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

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IBI Watch 9/30/12

30 09 2012

Real Climate Gates   //

No, this is not about ‘Climategate,’ that pseudo-scandal whipped up around climate scientists’ emails.  This is about real gateways that our  changing climate is zipping through, thanks to our pumping 90 million tons of carbon dioxide daily into the atmosphere.  These are one-way gates.  The global climate will not go back to anything like it was in human lifetimes – many human generations in fact.

The recent record summer Arctic ice melt (obliterating the 2007 record) got me thinking again about an important concept I learned from Tim Flannery’s excellent book, The WeatherMakers.  There is no doubt that the melting Arctic ice cap is one of those gates.  It will have wide implications that will become clearer in the very near future.  Here is one view.  And it turns out that the summer ice is not all that is melting in the Far North.  To no great surprise, springtime snow is melting faster – as reported by NPR this week.  All this melting builds feedbacks.  Why?  It’s the albedo, or reflectivity of surfaces.  Darker surfaces – land and ocean (i.e. surfaces covered until recently by snow and ice) absorb more heat, causing more melting, producing more dark surfaces, and on and on.  What is the most reflective, (atmosphere-cooling) surface?  Snow covering a glacier.  Uh-oh.

But back to those climate gates.  Here are a few documented by Flannery:

  • Western Pacific ocean temperatures – from 1945-55, those temps were often below 66.5 degrees F.  Since 1976, they are rarely below 77.
  • Also since 1976, the balance between El Niño and La Niña has been off, in favor of El Niño (warmer Pacific waters, surprise!)
  • Since 1998, the western Pacific temps have jumped again, so they are now often above 86 degrees F.
  • Also since 1998, the jet stream has moved toward the North Pole, and recently has become more wobbly.

And to top it off, here is another feedback angle – what happens when peat burns on a massive scale in Siberia?  Hint, the effects drift way beyond Siberia.

So why does all this matter?  It becomes clearer by the day, with extreme weather becoming the norm.  And here are some looks at the impact on people.  First, a new report on climate vulnerability, i.e., those most at risk in this new era of manmade climate chaos.  Next, a projection of the incredible level of human suffering that has already begun.  Third, a summary of effects posted by the Environmental Defense Fund – a deserving organization.  And finally – I have long thought that when the insurance industry starts taking notice, policy may finally start shifting toward the sustainable.  Well, at least the first part of that change is happening, as reported in Mother Jones.

Now, with a crisis of this proportion, one would think that a rational, proportional response would be well under way.  One would think.  To be sure, good work is being done to wake people up and turn the massive ship of policy.  Here are a few examples.  First, check this article covering the recent certification training presented by the Climate Reality Project – attended by this blogger. And here is a short video presented by chief spokesperson for that group – former Vice President Al Gore.  Of course, not everything being done or contemplated can be called ‘good,’  From the insanity desk, for instance, we have the prospect of deliberately messing with the climate system in a hubristic, flailing attempt to right the wrongs we have done to the earth that has nurtured us.  Did I mention that I think geoengineering is collective suicide?  But returning to positive responses, here is a well-thought article from Grist (excellent source, that site is) covering three categories of actions to take.  And finally, from elsewhere in the same site, an entertaining and informative quiz to test your preparedness to take on the thankless task of changing Fox ‘News’-addled minds on the reality of the climate crisis.

More Junk Food for Cows; Better Health for People and the Planet

Thanks to a persistent and deepening drought in the American heartland, cattle are ‘enjoying’ some new diet enhancements.  Of course, there is a bright side to this odd story.  These foodstuffs – surplus gummy worms, ice cream sprinkles, etc. – are at least being put to some use.  And that means the resources used in their production are not completely going to waste.  But this reminded me of one of the single most important things we can do to benefit the environment.  As changes go, it is also pretty easy to make – eat less meat.   You may be surprised at the size of the difference that will make.  And it also reminded me of a group that I have been meaning to feature.  Operation Missing Link protested outside the Climate Reality training in San Francisco.  I stopped and chatted, and told them I supported their cause.  I also told them I would link to their site.

ALEC – Impressive, Destructive

I have written about the American Legislative Exchange Council before.  The group has finally been getting more well-deserved attention lately.  The power wielded by this organization virtually screams for attention.  If you have not heard of ALEC, this introduction from their web site can help . . . sort of.  The American Legislative Exchange Council works to advance the fundamental principles of free-market enterprise, limited government, and federalism at the state level through a nonpartisan public-private partnership of America’s state legislators, members of the private sector and the general public.

Sounds good, eh?  Who can argue with a process that involves partnership and ‘the general public?  Moving beyond the propaganda, Bill Moyers’ latest Moyers and Company does an impressive job explaining what these guys are up to – flying an under-the-radar mission to turn America into a permanent corporatist ‘paradise.’  The ultimate goal here, of course – one the group has made significant progress on – is the privatization of virtually everything.  I like to think of it this way – if there is something, anything, that is ‘public,’ it means some megamillionaire is being ‘cheated’ out of the chance to make more millions.  Pity, that.  Probably the most amazing thing about ALEC’s rise and striking success is this – it is not treated as a lobbying organization, but an ‘educational’ group.  You will know enough about ALEC to be aghast after watching the Moyers show.  This adds to an excellent interview from Terry Gross’s Fresh Air a while back.  A memory from that interview for me was the absolute sham of public involvement in this corporate horse-trading market.  Both the Moyers and Gross treatments might make you ask the question posed by this new book.

ALEC is near the center of what I consider the biggest challenge facing the American system – corporate money in politics.  I was happy to hear of a new initiative at the end of the Moyers show – ALICE.  Meet ALICE here and here.  Not a corporate shill in sight.  It also seems a good time to plug one of my favorite causes – the Move to Amend.  Our democracy – what is left of it – depends on reversing Citizens United.  And that is just for starters.

Obama Victory Projected?  Not so Fast!

Most recent polls show President Obama widening his lead in several key battleground states, most notably Ohio.  Things are looking good for the Democratic incumbent.  But some of us remember the deep past, like 2004.  Expect a raft of dirty tricks, not limited to voter suppression, er, ah, that is voter ID enforcement.  The New York Times’ Charles Blow agrees.  I particularly liked the nod to Donald Rumsfeld.  Think it can’t happen?  If you have the chance, ask Senator John Kerry.  Or just check this link.  Remember which candidate the massive piles of Supreme-Court-empowered corporate cash are supporting.  Yup, there’s that money-in-politics thing again.

Indentured Servers

The high-and-mighty financial masters of the baseball universe (long ago and far away, my favorite baseball team in the universe), find themselves mired in yet another greed-entangled mess.  It seems that, in order to protect that mountain of profits, they have to cheat their humblest workers out of their tips.  What is chump change to this elitist institution is big bucks to waiters.  Couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of haughty capitalists.  Ah, it brings back fond memories of 2009.  Every empty seat costing the empire $2500.  This new story reflects that nostalgia, and tells how the greed beat goes on.  Anybody seen Gordon Gekko lately?

“It’s easier to fool people than to convince them they have been fooled.”  – Mark Twain

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

Contributed links to this posting –Jeff Carlson, Allyson Harper