IBI Watch 10/20/13

20 10 2013

What Scotty Said //

If we live in a material world, governed by scientific laws, then surely something big must be happening – something changing in the system – as a consequence of the 90 million tons of carbon dioxide that we humans collectively pour daily into the atmosphere, 24/7/365. And, denialist assertions notwithstanding, the only thing really in doubt is how bad and how soon.

The recent IPCC finding – its fifth in a series – raised the probability that human activities are the cause of the already observed changes in atmosphere and ocean to at least 95%. That’s about as close to certain as it gets. The report is a formidable document, but this admirable 10-slide show constructed by Katherine Bagley and Zahra Hirji of Inside Climate News summarizes the key findings. Pay careful attention to the notion of a carbon budget. The IPCC clearly stated that, this being a material world, a vast but closed system, we have a choice – leave most of the world’s remaining carbon in the ground, or deal with the physical consequences. This is what activists Bill McKibben and James Hansen have been saying for years, but now this dire warning comes from a consensus-bound, conservative chorus of the world’s scientists.

The amount of carbon in the world is constant – what changes is its form and of course its effect on the climate system. For an accessible explanation, try this Mark Boslough piece on HuffPost.  And for a view of the scope of the pressure we are putting on this old planet, try to wrap your mind around this – we are adding the heat equivalent of four Hiroshima-size bombs to the atmosphere per second.

So we have some crucial choices – for instance, on Keystone XL. Are we smart enough to choose wisely? There is plenty of evidence for a dark view – as eloquently laid out in this recent Facebook post by Bodhi Paul Chefurka. Believers in the magic of technology assure us that techno-fixes – including geo-engineering – will save our bacon. (I like the subtitle for that piece – “7 far-out geoengineering ideas that could save the planet — or destroy it trying.”) In my book, there are potentially good geoengineering schemes – for instance, trying to engineer an artificial tree that sucks carbon out of the air – and awful schemes – basically anything that seeks to allow us to go ahead with business-as usual fossil fuel use. I put in that category all these space-based mirror schemes and especially trashing the upper atmosphere with soot.

The fact that such schemes are even being considered before we have done a fraction of what is possible by way of conservation and developing clean energy makes Bodhi Paul Chefurka’s case stronger. But the single best strategy, I believe, is making carbon pay its way. Using dramatically less of the stuff is the only hope we have going forward.

We really should have listened to the Enterprise’s engineer, more than four decades ago. That is, “ Ye cannae change the laws of physics.”

 

Theory and Practice

Whenever former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan appears in the media, I find it entertaining to hear him justify his not seeing the 2008 financial crisis coming. Now he is back – hawking his new book. To his credit, the longtime champion of deregulating the financial system now says he was wrong, and portrays himself as chastened when it comes to the theory of radical deregulation of markets. Listen to this NPR interview, in which the interviewer respectfully holds Greenspan’s feet to the fire. But you might say that the former Fed chief committed a big oversight during his years holding immense power – not listening to a wiser forecaster than he. The great Yogi Berra said, “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.”

 

Seas of Heartbreak

If people pay attention to climate science at all, they look to the land. That’s where burgeoning intense weather events like the recent Boulder CO flooding disaster, the out-of-season South Dakota blizzard and the new and destructive Australian fire season wreak their havoc on humans and their environs. Sure, rising sea levels have their effect, and will they ever have an effect in the decades to come (wanna buy some “land” in Miami, cheap?), but ocean morphing is something out of sight for most of us.

Here are three stories about what we are doing to the oceans – which after all cover 71 percent of the planet. The first is probably not directly related to the effect of our greenhouse gas emissions, the second caused in large part by them and the third the direct feedback.

First – cetaceans – whales, dolphins and porpoises – pop up in the news periodically, mostly because of beaching. Read about massive whale stranding in Madagascar. Tut, tut, the beasts will just have to get used to the racket we raise under the sea with our oil explorations and war games. And now there is growing concern that a mulititude of factors – including climate change – seem to be assailing dolphins. Dolphin in the ocean is the new canary in the coal mine?

Second – So creatures most people see as desirable are taking it on the chin. But there are always winners and losers, right? Right indeed – the lionfish are coming, and so are the jellyfish, in untold armadas. Come on in, folks, the water’s fine.

Third – The ocean apparently isn’t acid enough, so we are taking care of that, in a hurry. Carbon dioxide may be flirting with 400 parts per million in the atmosphere, but that is nothing compared to the way we have altered the pH of the ocean, a truly massive undertaking that goes on as we drive and burn fossil fuels. This is the change in the ocean that will have the gravest long-term effects on seaborne and land-based life. Those of us who gravitate toward environmental stories know how much more often of late we see phrases like “much graver than had been thought” or “deteriorating more rapidly than predicted.”

We on the land can help. The World Wildlife Fund, the Ocean Conservancy and Greenpeace all work to preserve the world’s oceans. However, this massive challenge comes back to that familiar one – how to drastically cut use of fossil fuels.

 

One Day, One Massive Boost to Your Climate Knowledge

The Climate Reality Project ( an organization I represent) will launch on October 22-23 this year’s 24 Hours of Reality – a content-packed event featuring speakers and media highlighting the costs of carbon pollution and pointing to solutions that can change the course of our future. You can tune in on the Internet, live or via archives, to six one-hour presentations, organized by regions of the world:

  • North America: how carbon pollution and climate change have had a severe impact on our ways of life and livelihoods.
  • South America and the Caribbean: water as our lifeblood, and the threats of rapidly melting glaciers, rising sea levels and ocean acidification.
  • Europe: infrastructure losses that have resulted from climate-related hazards and extreme weather, as well as how infrastructure is being forced to change in a changing world.
  • Africa: how climate change is contributing to growing food insecurity, along with socio-economic and political insecurity.
  • Asia: how extreme weather and other carbon pollution impacts are resulting in displacement of people within their countries.
  • Australia: how human health threats are exacerbated by climate change.

I hope you will tune in – the event is a great way to get up to date on latest research and learn the ways you can help solve the climate crisis.

 

Gimme that Old Time Coalition

That might be the motto for an idea hatched by Nobel economist and commentator Paul Krugman. Of course, the settlement that got US government working again is really another short-term fix. Krugman recalls a time when southern Democrats worked with Republicans to support conservative causes (think of the still-elusive goal of universal health care). But more important for our time, he sees a novel spin on that old alliance, a new direction that could mean real progress. Could.

 

Science for the Masses

Climate denialists and other enemies of science push their ideas in various ways. Two of the most common are these – disparage scientists and their findings as slanted or concocted or part of a conspiracy to secure more funding; assert that science journalists and activists are not actually scientists, and therefore lack standing to promote and defend scientific research results and projections. Fortunately, some scientists – most notably James Hansen – are recognizing the need for them to get out of the lab and into the spotlight to fight the well-funded denialists.

And there are the most valuable popularizers. Two were recently highlighted in the media. First – there is Elise Andrew, who aims her efforts at a young demographic, and operates a wonderful site with an in-your-face name. And speaking of young demographics, that’s exactly the target that Bill Nye aimed at two decades ago, when his tremendously entertaining PBS show hooked thousands of youngsters (including my son) and their parents. Nye has a new science series, Why with Nye. I really enjoyed an interview Weekend Edition Sunday did with him, and you will too.

 

“I’ve recognized there is no such thing as cheap gas. Whether you’re paying $3.51 in San Francisco or 9 cents a gallon in Caracas, someone, somewhere, is always paying more dearly for the stuff. Now when I buy gas I see hidden pennies everywhere – from the health effects of air pollution to the social cost of human rights violations in oil-producing countries to the money used by the U.S. military to police oil shipping lanes.” – Lisa Margonelli (excerpted from Oil on the Brain)

 

Contributed links to this posting –Allyson Harper

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

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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 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 2/24/13

24 02 2013

What’s the Beef?  //

A meat caper boils in Europe right now. Two issues emerge. First, is it OK to eat our whinnying friends? Second, if a processed meat product is labeled “beef,” isn’t that what should be inside?

This update on the bait-and-switch horsemeat scandal explains how things got mixed up. It’s a safe bet that many a burger eater across America takes comfort in the thought that nothing horsey could ever make its way into a Big Mac. Maybe. But this affair got me thinking on other meaty issues – such as health. Human and planetary.

In a case of curious timing, the horsemeat kerfuffle coincides with a grim anniversary – the deaths of several Americans in 1993, from eating fast food burgers, and in one case, simply from sharing day care space with another youngster who had. NPR ran a cover story on 2/17 updating the meat safety situation. The story goes into real improvements (including the abandonment of the “dime standard”) in the safety of the meat supply that took effect after the 1993 deaths. But problems continue, as this story of a paralyzed dancer in Minnesota from just a few years ago attests.

Taking the health picture a step further, new studies are providing more evidence that eating more than a little red meat poses serious risks. Would you like some cancer with that everyday red meat?

So eating too much meat is not good for you. And as those charts show, many seem to be getting that message.  And that’s a good thing, though the change is far short of what is needed. Why? The total impact on the planet of a single quarter-pound hamburger is a little hard to grasp. This NPR story and accompanying graphics tells the surprising tale.

It has dawned on activists and others in recent years that one of the most effective things a person can do to help slow and reverse climate change is also one of the easiest – eat less meat. And as Michael Pollan points out, this does not necessarily mean banishing meat, but rather cutting consumption and making sure what you do eat comes from sustainable sources – i.e., no factory farms.

Though I have read several of Pollan’s books – which I strongly recommend – it was another book that scared me away from factory meat for good. This one. Take in that book or its documentary follow-up or watch the better-known Supersize Me and you too can learn about how those lip-smacking modern factory burgers are made, or the manufacturing process that produces those alleged chicken nuggets.

Do one of those things and, chances are, you will join me and many others on the outside of the fast-food meat industry.  We have nothing to lose but excess fat and carbon footprints.

Preparing for the Bath

Marketplace Morning Edition host Kai Ryssdal has been railing against what is really a stupid term – “sequester.” That term of course is all over the airwaves, since the latest manufactured Washington financial crisis is about to crest. Paul Krugman sees yet another example of false equivalence – that is, it is extremists on both the Republican and Democratic side that keep common sense and compromise from solving dilemmas.

And the Nobel economist has a good point. The Republicans are demanding an “all-cuts” outcome, while Democrats are pushing a combination of spending cuts and tax increases. I say this. Remember that nearly every Republican in Congress signed a pledge of fealty to that government-despising unelected power monger known as Grover Norquist. What if he and his vassals mean what they say?

Two authors have insights that explain the context of this sequester showdown. First, Richard Wolff sees the crisis as a tool for plutocrats to widen the divide between the rich and powerful on the one hand and everybody else on the other. He appeared on Moyers and Company this week. And of course Wolff’s take brings to mind Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine – a book I recommend in the strongest terms. Both authors make powerful arguments for changing our system. (If you watch the Moyers installment, be sure to stay for the short piece that follows the Wolff visit. It features the work of Saru Jayaraman, who has dedicated herself to securing a fair shake for the legions of sickeningly low-paid restaurant workers.)

Climate Paradoxes

If we could collect a dollar for every time someone declared that the latest blizzard proved that climate change was not happening, we would have a sizable fund to spend wisely – maybe on alternative energy. And in a popular, uninformed way, this line of thought seems to make sense. After all, they call this “global warming,” right?

This Yahoo news site article does a nice job explaining why that reflexive take is so wrong. It is anything but simple, and yet – this sentence sums things up nicely: a warmer atmosphere can hold more water, which fuels storms year round – including snowstorms.  But overall less snow, with more frequent big snow dumps? By all means. I like this quote:  “Strong snowstorms thrive on the ragged edge of temperature — warm enough for the air to hold lots of moisture, meaning lots of precipitation, but just cold enough for it to fall as snow,” said Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center. “Increasingly, it seems that we’re on that ragged edge.”

This article is good enough to warrant quoting at a bit more length – three bullet points in fact:

  • The United States has been walloped by twice as many of the most extreme snowstorms in the past 50 years than in the previous 60 years, according to an upcoming study on extreme weather by leading federal and university climate scientists. This also fits with a dramatic upward trend in extreme winter precipitation — both rain and snow — in the Northeastern U.S. charted by the National Climatic Data Center.
  • Yet the Global Snow Lab at Rutgers University says spring snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere has shrunk on average by 1 million square miles in the past 45 years.
  • And an upcoming study in the Journal of Climate says computer models predict annual global snowfall to shrink by more than a foot in the next 50 years. The study’s author said most people live in parts of the United States that are likely to see annual snowfall drop between 30 percent and 70 percent by the end of the century.

Climate Actions

Fortunately, more people are learning the seriousness of the climate crisis and the imperative that we enact sensible policies to move us toward sustainability. Some are in positions of power. Just look how Ed Davey, Britain’s Secretary of State for Energy & Climate Change, describes climate deniers. Hey – maybe we can hire this guy.

And forget the conventional “wisdom” on snow and warming. Get the facts. This new site – created by Peter Carter – is full of charts that tell many angles on the story of how we are altering the atmosphere and the climate. His Climate Change Index site illustrates land temperatures, Arctic sea ice, atmospheric methane, and much more.

And finally, kudos to the 40,000 citizens who marched in Washington last weekend. I wish I had been there. Their goal – stop the approval and construction of the Keystone XL pipeline – which will accelerate the destruction of a swath of Alberta’s boreal forest and – more important – rapidly advance our transformation of the world’s climate with our greenhouse gases.

The World Still Surprises

In the run-up to President W’s invasion of Iraq, then Secretary of State Colin Powell said, “If you break it, you own it.” Such is our relationship with the natural world. And yet, we still have so much to learn from the parts we have not destroyed or dramatically altered. Here are three interesting stories. First – news of a newly discovered owl species in Indonesia. Hope the little guy survives the palm oil boom. Next, who could have predicted this secret about bumblebees? Too bad that zap does not seem to fight Colony Collapse Disorder. And finally – shark finning has long been a cruel practice that has pushed many of these essential predators of the ocean to the brink of extinction. A new project matching human beauty and grace to that of whale sharks is calling attention to the practice and – we hope – will lead to its end.

Mother Nature is Keeping the Focus on Climate Change

Guest blogger Rolly Montpellier – http://www.boomerwarrior.org – suggests that 2013 could be a breakthrough year in public awareness and action on climate change.

“If we are going to start calling industrial corn sustainable, then we might as well say that petroleum is a renewable resource if you’re willing to wait long enough.”
Catherine Friend

Contributed links or content to this posting – Allyson Harper, Rolly Montepellier

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN





IBI Watch 1/13/13

13 01 2013

The Land of Make Believe  //

It’s a country where you’d better profess a strong religious belief if you hope to gain high office. It’s a country where nearly half of the public believes in a magical explanation of Earth’s and humanity’s origin. And it is the country where “doubt” around the critical issue of climate change, as reported by the overwhelming majority of scientists, just won’t go away.

It’s modern America, where that special brand of magical thinking, i.e., belief in the literal truth of religious stories, inexplicably endures. Not that several prominent authors haven’t tried to explain. Both Chris Mooney and Susan Jacoby have decried the harm that arises from our willful denial of inconvenient science. And Jacoby has a new book that looks promising. In The Great Agnostic, Jacoby tells the story of Robert Ingersoll – a Gilded Age freethinker who struggled to help America become more secular. Based on my reading of her excellent Age of American Unreason, I am putting the new book on my reading list.  Here is an interview with the author that ran on NPR.

Why is the work of authors like Jacoby important? Our national politics suffers from hypocrisy and exclusion – however brilliant a potential leader might be, if he or she has theological views too far from the conventional Christian mainstream, there is virtually no chance for election to major national office. And how a country whose economic dominance has been so defined by technological advance can allow itself to slip into such willful ignorance of scientific reality seems a mystery – until you realize that a public who believes unscientific baloney is much easier to marginalize and immobilize.

My son is an officer in an organization promoting secular society – the Secular Student Alliance.

Normalizing Climate Change in the Upper Midwest

When I moved to the Twin Cities, the annual “bottom-out” temperature range, as it happens, for this week in January, was high 20, low 2. But if you look in today’s Star Tribune, you will see a different story – 23 and 7. So what gives? Our friends at the paper are comparing today’s temps to a shorter range – when the temps had already warmed, thanks to sunspots or an Inhofian hoax or something like that. Of course, even with these ginned up numbers, what has happened over the last few days (yet another disgusting January rainstorm, culminating in a mess of snow remnants refrozen into crusty, treacherous ice) here in the Twin Cities would have been weird 25 years ago. Today, well, it’s just normalized weirdness of our local variety. Paul Douglas gives the context.

Why it is Called GLOBAL Climate Change

Though I have been following climate change since the late 1980s, I cannot recall a time when there has been such a confluence of aberrant weather occurring simultaneously around the world. Quite a roundup. Rampant bush fires and a heat wave so intense and persistent in Australia that they have had to concoct new colors for the weather map. Tornadoes in Italy, icy cold in the Middle East, drought across America. Extreme weather in the US, as reported in the Guardian.

Do you think all this mayhem could have something to do with the melting Arctic?  I am currently reading Mark Lynas’ Six Degrees. Although the book is five years old, I am learning a lot from it. The structure is intriguing: each chapter explains what researchers say we can expect for each Centigrade degree that we warm our home planet. What I am finding most interesting is this – predictions based on the existing science of 2008. In the chapter I am reading right now, Three Degrees, Lynas writes:

“One likely outcome of is that a reduction in Arctic sea ice will exacerbate the drying of western North America. Instead of ocean heat remaining trapped under surface ice during the winter, once most of the ice cap has disappeared, large areas of open ocean will remain exposed toe the winds, altering the usual pattern of winter weather over North America. In one modeling study, the rain-bearing systems get shunted farther north toward Canada and southern Alaska, and away from the drought-scarred plains of the United States.”

Eerie how that prediction is playing out. The most interesting thing of course is how much faster all these consequences are playing out, compared to the forecasts. And remember that all the extreme weather we are seeing are taking place on a planet that has warmed “only” just under one degree. The Onion has a nice satirical take. And here is a down-to-earth forecast of what is in store in the near future – this year.

Seems to me that, when a house is on fire, you don’t argue about what is causing the fire, and how bad it has to get before you take action. You get the damned fire extinguisher, start spraying and call for help. Isn’t it about time for a carbon tax? Thomas Friedman thinks so. (You have to read to the end.) So does a true hero of the people, Senator Bernie Sanders. And for depth on the political climate and inspiration for action, this NPR story featuring scientists Michael Mann and Katharine Hayhoe is very useful.

Pork Bung: It’s What’s for Dinner

Here is a guarantee. If you listen to this excellent This American Life story (audio available 7:00 PM EST 1/13/13), you will think twice before ordering that “seafood” appetizer at your local chain bistro. This story gives new meaning to that old pork industry adage – “we use the entire pig, everything but the squeal.” My take – just one more reason for avoiding factory-farm meat.

In the Name of Common Sense

The horrific Newtown school massacre focused public attention on gun violence. A new momentum has grown, and we can only hope that it builds toward common-sense measures to stem the tide of violence. And of course it continues, daily, in our country. This Slate site keeps track of the body count.  Vice President Joe Biden has been talking to groups with various perspectives this past week, and he now has an agenda. Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly are speaking out, and have formed an action group. Jon Stewart’s take on the issue is funny, but packs a punch. Look for a cameo by Mike Huckabee, one of my favorite pignorant pundits.

Wolf Hunt Controversy Continues

Minnesota’s wolf hunt is over – for this year. But this hunt –which can only be described as a hunt for sport or fun – will continue to be a hot topic and something that groups will continue to fight. This group is worthy of support.

Jobs Drive the Economy

This interview with Paul Krugman is worth your time. Appearing on Moyers and Company, the Nobel economist argues for rebuilding infrastructure, and compares our current economic situation with the 1930s.

Corporatocracy

Big business and oligarchs rule. George Carlin had it right. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

25 Cheers

Truthout’s Peter Dreier says progressives have many reasons to celebrate. Count ‘em.

“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

― Martin Luther King Jr.

Contributed links to this posting – Christy Bailly, Jeff Carlson, Allyson Harper

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN





IBI Watch 1/6/13

6 01 2013

Forced Choices, Real and Imagined //

As a summer sub letter carrier in 1970s New York, I got a close-up look at popular anti-environmentalism. The union rep’s job was to update the workers on labor talk progress, but he could not resist mounting the anti-green soapbox. “Men,” he intoned, “You got a choice. Jobs . . . or a stinkin’ little fish.”

This was one of my first tastes of a forced choice of the imagined variety. In selling his opinion on a red-hot environmental issue of the day, the Tellico Dam snail darter controversy. He was also teaching me a valuable lesson – on environmental forced choices that are imagined or concocted for a political or monetary purpose. There are many of these around, and they generally share a common theme – you can either have a thriving economy, or you can have environmental protection, not both. Here are a few more phony forced choices. You can either have reasonably priced energy, or you can radically reduce mercury pollution from coal plants. You can have safe, reasonably priced motor vehicles, or you can have dramatically higher fuel efficiency standards with no games or loopholes. And – most pernicious of all – you can either have a healthy economy and job creation, or you can drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Unfortunately, some forced environmental choices are the real deal. You cannot have both a perpetually growing human population (seven billion and ever rising) and enough preserved wild lands to support large fauna. You cannot have both unfettered exploitation of fossil fuels and a planet that keeps temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. And most important of all, you cannot have ever-rising growth in atmospheric carbon dioxide and a planet that supports life as we know it.

Fortunately, we do have choices beyond heads in the sand – enact policies that drastically cut greenhouse emissions to keep the planet from warming beyond that two-degree threshold identified by most experts as the number beyond which lie catastrophic consequences. That’s not to say that we have not already seen our share of catastrophe with not quite one degree of warming.

The challenge is mustering enough political will in the US for overcoming the formidable power of the fossil fuel industry, and enacting policies that sharply reduce carbon emissions. That is no small challenge, thanks to a long-running propaganda effort funded by – you guessed it. Fox News is no help, but they at least provide some forehead-slapping comic relief. Here are ten of their stupidest contributions – most with video for maximum laughs.  To get an idea of the bill we are running up as we, thanks to Fox, Exxon Mobil, the Koch Brothers, etc., continue delaying climate-saving action, check this piece from Reuters.  And, sad to say, human nature itself makes confronting and solving the problem a special challenge. We have evolved to handle immediate risks effectively, but risks that appear distant, diffuse, impersonal, well, we’ll take the Scarlet O’Hara cue and think about it tomorrow. And AlterNet’s Maggie Klein argues that our emotions are keeping us from confronting and managing the threat.

One of the best, comprehensive yet concise, presentations of the case for action was offered on Moyers and Company this week. Anthony Leiserowitz presents climate change as a problem uniquely designed to challenge human nature. He also offers useful insights as well as an analogy that was new to me. I found one of his pronouncements a bit baffling – 40 percent of people in the world have not heard about human-caused climate change. But the analysis of the US public is oddly encouraging. Leiserowitz, a research scientist and Director of the Yale Project on Climate Change, splits America into six groups. Those groups divide according to their perception, ranging from fully informed and taking action, all the way to the denialist crowd. Here is the encouraging bit – the dismissive, “not happening,” conspiracy-theory crowd is only 8 percent of the public. That leaves many who are open to persuasion by facts and of course emotional appeals. And that is where his analogy might be helpful.  When doubters hear warnings about rises of two, three, even four degrees, those numbers seem trivial. And some of us in northern climes say, heh, heh, bring on the warmth. But if we can get doubters to consider what even a one or two degree rise in a human’s temperature means, and make the valid comparison between the finely tuned human system and the finely tuned climate system, maybe more doubters can see that one or two degrees is really a major change. The Yale expert closes with an exhortation – meaningful change on this vital issue cannot be strictly a top-down phenomenon.  It has to be a grass-roots effort. Sign a petition right here to tax carbon now. You’ll be glad you did. It’s just one of many steps that can help us avoid the very real forced choice – we can’t have both a life-sustaining planet and business-as-usual with burning fossil fuels. And if you need more encouragement, I strongly recommend this excellent and inspiring piece that Rebecca Solnit wrote for the Common Dreams site. 2013 = Year Zero for the climate crisis. I like that.

 

Climate Consequences Near and Far

I live in the coldest major metro area in the US. And until recently, winters here were very cold indeed. Though the Twin Cities are still cold compared to other US cities, the change in our temps and weather patterns has been profound. This chart published in the Star Tribune succinctly tells the tale of the warming trend. And of course the warming trend is not limited to winter. Conventional wisdom says a dramatic decline in Minnesota’s moose population is related to hotter summers. A major new research project aims to nail down the causes. Irony note here – we are spending all this money – justifiably – in an effort to save the huge, iconic beast – just months after a legal hunt on them. Want more irony? You won’t believe what they have to do now in northern Canada to guarantee frozen outdoor hockey rinks. And moving further north, we switch from irony to hubris and blind greed.

 

Apologies to Mother, and a Warning

From two major voices in the environmental movement, confessions of collective wrongdoing. First, David Suzuki acknowledges that we have spent 25 years pretty much not giving a damn about the natural world. George Monbiot zeroes in on 2012 when, with the effects of climate change all around us, we did a pretty good job of ignoring the natural world.  And finally a warning. Dave Gardner focuses on unfettered growth and its consequences. Though his article appeared in a British publication, Gardner’s movie Growthbusters really deserves a wider audience right here in the US.

 

A Violence Campaign

The pattern repeats. A horrific mass murder happens, and for a time it is omnipresent in the media. Then a few weeks pass, and it is back to business as usual. But business as usual itself is the problem. Several news organizations launched efforts in the wake of the Newtown massacre to track the daily tally of murders across the country in the days immediately following. In any rational place, a toll like this would prompt drastic action – as has happened in other countries. But the US, aka Wayne’s World, is something other than a rational place. I like Bill Moyers’ essay on the topic. It includes a cameo by a fictional expert on all manner of social issues. And though it is not directly related, the issue of “stand-your-ground” laws is covered in this NPR story. Sold as one way to do what the NRA’s CEO Wayne LaPierre prescribes, to “put more guns in the hands of good guys,” these laws appear, based on research, to have some contrary results.

 

Looming Battles in the Class War

Twice in the past week, newly re-elected House Speaker John Boehner acted in the public interest – first by allowing a vote on the “fiscal cliff” compromise without first requiring (as is his custom) support from the “majority of the majority,” and second by allowing a vote on relief for the states the bore the brunt of Hurricane Sandy. (The second vote came only after a blistering denunciation by fellow Republican, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.) But if you think we can expect this kind of collaboration as a new way of doing business, think again. Says who? Says Paul Krugman.

 

Sustainable Cities for a Better Future

I am happy to say that Minneapolis made this list of American cities cited for big steps in building a sustainable future. Many good ideas here, and many reasons for the honor. This slide show is worth a look.

 

“I do not believe in taking away the right of the citizen for sporting, for hunting and so forth, or for home defense. But I do believe that an AK-47, a machine gun, is not a sporting weapon or needed for defense of a home.” – Ronald Reagan

 

Contributed links to this posting – Allyson Harper, Hilary Ziols

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN





IBI Watch 12/23/12

23 12 2012

The One or the Many  //

So many issues come down to this question. Where does the free exercise of individual rights end, and the right of the general public not to be harmed by the exercise of those individual rights prevail? And that means not just the individual citizen, but also the individual corporation. After all, Mitt Romney taught us that “corporations are people.”

Here are three issues very much in the news right now where that question is paramount:

  • Gun Violence
  • Climate Change
  • The “Fiscal Cliff”

Tragedy’s Answer? More Guns, of Course

It is hard not to be moved by the scenes and sounds of the aftermath of the dreadful Newtown CT mass murders. But moved to pity is one thing; moved to action is quite another. And there have been hints of legislators considering action to deal with the easy access in America to the deadliest of semiautomatic weapons with their capability of firing so many times in such short intervals. And certain legislators – including some staunch NRA supporters – are considering action to restrict access to the most dangerous weapons. That CNN mentioned that the NRA had been silent for a time after the latest massacre. That silence ended with a speech by NRA leader Wayne LaPierre. That speech had been hyped by the organization as offering “constructive measures.”

But anyone expecting something other than the usual prescription – more “guns in the hands of good guys” – was quickly disappointed. Watch LaPierre’s speech here. It is a masterful presentation of the NRA and gun owners as the “real” victims. It is also surreal. See how he completely ignores the protester, who got her message onto  camera briefly: “The NRA has blood on its hands.”

If a few of LaPierre’s assertions seemed odd to you, there is good reason.  Media Matters took up the task of fact-checking the NRA leader.  Here is what they came up with.

  • Gun-Free Areas Do Not Lead To Increased Gun Violence
  • School Shootings Occur In Spite Of Armed Security Presence
  • LaPierre Distorted The Obama Administration’s Position On School Safety
  • LaPierre Made Unscientific Claims About The Link Between Video Games And Homicide

And finally, he did not mention this inconvenient truth:

There is, however, a provable link between firearm availability and homicide.

That Kopel interview and the Harvard research mentioned other countries in addition to the US. These charts from the Washington Post show the stark difference between the US and other countries. A fine example of “American exceptionalism,” I guess. And LaPierre also mischaracterizes the military nature of semiautomatic weapons, when he lampoons the tendency of some to suggest they are “machine guns.” For more depth on this point, and so much more, I strongly recommend a show Terry Gross’s Fresh Air ran last week. Her guest, Tom Diaz, is author of a new book that is on my reading list The Last Gun. Note that the author is himself a former gun enthusiast and NRA member. I like the book’s subtitle: How Changes in the Gun Industry Are Killing Americans and What It Will Take to Stop It. Indeed.

The struggle between the individual right to bear arms – not seriously threatened in any way – and the public’s right to safety from the devastating effects of the most powerful weapons is clear. But this is also a struggle between the rights of corporations and the public. That’s one of the points of this EJ Dionne piece on the all-powerful gun lobby. In that Dionne piece, take a look at the prominent names on the NRA board. Who knew? And I thought Grover Norquist was a one-issue bathtub expert.

In the height of perversion, the Newtown tragedy has triggered a major boost in weapon sales, and, naturally, profits. But there is hope. Here is a story about a major investment company getting out of the weapons business.

Now is the time to call legislators and make your opinions known. I have been contacting other people’s legislators. Thanks to redistricting, I am now represented by John Kline, who is just as staunch a right-wing ideologue as Michele Bachmann – without the comedy.

If you follow only one link in this story, make it this one. As usual, Bill Moyers has the right idea. Remember the victims. And do our damnedest not to let others join them.

Climate Consequences for All

I just mentioned the famous princess of pignorance (pretend ignorance), Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, and with good reason. Her reputation for spouting hogwash on climate science netted her a cameo in this brilliant five-minute video hosted by Bill Nye. (Best moment? Bill unplugs Michele!) The video, produced by the Climate Reality Project, includes a lab experiment and excellent graphics and animations.

The individual/public tension on this issue starts with the “right” to deny reality, to ignore scientific facts, and thereby to be complicit in the inertia that stymies sustainable energy and climate policy. That gets harder to do all the time, though some persist, and some will carry their ignorance (or pignorance as the case may be) to the end of their days. Here is just one illustration of why it’s so hard to be a denialist – a seven- minute video in which eight climate scientists present some of the latest evidence from all over the world.  Note – this Peter Sinclair video is NOT just talking heads.

And of course there are entire national governments acting against the public interest, motivated by desire to cater to the oligarchs who bankroll them. The US government has been the lapdog of the fossil fuel industry for a long time. But don’t think we are unique here in America. Canada’s mad rush to exploit and profit from the environmentally disastrous tar sands oil has motivated an attack on science that rivals the best that our W administration dished out. See if you don’t agree after watching this video interview.

Some people are beyond persuasion. For some, it is an extreme ideology. Senator James Inhofe (the brilliant “greatest hoax” thinker) springs to mind. Getting the Oklahoma senator to respect climate science would be akin to Wayne LaPierre to embrace a ban on large ammunition clips. But for some, it is just another conspiracy theory. That’s right, researchers have come to the shocking conclusion that denying climate science correlates with believing in alien abductions.

But there is a crowd of people in the middle, not committed ideologically to denial. That is the message of this David Roberts article that appeared on the Grist site. And more to that point, how about a sociological look at climate change and its perception by the public? And coming out of that story, here is a nine-page booklet with the promising title Debunking Handbook. There is much bunk to be debunked – this sure looks like it can help.

That’s Not Tea, It’s Kool-Aid

100-proof Kool-Aid, at least. House Speaker John Boehner actually moved toward a compromise. After months of refusing to brook any idea of restoring taxes on big earners, he put together a Plan B that raised rates on those earning over $1,000,000. Not quite what President Obama was looking for in a “fiscal cliff” plan, but it was progress.

The permanent right of certain individuals – namely the highest earners – to the historically low taxes instituted by the W administration was clearly in jeopardy. And then the fun began. I like the way Paul Krugman tells this story of ideological extremism. Salon’s Steve Kornacki suggests this could be the last time the three-cornered hats pull the rug out from under the speaker. Maybe. Steven Rosenfeld also sees a grim future for Boehner. Here is hoping that President Obama does not take a bad deal for the American people. No deal at all might be better.

Atlas Shrugs on the Water

I heard about this story from Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me. Bright side? A little less light pollution.  Wait, maybe that’s the dark side.

Baaa-Studs on the Hill

Here is a special sort of holiday lighting. LED sheep. An old favorite. And the border collies would never go on strike.

“Put on a sweater.”

― Jimmy Carter

Contributed links and/or content to this posting – Bonnie Blodgett, Allyson Harper, Brendan Murphy

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN