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 8/4/13

4 08 2013

Climate Change Sinking In //

The article that headline calls out for goes like this. “Members of the US Congress, after decades of bickering and stalling, looked at the latest evidence of a planet altered by human-generated greenhouse gases, and decided, ‘Enough is enough. It is time for decisive steps.’ In other words, the science finally ‘sank in,’ and persuaded a critical mass of legislators, without regard to ideology, to respect the scientific findings and, at long last, enact world-leading policies to protect the planet for future generations.”

If only.

Sadly, what seems to be sinking in most deeply is warmer surface temperatures. And those are making things mighty interesting for now, mighty devastating in the not-so-distant future. Here are just a couple of examples of what I am describing. First, Arctic sea ice coverage is headed down into record territory again this summer. And the result is surface lakes of meltwater on top of the sea ice. But those are now breaking through the ice, sinking in to lower ice levels. And guess what happens then. Hint – refreezing is NOT what happens – even for this temporary lake at the North Pole.  That’s right, a “lake” exactly at the northernmost spot on this rapidly warming planet. So that is melting sinking through sea ice, which is already floating and not a direct threat of rising ocean levels.

But the same thing is happening on land. In particular, Greenland. Watch this video and see the evidence that the melt is speeding up. This is not a theory of future change. It is solid scientific observation of accelerated melting.  Note the sea level rise loaded in the Greenland ice sheet – seven meters, i.e. 23 feet. That’s enough to create more than a few bad days in various coastal cities. OK, that is an understatement, as you can see.

And here is another way climate change “sinks in.” Sure, seems like a no-brainer – weather is hotter, patience wears thin, tempers flare . . . But now there is measurable evidence of that heating effect.

So what are our nation’s leaders doing to slow and stop this disaster that is playing out? Not much. Oh sure, they are busy. You can’t accuse the gerrymandered (i.e. phony GOP-majority) House of inconsistency. (BTW, I think that vote count is up to 40 now – your tax dollars hard at work, for the long haul.)

What Congress could be doing – if its members were not beholden to their favorite flavor of fossil fuel – would be to make carbon pay its way. And yes, that seems impossible right now, with the House in the hands of science deniers and the Senate always under threat of the modern, misused descendant of the filibuster whenever anything of substance is discussed. But give the president credit – he has made proposals to move the country in a positive direction, based on actions that do not require Congressional support. Of course, it is always wise to be skeptical – this AlterNet piece clearly explains that all the positive action to plan to reduce emissions bumps up against continuing extraction growth (for export and profits to Big Oil). And military adventures overseas cause massive emissions but don’t count in the US total.    New extractions exported for big profits but don’t count in emission totals.

But the climate crisis is an accelerating wave, with surprises waiting at each warming milepost on the way. For instance – formerly frozen methane making a grand and unwelcome appearance, as described in this lengthy but worthy article by Subhankar Banerjee (author of Arctic Voices).

I argue that America’s political system has evolved into a mass machine dedicated to one purpose – clearing the way for multinational corporations (which owe no allegiance to any nation) to act in a regulation-free world. Thanks to Tea Party Republicans, this is happening often by default – as explained by economist Paul Krugman. The only big-picture solution to progress on climate and so many other issues is this- get the corporate money out.

Here is one organization – the Get Money Out Foundation – dedicated to that purpose. And – as a point of hope – more people all the time are “getting it.”

Avoid Local Bias

Here in Minnesota right now, we are positively basking in calm, beautiful weather. Gentle sunshine, temperatures around or a few degrees below long-term averages, no extreme, severe storms. It almost puts manmade climate change out of your mind. It even gets people of a certain frame of mind to think, “Maybe things are not as bad as they say. Sure looks pretty normal for now.” Don’t bet on it.

How about a lingering European heat wave? Or maybe you prefer ridiculously warm temps in Alaska. Or maybe it’s the big burn out in the American West.

None of this should be surprising. Consider the long-term trend. The only thing that should surprise is our malingering lethargy on this issue, allowing the pignorant (pretend-ignorant) crowd – led by the likes of Senator Jim “Hoax” Inhofe – to hold sway.

Time to wake up.

Some are More Equal than Others

Consider how wealthy America is – per capita – compared to the rest of the world. On the three scales listed here, we are either number seven, six or eight. And when you compare us only to other modern western democracies, only Norway, Luxembourg and Switzerland surpass us. Keep that in mind as you consider three perspectives on relative well-being in our country.

First, consider this laundry list of world-leading reasons why we should think twice – or maybe eight times – before chanting “USA!”

  • Most expensive place to have a baby
  • Obesity
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Small arms ownership
  • Most people behind bars
  • Energy use per person
  • Health expenditures
  • Cocaine use

Makes me want to chant. Or maybe scream.

Second, consider where might be the best place to be born. Here is an index based on a variety of factors – GDP, literacy, life expectancy, etc. (You can see all the factors listed in one of the charts.) Remembering that the US trails only two or three western democracies in per-capita wealth, you would think we should score pretty high – at least in the top ten. But you would be wrong. What is especially troubling is that a scant 25 years ago, the results were starkly different. So what is going on here?

That would be the third factor. Recent studies have surveyed Americans on two aspects of relative wealth distribution in the country. Those are:

  • How they believe wealth is actually distributed among the public, divided into ten-percent sectors (top ten percent, second ten percent, etc.)
  • What would be a fair distribution of wealth among those sectors

This gets really interesting when compared to the way wealth is actually distributed among the ten sectors. I believe this is the best explanation – via video animation – of how this is playing out.

These trends are not good, they don’t result by accident, and they are not inevitable. I like Robert Reich’s concise video explanation, and his call for change for the better. I also like Jim Hightower’s quick audio tour of American exceptionalism, and his prescription for a better future – invest in the common good.

Framing the Debate

Heard about Sandy Hook recently? Some might say, “Sandy Hook? What’s that, a beach to visit?” Well, no, it is only the site of that awful school massacre just last December which, for a short time, generated some momentum for reasonable gun regulation. Things though have not only returned to what passes for normal, but such events seem to have spawned even more gun sales. Nothing seems to have changed in a country where a guy like this can be a police chief, make an outrageous video and be defended by powerful people as “just expressing his views on his own time.” One more good old town to stay away from.

Bill Maher makes a valid point on the weapons issue – today’s debate allows only center-to-right perspectives. While Wayne LaPierre continues to own Congress, it is always a sad but necessary exercise to check in on how many more have died in gun violence since the Sandy Hook massacre. I say we should listen to those whose lives have been shattered. And I ask – how many more Americans famous and otherwise will have to suffer the fate of the likes of Jim Brady, Gabrielle Giffords and Sami Rahamim to name just a few, before we summon the will to escape the gun lobby’s stranglehold on policy?

Big, Brave Policy Enforcers

You and I can’t imagine the courage and fortitude required to carry out the mission described at this link. This shining example of bold, decisive action will live on in the annals of government protecting the public against grave threats, under the heading “Policies are policies.”

You will read how the Department of Natural Resources did its sworn duty. But hey – considering the SWAT-team-like actions of the highly armed team makes me wonder – was this really the DNR?  After all, the federal government has a feared agency called the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). Maybe – stay with me – the Dairy State has a new, shadowy, undercover agency called the WTF. That would be the bureau of, well, you get the idea. And maybe this quick strike was really designed to eliminate a laughing critic who dared to say – in her own way – that the state’s emperor has no clothes. Mission accomplished.

Hope for an Ethical Future

What a concept – holding the Supreme Court justices to high ethical standards. Too good to be true? Probably, but let’s dream on. Getting a bill introduced is at least a good start.

Heard this New Asian Band?

I have attended several concerts at the Minnesota Zoo – a great Twin Cities venue. But I have never seen anything like this. Mostly percussion, but it has its moments. Creates a new meaning for the term “big band.”

“There is two kinds of music, the good, and the bad. I play the good kind.”

-Louis Armstrong

 

Contributed links to this posting – Mary Colborn, Allyson Harper, Tammie Stadt

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 4/28/13

28 04 2013

Self-Interest at the Top //

Bipartisanship is so rare in Congress these days, that when an example shows up, it is worth celebrating. Maybe.

When the sequester hit home for the nation’s legislators and their well-heeled constituents in the form of air traffic delays, lawmakers bravely put bickering aside for now and took care of their own comfort and convenience. And there is yet another example of cooperation in support of a worthy cause, from not very long ago at all. Somehow, this noble act escaped much public notice.

I agree with Bill Moyers – we really do have the worst Congress money can buy. And has.

 

Me First; You are Irrelevant

Disregard for suffering has reached a new low in recent days. Listen to radio host Bob Davis as he rails about his “loss of liberty” being a greater tragedy than the loss suffered by the survivors of the Newtown school massacre. And then there was the National Review accusing former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords of political stunts for her advocacy of sensible gun regulation.  Yup, nearly dying at the hands of a homicidal maniac, then courageously fighting to recover to walk and talk makes you a target all over again in this hyper-individualistic country of ours. And why? Because she dared to point out the obvious in print – that the NRA rules Congress.

The shock jock got his comeuppance when a Sandy Hook resident offered to pay his expenses so he could deliver his tough-guy rant in person in Connecticut. Davis has not taken the offer, though he did finally apologize . . . sort of.  All this makes me wonder how low gun absolutists will stoop. This Salon piece parses the twisted logic, which basically says – if you have experienced gun violence yourself, your understandably emotion-laced perspective is not valid (and, so, you can go to hell).

What I see here is the cult of individualism run amok. This cult extends far beyond the gun regulation debate. And it has consequences, especially since it extends to letting “great men,” you know, the makers not the takers, i.e. the John Galts, do their great work without “burdensome regulation.” That includes the makers and purveyors of the Bushmaster AR-15 (the shiniest object of modern American gun lust), but also those with influence over certain major news events of recent days. (If you take the trip, you will find a great punch line at the end of that linked article.) And note that those who support this “red state model” have designs on all 50 states. That’s the brilliant example that Kansas Governor Sam Brownback thinks the rest of us government-dependent slugs will be dying to emulate.

Radical free-market libertarianism – in other words the deregulation of just about everything – affects all matters of the public good. One of the most pressing is of course my favorite issue – climate change. Unfettered burning of fossil fuels is one of the best ways to say we don’t give a damn about people near and far who suffer the consequences. And as with gun violence, manufacturing safety and public security, if we wait until we all have personal experience with the issue, we have waited too long.

Climate change in particular calls for an added layer of empathy – for future generations. That is the focus of my friend Julie Johnston’s thoughtful blog, Compassionate Climate Action, and also of newly retired NASA meteorologist James Hansen’s fine recent book. Here is a new interview that AlterNet’s Tara Lohan did with Hansen. I believe Hansen will have an even bigger impact now that he is retired and can focus on his climate activism. He gives a damn, and acts on his compassion for the planet and its people, now and into the future. So should we.

 

The Misunderestimated Decider

A few years back, a joke circulated about President W and his library. It went this way. A tragic fire broke out at the president’s library, and it destroyed both books. And he hadn’t finished coloring in one of them.

Good news – he now has a real brick-and-mortar library. Reality trumps tired jokes. The ex-decider says history will judge his presidency, and his popularity ratings have indeed climbed from the abyss to which they had sunk at the end of his two tainted terms. But everything I have seen or read suggests this new “library” is more like an alternate-reality museum of “truth,” designed to create a propaganda version of the W legacy. It’s all about “decisions,” see? Sort of reminds me of this place, with several fewer dinosaurs. But it does have some scary ghosts.

In the midst of all the memorabilia, and the “decision-making” games, there appear to be several large numbers missing – such as 1,000,000 and 3,000,000,000,000. The first number – a million – that’s one estimate of the number of Iraqi war deaths. That next number – three trillion – is a conservative estimate of the cost of the Decider’s war of choice.

Will anyone aside from his corporatist high-rolling backers look back fondly on the W years? Doubtful. On the other hand, I remember each time I post or share this blog. Its title is a crooked tip of the hat to the decider-in-chief. IBI = Ignorance-Based Initiatives, one word removed from an early W idea, “faith-based initiatives.” And one thing is certain – President W sure left us a lot to remember him by.

 

Climate Change – Local Consequences, Global Struggle

Though “global warming” is, in the long run, an accurate term – we are steadily warming the planet with our insatiable thirst for fossil-fuel energy – its immediate manifestations are more like climate chaos. That’s why I prefer the term “climate change.”

My own local environment in the middle of North America, is showing impressive climate change – not that too many people think it is worth doing something about.

For one example, winter still has not let go of us. Though temps may approach 80 degrees Sunday, the forecast for later in the week calls for three days of intermittent rain/snow mix. Despite all the “Minnesnowta” jokes, this is not a normal pattern, friends. And it is definitely not a return to some long-lost “real winter” past. It is yet another cut-off low, related to the malformed jet stream – an increasingly common phenomenon.

So climate change seems to be causing lingering cold in these parts. Yet as Paul Douglas reports, the long view is something else again. We had a record low overnight temperature last week – the first since 2004. During that same nine-year stretch, we have had 40 record highs. Hey, could this be a trend?! Douglas’ blog and Star Tribune column have become indispensable resources for those who track climate change here in the Twin Cities and elsewhere. And as for the United States in 2012, Harper’s reports 362 record high temperatures, and how many record lows? Why, not a single one.

Here is some news from the other side of the planet – China. Even those who don’t watch climate change carefully know that China’s greenhouse emissions have been growing dramatically as they regularly bring new coal plants on line. It turns out that local warming seemingly related to all that CO2 is showing up, though it won’t stay there long. This is something we all share, whether we like it or not, and whether Senator James Inhofe believes it or not. That same MPR audio ClimateCast also talks about long-term changes we are causing in the Great Lakes – less winter ice means more evaporation, and lower lake levels.

With all this chaos we have unleashed, the best thing we can do would be to dramatically reduce our greenhouse emissions. That is what Bill McKibben and his organization is dedicated to doing. Check them out and get involved. There is much to learn in McKibben’s article in the current Rolling Stone.

 

Utilities Upended?

What if solar took over the power system? This has utilities more than a little concerned.

 

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” – Alice Walker

 

Contributed links to this posting – Allyson Harper

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN





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 2/17/13

17 02 2013

What the People Want //

In the January/February Mother Jones, editors Monika Bauerlein and Clara Jeffery laid out arguably the biggest legacy choice faced by President Obama in his second term. The multitudes massing in the nation’s capital right now point to that choice – it is whether his strong words in the State of the Union message will translate into action to do everything possible to mitigate and reverse climate change.

What struck me most in the Bauerlein/Jeffery essay was this – a Yale/George Mason poll from 2012 that detailed public opinion on climate legislation. Here are a few highlights: 63 percent of Democrats, 58 percent of independents and 43 percent of Republicans said climate change was a key issue in their vote. And in 2011, a Stanford study reported 77 percent of the public would support a candidate who said climate change is real, humans are the cause and cleaner energy is needed.

This is powerful. It is also simultaneously encouraging and perplexing. Encouraging because it says – Heartland Institute, Limbaugh, Inhofe, etc. be damned – people understand this issue. Perplexing because – with this level of public awareness, why the policy paralysis? Why would many expect President Obama’s oft-cited “all of the above” energy/climate policy balance sensible protections with the explosion of the biggest carbon bomb yet, the Alberta tar sands? Here is one prominent commentator, Bonnie Blodgett, who expects just that cave. I cannot disagree with her analysis, and yet I hold out hope. The climate disaster that Blodgett describes is just what will result from approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, which is the target of the Washington demonstration.

Two guests on this week’s Moyers and Company, Dan Cantor and Jonathan Soros, did not mention climate change a single time. And yet, their message holds the answer to why progress has been nigh impossible on this crucial issue. It’s the corporate money that pollutes and overwhelms our political system. The two men come from very different backgrounds, but have landed on the same cause – get political power back into the hands of the people. And they have successes to boast of – particularly a victory by a populist candidate in a squeaker of a New York State Senate race. Cantor and Soros are founders of a SuperPac, Friends of Democracy. I highly recommend the Moyers segment, which runs 30 minutes. It includes several imbedded videos, and of course an inspiring message. Cantor and Soros are emphatic on this point – the biggest barrier to replacing one dollar, one vote with one person one vote is the all-too-familiar one – apathy.

Removing corporate influence over elections has long been a Moyers cause – here is his latest essay on the topic. I like his take on the “golden rule of politics.” Here are two more groups fighting to get corporate money out of our elections – The Move to Amend and the Center for American Progress.

Climate Commitment is Building

Regular IBI Watch readers know that I like to collect and share the latest climate change research findings. For a change of pace, let’s stay away from shocking new findings and instead look at a few hopeful signs.

First – Senator Barbara Boxer, much more widely known and influential than progressive crusader Senator Bernie Sanders, is introducing legislation calling for a carbon fee/dividend system. The article treats this idea as a “new twist,” but of course James Hansen, Bill McKibben and others have championed this approach for some time. Second – the Sierra Club, an organization I have long supported, has abandoned its longtime refusal to engage in civil obedience. Its current leader, Michael Brune, got himself arrested in a protest at the White House. Watch him hold his own here against a hostile Fox interviewer who leads a tag team trying to drag this guy into the mud. Third – there is a major institution in the US that is not waiting for the do-nothing, corporate-ruled Congress to act. That would be the US military. The current Mother Jones has an excellent cover story on how the military is leading the charge on renewable fuel. (It’s not linkable on line just yet.) And why not? They are the ones who have to fight our endless petrol wars.

Finally, I put my faith in the young people. A fine example is this video from SciShow. The young narrator is informed, world-weary and entertaining. I like the attitude here.

Rising Waters

Sorry, I broke my promise. But hey, I am not running for office, so cut me some slack. If you have been puzzled – as I have – about how global-warming-induced sea rise could vary by coast and region, here is what seems like the story. A friend pointed me to this link about the latest research on the slowing Gulf Stream (part of the great ocean conveyor belt, properly called the thermohaline circulation). And another friend sent this in-depth article on what is at stake in the Keystone XL battle. Michael T. Klare – author of Resource Wars, Blood and Oil, and Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy. makes a persuasive case that denying approval to Keystone will deal a body blow to tar sands exploitation. Approve, and accelerate global warming and all its ill effects – which are already playing out faster than scientists projected several decades ago. And finally, here is a provocative article suggesting that hydraulic fracturing of rock to yield previously unavailable deposits of natural gas may not be the climate savior it is fracked up to be.

Explosion-Induced Tone Deafness

Remember the earlier theme – about the people stifled by powerful financial interests? Listening to the assertions of NRA leaders David Keene and the better-known Wayne LaPierre yields the conclusion that these guys will forever choose not to hear the people’s will. Why this selective deafness? It’s not the effect of nearby gunshots for sure. Maybe it is the financial power of the gun and ammunition manufacturers and merchants who pay these guys’ salaries.

I choose instead to follow the researchers who have continued research into the impact and implications of America’s problem of gun violence – such as those at Johns Hopkins University. More important, I choose to hear the survivors and families of innocent victims of the seemingly endless toll – Kim Odom, who lost her son to gun violence; the family of Hadiya Pendleton, victim of a gang war in Chicago; former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly, gun owners themselves who are courageously turning their tragedy into a struggle for reasonable gun regulation.

Change will not be easy, and there is no guarantee of success. In fact, when organizations speak up in favor of reason, they end up here. (Note – a friend had sent me that original link, which was indeed tossed down the NRA memory hole.) But – just like with climate change – people understand this issue. For proof, I leave you with this video on the incredible outpouring of sympathy for the shattered community of Newtown.

Yes, the Sky is Falling

It is hard to top the cosmic timing. On the very day that a predicted fly-by of a large asteroid occurred on schedule, a sudden, unannounced visitor exploded in the sky over Chelyabinsk, Russia.  Though it sounds way-put, we should be planning and preparing for such events. The consequences of not preparing are grave, and we have the technology to divert disaster. This Space.com article brings it all together nicely and has some eye-catching, concise videos to boot.

For the Birds

We humans strut around like we own the place. And of course, for better or worse (too often the latter), we do. Just consider how we continually expropriate more and more of the natural world for our own use. Hey, there are more and more of us all the time (seven billion and ever mounting, but who’s counting?!) – so what do you expect? But putting all that aside for another day, I have two items that remind us that nature can still strike back. First – maybe these vultures are trying to tell us something. Second – I challenge you to watch this very brief video of an unexpected wildlife display in an unusual space and not root for its protagonist.

Best Jeopardy Answer Yet

Back when I (seemingly) had more time to burn, I was a Jeopardy junkie. This affliction struck early – I would race home for lunch in the third grade and watch Art Fleming (predecessor to the long-tenured Alex Trebek). I in fact tried out for the show in Chicago some years ago. I didn’t quite make it (damn!), but then there is always the looming senior tournament. But I have never seen anything quite like the display of guts and wit in this segment from the venerable quiz show’s current teen tournament.  Will it have a happy ending? You will just have to watch.

“Environmental justice for all is civil rights in the 21st century.” – Majora Carter

Contributed links to this posting – Bonnie Blodgett, Allyson Harper, Brendan Murphy, Lucinda Plaisance, Tammie Stadt

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN





IBI Watch 12/30/12

30 12 2012

Sustainability Works //

Three positive stories have crossed my path recently. Each inspires by exploding a common myth:

  • Modern agriculture forces farmers to use modern methods – heavy chemical fertilizer, monoculture, etc.
  • A carbon tax can never work – let the market decide
  • Business is all about the top guy and how much he can earn and keep for himself – he earned it after all, and Ayn Rand tells us that altruism is a mark of weakness

First, an 81-year-old farmer from Iowa who is doing things the old way, and making impressive profits.  As you will find out in this Josephine Marcotty story, Dick Thompson is charting a middle ground between rigid organic practices and what you might call the Monsanto way. Minimal chemicals, crop rotation, animal wastes and in general making friends with Mother Nature instead of battling her at every turn. Yea, Dick Thompson!

Next, many climate change experts – led by NASA meteorologist James Hansen – say taxing carbon is the best – and maybe the only – way to begin the necessary, dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Right now in the US, with the stranglehold that Big Coal and Big Oil seem to have over our government, taxing carbon is going nowhere. But Ireland has taken a big step. Check how getting smart with carbon emissions – far from “killing jobs” – has become part of the solution to the Irish debt crisis. This excellent New York Times story includes a three-minute video that tells the story well. Yea, Ireland!

And finally – A savvy CEO knows the drill – maximize profit, pay your people no more than you have to, pocket as much as you can, and hold onto it, by God. Meet a naïve CEO. You won’t believe the alternative that retiring grocer Joe Lueken has chosen instead of cashing in his years of hard-earned profits.  This story also includes a video. Yea, Joe Lueken!

Prevention; Clean-up is Too Late

There really are some problems that require proactive action. Once the damage is done, no penalty can undo the harm.  Climate change and gun violence are just two such issues.

This week’s climate news is (what else?) disturbing. The Antarctic is thawing much faster than predicted. Here is another look at that same issue. Yes, and trees – our staunch allies in the Earth’s interwoven life processes – are lying down on the job (that is, the ones that we are not laying down on the ground or burning!)  Need more? No big surprise here, but it turns out that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has consistently underestimated the climate effects. That is, actual events outstrip what this very conservative, consensus-dependent group has predicted.  Let this go, and we – but even more so our grandchildren – will be very sorry.  So the kind of prevention that is needed must involve a carbon tax. This LA Times opinion piece by Jon Healey covers the political minefield that must be navigated to take this essential step.  Here’s how it can work.

And then there is gun violence. Two weeks have passed since the bloodbath at Sandy Point. That is time enough for the old lines to be drawn. And the NRA’s spokesman has certainly been up to the task. The solution according to Wayne Pierre is, naturally, “a good guy with a gun.” That is, lots of good guys with lots more guns. In this mythology, armed heroes in all places can “take out” those with nefarious missions.

Whether you agree with LaPierre or not, his “solutions” are all about reactive measures rather than trying everything possible to keep the most dangerous weapons and ammunition out of the hands of would-be murderers in the first place. You can see the NRA’s spokesman selling his ideas to a very skeptical and persistent host of Meet the Press right here. David Gregory makes a valiant effort to get the nation’s top gun salesman to answer questions – not always successfully.

In Wayne LaPierre’s world, the biggest problem is not the semi-automatic weapons and incredibly large ammunition clips. Rather, it is monsters, lunatics and Dianne Feinstein (but not necessarily in that order). And if you argue for reasonable regulation, you are, without exception, “trying to destroy the Second Amendment.” Such are the rules of Wayne’s World, which is what America becomes more and more all the time. Gregory takes apart each of LaPierre’s arguments, but to no avail.

On the other hand, here is more evidence of the need for preventive action, namely reasonable, enforceable regulations on the most dangerous semiautomatic weapons and ammunition. In the short time since Sandy Hook, the killing continues. And of course there are many more innocent victims over the long term. And note this – as reported on Democracy Now, America’s stubborn refusal to regulate access to the most dangerous weapons causes problems all over the world, and especially in the Mexican drug wars – which so often spill across the border. There is much to learn here. Here is the book by Amy Goodman’s guest, Andrew Feinstein – it is on my reading list.

Over the Cliff, Merrily?

By the time you read this, we may have already taken the dreaded “Thelma and Louise” plunge. But it is good to get a look at the politics involved. Much as I am no fan of House Speaker John Boehner, I sure would not want his job right now.

King of the (Rubbish) Hill

This short video is a bit gruesome and graphic; it tells the real story of dominion. And anyway, the real-world acts depicted in cartoon style here really are themselves pretty gruesome and graphic. Also – a very clever music score.

Summing Up 2012

Here are several wrap-up articles for the year:

Power to the People

To close for this week, try these items regarding taking action for a better world.

First, a column by Bonnie Blodgett on a topic that has recently gained more notice – divestiture from organizations whose practices are inconsistent with progressive values. This points out the power we have with our choices – both as customers and investors. It is something I plan to write more about in the coming year.

Second, here is a thought-provoking TedX Talk on “avoiding the crime of inaction.” Speaker John Bunzi expands on the traditional “prisoner’s dilemma” to call for global democratic action to stop climate change.

Finally, here is a movie that went right to the top of my Netflix list. The trailer for Carbon Nation promises many good ideas for getting supporters for the movement to stop climate change – even those who are not convinced that our tailpipes, smokestacks and farms are the main source of the rolling disaster.

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

― Albert Einstein

Contributed links to this posting – Tess Galati, Allyson Harper

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN