Springing into Winter

6 01 2017

I write this post as a public service for anyone trying to survive our radically changed Northland winter, and as a (no doubt unheeded) wake-up call to anyone still inclined to believe the anti-science spewing from the Hired Liars who make up the lion’s share of Congress’s right wing.

On December 26 – nearly two weeks ago – I took my canine buddy, Dooley, on a customary trip to an off-leash dog park. We drove about four miles to Battle Creek, the largest park in our area – large enough that a stroll in normal conditions around its perimeter takes us about a half hour.  I knew the trails would be slippery, owing to the re-freeze of melted snow that followed our dreadful daylong Christmas rainstorm. So I sported my most reliably grabby galoshes.

As soon as we entered the park, I realized things were much worse than even I had expected.  I struggled to keep from slipping and falling on the refrozen slush and glare ice – the trails lacked even crusty snow remains for traction.  And this is no joke – the park’s back reaches are quite remote. A hiker with a broken knee, ankle or worse would be in deep trouble. Dooley, of course, cruised on his four legs. But the only way I avoided a slip and a cracked elbow or skull was to cling to the perimeter fence. And of course I loudly swore for the entire hour at our utterly wrecked winter, and our stubbornly pignorant (pretend-ignorant) corporate lords and politicians who have kept us on this ever-worsening path of destabilized weather and degraded environment. I don’t know if the swearing helped keep me safe, but it felt mighty good.

As I slipped/slid/swore to our start/finish point, a fellow cruised by me.   I stopped my tooth-gnashing to call to him, asking for his traction secret.  He said it was something called “yak tracks.” I asked, “What are those, $300 boots?“ No, he showed me, they are coils, or horizontal springs, that strap onto your boots and dig into the icy surface.  $20 at the hardware store, he explained.

Next day, I headed to my local Ace Hardware, and picked up the pair you see here attached to those galoshes.
yaktrax
Problem pretty much solved – they take away about 80-90 percent of the slippage, even on glare ice. Oh, and they are actually spelled YakTrax. And they are more effective than swearing.

Now why would I share this tale of woe and resolution?  Easy.  First, I am betting that many of my fellow Northland denizens are unfamiliar with these nifty little devices. Second, I have lived in Minnesota for 30 years, and spent a lot of winter time outdoors hiking, skiing and walking with my various dogs.  Somehow, I never needed YakTrax.  Now, I say they are the best $20 investment I have made in some time, and I would not do without them. Just a week after the Christmas storm, followed by re-freeze, we got a New Year’s rainstorm, which refroze with even nastier ice conditions.  And a minor snow event looms in our forecast for early next week, with the possibility of a mix with – you guessed it – more freezing rain.

Why would I be so worked up about this?  A few reasons. First, winter rain events here in the Twin Cities are perilous because winter, even its pathetic, globally-weakened present version, is still capable of temps that are plenty cold. And when the mercury plunges – it’s going to -10F tonight – in the immediate wake of rain, you know what happens. Glare ice, traffic accidents and broken bones. Second, winter rain events used to be rarer than a true statement by Donald Trump. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist. My admiration for him is yuge. Yuge.) Rare?  Don’t believe me.  Look here at the long-term climate records for the Twin Cities and see for yourself.  Random checks of winters long past (say, before 1990) show that rain in the winter hardly ever happened.  And now, winter rains occur every single winter, with most winters featuring multiple such events. I heard a quote on the radio from Mark Seeley, a highly respected  University of Minnesota climatologist, to the effect that wintertime rain events have increased FOURFOLD since 2000.  That’s right, a 400% increase! Anytime now, that would qualify as a trend methinks. Third, we humans just normalize every bloody thing.  Even otherwise observant, intelligent people, say things like, “Oh, this kind of thing is common.” But it’s NOT. Or at least it WAS not until the cumulative effects of our 100 million tons of daily CO2 emissions really started adding up. I grab these people by the lapels and say, “Pay attention, will you?!!!” (Just kidding about the lapels. So far.) And then there are the people who see the ice – itself a climate change symptom, at least in these parts – as evidence DISPROVING human-caused climate disruption.

Sometimes all you can do is slap your forehead and go take a strong drink. The drink eases the forehead pain, I have found.

So what is the point of all this?  For the long term, we really have two major tasks.  The first is adaptation to the changes we have already wrought to the climate system.  My YakTrax are just a minute individual example, but adaptation includes sea walls, storm water management systems, more efficient crop irrigation, etc.  And the second – the task that is in grave danger with Trump’s team of pignorant “dealmakers” and science-deniers about to take over – is to stop causing further damage to the climate by drastically reducing greenhouse emissions.  We have needed a carbon fee and dividend system for many years, but for the next four you can pretty well stick that idea in your exhaust pipe.

I started this post by calling it a public service. It truly is that – I am receiving no compensation, kickbacks or favors from the makers of YakTrax.  That’s more than you can say for the Hired Liars in Congress and the incoming Trump team of climate wreckers and their ties to Big Oil and Big Coal.

There will be lots more of this sort of pignorance, corruption and dirty dealing to write about, sad to say, in future posts. But for now, I have to head off for a strong drink.





IBI Watch 3/3/13

3 03 2013

Calling All Trouble Makers //

Sure, as the old song says, more “love sweet love” would be nice. But what the world really needs now is more trouble makers of a certain kind. On this week’s Moyers and Company, we meet two such contributors from different generations.

First, another example of why I hold out so much hope for the younger generation’s opposition to pignorance (pretend ignorance). Here is a young man who has already contributed mightily to the cause of science and thought in his home state of Louisiana. Advocate Zack Kopplin is a 19-year-old warrior against, as the episode’s title states, “creeping creationism.” He is also putting a scare into the creationism creeps, apparently. He’s the first winner of a new award for young upstarts, the Trouble Maker of the Year. Here is hoping this lad has many more years of trouble to come.

Moyers’ other guest is an author I have featured before – Susan Jacoby. Here is a recent post where I talked about her newest book about influential 19th-century freethinker Robert Ingersoll. (See the lead story, “The Land of Make Believe.”) I can recommend an earlier book by this tireless advocate of freedom from dogma-tainted policy – The Age of American Unreason

We need thinkers and activists like Kopplin and Jacoby more than ever. Want proof? Try this story linking a certain news network with pignorance around tobacco and climate change. Or maybe this piece on how three states are pushing a poison cookie-cutter bill from our friends at ALEC on teaching pignorance in public schools is more to your liking. Wait until you see the Orwellian name for this stupidity campaign.

Snoozing or Shocking?

The news is full of sequestration frustration – so much so that we have tired of this seemingly boring story. Yes, the gridlock in Washington right now is the consequence of two opposing political philosophies, compounded by the fact that one of the parties has eliminated the word “compromise” from its vocabulary. But I sense something more sinister, and I am not alone.

After last fall’s election, I had to laugh when I heard positive spinners speculate on the demise of the government-hating Tea Party. Here is one example.  The Republican warriors in the House – they who stand firm and are currently allowing formulaic budget cuts to take effect (hoping blame the president of course) – are actually a majority/minority party. How so? This Mother Jones article explains the gerrymandering that yields a House strongly in Republican hands, despite compiled popular votes for the other party.  In other words, people demonstrably did not vote for the GOP approach. And this David Horsey column in the Los Angeles Times explains how the sequester actually plays into the government-haters’ hands. Now consider that the Tea Party, often portrayed in the media as some sort of populist uprising, is really anything but.

I think former Labor Secretary Robert Reich gets it right with this post. And Walter Hickey of Business Insider also lays out the series of clashes that lie just ahead.

My opinion – this is just the most recent, and one of the most extreme and consequential – example of the Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine. In short, her thesis is this – corporate interests use crises, real or manufactured, to cripple the government and destroy the public sector, which must then be “rescued” by corporate interests which take over what used to be run by the government.

So we have a government paralyzed by obstinacy from a majority/minority party completely in the thrall of an unelected power-monger.

What is the solution? Who knows? But I do know this – meaningful progress on behalf of the common good will not happen until we get the big corporate dollars out of elections. Here are several worthy groups pursuing that laudable goal:

Climate Sell-Out Looms – Unless We Act

I hate to admit it, but the stars are lining up for accelerating climate destabilization. You can just sense the rationalizations for approving the Keystone XL pipeline. It looks like the State Department environmental impact statement will give its qualified blessing. Though that report is not yet public, it is already generating controversy and anger. And that comes after Nebraska’s governor altered the route to eliminate the Ogallala Aquifer issue from the mix. And all this will mix with the usual self-absolving blather about “energy independence,” “we need to help our ally – Canada,” “if we don’t get that oil, the Chinese will,” and on and on along the road to environmental hell.

There are many reasons not to approve, and not just the 40,000 protesters who let their opinions be known in Washington two weeks ago. NASA’s James Hansen has long articulated the case. And Bill McKibben has dedicated his 350.org movement to the cause.

Of course, all those reasons are up against the most powerful one – money. But it is too early to give up the fight. These folks certainly have not.

The “Grand” Experiment Continues

Here are this week’s examples of why climate action is imperative. Check this Global Possibilities page for an eye-catching vertical info-graphic that is full of climate change facts. We often hear how it is “too expensive” to deal with climate change. This article points out the toll of not dealing with it. This 90-second video explains the melting permafrost threat. For more depth on the same topic, look to New Scientist. And finally, if you think King Tides are some kind of surfers’ heaven, think again.

Of Horses and Space Chaos

The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart had too much fun with two recent news stories. Warning: it is strongly suggested that you put down any hot or fizzy beverages you might be drinking before watching these videos, particularly the Russian videos of the meteor explosion. First-here is Stewart’s take on the ongoing horsemeat caper. And second – these videos shot from Chelyabinsk dashboards would give any outrageous Hollywood action film a run for its money. Remember – you stand warned.

Think Green and Early

If we are to have any hope of saving this broken place we call home, we need to encourage young people to think environmentally. Here is a thoughtful list of books to help in that quest. It includes many personal favorites, such as Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree.

“I doubt that most people with short-term thinking love the natural world enough to save it.” – E. O. Wilson

Contributed links to this posting – Allyson Harper, Brendan Murphy, Edrichus Sykes

 

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 2/3/13

3 02 2013

The Final Parallel, Please  //

Tobacco and fossil-fueled energy have curious parallels. Both have provided users with benefits, both got entrenched in behavior and society, both have grievous unintended consequences. But the story of one is more resolved, to a point.

Back in the day in America, virtually everyone smoked, or so it seemed. Ads that look outrageous, even hilarious today – try this “scientific” one and this endorsement by doctors – sold cigarettes as keys to the good life, even good health. And no question – there were benefits. I remember trying them as a teenager, and feeling that intense nicotine rush. (It was a brief fling.)

But even during the well-documented cover-up by tobacco companies of the health risks, the evidence was right there in the ads. Check these for examples of “protesting too much.” “Camels agree with your throat.” “Nose, throat, and accessory organs not adversely affected by smoking Chesterfields.” “Medical authorities recognize Phillip Morris proved less irritating to the smoker’s nose and throat.” Uh huh.

Fast-forward to today. Smoking bans make it harder and harder to puff in public. And the habit hits the wallet harder and harder. Check the taxes per pack by state. Makes me glad not to be a smoker, especially in my native state of New York. Though the revenue from these taxes goes to various purposes, the logic is clear – put a cost on a product which creates costs to the user and to society generally. But this is where the parallel histories of cigarettes and fossil-fueled energy diverge.

The benefits of fossil fuels are so massive they are hard to quantify. Cheap coal and natural gas have fueled the rapid growth of population and cities. Plentiful oil has powered our cars, trucks and airplanes for decades. And in ways most of us don’t realize, our entire food system is oil-powered. According to author Michael Pollan, when you tally up oil-based agricultural chemicals, plus all the fuel used in production and transport, it takes ten calories of fossil energy to produce each calorie of food we consume. So you might say that our whole society is built on fossil fuel – in a real sense, we eat oil.

Just like with cigarettes, the dark side of fossil fuel burning has gradually come into view. And just as reliably, the people amassing fortunes purveying the offending products are not at all happy with the science – in this case the science of how greenhouse gases are changing the atmosphere and the climate. The predictable action – still playing our today – is to “teach the controversy” and paralyze policy supporting the common good.  Read about the whole denial-pushing cabal right here in this resourceful  Media Matters blog post. Former Vice President Al Gore also makes the tobacco/fossil fuel connection in recent comments on video here.

Higher tobacco taxes have been one factor in reducing smoking rates. And that points to the way this parallel story needs to play out, and not over decades. We have summoned the political courage to charge some of the cost of tobacco use – both to users and society.  Isn’t it time we do the same with the cost of fossil fuel use? Cap and trade has been a failure. But putting a price on carbon – either through a tax or through James Hansen’s “fee and dividend” plan is the only way to keep our fossil fuel addiction from ultimately becoming a suicidal pursuit.

And the discussion is proceeding – in Australia, recent site of unprecedented heat so intense they needed to add new weather map colors, at NASA meteorologist James Hansen’s blog, and even, of all places (Grover Norquist and James Inhofe aside), in the Republican Party.

As long as we continue to ignore and externalize the cost of fossil-fuel pollution, we are behaving in a way satirized brilliantly in this Saturday Night Live video.  We can and must do better. Here are two organizations working for rational carbon pollution policy – the Citizens Climate Lobby and the Carbon Tax Center.

 

Sensible Policy from the Barrel of a Gun

Why – for so many of us – does it take immediate exposure to the dangers of gun violence to build commitment to rational gun laws? Think James Brady, Ronald Reagan, Mark Kelly and now these doctors from Sandy Hook.  This past week, former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords provided brave testimony in favor of gun regulation. Here is the handwritten version. And here is the video. Now watch the diversionary pro-gun propaganda delivered at the same hearing from the chief lobbyist for the gun industry, Wayne LaPierre.  He has supported enhanced school security, not necessarily a bad idea. He has also suggested that arming teachers – think Rambo at the blackboard – also can help. Here is what one prominent St. Paul teacher has to say about that on her blog.

As usual, satire cuts through the baloney. First – how different is LaPierre’s approach from this Tom Tomorrow character? Second, hats off yet again to Jon Stewart. He has once again discovered a current right-wing radical debating a more rational opponent. That is, his former less extreme self from a decade or so ago. Senator Grassley gets a howler award here as well, folks – discredit where discredit is due.

I like this mayors’ organization fighting for the cause. I also love the fact that this group – led by NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg – is slated to run an ad favoring sensible gun regulation at the Super Bowl.

 

Dream On

George Carlin said “they call it the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.” Star Tribune columnist Bonnie Blodgett wrote a thoughtful commentary recently that packs so many issues into a short Sunday column. Pay inequity, unfettered growth, our switch to a “me first” ethos, it is all here and very thought-provoking. A fitting examination of the complicated, elusive American Dream. And the parting shot reminds us of the legacy of our creeping embrace of “every-man-for-himself.” We are in the horse race now for the most unequal society in the world. How is that for “American Exceptionalism?”

 

The Growth Affliction

A promising new book has hit my reading list. This Excerpt from Enough is Enough suggests that authors Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill will tread where few sustainability activists dare – fingering unfettered population growth as the root cause of environmental ills. This also made me think of Dave Gardner, director of an informative documentary, Growthbusters. Watch the trailer here, and read a short article by the director right here.

 

Common Sense Revolution

In this guest post, Ottawa’s Rolly Montpellier brings the wisdom of that great 18th-century thinker, Thomas Paine, to bear on our modern climate crisis. Recommended.

Rolly blogs at the Boomer Warrior.

 

Light in the Darkness

One of the things that strikes a city kid like me when spending a night far from the city is just how much you can see in the night sky. Light pollution has been growing for decades, and as a result, most city dwellers have no idea what is up there. Some speculate this reinforces our view of humans as separate from the natural world. With our ongoing destruction of natural habitats, more separation from nature is exactly what is not needed. That need to connect is behind the work of photographer Thierry Cohen. In this slide show, Cohen shows what could be seen with light pollution under control in eleven major world cities from New York to Hong Kong. Magical.

 

“We have it in our power to begin the world over again.”

― Thomas Paine

 

Contributed links or content to this posting – Allyson Harper, Rolly Montpellier, Brendan Murphy

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN





IBI Watch 1/27/13

27 01 2013

An End to Inertia  //

We hear frequently that “the only thing constant is change.” But unless more of us start paying closer attention, and soon, changes effected by powerful industries and political parties will move ahead unhindered . These changes mean big payoffs for some, but NOT for the general good. Surprised?

The next three articles are examples of changes that have several things in common:

  • They are happening in the public sphere
  • They are ignored for many reasons, but mostly because they affect things many of us take for granted
  • A certain segment of powerful people benefit from these changes – and therefore have a vested interest in continued inertia

Antis that are Bad for Your Aunties (and Uncles too)

Antibiotics have been controversial for some time. The wonder drugs have been over-prescribed, and used out of “necessity” by the factory meat industry. The result is resistant pathogens that are proving to be an increasing challenge – as described in this recent Los Angeles Times story.

Now there is news that another class of much-loved “antis,” antibacterial concoctions, has its own consequences. Cleanliness is good, but new research shows that a commonly used antibacterial agent – triclosan – is causing growing problems when it ends up inevitably in rivers and lakes. That consequence – dioxins.  If you read the story at that link, you will see there is an easy solution – just stop buying the “miracle” products using this stuff. That includes just about all the antibacterial soaps you can find. But note a key quote in that piece – aside from health benefits in toothpaste, U.S. Food and Drug Administration has found no evidence that triclosan in antibacterial soaps and body washes provide any benefit over washing with regular soap and water.”

The message – pay attention, or the inertia of “better life through chemicals” will continue, regardless of health or environmental consequences. We will talk about Monsanto at another time.

The Theft Strategy

The Republican Party faces demographic challenges going forward. The nation is becoming more diverse, but the party’s membership has been overwhelmingly white. One of the party’s vaunted rising stars – Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana – has a prescription for future success – stop acting stupid.  I think the governor is wrong. Aside from gaffes, I think many pronouncements by prominent Republicans – right up to national standard bearers Mitt Romney and before him George W. Bush – are what I call pignorance, i.e. pretend ignorance. Two good examples are President W suggesting that students should be taught both evolution and creationism and “let them decide,” and Governor Romney stating that we really don’t know if human greenhouse gas activity is changing the climate. That’s not stupidity; that’s strategic pignorance.

So with pignorance fading as a strategy, Citizens United offered an alternative – spend big on attack ads, especially on super-PACS, where disclosure is limited. A quick look at spending by the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson shows that big money was indeed in play in 2012. Oops. That didn’t work any better than pignorance, at least for this cycle. No, a bigger strategy is needed.

This strategy is to systematically deprive the people of what they want. Everyone knows about the Red/Blue divide. Most think about that in terms of states. Examples of consistently Red states include Oklahoma, Wyoming and Kansas.  Consistently Blue states include California, Hawaii and Vermont. But thinking about the Red/Blue divide only in terms of states misses an important point.

The real divide is between rural and urban. And with rural areas concentrated more in the south and the Rocky Mountain west, those states tend Red. That said, the system already has a Republican bias. Those big, thinly populated states in the western Great Plains and mountain west – think South Dakota, Utah, Wyoming – all have an electoral advantage – two votes for each Senator, just like the populous Blue states of New York and California.

But that advantage is not enough. Consider what is afoot in a key swing state, Virginia. If this plan were to succeed, it could potentially tip the state Republican despite a Democratic majority of votes. (And Virginia is not the only state where this game is in progress.) And in the “no surprise here” department – check who has been pushing this – our friends at ALEC. James Fallows also talks about the theft game in his commentary on Saturday’s All Things Considered. Unfortunately, the host, Robert Smith, seems to suggest this is just more “business as usual.”  That is, if business as usual includes systematic disenfranchisement.  And don’t forget as well – Congress is already effectively gerrymandered in both houses through different strategies – the House through the creative realignment of districts across the country has a 30-vote Republican majority, though Democratic candidates received more votes in 2012. Huh?  And then there is the Senate, where recent changes to the filibuster rules do not go nearly far enough.

It is clear that with the Senate locked down by record filibusters, and the House not representative of the popular vote, we have moved further away from the basic principles of representative democracy. And that is before this new vote-twisting scheme takes hold.

The message – we must pay attention to these changes and stop them if we are to preserve anything that resembles democracy.

Sleeping on the Road to Hell

The monster issue where public inertia rules is climate change. I see this close-up in Minnesota, where we are experiencing yet another not-so-brave-new winter, Hey – maybe this is a trend, eh? More on that in a moment. But today when I was out and about, I saw a sign outside a bank. It was a marketing come-on that started with “Tired of the snow?” Say what?! There is maybe two inches on the ground – in January! In Minnesota! And what is there is not really snow, but thoroughly melted and refrozen treacherous ice. Snowmobilers and cross-country skiers have had maybe two weeks since late November when there was enough real snow on the ground to enjoy their sports.

And I promised to report on whether we actually had the promised cold weather this past week. Yes, we did. On one solitary day, we had a sub-zero high temperature for the first time in four years. That of course smashed the old record for time between very cold days.

More evidence of inertia in thinking. I overheard several conversations that went along these lines – this “cold snap” means global warming is not really happening. Makes you want to bang your head against the wall. At least people in the know are studying what climate change is doing to Minnesota winters. This short segment on MPR’s Daily Circuit digs in well, even though Paul Huttner in my opinion downplays the unfolding disaster.

The inertia of public opinion on this topic is around the idea that things will change, but it won’t be that bad. That is, the scientists are making a bigger deal than the matter deserves. Au contraire. I am finishing up reading an important book on climate change, Mark Lynas’ Six Degrees. To be honest, none of the dozens of books I have read on the topic have quite scared me as this one has. The author walks us through what happens at each degree Celsius of warming. At six, needless to say, we are cooked – unstoppable changes melting virtually all the world’s ice will be well under way, deserts will be massively expanded, methane hydrates released from melted permafrost and the warmed ocean bed. The crucial point is this – all the changes we have seen – extreme weather events, the melted Arctic ice cap, Hurricane Sandy’s hybrid behavior and atypical route, Australia’s off-the-chart heat event this year, are all happening with a little less than one degree of warming. Worse, we probably have another degree already in the atmosphere, thanks to the climate lag effect of carbon dioxide emissions.

And unfortunately many of the trends are not moving in the right direction. For instance, there is no let-up in tar sands oil production. There will in fact be a big surge in that climate-wrecking enterprise if the Keystone XL pipeline is approved. Yes, that is the project that James Hansen has labeled the “game-over” point for preserving a livable climate. And yet we have to have hope. Both President Obama and Secretary of State Designate John Kerry are talking a good game on dealing with the issue. (I am concerned that Kerry would not answer the question about whether XL will be approved.)  And then there is the fact that Exxon Mobil footed some of the bill for the inauguration. That can’t be good.

Here are a few more points. As if we needed any further confirmation, NASA says that global warming is here and now. Yup. This Washington Post opinion piece suggests a high-payoff strategy – mobilize scientists on the issue. If we did that, we might be able to massively build alternatives, as explained in this Daily Climate piece.

The message – public inertia on climate change allows Big Coal and Big Oil to continue with business as usual. This can’t happen. If you can go, this massive rally on February 17 is a good way to make a difference. And it is always a good time for a real carbon tax.

Born to Teach (Not to Shoot)

Speaking of rallies, residents of Newtown demonstrated on behalf of reasonable gun regulation in Washington. And then there were the unfortunate gun enthusiasts shot during Gun Appreciation Day events. I like the administration’s proposals.

Lifestyles of the Rich and Heinous

I wrote last week about the connection between blinding, choking smog in Beijing and all the manufacturing of products for the American market.  Here is another view. A Chinese oligarch can and will ride in style in a machine like this. What’s not to like? Conspicuous consumption in the land of Mao, no gas mileage ratings in sight, and- no matter who you might crash into, you win. That is, you are the killer, not the killed. And a question -how far removed is that monstrosity from this?

A Pignorant Education

The best way to preserve pignorance for posterity is to learn them young-uns right. Here are some lessons that PBS gleaned from texts that do just that.

Gun Appreciation or Gun Worship? What Would Jesus Say?

Obama is Coming Out on Climate Change

These are two guest posts written by Rolly Montpellier of Ottawa, Ontario. Rolly blogs at BoomerWarrior.org    Recommended.

“Climate change is real. The science is compelling. And the longer we wait, the harder the problem will be to solve.”  —  Senator John Kerry

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

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN





IBI Watch 12/30/12

30 12 2012

Sustainability Works //

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

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

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

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

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

Prevention; Clean-up is Too Late

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over the Cliff, Merrily?

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

King of the (Rubbish) Hill

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

Summing Up 2012

Here are several wrap-up articles for the year:

Power to the People

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

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

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

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

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

― Albert Einstein

Contributed links to this posting – Tess Galati, Allyson Harper

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN





IBI Watch 12/9/12

9 12 2012

Mother Nature Demands Respect //

If the planet could talk to us, it might evoke Rodney Dangerfield: “I tell ya, I don’t get no respect.” But maybe the natural world is talking to us. And some of the most recent messages seem uncannily timed. We best pay attention.

Next to the “fiscal cliff” drama, the second biggest topic in recent weeks here in America has been Hurricane Sandy’s devastation – which hit the most crowded part of the US just before Election Day. But as I write this, Typhoon Bopha – after killing at least 500 in the Philippines – has made a u-turn and is threatening the island nation with an encore. This out-of-season storm – like Sandy one that most experts link to human-caused climate change – provides a dramatic backdrop to the current, latest installment of world climate talks, in Doha, Qatar. Not that it will goad wealthy nations – particularly the United States – into taking action commensurate with the threat. Proof of non-commitment arrived Saturday.

So while delegates – doing the bidding of their national leaders – continue to pay lip service rather than take meaningful action, they have to work harder all the time to ignore dramatic new information that seems to arrive daily. This Scientific American article paints a dire picture of current trends leading to the high end of temperature-rise predictions. For a “report card” on the Arctic, check this Huffington Post piece, which also includes a series of before-and-after photos of scenes around the world already affected by climate change. And here is an NBC News piece detailing the dramatic increase in polar melting. Even the World Bank is getting into the act. Listen to the president of the Bank, Jim Yong Kim, who does an effective job explaining the devastation we are insuring if we fail to act. As he rightly points out, “once-in-a-lifetime events are happening all the time.”

So what needs to happen? Here are a few ideas. First, I was glad to see the Green Party’s Jill Stein use an image I used recently – the “environmental cliff.” Here, former Vice President Al Gore chides President Obama for lack of action on this important issue. And for an idea on what is really needed, try this piece on the notion of “zero carbon.” In her comments, Jill Stein recommended what I think is the best measure of all for getting the entire energy and climate picture turned in a positive direction – a carbon tax. NASA’s James Hansen calls it “fee and dividend.” By any name, it will make a big difference – if only we can summon political will.

Cheap Gas Costs Too Much

In our recent election, the issue of the price of gasoline surfaced from time to time, as if the president could control it. The debate of course was about how to keep the price low. But the low price means its true cost – the environmental damage caused by burning all fossil fuels – is left out of the equation. Currently, a variety of factors are holding the price stable at a reasonably low level. I have personal evidence that it is too low. Just the other day, I parked my car in the grocery store lot near a minivan that was empty, locked and running. Why? I could only surmise that the owners wanted immediate comfort from the cool dampness when they returned with their groceries. When I left, there it was, still running, still spewing. I have seen this even more frequently during hot summer days. If gas cost more, do you think these comfort freaks would still waste and pollute? Maybe. But here is another reason to raise the price of gas. The taxes are used to fund transportation infrastructure. And I think here in Minnesota, Governor Dayton’s administration has the right idea. Not that the “garage logic” guy will agree on that one!

Two Hard Lessons

I need to be reminded periodically just what a special, progressive place I call home. Not that the experience has to be pleasant. First there was a Bill McKibben event – the Twin Cities stop on his “Do the Math” tour.  I tried to buy a ticket a few days after the stop was announced. Out of luck – fastest sellout in the country. And then there was the Friday night Twin Cities debut of the new documentary “Chasing Ice.” I was eager for this show – National Geographic photographer James Balog, the subject of the movie, was scheduled to do a question and answer session after the early show. I rode the bus and train over to Uptown, approached the counter, plunked down my cash. But wait – out of luck. The show had sold out in three days. The late show, sans discussion, was three hours later, and my border collie was alone at home. (I had already been gone several hours before the show.) So I am left to try to find another time to head to the theater. Next time, I move fast! And of course I recommend both McKibben and Balog to you.

The Whole Dirty Story

A friend pointed me to a clever cartoon video that explains the greed-driven financial morass that confronts today’s America. The narrator is Lou Grant, er, uh, Ed Asner. Here – watch the video. See if you can catch the single offensive, graphic metaphor. (Hint – it involves tinkle-down economics.) Fox News, always on the lookout for something to foam at the mouth about, had a blast of faux outrage with this one. See the Young Turks for that story. But the sideshow does not lessen the impact – or the entertainment value – of this clever little piece that tells it like it is.

Our Broken System – and Fix-it Ideas

I find it especially gratifying when conservatives point out just how extreme their brethren have become over the last 30 years – and the corrosive effect their greed-based, scorched-earth politics has had on the entire country. Here is the latest example to come to my attention. Bill Moyers interviewed former Oklahoma Representative Mickey Edwards. He is the author of The Parties Versus the People. And though Edwards is a little too think with the false equivalence for my taste – repeatedly alleging corresponding extremism on the Democratic side – he does make a powerful case for getting the corporate money out of politics. I agree – that is the root cause of so much that is wrong in America today – including John Boehner and Mitch McConnell risking going over the metaphorical fiscal cliff in the name of protecting low marginal tax rates on the very wealthy. And let’s not forget the unelected godfather of greed, Grover Norquist – who has recently run into some headwinds, at long last. Get the corporate money out, and watch all manner of good things happen. The Move to Amend folks know all about that.

Fighting Dirty Energy, Dirty Weather, Filthy Future

Young people own what is to come, for better or worse. More are speaking out and taking action – which is something that gives this old boomer a modicum of hope. Read about young college students taking action against fossil fuel polluters – via university endowment funds. And here is another angle taking shape – the undeniably discriminatory nature of coal’s negative side effects.

Bon (Bug) Appétit

Eating lower on the food chain is one way to reduce your carbon footprint. I have been eating far less meat in recent years, with associated health benefits for me and the planet alike. But for many Americans, insect cuisine may be going a bit far. Want flies with that?

Global Light Show

A new NASA video is making the rounds. It is undeniably beautiful. Take a look here. The majestic background music and enthusiastic narration tell us this is a good thing. But I need to spoil the fun. Besides beauty, I see two things here. The overwhelming share of that light is – you guessed it – burning fossil fuel. If ever there was a win-win, it would be curbing fossil-fueled light pollution. Here is one organization working to do just that.

“Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace” – John Lennon

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

Contributed links to this posting – Tess Galati, Allyson Harper, David Oertel