developed world can buy cheaper soap (check the labels) and all manner of processed food products. Learn more and take action.

Boomer Warrior – An Ally

My Facebook friend Rolly Montpellier of Toronto has been developing his Boomer Warrior newsletter. He posts a variety of environmental sustainability pieces on his impressive site, featuring a range of writers, including, on occasion, this blogger.

Three Random Blows against the “Unsustainable Empire”

First – how much do bike commuters save the government? The piece comes from Australia, but is relevant everywhere. Second, who could ever imagine a victory such as this in a battle between microbrew and Big Oil? And finally – further news of the growth of renewable energy in “sunny” Germany.

“I am a person who is unhappy with things as they stand. We cannot accept the world as it is. Each day we should wake up foaming at the mouth because of the injustice of things.” ― Hugo Claus

Contributed links to this posting – Allyson Harper

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN





IBI Watch 6/30/13

30 06 2013

Fire Meets Ice //

All weather eyes this week are out West, where a lingering heat wave threatens to melt all-time high temperature records, not just for a particular place or date, but all-time planetary highs. That’s right, forecasters say the Death Valley high temperature – 134 – might be topped in this wave. But heat waves in the American Southwest are nothing unusual – after all, that Death Valley high is 100 years old. (Andrew Freedman puts this western hot spell into context.)

On the other hand, what is happening up north is absolutely without precedent – even a denialist’s cherry-picked, out-of-context precedent – in recorded history. First it was Alaska, then Europe. Now Siberia is feeling the heat. And it is all part of the same out-of- range phenomenon, one that I have written about several times recently – here is an example.

You can expect skeptics, denialists and denial-liars (hard to sort those out sometimes) to spin everything, and this is no exception. I have seen posts and troll hit jobs advising scientists and journalists to just back off and let Alaskans enjoy their rare warmth, and I saw a recent post labeling the weird warmth as “not global warming, ‘just’ the jet stream.” Right.

But more people are getting the connection. Here for maybe the first time ever I offer a well-written article from, of all places, the Fox News site. It is mercifully free of the old false equivalence hooey that goes something like this – “some scientists say this, others say the opposite, so we really won’t know what the hell they are saying until decades of more research are completed, and Miami, New York and New Orleans are underwater ruins.” Sorry, got a little carried away there.

So why is this warming way up by the North Pole and nearby higher latitudes so important? Well, first, the Arctic is really the world’s air conditioner. It has a dominant role in the world’s weather, and we are changing everything with our greenhouse warming – as you can see in this terrific video. And second, as the heat rolls through the far north, we are awakening a sleeping giant – permafrost melting and the freeing of long-dormant methane. And this is a monster that, fully set free, will take no prisoners.

All of this is the backdrop for President Obama’s long-awaited speech on climate change and renewable energy. The president did not disappoint us this week. The Star Tribune offered context with a helpful editorial. It is so refreshing to hear our nation’s leader talk about respect for science, and the need to plan and deal with an inevitably challenging future. Of course, he will get little support from the gerrymandered, GOP-obstructed, science-trashing Congress (that goes for both houses, thanks to the abused-to-death filibuster), but it seems he is ready to do virtually everything he can to slow and halt climate change and build a sustainable-energy future.

What is needed of course is a fee on carbon – exactly the idea that Senator Mitch McConnell attacked at length in the preceding video. (I think the Senate “minority” Leader should be renamed McCOALNell.) And the president’s commitment will be sorely tested when his long-delayed decision on Keystone XL – the ambitious pipeline that will enable further development of the dirtiest oil on the planet. I fear that, for all the positive change President’s announcement portends – reduced power plant emissions, more efficient appliances, more clean energy, this may just be cover for the “all-of-the-above” approach that will include tar sands oil. I want to be wrong on this one, friends. If you had a chance to ask Bill McKibben and James Hansen, they would agree. We need to keep our fire from melting ice. All of the ice.

 

Activist Starting Young

Fourth Grader Zachary Maxwell strikes a blow for progressives everywhere with his new video. This future Michael Moore takes on false advertising and empty nutrition claims (eat your ketchup!) in his short film. This trailer tells me I have to see the whole Yuck!. Here is a Marketplace podcast on the same project.

 

Flood City

There is much to be learned in a recent NPR story on American cities vulnerable to ocean rise. The stars here are Miami and New York. Jackie Lyden –one of the best of the best on NPR – does her usual excellent job on this story.

 

Middle Class? Who Needs that?!

You will find this satirical interview that Stephen Colbert did with Bill Moyers entertaining. What makes Colbert’s shtick so effective is this – without context, it would be difficult to distinguish his persona from that of an interviewer on a short-leashed corporate media organ. Be sure to catch Moyers’ use of a comical name for the best known of such outlets. As Colbert says, making more people “strive” is what makes America great. We are getting greater all the time.

 

Car-Free

This little story makes me want to visit Mackinac Island. How about you?

 

“Our modern industrial economy takes a mountain covered with trees, lakes, running streams and transforms it into a mountain of junk, garbage, slime pits, and debris.”
-Edward Abbey

 

Contributed links to this posting –Allyson Harper, Michael Kuehn

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN





IBI Watch 6/16/13

16 06 2013

War Footing Needed //

The imagery is powerful and symbolic. High-tech war weapons, including Blackhawk helicopters, fight Colorado’s Black Forest fire, now acknowledged as the greatest natural disaster in the state’s history. That fire is coming under control now, after it has killed two people and destroyed more than 400 homes. And though it turns out that the fire was caused, accidentally or criminally, by human activity, we must focus on the big picture. That is, this fire comes just a year after a terrible Colorado fire season, and is undoubtedly a preview of an impossibly awful fire season across the West this year. That is owing to a Sierra snowpack at a tiny fraction of average. And though some insist on blaming this crisis on “the hand of God,” (listen to the fellow in this NPR story on the fire say just that), the inescapable conclusion is this – our greenhouse gases will continue to further dry out many drought-prone areas, as well as build more sudden, violent storms and resultant floods.

We have no problem – indeed, no choice – but to roll out a massive, military response when the individual weather events occur. After all, fires must be extinguished, flood victims must be saved and relocated, storm surge damage must be repaired. But the irony is this – as we muster the will to repair and adapt, there remains sinfully little commitment to reduce the activity that causes these problems in the first place.

In a predictable shift, there is more talk of adapting to climate change. No problem with that – it was an activists’ pipe dream, the notion that we could cut greenhouse gases without also promoting mitigation and adaptation, but it is past time to bust up the irony. That is, throwing resources at adaptation to droughts, floods, sea rise – and this will take an ever-mounting treasure to fund – while doing so little to halt the reduce and halt the problem in the first place suggests a fire metaphor. It is like fighting a fire with one team, while other, much bigger teams, continue to heave ever more fuel into the blaze.

The current situation – though President Obama says some of the right things about climate change, he is doing little to follow through. This article talks about FEPA – one of the tools at his disposal that does not involve dragging along a recalcitrant, oil-bought Congress.  And of course Obama needs to nix the Keystone XL pipeline, an enabling pathway to the dirtiest oil on the planet. This Climate Progress piece hints that the President may unveil his climate change strategy in July. (It also contains a wealth of links to climate change stories.) CNN commentator and author Van Jones strikes just the right note in this article highlighting the importance of Obama’s decision on Keystone.

What we need is a World War II-style commitment to solve the climate crisis. We hold out hope that President Obama takes a cue from the great FDR in his final term, and right now the jury is still out. Kelly Rigg’s commentary on HuffPost may be a year old, but it makes strong points and includes some insightful graphic support. I hate quoting President George W Bush, though sometimes in spite of himself he said something intelligent. Such was the case when he said “We must, and we will, confront threats to America before it is too late.” Forget for a moment that the Decider was chest-pumping on his ginned-up, stove-piped case for invading Saddam’s Iraq, and think about that spirit as a rallying call to solve the climate crisis while we still can. It will take a war-level commitment from everyone, but the payback will be enormous. It starts with a carbon tax or fee, and it ends with a sustainable economy. Forget President W’s response to what we could do to support his Iraq war effort (“buy something”), we all can (and must) pitch in on this one.

 

An American Travesty

It’s clear. Commitment to reasonable weapon regulation has evaporated in the months following the Newtown massacre – just six months after the awful tragedy. A prominent victim of another tragedy, former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, co-wrote a column to mark the anniversary. When you remember that 90 percent of the public supports that most reasonable of regulations – universal background checks for gun purchases – and you note that the law was rejected in both houses of Congress, you are reminded just how far our government is from the people, from majority rule.

Gerrymandering has the House showing a solid, not a slight, Republican majority, though a majority of House votes went to Democrats in 2012. And then there is the great filibuster game in the Senate, where today it would take 60 votes to support a resolution lauding apple pie. And wait – that linked chart is two years old! What about all of Senator Mitch McConnell’s greatest hits? But Senator Harry Reid shows no sign of ending this misuse of power, though he has the authority to do so. And when you think about this, remember that the Senate is already, constitutionally, out of whack – blue California (38 million people) has the same power in that lofty body as red Wyoming (576,000).

So majority rule is a fiction, as an illegitimate majority pushes the agenda of big corporations. The solution – get corporate money out of politics, and return to the original principle of government of the people, for the people and by the people.

 

The Little Guys will be Missed

Sometimes only a picture can tell an important story effectively. How about two pictures to tell the story of bee decline, and the dear price we will pay? Just look at before and after pix of supermarkets, presupposing that we continue to let Monsanto lead us down the pignorant (pretend-ignorant) path of chemical destruction of the pollinators.  And lest we think that chemicals are the only problem, and that bee decline is a matter for the large commercial beekeepers who hire their bees out to pollinate crops, read this commentary from local beekeeper Tess Galati: “I lost all 3 colonies because of the excessively long winter. One of the 3 new colonies is dead, as are about 1/3 of the new colonies of other local bee keepers. Nicotinoids are a huge problem, but climate change is also directly to blame. When it rains all the time, bees can’t get out to gather pollen, and what pollen there is just washes into the gutter. When springtime doesn’t bring five consecutive afternoons of sun in Georgia or California, the queens can’t mate properly, so they lay more drones and fewer workers. When farmers plant Roundup instead of clover between the rows, bees starve. I’ve been pretty depressed watching my girls struggle and not being able to help them.”

Though multiple factors are causing the bee crisis, considering what is at stake, why not eliminate those factors in our control? I think we know the answer, sadly. (You must watch the imbedded Jon Stewart video on corporate control of agriculture. Here it is.)

 

Father and Son Harmony

Bucky and John Pizzarelli are an inspiration. Their long collaboration has produced a tradition of beautiful swing jazz deftly played on seven-string guitars. And this NPR interview shows their partnership goes on even as the elder picker heads through his 80s. The piece is a marvel for so many reasons – snippets of great music of course, but also commentary on fatherhood, droll fashion advice from the late father of host Scott Simon, and maybe – nostalgia for good times with your dad. It made this Meathead think of good old Arch.

 

“The problem in society is not kids not knowing science. The problem is adults not knowing science. They outnumber kids 5 to 1, they wield power, they write legislation. When you have scientifically illiterate adults you have undermined the very fabric of what makes a nation wealthy and strong.” 

-Neil DeGrasse Tyson

 

Contributed links to this posting – Tess Galati, Allyson Harper

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN





IBI Watch 6/2/13

2 06 2013

Happy-Talk or Sustainability? //

The future world will be the result of our choices as individuals, but also as societies. I think about that when I hear the growing chorus of well-meaning people who have a “solution” to the mounting crisis of bee die-off. They prescribe a laudable individual choice – plant more flowers, particularly native varieties. You can glean plenty of that good advice in this recent Star Tribune article, and also this NPR interview with scientist Marla Spivak.

It’s hard to argue with advice such as planting less grass and more flowers. After all, our chemically nurtured lawns are a big part of the problem – grass is nothing like a natural habitat for insects, and the fertilizers and weed killers create all manner of environmental problems. But this is clearly a case where individual virtue can make us feel good, but will go only so far in solving the serious environmental problem.

Articles about bee decline, or colony collapse disorder, carry a common theme. It could have multiple causes, we are told – fungus, landscape changes, mites, etc. Neonicotinoid pesticides are mentioned, but sometimes as an afterthought. Minnesota author William Souder – who recently wrote an acclaimed biography of environmental pioneer Rachel Carson – sees a Silent Spring connection. And look at this piece from MPR featuring beekeeper Steve Ellis. Make sure you watch the imbedded two-minute video.

Since research shows the pesticides affect bees’ navigation and orientation, and that is exactly what beekeepers are observing, a sensible approach would be to ban the stuff – particularly considering what is at stake. Our friends in Europe have seen enough. To us environmentalists, that sure looks like a prudent choice, considering the evidence and the risk. But here in the US, we are no nervous nellies, by God.

I fear this controversy is devolving into another policy-paralyzing stalemate – like the granddaddy of those standoffs, climate change. Powerful moneyed interests insist there is no danger, or insufficient proof, or the cost of fixing the problem is too high – as the situation warrants. Pick your business-as-usual-preserving argument, and go for it. It’s a winning formula. Just ask ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, back in the news this week with some creative new magical thinking.

Though the issue of bee decline is not as much in the public eye – for now – as climate change, I see the cause of “controversy” and resultant policy paralysis as one and the same – corporate control of the system. (How is that last article for a laugh?) The cure is the same as well – getting corporate money out of politics.

If we don’t get smart, we will push pollinators, the climate and who knows what else beyond the point of recovery before we finally set about creating sustainable, common-good policies that serve us all in the long run. In the meantime, let’s plant lots of pretty native flowers. They provide some beauty as we rearrange the deck chairs. And let’s play some fiddle music while we watch the fires. Worked well for Nero.

Climate Change Awareness and Action

Despite the almost daily recent weather events with varying levels of connection to climate change – the repeated pounding of the Plains by tornadoes and armadas of slow-moving storms, the freakish late-spring snowstorm in the Adirondacks, the fast-melt flood destruction of a small Alaska village to name just a few, a significant portion of the American public has still not connected with reality. Part of this refusal to respect scientific facts – carbon dioxide at about 400 parts per million is radically changing weather patterns – can be traced to the propaganda of Tillerson and company. But not all of it. Remember that accepting manmade climate change as real will require change and sacrifice, especially from us in the comfortably rich West. That’s inconvenient, and we just wanna be happy.

But prominent activists are keeping up the pressure. Former Vice President Al Gore’s latest message compares our treatment of the atmosphere to dumping waste in a sewer. Dr. Paul Ehrlich – he of The Population Bomb fame – writes about planetary limits. And Organizing for Action is raising a ruckus within the Obama Administration – trying to get the president to take a stance worthy of his campaign positions on climate change issues – mainly the Keystone XL pipeline.

This blog post offers suggestions for our mission – should we choose to accept. That would be – talking to ideological conservatives about climate change. The prime directive – awaken a critical mass of the public so we can build climate-friendly policies and clean energy before it is too late. The single biggest step, I believe, would be a carbon fee, along the lines of the system suggested by activist and former NASA meteorologist James Hansen. And an essential interim step is halting the madness of tar sands oil, by rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline – a main cause of longtime climate activist Bill McKibben.

Ceding Land to Nature

For environmentalists, it’s an inviting prospect – returning certain lands to something like a wild state. Watch this short video by George Monbiot (author of Heat) to get an idea of what this is about. If this sounds a bit romantic, quixotic, that’s because it is. While Monbiot points out that an area the size of Poland will be abandoned by agriculture in the next several decades, it is hard to imagine burgeoning humanity purposefully returning vast swathes of land to wildness. And yet, our technological blunders and wars have set up some dramatic, if little-realized, examples of just that.

Take Chernobyl’s neighborhood. Various accounts – including this one – have described Mother Nature’s rebound in the devastated area deemed too radioactive for human habitation. And further to the east – the standoff between the Kim dynasty in North Korea and its southern adversary has brought an endless hair-trigger drama to the peninsula. But the DMZ that divides the countries is something of a natural paradise – with no nuclear disaster either. Both areas, and so many others, are explored in a book I can’t recommend strongly enough – The World Without Us. Forget the movie by the same name, but I can guarantee that Alan Waisman’s book will get you thinking in new ways about the relationship between the natural world and humankind’s stamp upon it.

If Korea’s dictators named Kim finally come to their senses, and when Chernobyl’s curies finally diminish to tolerable levels for humans, it is hard to imagine wise leaders setting such prime real estate aside for nature. But still, groups dream and – more important – act.  The DMZ Ecology Research Institute’s work is featured in this post. There appears to be no group specifically working to preserve the Chernobyl exclusion zone, but you can learn more here from Voice of America’s bureau chief in Moscow.

Closer to home, and actually all over, this group works to connect wild areas, even in the midst of ribbons of freeways. That is exactly the message that emerges from another of my oft-recommended sources, David Quammen’s The Song of the Dodo.

Own a Little Less; Share a Little More

I am a lifelong advocate for and user of public transit. I started out riding to high school via the Q1 bus and the E train in Queens NY. Nowadays, I live in a southeast suburb of St. Paul MN. I still find ways to use transit whenever possible – I rarely drive to work for instance. But many people resist public transit because they “need” a car. And indeed, transit does not go everywhere. But several encouraging trends are sidelining more autos – and the beneficiaries are many. First, check this NPR story on bicycle sharing systems. It’s well produced and tells a very positive story. And car sharing is also on the rise. Here is an overview, with a cover quote from, of all people, the Chairman of Ford Motor Company. Young people are just not as enamored with the car as my generation, and that is a good thing for this crowded planet of ours.

Dingbats Stifled

There are two losses to report this week.

When the passing of Jean Stapleton was announced yesterday, I felt I had lost a member of my family. Her most famous character, All in the Family’s Edith, was the wise, kind foil to her husband, the irascible bigot Archie Bunker. OK, so my mom is not much like Edith. My dad on the other hand, had much in common philosophically with the immortal Arch. I reminded him of this so frequently that for the last few years of his life, he called me Meathead at least as often as I called him Arch. Of course, Stapleton was a fine actress who had other roles, including a portrayal of Eleanor Roosevelt. RIP, Jean Stapleton. Those were indeed the days.

The other passing is not a death at all, but a departure nonetheless. If you can watch the eight-minute farewell video, you have more patience than me. (For a shorter, comical version try this.) But scroll down for the amazing, facts-be-damned quote collection. What politician has provided more entertainment than our own Michele Bachmann? I am indeed sad to report this departure. And cartoonists are in mourning all over. But let’s give credit where it is due. The lady did win four congressional elections – no small achievement. And she also set herself up as a weighty scientific voice. Aye, we will miss ye dearly, Congresswoman Bachmann.

“If the bee disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live.”

― Albert Einstein

 

Contributed links to this posting – Allyson Harper

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN





IBI Watch 5/12/13

12 05 2013

Respect Mom //

Just in time for Mother’s Day, we have an alarming new marker on the Pignorance (pretend ignorance) Path. For the first time in quite awhile, atmospheric carbon dioxide has hit 400 parts per million. That “awhile” is quite a stretch – at least 800,000 years, and maybe as much as three million years. (Check the video at that link.) In other words, well before our planet-altering species evolved and began burning fossil-fuel joy juice to produce heat, civilization and, oh yes, greenhouse emissions.

Is this any way to treat “Mother Earth,” i.e., the planet and its systems that we depend on for everything, including our survival? I think we all know the answer to that question, though we clearly don’t want to know it, and we act as if the question does not matter very much. How much it matters becomes clearer with each chaotic lurch in climate systems. At some point, we will have to change our ways. If we fail to do so before catastrophic climate change occurs, Mother has some nasty surprises in store for us. Oceans raised by 100 feet, anyone? How about half a billion climate refugees?

The 350.org movement, founded by Bill McKibben, takes its name from the most commonly cited number for a “safe” atmospheric carbon dioxide level – 350 ppm. That’s well above the historic (pre-industrial) level that prevailed throughout human history until we got coal- and oil-happy – 280 ppm. Doing the math, we see that in just a couple hundred years – a blink in geological time – we have managed to raise CO2 by 70 percent. And we are poised to blow by 450 (maybe 20 years from now) and even 500 ppm (probably 35 years out at most). Considering all the increased weather instability we have set in motion with just a 0.8 degree C. rise in world temperatures, it is hard to imagine what we will see with two degrees or a lot more. Most experts say we already have two degrees of man-made warming locked into the system based on the effects of emissions we have already produced.

So, what are we doing to head off this building crisis? Not nearly enough. To understand the factors in play here, it helps to delve into the carbon cycle – the natural process plus the warp speed “adjustment” that humans have added. Caroline Alden does a good job at that, writing for the BURN journal. A careful reading of that concise piece helps us understand how we have the earth’s natural systems to thank for keeping a lid on the boiling pot we have ignited – in particular, ocean absorption of our CO2 has slowed climate change. But it’s also clear that that planetary “free pass” is about to expire, and it is also clear that James Hansen can say with authority “game over for the climate” if we unleash the massive amounts of carbon that will come with full exploitation of the Alberta tar sands.

The wisest – and most necessary – course of action is for the world to drastically reduce its use of fossil fuels. The only way to do that is to “internalize the externalities,” that is, to make carbon pay its way. “Cap and trade” has not worked so well; Hansen and others have a better idea. That would be “fee and dividend,” a gradually increasing fee on the carbon content of fuels that would be collected at the time of production, and returned directly to the public. This would reward those who use less carbon and therefore emit less heat-trapping greenhouse gas.

Here in the United States, one of our major political parties is a wholly owned subsidiary of the big corporations, and the other is a highly paid, all-too-supportive partner. With the power of Big Oil and Big Coal undiminished, how can we get a carbon fee enacted? Corporate pressure can help. Big Insurance gets it. Here is a more recent update from MPR’s ClimateCast on that angle. Still, it won’t be easy. Just read how this latest episode of GOP obstruction is hamstringing the Environmental Protection Agency. It’s hard to regulate on behalf of the public with no one at the top.

Pressure from activists and ordinary, informed citizens will be essential. Here’s a piece that encourages populist uprising. Bill McKibben sees a growing synergy between Baby Boomers and the Millennials. And imagine this – modern Republicans getting past ideology to understand and accept climate science.

We are all involved in discussions on this all-important issue from time to time. Here are two resources that can be very helpful. First, a climate change flow chart with attitude from the ThinkProgress site. And finally, courtesy of Joe Romm of Climate Progress, a listing of one-sentence and one-paragraph rejoinders to deliver in response to the 99 most popular denialist assertions on climate change.

Ultimately, it is a battle for public opinion on this issue. The mainstream media barely cover the issue. They need to hear from us. It’s the least we can do for Mom.

 

Weather: Something New Under the Sun

I love a Minnesota day where the weather changes by the minute. Winds wailing, then nearly calm. Bright sunshine, followed by a dark sky and brief dousing, then a return to brilliance. But this morning I experienced something I have never seen. Picture this: 50 degrees, bright sunshine, clear sky overhead, passing dark clouds all around, north wind blowing a gale. I am leaving my neighborhood park with my dogs. And it starts “snowing.” But the stuff is not at all like snow, more like sleet, except it floats, with a texture like fresh popcorn. By the way, it is May 11.  My meteorologist friend pointed me to this odd phenomenon’s name – graupel. It is going to be a mighty interesting ride, this climate change business.

 

Environmental Action Large and Small

With all the bad news on our disregard for earth systems, we often forget that there are many people in this world who “get it” on the important issues, and take meaningful action. Here is a story on a continent-wide tree planting initiative in Africa. Read more here. Read about the comeback of the US wind power industry. (Idea – check if your local utility has a program whereby you can buy some or all of your electricity from alternative production. We pay a small, worthwhile premium at my Minnesota home for all wind power.) And finally, this article with imbedded video is probably more about symbolism than major environmental impact. Still, it says a lot about making the most of resources.

 

Corporatism – Harmful, Heritable, Habitual

It’s been nearly three years since the Dodd-Frank Act passed in response to the financial disaster of 2008. And still, actual reform crawls at best. Wonder why? This Fresh Air installment features an interview with Gary Rivlin. The Nation’s investigative journalist names many names in the obstructionist squad, but the one that stuck most in my memory happens to be the son of the ultimate corporatist right-wing Supreme Court Justice. You can also read Rivlin’s Nation article here – How Wall Street Defanged Dodd-Frank.  This makes us wonder what is the next bursting bubble on the agenda. Looks like most are betting on student load debt.

 

Energy: Conservation, Efficiency and the Zero Point

This is a guest post by Desmond Berghoffer. He blogs at Grandparents for the Future and also posts frequently at Boomer Warrior.

 

Facts? Why Bother?

I am old enough to remember Art Linkletter and his “Kids Say the Darnedest Things” feature. Think of this as an update, except that many of these fact-free sages wield power in this distracted, deluded nation called modern America.

 

Taking the Wind out of Rush

The Great Bloviator twice made the wisdom roll call in the above article. But the king of ugly radio seems to have stepped too far out on his plank of hate with his recent personal attacks on Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke. Remember the “slut” firestorm? It seems that Rush Limbaugh angered enough people to launch a boycott of his advertisers. The free market has slapped him silly, as noted in these two articles – here and here. An added bonus – Sean Hannity is apparently sharing the pain.

 

Enduring Commitment

These military veterans are continuing to serve the nation. Read about a project led by a Facebook friend that is dedicated to building sustainable solutions in the wake of disasters. The Veterans Green Bus deserves recognition and support.

 

“Until you dig a hole, you plant a tree, you water it and make it survive, you haven’t done a thing. You are just talking.” – Wangari Maathai

 

Contributed links to this posting – Allyson Harper

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN