IBI Watch 12/1/13

1 12 2013

Science in Action //

Key, urgent decisions hinge on a clear understanding of scientific principles by decision makers. Those decision makers include the obvious – our executives, legislators and judges at all levels of government. But they also number all citizens – whether they seek out and try to understand scientific truth or not. That is a problem for the ages – ours and most crucially, those to come.

There really is no shortage of scientific information on humans and the environment, climate change, nutritional science, etc., but the problem is this. Much of the information that comes from science on these and other issues is not conducive to the business-as-usual inertia that pervades our policy. Corporate interests recognize the inconvenience of various scientific facts, and deploy armies of public relations specialists and lobbyists to spread spin and untruths to all those decision makers. To make it even more challenging, it is a rare scientist who can match up to a professional spin doctor with a contrary or fact-challenged tale to tell. This is what makes scientists who have left the lab to get the word out worth their weight in gold and then some. Here are just a few of my favorites, from the international to the local scenes.

First in line has to be James Hansen, who has crossed another line in recent years, becoming an activist willing to be arrested in his efforts to spread the truth about the climate crisis. I recommend his latest book, Storms of My Grandchildren, and also this TED Talk.

Next, there are some meteorologists who use their blow-dried TV news persona to blow denialist hot air on climate change. Among the most prominent in this corporate propaganda crowd are national figure Joe Bastardi and Twin Cities local anti-hero Dave Dahl. I find Dahl particularly entertaining in the way he has enlisted the Almighty in his anti-science campaign. I can’t find a link to something I heard him say – that it is arrogant to assert that mankind’s activity is upsetting nature’s balance ( which is really in the hands of God), but he is quoted in other terms with a whole crowd of compatriots right here. Fortunately for us in the Twin Cities, we have a genuine hero for the cause – Paul Douglas. He writes a fantastic, frequently updated blog in which he shares ample doses of climate science. He also speaks on climate change regularly, including this concise 2012 climate summary video. And oh yes – he is a Republican.

Then there is climate change’s dark, destructive twin – ocean acidification. Scientist and writer Ken Caldeira is on that beat. Here is a short video in which he talks about both science and the challenge of explaining it to those decision makers.

For the really big picture, Neil DeGrasse Tyson has carried on and built upon the work of the late Carl Sagan, and continued to promote astronomy and science more generally to a broad audience. Here he is on the Daily Show.

For science with entertainment value, it is hard to beat Bill Nye the Science Guy. Dancing exploits aside (funny!), Nye is always ready to weigh in on science topics that should not be controversial, but in this era of all-powerful corporate storytelling, remain so.

Locally here in the Twin Cities, University of Minnesota meteorologist Kenneth Blumenfeld is an expert on severe weather. He does frequent public appearances spreading the word on climate change, and also sends a great blind-copy newsletter on severe weather outbreaks across the US. If you would like to subscribe, send me a message and I will connect you. Blumenfeld has offered to debate this storyteller, but the offer has not been accepted. The state senator seems to be much wiser than the video would suggest.

Participation by scientists in the public debate may be on a slow growth trend. NPR tells us about a group that is training them to be more effective communicators. BioToasters. Take it from a Toastmasters alumnus – ya gotta love that. So efforts among scientists themselves are part of the success plan for science. But we the voting citizens also play a major role. We can vote for corporate poseurs or people with a genuine, fact-based interest in the public good. And we have responsibility beyond mere voting – understanding and acting on science as informed citizens. Here is an article from Nature magazine that can help in that quest.

It would be tempting to end this story with more bad news about the misuse of science in decision making here in this corporate paradise, but here is some positive news, from a very surprising place. This is one time where you can say “Don’t mess with Texas.”

 

Commuting Tough on the Wrong People

NPR has been doing periodic stories on commuting, and all are worth a listen. This latest entry documents the travails of a Chicago transit commuter trying to do the right thing and paying a big price in convenience and comfort. And if you try to do the right thing in another way – like anteing up for a gas-sipping hybrid – what happens? In some cases, we figure out a way for you to pay the price of not using enough gasoline. Say what?  We clearly need more big-picture-based, rational transportation policy that rewards the right sort of commuting behavior. That’s not what’s in the cards if this unfortunate idiocy comes to pass. Still, groups are working for reason on this issue – here is one. And anyone who needs convincing on the efficacy of public transit need only watch this very short stop-action video. Enough seen.

 

New Ideas in Rome

Holy Peter and Paul! Saints preserve us! What have we here? A populist pope, who takes all that kindhearted beatitude stuff seriously?  Looks like it. And certain people on the pious right are not at all amused. (The first four weekly conservative rants are broadsides at Francis; the rest are just a bonzo bonus.) Can you say “apoplectic”? You betcha.

 

Battle Lost; War Must Continue

The great divide in this country – people at the top, especially CEOs, getting richer while all others flat-line – has been well documented. It’s arguably the main quest of a populist hero, Robert Reich. Here is a recent Reich clip from the Colbert Report. And our penchant for running everything for the benefit of the rich oligarchs and executives is not unique to the US – in fact, you might say it is one of our most “successful” exports.

This week, there is some unfortunate news from Switzerland. Citizens of that bastion of financial stability had a referendum on the ballot and – voted it down.  I think the vote is more about that particular initiative than the quest. But time will tell if warnings from the likes of Reich and Naomi Klein for instance prove true. I know where I am putting my money.

 

Climate Change Ethics and Policy

Here are two items looking at who pays the price on climate change, and who is doing sinfully little to battle this existential threat to civilization. Many Strong Voices in concentrating resources and support in places that are currently feeling the brunt of manmade climate change – the Arctic and island nations. This HuffPost piece details corporate contributions to greenhouse gas emissions. And now for the news – shocking – I know – of where the US and Canada stand in a comparison of planetary policy among nations. Long way to go, friends.

 

Make Like a Hippie

There is much wisdom to live by in this short piece recalling what was very much forward thinking in the 60s. Please forgive the miscount – idealism may not correlate with math skills.

 

Corporations and Agriculture – the Big Picture

The Star Tribune’s Bonnie Blodgett has done it again. This time, she got a little more column space and wrote a tour-de-force on the agricultural revolution, the finances of farming and local solutions to conservation challenges. It might make you rethink which NGOs you support as well. Strongly recommended.

 

A Sociopolitical Barometer

I recommend this quiz. It runs six computer pages, but the questions are very thoughtful, as are the results. Where do you stand? My numbers are -7.38, -6.41. A wake-up call indeed. Who knew I was to the lower left of Jill Stein? Maybe I should rethink my long-time stance as an updated FDR Democrat.

 

Reverend Billy and the war on Thanksgiving

Yes, I know we hear so much about an alleged war on another way flashier holiday. But I think the good reverend has it right in picking out holidays to defend. And whoa, does this one need defending. Fortunately, Reverend Billy is more than up to the task – and is receiving recognition for his earth-dedicated efforts. Unfortunately though, he may soon be silenced – in prison for speaking out against corporate power destroying the planet’s natural systems. Please join me in signing this petition.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

“We are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it GDP.” – Paul Hawken

 

Contributed links or content to this posting – Mark Goldberg, Allyson Harper, Brendan Murphy

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

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IBI Watch 11/24/13

24 11 2013

Information, Please  //

When it comes to food, full disclosure is the only rational policy. And yet, thanks to the immense political power of the food industry, progress on information access is a grinding battle. Take meat for instance. This change in federal regulations is a big deal. Of course, cost is the main reason a change like this does not go down easy. The change happened only to keep the United States in compliance with international trade agreements. But this detailed accounting of origin is really only one step to full information access. Some say that people don’t care about the footprint, or impact, or production consequences, of consumer goods. But I say we have not really tried to put that information front and center.

In the case of mass-produced meat, what if the suppliers were required also to include the consequences of factory meat farming practices – such as inhumane treatment of animals, the misguided overuse of antibiotics on factory farms, and maybe most important of all, the impact of meat production on the climate crisis? Think about it – when the average person goes to the average supermarket, all those neat plastic meat packages are stacked up, their sale supported by discounts in the store’s advertising flyer. Where is all that impact information? That is why the origin labeling is a good thing, but really only a baby step toward what needs disclosing.

It’s a similar situation with genetically modified organism crops, though precious little progress has happened. Debates continue about the long-term health effects, but GMO crops are implicated directly in the destruction of family farms (though you will see some progress at that link!) and indirectly in the decline of pollinators worldwide. Not to mention that they are the key to the growth in power of the evil empire of agriculture, Monsanto. Research continues on the immediate and long-term human health consequences of consuming GMOs. A rational approach would be to fully inform, and let consumers decide. Another bit of progress at the previous link.

And then there a huge, hidden information crisis. Walk through your average grocery store, and you will find this product right there on the label of countless baked goods, snack foods, personal care items and other products. It’s a “miracle” modern product, palm oil. This ubiquitous substance clearly meets many needs, and will no doubt receive yet another boost in popularity now that we are finally eliminating those heart-surgery-promoting trans fats (the change due at least in part to labeling requirements). But there is one problem.

Palm oil production is a blight on a particular corner of the world, and is pushing an amazing creature toward extinction. As you saw in the former of those past two links, sustainable practices are having a slight impact – something like a bandage on a gushing artery. And then there is the biggest picture, the climate change connection.

It’s one thing to read “palm oil” on a label of a cracker box or a bar of soap. But what if some of that information on environmental destruction were required to be available? Would people just ignore the messages, and go ahead and buy? We don’t really know.

And for another look at the big picture, the story not told on consumer product labels, there is the inherent irrationality. As Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz tells us in this New York Times piece, our agriculture system not only rewards excess production, it perpetuates and exacerbates wealth inequality.

What if the consequences of all our purchases were readily available? That is the idea behind an entire school of thought – life cycle assessment. For all of us on the end of the product chain, this information can help us assess the impact of any product before we buy it. The GoodGuide site, brainchild of Dana O’Rourke, is a tremendous resource. What if all of us committed to taking a look at this site instead of just the advertising before buying products?  The truth can set us free, and maybe help save the world – if we let it.

Warsaw’s Two Camps

For those of us who grew up during the Cold War, those two paired ideas – camps and Warsaw – evoke memories of the great East-West standoff. But today of course it is two different camps. And just as with the old matchup, the world’s fate hangs in the balance. This time, it is not the immediate extermination of life through a nuclear war, but the slow-moving (but accelerating) climate crisis. The division is familiar to anyone who follows the issue – it’s between the developed and developing worlds. And the current climate talks in Warsaw, predictably and sadly, show little sign of a planet-saving agreement in the offing.

The main battle now is over who is responsible – and should assist – in cleaning up the mess that the first century-plus of industrialization has created, and who should help poorer countries adapt and develop sustainably. Look at this chart to see who holds the biggest tab right now. Surprised? Me neither. And when you think about how we in the richer countries – especially the US – have externalized so much industrial production these past few decades, we are actually responsible for an additional large share of the developing world’s greenhouse emissions. Cheap is expensive.

Democracy Now ran an interview with two men who are arguing for “loss and damage” – Martin Khor, executive director of South Centre, and Nitin Sethi, senior assistant editor at the Hindu. You will be saddened – but probably not surprised – to see the US reaction to this idea. But what is even sadder is the content of the leaked document detailing the US strategy – also from Democracy Now.

There are reports as I write of a compromise. But it sure looks like more of kicking this can down the road, fiddling while Rome burns, rearranging Titanic deck chairs, choose your comparison. For a real, science-based solution? Consume less. Much less.

Busted at Last

This is a real blow against the gridlock that has paralyzed the Senate since President Obama’s election. Considering the dramatic escalation of filibuster use since 2008, the only real question to ask is – what took so long?! There is, of course, some fallout. And freak-out.  But for some additional good news on this story, look to Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me – where one of the celebrity panelists pointed out that you do not hear this talked about as the “Nookyalar Option.”

A New Tornado Season

Until last week, many were marveling about the relatively quiet tornado season the US enjoyed in 2013. But wait. It’s not over yet. How unusual? You be the judge.

The Myth of Choice: How Junk Food Marketing Targets Kids – Guest Post

Guest blogger Rolly Montpellier (of the Boomer Warrior site) posts a commentary linking to an excellent new short video by Anna Lappe on striking back against the junk food marketeers.

Health Follies

I will stick to my pledge last week about not writing more Affordable Care Act stories . . . sort of. Nothing substantive here, mind you. But all you can do is stand aside and marvel at the gyrations we go through to preserve those corporate sacred cows, at the expense of, well, everything and everybody else. Here are a video, a cartoon and a timeless song for some bitterly funny entertainment.

50 Years on

Here is an observance on the JFK anniversary, from well-known blogger Tom Degan.

“It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment.” – Ansel Adams

Contributed links or content to this posting – Mark Goldberg, Allyson Harper, Rolly Montpellier

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN





IBI Watch 9/15/13

15 09 2013

Arctic Refreeze + Slow Hurricane Season = Climate Change Bunk? //

It’s all the rage. The Arctic icepack will not set a new minimum record this year. It is already refreezing, fast. Those facts have climate science deniers energized. For instance, one of the most prominent of all the climate change denial sites has charts and graphs galore, telling this story that apparently proves climate change is not happening. This site has run pretty much the same story the last two years – see 2012 and 2011 entries. And it is not just pundits and bloggers – here is an established British news source with the same story.

True unbelievers in climate science take some kind of comfort, I guess, in news like the Arctic ice returning, plus this year’s near-record late start to the Atlantic hurricane season. Here is a balanced view of that hurricane situation, from Time magazine. Cherry-picked data serves as potent fuel for fantastical stories, as Rush Limbaugh regularly proves. And just as monthly Arctic ice stats serve some deniers, so have some other deniers seized on the late hurricane start as evidence that climate change activists are alarmists, to be ignored. Note – Taylor is a prime author for the oil-fueled Heartland Institute.

This is all familiar territory. It follows an established script. First, assert falsely that climate change as explained by scientists and science journalists is a perfectly linear process. Support that position with a few quotes, preferably speculative ones, by one or more of your demons – Al Gore or Bill McKibben, just to name two. Then, report your supportive data which undermines that inaccurate depiction of climate science. So you and the forces of do-nothingness win. Or do you?

These facts can’t be challenged. We pump 90 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every day. The current atmospheric carbon dioxide reading is 395 parts per million, compared to preindustrial levels of about 280. Both the daily and cumulative numbers continue to rise, with chaotic consequences that cannot be precisely predicted.

 

So what is happening now? In the hurricane realm, there are several possibilities. First, as Chris Mooney reports, climate change may actually reduce hurricanes. Of course, thanks to sea rise resulting from warmer oceans and melting ice sheets and glaciers, those hurricanes that do occur will have a head start. And with all the uncertainty, it is also possible that this season’s late start could itself be an anomaly.

As for the alleged return of the Arctic to its long-term solid, frozen status, don’t count on it. Time will prove the denialists wrong. It is only a matter of how fast things happen. For instance, the decidedly conservative, consensus-driven Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change comes out with its latest forecast in two weeks. Leaked information points to more certainty than ever. And though some evidence points to a lull in the temperature rise, our emission-driven acidification of the oceans proceeds. The Seattle Times’ Craig Welch put together a comprehensive article on acidification that includes several imbedded videos. And as for those who persist in their denial of scientific facts and projections, thus paralyzing policy, they will be justly recognized. As this Truthout piece suggests, we might think of them as the Dr. Kevorkians of the planet. Call it pignorance-assisted suicide.

 

Extremes in Two Mismatched Pairs

So the relationship between hurricanes and manmade climate change is unclear and hotly debated, and the ongoing experiment in liquefying the Arctic is crucial in its effect on weather patterns, not so crucial in sea rise. That’s because the ice, old and new alike, is already floating on the sea.

For a clear view of our climate-changed future, look to extremes today that are part of well-predicted trends. First there are increasingly common weather extremes. The Yosemite Rim fire, just about contained, is one example of an enhanced fire season, driven by higher temperatures and persistent drought. The latest shocking example is the horrific flooding and mudslides around Boulder, Colorado. As of this writing, four are confirmed dead, with hundreds unaccounted for. This disaster is caused by a triple-whammy series of drought, wildfire and finally, the knockout punch of monsoon-like storms that come and stay, dumping months or years worth of rain on the same sun-baked spot. Here are two videos from the Boulder environs – from Salina and Boulder itself. (Scroll down for the Boulder video.) Subhankar Banerjee effectively makes the case for climate change in the Colorado floods. And with the mangled jet stream causing all sorts of mayhem in weather patterns, Boulder-like events could be soon coming to a creek, stream or river near you.

And then there is the melting that really matters – the head-for-the-hills variety. That would be ice that resides on land, until it melts that is and slides into the rising sea. Two extreme locations, two similar stories. First there is Greenland, whose ice is described here by MPR meteorologist Paul Huttner as a “stick of butter in a hot pan.” In other words, it does not move at all for awhile, but then really starts to slip along seaward. Be sure to watch the short video on Greenland’s Mega Canyon. But what about the granddaddy of all ice sheets, Antarctica? If you guessed “accelerated melting, you get the extra credit points. Read here about research at the Pine Island Glacier, being undermined by warming ocean water. Here is 9/15 update from NPR on the same research. Did you catch the possible sea rise there? Six feet? See for yourself how that matters in this terrific interactive map from Climate Central.

So all of this manmade chaos and disruption really matters. But does it matter enough to motivate meaningful changes in energy and greenhouse gas policy? Not yet. But these groups are working hard to wake us up and tip the balance toward adaptation and sustainability – 350.org, the Climate Reality Project and Citizens Climate Lobby.

 

The Magical Techno Fix

This longstanding idea is often a slam at doomsayers of old – Thomas Malthus – or of more recent vintage – Paul Ehrlich. The idea is this – the earth’s capacity for human occupation is pretty much unlimited, nigh infinite. Hogwash, most ecologists say. But those who really believe in our technical ingenuity (and don’t much give a damn about our fellow travelers on this orb, i.e. any life form that is not human) persist in their sacred faith in technological innovation. Seldom in recent times has this view been given a more articulate or narrowly myopic presentation than in this Erle C. Ellis article in the New York Times. The problems that Ellis ignores or summarily dismisses in this column are too numerous to mention, but he does make at least one true statement – “In moving toward a better Anthropocene, the environment will be what we make it.” To which I would reply with words borrowed from Colin Powell: “If you break it, you own it.”

We have a lot of repairing to do, with or without technological wizardry. And to be fair, there is much more to Ellis’s ideas than this single article would indicate. See the linked video here.

As for the big picture, there is much to learn in National Geographic’s study of the world’s continued population growth. I also like the education and activism being done by Growthbusters, World Population Balance and the Population Connection. The more the merrier? No chance. The best strategy – educate the world’s women and support their family planning choices.

 

Plant It, and They Will Come?

We have invested much time and sweat in recent years replacing swaths of lawn with wild-looking native and rain gardens. Until this year, we attracted droves of large butterflies, including varieties of swallowtails and of course the lord of them all, monarchs. This year, we have seen exactly three swallowtails and not many more monarchs. In addition, our abundant milkweed shows no evidence of monarch eggs. An isolated, unfortunate incident? Not on your life.

This Minnesota Public Radio interview with the University of Minnesota’s Karen Oberhauser fingers two closely-related culprits – neo-nicotinoid pesticides, and modern factory agriculture’s penchant for decimating “unwanted” plants between the rows. That includes of course milkweed. She offers two remedies – plant more milkweed (maybe it will work for you) and be careful when buying garden plants from nurseries, who may have treated the plants with those magical modern poisons. But all of that means little when our government allows chemical companies such as Bayer and Monsanto to continue this campaign against the natural world. Congress has the power to stop this, if its members would for once think of the common good rather than their corporate sponsors.

 

A Hypocrisy Interview

I find that I have had the conversation described in this little article before. It serves to prove a long-held theory of mine. That is, that any ideology that purports to have all, or even most of, the answers to all the problems begins to look like a dogma, a religion. Magical thinking, that is. Unreal. Fantasy. Enjoy the script.

 

1227 Facts

There is a difference between trivia and curious, even meaningful facts. This is why I waste no time on trivia contests and collections, but love, for example Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me and the Harpers Index. This is precisely why a new book hit my reading list. Two of the three authors of 1227 Quite Interesting Facts to Blow Your Socks Off appeared on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday, interviewed by the great Scott Simon. Work is more dangerous than war, the most shoplifted book in the United States is the Bible, and there is an actual word for an affliction that awards the sufferer with feet the size of umbrellas. But the universe is not shaped like a bumbershoot. Try a vuvuzela. Enough said.

 

Shooting Each Other Some Love

Thanks to comic Sarah Silverman, we can fittingly celebrate two recent recall election victories by the fear-fueled National Rifle Association in Colorado. She has a modest proposal to make the country even “safer.”

 

Diplomacy Wins, for Now

Bill Moyers’ commentary highlights the power of public opinion in recent events concerning Syria. Collective common sense. What a concept.

 

“The great challenge of the twenty-first century is to raise people everywhere to a decent standard of living while preserving as much of the rest of life as possible.”
Edward O. Wilson

 

Contributed links to this posting – Allyson Harper

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN





IBI Watch 8/18/13

18 08 2013

Upside-Down, Unconscious Voyage //

Here is something that amazes me about the climate crisis. It is how quickly research and speculation morph into routine commentary on weird weather events and their cause. And then we continue on our journey of inaction.

First, the back story. Though 90-degree-plus heat is back in the near-term forecast for Minnesota, we have enjoyed weeks of slightly-below-average temperatures. This coincides with devastating heat waves in China and Europe, plus extraordinary warmth in Alaska. Until relatively recently, you hardly heard anything in the media about a specific scientific reason for these heat waves relatively far north. Then along came Rutgers University’s Jennifer Francis late in 2011 with surprising evidence. Here is an update.

Now –from just this week – a blog post from Minnesota’s Paul Huttner matter-of-factly noting the Arctic connection with a weird, lingering upside-down situation – Alaska much warmer than Minnesota. Don’t misunderstand – Huttner deserves much credit for his work, continually including climate change with his MPR commentaries. This post in particular includes a concise overview of climate change history going all the way back to Arrhenius in 1896! (Forget the denialists’ lie about scientists supposedly pushing “global cooling” in the 1970s.) But I find several things amazing here: how this science can slip into the mainstream virtually unnoticed; how so few people make this crucial connection; how we are doing so little to raise awareness and prepare for the inevitable sea rise and who knows what climate changes coming down the pike.

I have written before about Arctic amplification and its cause – melting Arctic ice. So – here is the multi-billion dollar question – with warming currently at approximately 0.8 degrees C., and at least two full degrees already inevitable, what sorts of climate disruptions will befall us as that warmth builds to that level and beyond? (Oh and by the way, ask not where all the warmth is currently going – we are mixing up a warm acid bath known as the future oceans.) Of course there will be winners – shipping over the melted Arctic will bring us all lower, lower prices – until a rusty ship capsizes or breaks apart. But hey, why worry about that?! Instead, let’s dream of the likely permanent weather changes laid out in this Climate Progress post. Is it just me, or do I see mostly losers in that crystal ball?

If we are sensible – bad bet, I know – we will recognize that we have destroyed our stable climate system with our greenhouse gases. Paul Beckwith lays that case out here, concisely and logically. Then, we will take action to halt this out-of-control experiment in atmospheric warping. I don’t expect too many will heed the call from this wild-eyed tree hugger. Instead, I suggest we follow the advice of three formerly powerful members of a nearly extinct species – environmentally responsible Republicans.

 

Feeding on Itself

A favorite tactic of climate change denial-liars is to harp on the technically true fact that it is awfully hard to pin a particular weather anomaly – say a supersized storm, a chronic drought, an off-the-charts heat wave – on manmade climate change. “Random variation” is the favored explanation. But now here comes a study that connects the two in a self-perpetuating cycle. That is, an extreme weather event itself leads to more climate change, just as climate change makes outside-the-norm weather events more likely.

 

Hand Out or Hand Up

Most of us have seen catalogs from a charitable organization called Heifer International. If you visit the site, you will see that the organization does lots of targeted good work – helping people in poor countries by giving them a chance to help themselves. I got to thinking on this group as I listened to the 8/16 This American Life. In that episode, David Kestenbaum and Jacob Goldstein made a surprisingly strong case against such well-meaning charities, and in favor of another model – simply giving money, no strings attached, to poor villagers. Here is the charity featured in the story. (It focuses on Kenya.)

This got me thinking on a news story from this week that looked at another aspect of giving – with global implications. This story – Ecuador’s decision to drill for oil in the Amazon – represents a failure of an innovative experiment. A deal had been worked out whereby the world’s richer countries would make donations to Ecuador to preserve the Yasuni national park in the Amazon, thus protecting an area with astounding biodiversity. A great idea, undone by a single, simple problem. Despite generous donations from certain famous people, contributions from the wealthier countries were skimpy or nonexistent. Surprised? Just one more stop on the road to ecological destruction, I guess.

 

ALEC from the Inside

They assumed Chris Taylor was one of them. And she was prepared to tell the truth. All they had to do was ask. But no one did. So we got an inside view of the right-wing cabal that has been working steadily to build a permanent American corporatocracy, damn the public will, likewise the common good. Moyers and Company also picked up on Taylor’s unlikely investigative report on the American Legislative Exchange Council. (Learn more here). Here is hoping that Taylor – a representative in the Wisconsin state legislature – continues her courageous search for the truth.

 

Chemical Weapons Against Our Friends

The plight of pollinators – mainly honeybees and bumblebees – has been very much in the public eye of late. And the pace, sadly, seems to be quickening. Not necessarily in public policy debates at a level where something will be done – yet – but more people are aware of colony collapse disorder. Neonicotinoid pesticides have been fingered as the main culprit, but there is news this week that is not good. Even people who are trying to do the right thing have stumbled. This petition might help. Also, if you are not represented by a corporatocratic robot congressman (I resemble that remark), you might support this bill (not recommended by ALEC).   And here is at least a tiny bit of good news – though the author at least calls out the tentative nature of this apparently new “ban” on certain pesticides.

 

Fear, Inc.

War has long been big business. Think of Country Joe McDonald’s lyrics from the Vietnam era – “Come on Wall Street, don’t be slow, Why man, this is war au-go-go, There’s plenty good money to be made, By supplying the Army with the tools of the trade,” – or the fortunes made from President W’s war of choice in Iraq – this being just the biggest of many examples.

In more recent times, though, terror about terrorism has become possibly even a bigger bonanza. I was prompted to write this little piece by two recent events. First – I recently missed the first inning of a game at Fenway Park by long, slow security lines. They were frisking people in the “express” lane. Understandable – maybe – considering the still-fresh memory of the Boston Marathon bombing last spring.

The second was a brief conversation with a neighbor about security measures. She said she had heard that the NFL was considering airport-style “porno” scanners to go with their new, unfriendly (except to plastic purveyors) transparent-bag policy. The scanner bit seems to be speculation, but these days you never know.

I mentioned that a certain former Department of Homeland Security head had earned piles of cash through government contracts for those privacy-shredding scanners. She was not aware of that example of the infamous revolving door. So I wondered how many readers might also be unaware. And then I opened my favorite muckraking site, AlterNet. It’s worse than you think.

 

The Sustainable Sun

How about something hopeful? Would you believe hydrogen fuel generated by solar energy? Fascinating.

 

Random Acts of Writing

This campaign is a project of my friend and Climate Reality Project colleague, Mary Colborn. Pass it on.

 

“I believe in God, only I spell it Nature.” ~Frank Lloyd Wright

 

Contributed links to this posting – Mary Colborn, Allyson Harper

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN





IBI Watch 7/28/13

28 07 2013

Downstream Cleanup //

How many times have you visited a beautiful natural space – wilderness area, national park, nature preserve – and seen the calling cards of fellow visitors? Bottle caps, wrappers, plastic water bottles spoiling paths, shores and rest areas?  What have you done? A confession from me is in order here. I have mainly muttered something like “pigs,” “slobs,” and moved on. After all, I am careful, I don’t toss rubbish about, they hire people to clean up after pigs, why should it be my job? These are just a few of the many stories to tell yourself about why picking up is not your job. But they are all wrong.

As of this vacation weekend, I have started a new practice. Whenever I visit such a place, I will bring along a bag to pick up after my piggish fellow users of these areas. I did just that today while visiting a Connecticut state park with my brother-in-law. I must say, it felt more than a little satisfying, and I still got to mutter “pigs,” “slobs,” and move on.

What got me thinking along these lines was this plea for an end to disposable living, delivered in a TEDX Talk by Tim Silverwood. Of course, the North Pacific Gyre garbage patch – the diffuse soup of plastic waste that is only the largest of several around the world – has been well documented. Most prominent in my experience is Alan Weisman’s excellent The World Without Us. But Silverwood’s presentation provides new information, and video evidence of certain phenomena that, to be honest, I have been somewhat skeptical of. For instance, I have long been cutting up six-pack plastic rings, all the while wondering why. If you watch the presentation, you will see a particular critter that wishes someone, somewhere had made that cut.

All plastic waste on the loose ultimately floats downstream to the ocean, where it does unspeakable harm. But Silverwood’s main point is worth elaborating. Responsible handling of plastic waste is good – and cleaning up beaches, parks and all public spaces helpful – but all this is not nearly enough. We need to generate less of the stuff in the first place. That clearly takes more than individual responsibility. Good starts on this are plastic bag bans and bottle deposit laws.

And isn’t this just another example of a massive environmental challenge where individual action – making the right choices like driving less, cutting consumption, conserving energy – is the right thing to do, and helps, but will only make a mass difference if societal change can happen? Think of all the right-thinking people planting native gardens while Monsanto pesticides kill off pollinators, others driving Priuses while the icecaps melt, others making wise if costlier food choices while our entire system subsidizes unhealthy food and encourages sedentary lifestyles.

Annie Leonard’s series on The Story of Stuff connects all the dots concisely and even amusingly. And most recently she makes that vital connection between individual action and societal change in The Story of Change.

Positive change starts with individual action, but if it stops there, we will just feel a little better on the road to hell. For real change, it all really does come down to cutting corporate power over our system.

 

Extremes All Over

First, it is always a good time to expose hogwash. Sorry, Rush and Co., climate change has not halted or paused since 1998. What’s more, the Arctic is indeed turning into slush, as it has to an ever-increasing extent in recent years. And that great savior at the other end of the planet, the Antarctic ice cap that denialists have told us was stable, not to worry, it turns out, is not so stable.

And of course climate change’s effects are not limited to the poles. Far from it. Check this excellent MPR ClimateCast story on how forests are suffering a double whammy of pest infestation and devastating wildfires in a self-feeding cycle. As for that idea that planting more trees will solve the climate problem, think again – as this concise piece posted at the BURN Energy Journal site explains.

But the biggest extreme of all? That would be the extreme pignorance (pretend ignorance) practiced by well-paid, mostly Republican Congressmen and Senators these shameful past 25 years. We need real (not gerrymandered) and filibuster-proof majorities in both houses – majorities made up of legislators who respect science and tell it like it is. Thank God for Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. He calls the whole pignorant lot of them out once again.

Time to listen to Bernie, and time to make carbon pay its way.

 

Supreme Hypocrisy

I must have needed one more reason to cement Justice Antonin Scalia at the top of my most reviled Supreme Court Justice list. The arrogant proponent of Constitutional Originalism (and the unacknowledged chief torch carrier for the corporatocracy) now makes a bizarre connection between his opponents and the engineers of the Holocaust. I guess there is always room for more reasons, needed or not. Was there ever a stronger argument for ending lifetime appointments?

 

See, I Told You So

Bonus points for any reader who knows that is the title of a book by America’s bigot-in-chief. More bonus points if you have steeled your will and made it through the Great Bloviator’s baloney. But this time, that phrase comes from an unexpected place – Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. The subject – the Court’s recent decision to invalidate key parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (over liberal justices’ objections). Think of this as the GOP’s updated “Southern Strategy.” This time, it has the blessing of the highest court in the land.

 

It All Adds up to 200

A friend posted an interesting visual recently – a slide show showing what a 200-calorie serving of dozens of different foods looks like. This WiseGeek video runs three minutes, and tells the surprising story behind 200 calories.

 

“Special interests have blocked the transition to our renewable energy future. Instead of moving heavily into renewable energies, fossil fuel companies choose to spread doubt about global warming, just as tobacco companies discredited the link between smoking and cancer. Methods are sophisticated, including funding to help shape school textbook discussions of global warming. CEOs of fossil energy companies know what they are doing and are aware of the long-term consequences of continued business as usual. In my opinion, these CEOs should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature.”

– James Hansen

 Contributed links to this posting –Mark Goldberg, Allyson Harper

 Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN





IBI Watch 4/7/13

7 04 2013

Extreme Oil, Extreme Consequences //

A few years ago, environmental activists like me hoped that increasing oil prices would lead to greater conservation and extreme efforts to build alternative energy. Tough luck. Technological wizardry – breakthroughs in horizontal and undersea drilling, tar sands oil plus of course hydraulic fracturing, has opened new bonanzas of hydrocarbons to exploit, and pushed the day of reckoning off into the future.

To careful observers, that day of reckoning is already here. Increasingly chaotic, destructive weather events are on the rise all over the world, and largely-ignored scientists continue warning about feedbacks and tipping points. We yawn, and if we think about this at all, it is to wonder about the impact on gasoline prices.

Based on the past week’s events, it would be a good time to wake up to all this right about now. Media were blocked initially from getting footage of the tar oil pipeline rupture in Arkansas. Watch a half-minute video. Commentator John Sutter speculates (includes slides and more video) that this incident could create that critical mass of support needed to halt the tar sands oil juggernaut.  If it’s going to happen, we have to hope the shift comes soon. Check the astounding results of this recent poll. Maybe this should not be surprising, since a crowd of web sites encourages penny-wise, greenhouse-foolish motorists to drive to the other side of town to save a nickel on petrol. Spills are just a cost of doing business in the modern, fast-paced world – or so Big Oil would like us to believe.

The Arkansas incident is important for many reasons. First, I found it amusing that the initial reports talked of “barrels” of oil released. With 80 gallons in a barrel, 1000 barrels doesn’t sound so bad, does it? But the EPA estimates 84,000 gallons, and it may be higher. And of course this is not your grandfather’s crude oil, but the dirtier tar sands oil, whose very nature makes spills more likely. Once those spills occur, they are much harder to clean than the already difficult traditional crude. Read more here. And lest anyone think that the Arkansas rupture is an isolated incident, read this.

I have long contended that concerns about transport were a sideshow in the tar sands battle, but maybe I am wrong on this one. After all, it is one thing to be concerned about destruction many miles away in Alberta, or to worry about the greenhouse intensity of producing oil from tar, compared to the sweeter varieties of crude that are steadily depleting. It is quite another to have the oil bubbling up in your yard.  Now that is something to get worked up about, eh? The question of course is – how many backyards, neighborhoods, parks and lakes must turn into toxic pools to move public opinion against the all-powerful oil lobby?

You have to find humor where you can. Try this – it’s not really oil, you see. And this panel from Bill Maher’s show has a few laughs when the guests are not shouting each other down. But irony and dark humor aside, those fighting the tar sands project and what it represents to the climate change struggle are weighing in. Watch a seven-minute Democracy Now segment that features an interview with Bill McKibben. And also this week – news that one of the earliest and most vocal climate change messengers, James Hansen, is retiring from his post at NASA. This will no doubt allow him to work ever more energetically to fight greenhouse madness.  And who knew that the recently deceased film critic  Roger Ebert had spoken up about the madness of climate change? Not me.

For a final call to action on this issue, watch this clever, fast-paced video. It very effectively puts this whole tarry affair into its insane context.

 

Sands of Another Sort

Aside from tar sands oil, easily the most prominent new, high-tech addition to our hydrocarbon access toolkit is hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. This practice offers a whole range of benefits and risks. The benefits are pretty clear – access to a large storehouse of natural gas deposits, and lower gas prices. The risks are another matter – groundwater pollution, earthquakes anyone? But right here in the upper Midwest, another extreme cost is controversial right now. Both Wisconsin and Minnesota are rich in a key component of the fracking system – silica sand. Wisconsin has already embraced this new system, not without environmental battles of course. Will Minnesota follow down the path? A new documentary looks to educate. Here is a TC Daily Planet article on The Price of Sand, and here is the trailer.

 

Seeds of Domination

The creeping control of agriculture by a small number of companies has been sold as progress. Feed the world, lower costs, control pests, and on and on. But what is the dominance by companies such as Monsanto really all about? For one thing, mounting profits. For another, control that approaches monopoly. This week’s news item looks like more of the same. And, you may be shocked, shocked I say, to find that a particular champion in Congress has bravely shepherded the Monsanto Protection Act into law. Allow Mother Jones to introduce the loyal corporate soldier, er, U.S. Senator, that is.

Enough people recognize that this monopolization of the food supply is not necessarily the best approach, for a number of reasons. The author of a promising new book, Foodopoly, Wenonah Hauter, appeared on Democracy Now. Her book looks to become an important part of this crucial debate. Just listen to the intro, an explanation from a rare voice for small farmers who also happens to be a U.S Senator. The author later explains how Monsanto and Wal-Mart, among others, have ridden the anti-regulation wave to ever-greater control over the whole food system. One out of every three grocery dollars, for example is spent at Wal-Mart.  Not a dollar of mine, thanks.

Check this article on fighting back on another scale. Cooperatives are fighting to save what is good about food and agricultural diversity. And this is a battle we all can take on. Join a community-supported agriculture farm. My family has belonged to a farm for many years, and it is one of the best things we have done. Year-round, fresh and frozen, we have an abundant supply of organically grown vegetables, greens and fruits, and we have the satisfaction of knowing we are helping to save the small from corporate monstrosities.

Truth-telling, Wherever You can Find it

We need more conservatives like this guy.

Modern technology

Owes ecology

An apology.

-Alan M. Eddison

 

Contributed links to this posting – Tess Galati, Allyson Harper, Brendan Murphy

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN





IBI Watch 3/17/13

17 03 2013

A Most Important Question //

You don’t hear this question asked often enough. And yet, the way we live our modern lives gives an unfortunate answer by default.

Here’s the question – does the natural world exist in order to be used as desired by humans?

If the world is simply a storehouse of resources for our taking, then our cruel treatment of wild animals is OK. This includes our escalating elephant massacre, in the name of the ivory trade. See a new NY Times commentary. It also gives Japan a free pass for its continuing mass slaughter of dolphins at Taiji, despite that Oscar-winning undercover documentary. And hey, the ongoing shark slaughter – we need that shark fin soup, right? – is after all, just hunting despised predators. And the vile bear bile harvest industry is only exploiting a product from some dumb beasts (though the “dumb” beasts seem to be taking action against the practice). Then there are the abuses in our factory agriculture. Ham sandwich anyone?  But these are OK if we are free to exploit at will, as are the genetically engineered weed-resistant crops being forced by the likes of Monsanto – which are fingered as the chief culprit (aided by habitat destruction) in a shocking decline in the monarch butterfly population. Learn more about the monarchs here.

But it’s funny – no matter how much we think we own the place, and anything that we do in the name of human well-being, damn the natural world, is OK, nature has a way of outsmarting us. Witness the weeds that are coming back to trump our “magic.”

If our answer to that question is that human needs and wants always trump natural systems, then I suggest that we are paving the way to a world without us. It won’t be this year, this decade, or even this century, but if we continue our wanton disregard for natural systems, we are threatening our own extinction along with the wave of species extinction we have already unleashed.

A far better answer to the question is – the Earth and evolution have provided wonderful opportunities for humanity that we have all-too-well exploited. The earth and everything in it are not for us to exploit, but protect. After all, we have no choice but to take on the role of stewards that our relentless interference has imposed on us. In the words of Colin Powell in advising President W before the latter invaded Iraq, “You break it, you own it.”

Worthy organizations are struggling to protect what is left of the natural world. Here are some of the most deserving – World Wildlife Fund; Sea Shepherd; National Wildlife Federation; Wildlife Conservation Society.

 

Mass Baby Production – for Better or Worse

I have to hand it to this Star Tribune commentator. In a clever opinion piece, he lays his case for continued population growth. It is entertaining, a bit snarky, and of course misguided. It is just more of the old-line thinking that says there can be no real change; the only way forward is an ever-growing population, with sufficient numbers of younger people in order to take care of the older people. And it glorifies mass baby production, like this organization does.

This thinking pays no attention to the real-world notion of a finite planet with exhaustible resources.  Commentator Mike Adams takes aim at the most ridiculous extreme of this sort of thinking – the (sadly) oft-heard right-wing notion that the earth could actually accommodate more people. This extreme thinking basically goes this way – the physical space required by people’s bodies is nowhere near filled to Bangladesh- like levels, so don’t talk about overpopulation. This commentary was shared by our friends at Growthbusters – who are dedicated to rational population policy. Other groups working toward that end are World Population Balance, Population Matters and Population Connection.

Many studies show that educating women in poor countries is the best way to stabilize population. On this issue and so many others, UNFPA deserves support.

 

Preparing (or not) for a Harsh Future

For those who are not shoving their heads under the sand or other dark places, tracing the trends in man-made climate change is a grim enterprise. Here are two stories on just that. First, a look at how the fantasy of the far north will become a short-order breadbasket is just that – a fantasy. And at the opposite end of the spectrum we have Phoenix – a technologically marvelous oasis in the desert, but for how long?

 

Decision Time Looms

With considerable justification, environmental activist Bill McKibben, author of many books including Eaarth, has made stopping the Keystone XL pipeline his main quest. His 350.org group was the driving force behind last month’s big Washington rally. And yet, for some, the debate has been subverted by the notion that the biggest question on Keystone is the safety of transporting the bitumen. Yes, it does behave differently in pipelines, and if spilled it has additional dangers in that it does not float the way purer oil does, but sinks to the bottom – making cleanup nigh impossible. That’s the thinking behind the Nebraska governor (Pilate-like) moving the planned pipeline route away from the Ogallala Aquifer.

Those water concerns, while serious, pale in comparison to the overall effects on the climate. Producing that stuff uses dramatically more carbon-based fuel, plus water, in the process, not to mention the fact that vital boreal forest land is replaced by a strip-mined wasteland. Then there are the vast tailing pools, a lingering hazard to wildlife that have somehow survived. Get the big picture here.

In spite of all that, stars appear to be lining up for approval. A recent State Department environmental study gave it an effective free pass. But the more we learn about that study, the more it resembles the same old fox-in-the-henhouse approach. The epic impact of tar sands oil is exactly the focus of this well-researched William Boardman blog post.  And I made a major resource discovery just this week that I want to share. NPR’s Alex Chadwick oversees a terrific radio show and web site – Burn, an Energy Journal. I love the irony of this post’s title: On super-highway to climate catastrophe, a demand for full tanks. The site is full of resources, and I highly recommend it.

 

Get Out the Money; But How?

It’s no secret. No matter what issue you analyze and trace to its source, it all comes down to money. That is, the money that rules our political system. I have long maintained that any progress on government of, for and by the people will be limited without a major change in the corporate control of politics. Democracy Now hosted an interesting segment, a debate of sorts, between two allies who have contrasting ideas on the best way to pursue that laudable goal. John Bonifaz, of Free Speech for People, is working on a national effort to amend the US Constitution to destroy corporate personhood (which was supercharged by the Citizens United Supreme Court decision). Mark Schmitt, of the Roosevelt Institute, opposes the amendment effort, but supports other paths to campaign finance reform. Watch the discussion and see what you think.

 

Far-East Freedom Fighters

The thought here – We don’t need no stinkin’ seat belts! Next time you see drivers on American roads doing foolish things – mainly playing with their devices while drifting out of lane or slowing to a crawl – remember that we have no monopoly on stupidity. Who are these guys fooling?

 

Where was OSHA?

For St. Patrick’s Day – a song about a fellow who was badly damaged at work.

 

“Do not wait for extraordinary circumstances to do good action; try to use ordinary situations.” -Jean Paul Richter

 

Contributed links to this posting – Allyson Harper

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN