IBI Watch 4/21/13

21 04 2013

Wacky, Wobbly Weather  //

To say this spring’s weather in the Twin Cities has been “interesting” would be a gross understatement. Following a winter that could best be characterized as “average,” (save the midwinter rains and warmer bottom-out temperature), winter has come limping back, zombie-like.  March and April can be described only in one (printable) way – cold!

To most typical small-talk gripes, I have been responding that this colder-than-average spring somewhat balances the ridiculously warmer than average spring of 2012.

So what is going on here? It is one of three things:

  • A return to “normal Minnesota winter”
  • Random variation
  • Further evidence of manmade climate change’s local effects

Forget the first option. Magical thinking. If you dig deeper into the NOAA site linked above – here it is again – you will see that winters, even one that seems like old times, are just not as cold as they used to be. Higher overnight lows and winter rain are far outside historical norms. And then there is this NOAA bulletin that, if the Twin Cities were really just “going back to normal,” it would somehow have separated itself from earth. Yup, 337 consecutive months of above-average temps are one thing, but any day now, it will bounce back. Uh-huh. Check the excellent two-minute video narrated by meteorologist Deke Arndt for an explanation – “Pockets of Cold in a Warming World.”

As for the second option, if you still believe that, you were not paying attention. Review the Arndt video, and listen for the phrase “but they are not random.”

The third option is the most interesting, of course. Remember that big Arctic melt last summer? It has a legacy, friends. And, here we go again. But the NOAA video, fine though it is, fails to delve into the underlying causes of the cold regimes that arrive and linger in certain parts of the world, even as overall averages continue their inexorable climb. For that explanation, we turn to Rutgers University coastal and marine science professor Jennifer Francis. First, an overview of her work from Mother Jones’ Chris Mooney. Here is the video itself, a mini-lecture that includes animation showing that the slowing, drooping, wobbling jet stream is the culprit for our miserable spring. It is also no doubt connected to many other “stalled-weather” phenomena, but that is a topic for future discussion.

It’s comforting – to a point – to understand the scientific basis for deviant weather patterns. On the other hand, this is just one more reason why climate change science simultaneously fascinates and terrifies me. If this much chaotic change happens when we have not even raised the global temperature quite a full degree Celsius, and raised atmospheric CO2 to not quite 400 parts per million, what lies ahead in the inevitable world of two or more degrees of increase, and 450, or 500 ppm?

Stay informed, and get involved with promoting a rational approach to the climate crisis here, here and here.

Incidentally, I am a certified presenter for the Climate Reality Project. How is this for irony? My first presentation was scheduled for this past week, but was postponed by an out-of season snowstorm. This of course gives me another climate chaos story to tell when I present on the rescheduled date, next month. I am happy to present to any Twin-Cities-based group, barring chaotic weather of course. Request a talk at the Climate Reality site, or contact me directly.

Our Subverted System

For sale. Not exactly cheap, but rich benefits accrue to the successful buyer.

It’s our government, naturally, and it has already been sold. The owners are not the rightful ones – citizens – but those “people” called out by Mitt Romney. Remember? He told us “Corporations are people, my friend.” If they ever were people, they have become hyper-powered people in recent years, though I hesitate to call them superheroes.

The power of corporations is on display frequently – Monsanto’s domination of agriculture, and Big Oil and Big Coal’s continued success at heading off further regulation for two examples. But this past week saw one of the most blatant trashings of the public will in recent memory. The Senate voted 54-46 in favor of a reasonable gun regulation that polls show overwhelming majorities support – universal background checks for firearm purchases. This happened despite the presence in Washington of family members of Sandy Hook victims, and former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.  But wait – Senate voted 54-46, in favor, and the measure failed?  Yes, of course – in this modern era of abuse of the filibuster by the modern Republican Party, it takes 60 votes to pass just about anything out of that broken body of government.  The Constitution says the Senate passes bills with a simple majority, but, well, you may remember what President W had to say on the Constitution.

So how is this failed effort at reasonable gun regulation further evidence of the corporate stranglehold over our system? Three ways. First, consider that most of the senators who voted against represent a small slice of the population. Second, consider that most of them take money from one of the most powerful lobbying organizations in the history of politics. Third, remember that, despite rhetoric about freedom, this organization is, like any good lobbying body, dedicated most of all to the unlimited, unregulated sale of its products. To my mind, this is just one of the most egregious examples of corporate control of politics, public will be damned.

Still not convinced that many of the largest corporations today rule the roost, disregard the public and don’t pay their dues?  Try this AlterNet piece on corporate tax cheating. Or how about this Nation of Change article on the real corporate terrorists? Or how about checking in on the coddled industry that was bailed out with taxpayer money five years ago?  Take that, you wealth inequality activists!

It does not have to be this way, and if it stays this way, we are in deep, deep trouble, friends. Here is a good snapshot of the layoff the land. Jim Hightower’s current Lowdown has a dirty laundry list of corporate purchasers of the last election. You will have to subscribe to read that one right away (It is in the April issue), but Hightower often writes powerfully on this all-important issue. Here is a recent commentary on tax fairness. In his April newsletter – which I strongly recommend – he lists three groups that deserve more support – Open Secrets, Sunlight Foundation and Public Campaign.

But to close, let’s return to the most pressing issue of corporate control – gun violence. This chart from Slate has been tallying the body count since the Sandy Hook school massacre. In this month’s Scientific American, Michael Shermer shines the light of reason on one of the most shameful aspects of the NRA takeover of American politics – the denial of science. In this and so many other areas, it is long past time for the public good to trump callous, fear-driven profits.

Founding Sustainers

Commentator Bonnie Blodgett makes a persuasive case that key founders of our republic, often claimed by the likes of “originalists” like the corporatist Justice Antonin Scalia, were actually originalists of another stripe – the USA’a first sustainability advocates. Recommended.

April 22 Earth Day. Heal Our World, Heal Ourselves. (Guest Post)

This is a guest post by Lynn Hasselburger – a blogger in her own right. Her work is also featured at Boomer Warrior, where you see my posts from time to time as well. Thanks to editor Rolly Montpellier for passing this along.

“Reaching a general understanding that sustainability is the ultimate issue will finally bring us face-to-face with the political challenge of forging a sustainable society during the next few decades. It is a challenge we can meet if we have the leadership and the political will to do so.”  – Gaylord Nelson


Contributed links to this posting – Allyson Harper


Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

IBI Watch 3/10/13

10 03 2013

Globalization’s Ups and Downs //

 “The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true.” – James Branch Cabell

Though I fall in neither group, that favorite quote comes to mind whenever I watch the first of two videos I am about to link with. It also comes to mind when I look at the incredible, towering wave of new climate change information that seems poised to break over us about now. More on that in a bit.

First, bear with me for a brief back story. At my job, in learning and organization development, one of my responsibilities is running the orientation program for new managers. This is a series of presentations and seminars led by key organizational leaders. One of the presentations covers workforce planning. To place the new managers into a big-picture frame of mind, we show a video that paints a rosy picture of rapid global change. It is called “Did You Know?” and is really quite good. No wonder it’s closing in on 5 million views. But the thing is now six years old, and consequently contains some laughably outdated facts. So every time I have run the orientation program in the past five years, part of my prep is to seek a suitable update. No luck. Until now, sort of.

Many hucksters have not been able to leave a good thing alone, so many Did You Know? updates include marketing messages – how can you reach millions of new customers worldwide, etc. Not good for my orientation program, and in my opinion not good for anything else.

My latest find won’t make it into the orientation program either, but it is very watchable (unlike some frenetic follow-ups), and most important of all, points a justifiably jaundiced eye at global change. It is even a bit dark for my taste, but the news that arrives every week justifies that take, in my book.

Enough of the back story. Here is the original, backed by a wonderfully contemplative musical soundscape. And here, with a bumpier score, is an update made a year or so later.

This question of optimism or pessimism is all-important. I have been told by several people that I must be very pessimistic, given the subject matter I choose to research and relate in my citizen commentaries. And in fact, I know enough based on my reading to accept the fact that this sickly hilarious dystopia is in the cards if we don’t change course.

But I stick with my philosophy, which I call informed optimism. That is, learn as much as you can about what is really going on, and do whatever you can to keep the worst case from unfolding. If enough of us adopt this approach, we can elect rational, fact-based leaders who transform our system into a sustainable one.


Ramping Up Carbon and Heat

Those of us who have been watching this climate crisis unfold – in my case since the 1980s – are running out of terms for the evidence that continues to unfold, almost daily. This week has been even more dramatic than most. Here are a few terms to try on for size – Amazing, atypical, unprecedented and the most colorful of all – we are screwed. What is this latest plague of arm-waving about? Nothing much – just new evidence that the “hockey stick” is no fable. Warming in the last 100 years is 50 times faster than the cooling that had been occurring over the previous 5000. In other words, we are now a force of nature, and a force that has the power to destroy nature, or at least the nature that allows us to maintain our wonderful civilization and the lion’s share of the biodiversity that graces our planetary home.

You can see a lot more detail on the new research results at those above links, and also view a collection of charts here in Mother Jones, and here at the fortress of radical, sky-is-falling propaganda, NOAA. For more, here is an article discussing giant atmospheric waves and their connection with extreme weather, like, for just a single example, the recent virtually stationary storm that pounded New England.


Climate Change Victims of Many Stripes

As we in the comfortable west concoct self-absolving excuses for building the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, people around the world are already suffering the consequences of our fossil fuel addiction. As with so many environmental calamities, those least responsible for the destruction are suffering the most, at least for now. This Root article points out how people of color right here in America face higher risk than others from several factors directly related to human caused climate change – in particular, proximity to coal plants and exposure to heat waves.  Here is the connection between the Arab Spring and climate change.

While we in America have been dealing with a series of snow dumps (laughably dismissed by denialists like Inhofe), Australia has suffered through one hellacious southern summer. The Australian government has dubbed it the Angry Summer. And then there are those residents of doomed tropical paradises like Kiribati’s 100,000 natives. (The free viewing of the new movie The Angry Tide has been disabled, but you can view the trailer here.)


Doing Something about Climate Change

Fortunately, there is so much more than pignorance (pretend-ignorance) out there. Maybe, just maybe, this growing wave of awareness and commitment will convince President Obama – who talked a good game on climate change commitment in his State of the Union message – to take real action in rejecting Keystone and taking all actions possible to build a sustainable energy system that protects the planet.

Here are some fine examples of people taking action right now. First, Van Jones, who in any rational country would be presidential material, stands up cheerfully to major negative baiting from Wolf Blitzer in this CNN clip. It’s really quite a display of propaganda-fueled belligerence on Blitzer’s part – is this guy hoping to supplant Windbaugh or what?! And then there is Darryl Hannah – a committed activist who has been arrested in recent demonstrations against Keystone – passionately delivering one of the most eloquent explanations of the climate crisis that I have seen. And best of all, she is promoting a new movie on the REAL climate hoax, the one perpetrated by Big Oil and Big Coal and pushed by the likes of Lyin’ Jim Inhofe. Its none-too-subtle title tells the story – Greedy Lying Bastards. Hannah also mentions the uber-issue that must be solved – corporate pollution of politics and policy. Here is one more famous name – at least in climate change circles. Michael Mann is the hockey-stick guy himself, and was caught up in that phony “Climategate” scandal a few years back.  Could be sweet revenge, even if the latest development gets only a fraction of the attention Fox News lavished on those liars – Mann is suing for defamation.

Taking action is by no means the exclusive realm of the big names. First – one more morsel of proof that young people will do a much better job than we pathetic boomers have – read this on a hot college course subject. Next – blogger Laura Sabransky (offers this humorous yet helpful cheat sheet on climate change arguments. And for the genuinely adventurous, the Climate Reality Project (for which I am a certified presenter) has a new feature, a game really, that allows committed persons to work against denialism – Reality Drop. Learn about it here.


An Anniversary We’d Like to Forget . . . But Dare not

It’s the anniversary of the Bush Administration’s great war of choice, the invasion of Iraq, 10 years ago this month. For the continuing costs of that great disaster, it is hard to find a better source than Coleen Rowley. The ex-FBI agent has been a progressive activist since retiring from federal service, and was one of the voices crying out for full investigation of terror conspiracies before 9/11. In this commentary she wrote for the Star Tribune, Rowley retells in detail the awful consequences of the Bush-Cheney adventure. Here is another hard-hitting column, this one by the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd. She focuses on Cheney, and points to a new movie detailing his de facto seizure of the reins during those dark days. It’s The World According to Dick Cheney, and we will be living in it for a very long time.

Most accounts looking back on the Iraq war will focus on the tremendous cost in life and treasure. But some costs were also more subtle, but not unimportant.  Remember all the antiquities destroyed in the initial bombardment and looted in the aftermath?   And in a touch of irony, Bush’s war, which his administration started under a banner of clashing civilizations, even using the term “crusade” for a time, has hastened the demise of the language of Jesus, Aramaic. Though this NPR story does not explicitly mention Bush’s war, when narrator Jackie Lyden said that many thousands of Iraqi speakers had fled the region “in the last decade,” it was clear the reason why.

For a completely different perspective on that time (or what led up to it), I liked Sarah Vowell’s essay on This American Life. Her topic is actually racism and Rosa Parks, but her mention of Katharine Harris – Florida’s 2000 Secretary of State and arguably the biggest force in stopping the vote counting and ultimately handing the state and the presidency to Bush – makes it relevant here, sort of. Hey – no Katharine Harris, no President W, no Iraq war . . . and so on.


Long Live the Voting Rights Act

One look at the recent efforts by the Republican Party at gaming the election system with photo id laws, “accidental” mismanagement of voting machine availability, disinformation via robocalls, etc., tells any reasonable person that the Voting Rights Act has decidedly not outlived its necessity. However, a certain Supreme Court justice thinks otherwise, and he is not playing around.

I can think of no one more qualified to respond to Justice Scalia than Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. First Stewart – hard to fault the logic, and funny as hell to boot. You will know more about Shelby County AL than you ever knew you needed to. And Stephen Colbert’s guest, Julian Bond, makes an apt comparison for us. Maybe Blitzer has some competition?

I don’t know what the fuss is about. As this Sack cartoon shows, Justice Scalia might just be a nice old guy in the park, feeding the bird.

One Idea for a Better World

If only . . . In honor of International Women’s Day.


“The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” –
Neil DeGrasse Tyson


Contributed links to this posting – Allyson Harper


Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN