IBI Watch 9/8/13

8 09 2013

Climate Winners and Losers //

Several recent climate change postings recall a frequently heard pronouncement – “Climate change will have winners and losers.” Sounds reasonable enough.

Let’s try that one out. Low-lying islands will soon be underwater speed bumps. Hard to see anything but losers there. But wait – those poor unfortunate souls will soon have new potential homes as the poles thaw. Greenland will be open for business any decade now. Winners? See for yourself. At first glance, all the greenery makes that NBC News article look happy and inviting. But if you dig in, you see that John Roach did an admirable, honest job at painting the big picture. Note those temperature rises – five to 11 degrees F. And those are mid-range predictions. And he includes quotes from Danish biologist Jens-Christian Svenning, who helps us understand this will really not be a good example of “winners.” Not by a long shot.

How about the oceans? Surely, warmer oceans will allow marine life to flourish, leading to recovery of key fisheries. And a well-known climate change denial site tells just such a fish story about lobsters. (Chuckles all around at the cheap shot against vegetarians. Heh, heh.) Looks like we may have found ourselves a winner, folks. But slice a little deeper in the baloney and what do you get? Long-term damage to the lobster fishery, and bizarre behavior changes to boot.

But surely something must be capitalizing on the warming ocean environment. Distance swimmer Diana Nyad knows what it is, all too well. So the much-reviled jellyfish is a clear winner in manmade climate change. And that is just a part of the story. If you have 18 minutes for an excellent TED talk, coral reef ecologist Jeremy Jackson will educate you on the triple whammy (pollution, overfishing and climate change) we have visited on the world’s once-teeming oceans. How we wrecked the oceans, indeed. I like Jackson’s prescription for cleaning up the mess – but you will have to watch for yourself to find out what that is.

So on the seas, it’s pretty much losers all around, save for the jellyfish armada. But on land it is a different story. Sure, habitats are moving towards higher latitudes and altitudes, but creatures will just have to adapt. Tough luck. But agriculture will surely gain. More carbon, more plant food, more bountiful harvests, says the Heartland Institute. The propaganda-free, science-rich truth is much more interesting, and quite scary. This Guardian article gives the big picture. If you do nothing but scan the graphics, you will uncover a few true winners in this competition – the British Isles (sea rise aside) and West Africa (population overshoot aside) most notably. But if you look at the projected yield declines, and then remember that global population continues its inexorable rise, you can see a nightmare scenario developing. In other words, business as usual makes all of us abject losers, and there is much more at stake than a discarded lottery ticket.

It’s a pretty dismal search, this hunt for climate change winners. Here, though, is one undeniable group in the winners’ circle. I call them the Hail Mary Squad. These are the geniuses who will save us from ourselves by hacking the planet. I speak of course of geoengineering. This Wikipedia entry catalogs the ideas, which generally aim to reduce solar energy hitting the earth, or pull our waste carbon from the air. This madness is guaranteed to rise in prominence, and its proponents in audacity. And hey, for a while, they stand to make big money.

Truth is, we would all be a lot better off if we can summon the political will to drastically cut greenhouse emissions. It starts with making carbon pay its way – before we lose everything that matters.


Celebrating Workers and Banksters

Amid all the picnicking and partying last Monday, we were supposed to celebrate the American worker. This is hard to do nowadays, especially for certain Republicans. Count Eric Cantor in that number (based on his 2012 Labor Day pronouncement), as recalled by Paul Krugman. It is also a five-year anniversary of the 2008 economic crisis. That was the reason for NPR’s interviewing former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. Host Robert Siegel gamely held Paulson accountable, and though Paulson professed support for Dodd-Frank, he could not bring himself to speak positively of the best insurance against future financial bubbles, reinstating Glass-Steagall. Here is hoping it does not take another disaster to build momentum in this important remedy.  And should you want to review the sorry 2008 episode, it is hard to top An Inside Job.


The Entitled Ones

The pigs in Orwell’s Animal Farm educated us well. Some of us, maybe too well. All animals are created equal, they told their post-revolutionary subjects, but some animals are more equal than others. That could describe the thinking of many wealthy and powerful personages. I think Joshua Holland is onto something here. The moral of the story – if you see a BMW approaching, get the hell out of the crosswalk.


Banishing Pignorance

Regular readers of this blog know “pignorance” is my term for “pretend ignorance.” For the powerful, especially the petro-powerful, this means blowing smoke all around the science of climate change, so that very profitable business as usual may proceed. For the rest of us, this means ignoring our senses, avoiding alternative media that tell the truth, and perhaps taking reassurance from pundits that pooh-pooh the concern of arm-wavers like myself.

I was thinking about how pignorance is built the other day as I listened to yet another in a series of what I think of as “changeling weather summaries.” And mind you, this was on a sensible public station, staffed by bright, aware people. First, following a couple of days where high temps were about five degrees or so above the long-term average (82 vs. 77), the radio voice talked about impending 90s being “more like summer.” So, is 82 not “like summer?” Since when? Then there was the guy who talked about 80s being “chillier” than what we have been used to (90s). Chillier? Yep, 80s sure make me reach for the woolies. And then there is the morning gal’s vacuous weather patter, virtually free of the word “hot,” even as temps break the 90 barrier, day after day. It’s now “warm,” folks.

Sure, this is small stuff, but it contributes to what I call “normalizing the abnormal.” And normalizing the abnormal is just one piece of a puzzle called climate inertia, in which we, like the frog in the heating pot of water on the stove, stays passive until it dies when the nice warm water reaches the boiling point.

Normalizing the abnormal is also one of many perspectives on the big, comfortable lie that we collectively tell ourselves in order to avoid recognizing and acting to avert the existential climate crisis we are relentlessly creating. In this AlterNet piece, Margaret Klein does a terrific job analyzing our games of pretending and ignoring, and issuing a clarion call for all of us to live in what she calls “climate truth.” That means fully recognizing, fully responding to, and fully solving this disaster we have energized. Our descendants have everything to gain; we have nothing to lose but our pignorance. I also can’t help but noting that “climate truth” sounds an awful lot like “Climate Reality,” an organization that I represent.


Syria’s Context and Climate Connection

As the battle rages over what action the US will take over Syria and its use of chemical weapons, a few things are clear. First, the shadow of the Bush Administration’s war-happy adventures in Iraq looms large. Second, the American public is weary of such adventures. Third, President Obama, to his credit, is sharing the decision-making power with Congress. All the rest is not so clear. That’s why Bill Moyers’ postings are so important. Here is a Syria reader supplied by Moyers, and here is a thought-provoking look at the Syrian civil war in terms of manmade climate change.


He’s Back

Just in time for fall gridlock season, The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart makes an outrageously dramatic return.


“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” – Rachel Carson


Contributed links to this posting – Bonnie Blodgett, Allyson Harper


Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

IBI Watch 12/2/12

2 12 2012

Twin Cliffs //

Here in America these days, you can’t turn on a news show – radio or TV – without hearing of the so-called fiscal cliff. That’s the package of steep, formulaic tax hikes and spending cuts ready to strike if Democrats and Republicans can’t find some way to agree in the next four weeks. Granted, this “cliff” warrants attention (though David Lightman reminds us of its plutocrat-protecting origins). But a far steeper cliff confronts the world – a physical rather than fiscal cliff. This of course is the planet’s carrying capacity. We test that capacity more all the time, with our 7 billion humans and counting, and our relentlessly growing greenhouse gas emissions – currently 90 million tons of carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere every day. That has CO2 sitting at

391 parts per million, compared to 280 ppm before we started madly burning every carboniferous energy source in sight. This is too much, and growing all the time. Mother Nature tells us more firmly each day that this is too much. All the talking and posturing in Qatar right now is not going to change that one bit. Only individual action and popular pressure on the decision-makers holds any hope of heading off further catastrophe.

It appears that Hurricane Sandy may be a tipping point, at least in terms of media attention. Check this effective three-minute video posted this week on NBC News, reporting new scientific studies showing just how fast polar ice is becoming polar water. Those same new reports showed up on HuffPost as well. The Washington Post ran a story that sums up the issues nicely. It’s especially useful in that it shows that it’s not just those alarmist environmental chicken littles waving their arms around. This is the World Bank. Reality check. This article notes a common prediction of four degrees C. of warming; all our current climate chaos – extreme weather events like supercharged Hurricane Sandy, record Arctic ice melting – it is all happening with 0.8 degrees C. rise in global temperatures. I also like the way the article talks about non-linear climate change – because that is the territory we are now traversing. In other words, many surprises, just ahead.

So what are we doing about all this? Well, there is the business-as-usual crowd, who sadly have too much power in this country of ours. And then there is that pignorant power base – welcome to the pretend-ignorant club, Marco Rubio!

But all is not wanton, phony stupidity and blind greed, I am very glad to say. This video is making the rounds. A former climate denier all but breaks down in tears after viewing a new documentary on polar melting. The movie she has just seen? Chasing Ice, which I think everyone who cares even a little about this accelerating disaster should see. And at long last, offshore wind farms are making huge inroads, especially along the East Coast. Could this also be the time James Hansen starts making traction with his idea of a carbon price? If only all the lip service being offered at Doha were this substantive!

In the meantime, we always need to learn more. Here is an excerpt from a promising new book, Carbon Zero by Alex Steffen.


Mercury: Home of Durable Ice

While more stories of Earth’s disappearing ice flash before us by the day, scientists this week announced a surprising discovery. Significant quantities of water ice exist on torrid Mercury.  While all the stories I have seen – including this one – explain that perpetual shadows at the poles protect that Mercurian ice from the sun’s rays, you still have to wonder about the connection to our human-engineered climate crisis. How is that? Well, in addition to the shadows at Mercury’s poles, Mercury’s nearly nonexistent atmosphere allows all that scorching heat from the nearby sun to radiate out from the planet. Here on Earth, things were in balance until we went on our burning binge. Now, we ‘thicken’ our atmosphere every time our smokestacks belch and our tailpipes spew.  Here is the irony of all ironies. If we don’t turn this rolling catastrophe around, and decades or centuries from now we have liquefied all the ice – Greenland, Antarctica, all of it – we out here in the so-called “Goldilocks Zone” of our solar system will have a completely flooded planet. Our future followers can train their high-tech telescopes on Mercury and see ice so close to the sun.


Minnesota Winter: Endangered Species

It’s cheap entertainment for me. I am traveling on the East or West coast, and someone learns I live in Minnesota.  So they say, “Hey, it’s August. Snowing already, right?” I tell them no, in fact, it doesn’t snow in August here. In fact it doesn’t snow in December. It hardly snows in freaking January. And when we do get snow, it doesn’t stay as it used to. How can it stay? Heck, today, December 2(!), temperatures will approach 60! And yet we keep pretending that nothing has changed. Yes, pignorance is pervasive – especially when drastic human-caused climate change is disguised as relief from numb hands and snow shovels. There is no better source for the reality of how dramatically we are changing Minnesota’s climate than Paul Douglas. And he is not afraid to deploy a useful tool – sarcasm. “Lo and behold, long-range models hint at “accumulating snow” a week from today; maybe a couple inches? Time to call out the National Guard.” Indeed.


An Entire Hurricane Season in Four Minutes

At long last, the Atlantic hurricane season officially ended on November 30.  It was an active one – the third most active in history.  Watch this video to see the paths of all the named storms. This one builds of course – see the sudden expansion of Sandy, and its bizarre left turn into the mainland of North America.


Attention All Rats: Prepare to Abandon Ship

Of all the welcome outcomes of dealing with the “fiscal cliff,” this one has to be my favorite – the impending fall from unelected power of Grover Norquist.  The number of House members and Senators renouncing the no tax raise, no how, not ever pledge appears to be growing. And it is not just Saxby Chambliss. And anyone who says Republicans are not creative needs to meet this guy. Could Grover Norquist soon be knocked from his power perch into exile as a right-wing pundit? Let’s hope.


Not All Billionaires are Plutocrats

I maintain that Republicans – pending the nascent Norquist mutiny– are holding the country hostage in the name of doing their lords’ bidding. That is, protecting the very top of our income scale from tax restoration (the proper name for allowing the W tax cuts to expire). But not all the wealthy are overcome by self-centered greed. Warren Buffett for one. I like the fact that this particular wealthy investor looks at the big picture rather than simply demanding to keep more of his income, damn the common good. His commentary reminded me of another, related article from Hedrick Smith. He is also the author of Who Stole the American Dream?


Who Will Kill the Last Moose?

Moose are in decline, big time, here in Minnesota. The main culprit? What else, climate change.  Summers are just getting too damned hot here in the upper Midwest for this iconic beast’s liking. Don’t take my word for it – it’s what scientists say. And yet, as this recent article by Doug Smith in the Star Tribune demonstrates, hunters keep shooting them, patting themselves on the back for being environmentally responsible all the while. Why? Well, you see, they shoot only males – that preserves the population. And hey, the surviving Mr. Moose is happy – he just gets to chase more of those big ladies through the woods. I am sure that is true for a healthy population. But when the beasts are in a well-documented disappearing act, why in the world would we keep pretending that the old rules apply? Seems to me that lessons from the past relate. History is full of humanity devastating and even extinguishing entire species, based on false assumptions of inexhaustible abundance. Here are two for you – the Atlantic cod fishery, and the passenger pigeon. But hey, it sure is fun to shoot those big boys. Just do it soon. Time is running out.

Sexiest Man Alive

It’s Kim Jong Un, or so says the Onion. And who can doubt that reliable source? Not the China Daily, which devoted 55 pages to the feature on this great, dear friend of the people, according to the Guardian. Now, if China Daily really was punked, that is hilarious. But NPR’s Scott Simon had an interesting take – he smells satire here.


“Nature knows no indecencies; man invents them.” – Mark Twain


Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN


Contributed links to this posting –Allyson Harper, David Oertel