IBI Watch 10/6/13

6 10 2013

Blame It on Mother //


Look for this formula in media articles on science, and you usually will not be disappointed. Here is how it goes:

  • Identify the environmental problem or threat
  • Offer a summary of evidence
  • List the apparent causes, including both natural and man-made
  • Detail efforts to mitigate or cope with the natural causes
  • Ignore the man-made causes because they are just “business as usual.”
  • Bypass or downplay the interaction between man-made and natural causes

I was reminded of this formula when I listened to a recent Minnesota Public Radio story on efforts to propagate “clean” bees. That’s right, 50 million years of evolution produced an amazing little social creature, on which an incredible, complex network of life depends, but we in our infinite human wisdom know the real problem – the bees are not sufficiently “hygienic.” In other words, it is their own damned natural fault that they are bringing those nasty, natural varroa mites back home and instigating hive hari-kari.

To be fair, that MPR story does mention the biggest of several elements in the room – modern agricultural chemicals, particularly neonicotinoid pesticides. But the complexity of Colony Collapse Disorder makes it easy for media to latch onto the threads of apparent “feel-good” efforts like stories like that one about breeding better-behaved bees, or of simply planting the right flowers as somehow solving this massive problem.

But what about looking at the big picture, i.e. how we humans with all our wizardry and of course our endlessly expanding population have changed things? I have found no better example of looking at the big picture of bee decline than this TED Talk by Marla Spivak. Give her 17 minutes, and I guarantee you will have a deeper understanding of this complex problem, and a clearer idea of what you can do to help. If you’d rather cut to the chase (though you would be missing much valuable learning), tune into that video at 12:30, when Spivak summarizes all the factors, natural and man-made. I also like her counsel – suggesting that we learn from insect societies, that the sum total of our individual actions creates the world we all have to live in. So we need to choose wisely.

So our alteration of the natural world often enhances natural forces that we don’t like. Another good example is the fungal infection that is devastating US bat colonies. White-nose syndrome is the ailment that, on first glance, appears to be just an unfortunate natural consequence. Tough luck, you poor batties. Deal with it. But as soon as you read into the research, you see the human alteration. Though it is not 100 percent certain, it appears that spelunkers may have introduced this non-native disease into North American caves. We are watching the results play out.

When you apply that thinking, that is, looking at how we change the natural world in the name of progress, thus enabling natural-appearing collateral damage, you are moving straight into the territory of two authors whose work I heartily recommend.

First there is David Quammen, one of the finest science journalists. Get a copy of The Song of the Dodo and you will learn to see through all the fluffy science articles you find that follow the formula. It starts with myths many of us were taught in school and that are often perpetuated in well-meaning media stories. For instance, mosquitoes are well along in the process of decimating native Hawaiian songbirds. A nasty natural pest? Yes, but there is one problem with blaming Mother Nature for that one. Mosquitoes are not native to Hawaii, having been unintentionally introduced by Captain Cook in 1778. And that extinction of the “stupid, flightless bird” that gave the book its name? Well, you will just have to read the book.

The main point of Quammen’s work is this – island biogeography tells us that islands are natural evolutionary dead-ends. That is, creatures migrate to islands, diverge from their larger population, and, often, if the island is not large and diverse enough, eventually go extinct. We are creating man-made islands everywhere, where creatures just cannot survive. If you watched the complete Spivak video, this will ring true in terms of the lack of natural, bee-nourishing plants on vast tracts of our factory-farmed landscape. Once you understand this, you will know better in future (if we don’t change our ways) when a tsunami wipes out the last remaining wild orangutans in Indonesia, or a harsh winter kills off the last monarch butterflies, or a hot summer finishes off Minnesota moose.

And second, there is Alan Waisman, whose new book asks a vital question – what is Earth’s total human carrying capacity? I can’t wait to read Countdown, which follows several years after The World Without Us. NPR Science Friday interviewed the author, who hopes to wake us up to the idea that maybe, just maybe, a human population of 11 billion is something we might want to rethink – before Mother Nature imposes her own solution. That one involves a lot of collateral damage.

Waisman’s solution is far wiser. Educate women, the world over, and empower them to make family planning choices. He cites two shining examples – Italy and – surprise! – Iran.

Far wiser as well would be this choice – see through this covert blaming of natural forces for environmental problems we humans have caused or enabled. Wiser to would be supporting organizations that are working to deal with the problems:

World Wildlife Fund

World Conservation Society

United Nations Population Fund

Even wiser would be working to fight the real problem – lack of leadership by the United States on these issues, caused in largest measure by corporate control of our politics and media. These organizations deserve support in that regard:

Get Money Out

Move to Amend

Represent Us

The Age of Fighting Back, Upon Us

If Rolling Stone’s Jeff Goodell is right, climate scientists are, at long last, mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. His recent commentary was dated just before release of the IPCC’s fifth Assessment Report, but was right on the money. Because money is what the lingering manufactured controversy is all about in the end. In a five-page broadside, Goodell calls out the biggest, deepest-pocketed denialists – the Koch brothers, Rex Tillerson, Craig Idso to name a few of the oiliest. He also names the world capital of anti-science, fossil-fueled denialism. Can you “name that country?!” Most important, he points out scientists and messengers who have found themselves in the crosshairs of denialist rage.

Atmospheric scientist Ben Santer reports death threats from ignoramuses and a home-delivered dead rat from a Hummer-driving “patriot.” And the attacks against “hockey-stick” proponent Michael Mann are already well known. But they are detailed in his recent book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars. Here are several other books by climate scientists from my own reading that I can recommend– James Hansen’s Storms of My Grandchildren and Stephen Schneider’s Science as a Contact Sport and, best of all, The Weather Makers by Tim Flannery.

This fight against anti-science is not going away, and we need scientists to step up their speaking out to counter the chorus of well-paid pignorance (pretend ignorance) that threatens to drown out their world-critical message.

Climate Change – Culture, Magic and an Offer

Yes, strange headline, I know. But here are the connections.

First – one little-explored impact of runaway climate change is the effect on indigenous culture. Effects on livelihoods that depend on sea ice are obvious, but who ever thinks about the extinction of languages, surely a cultural tragedy of our modern era? Well, Greg Downey for one.

Second – Bonnie Blodgett wrote a fantastic column in the 9/29 Star Tribune pointing out the errors in our magical thinking. This piece deserves wide reading, for its insight and also for the way the columnist weaves in the thoughts of several recent books. I particularly cheer her take on this one.

Third – The offer. The Blodgett column in particular reminded me of how reluctant most of us are to engage with the reality of environmental problems, particularly climate change. I am a certified presenter for the Climate Reality Project. Any Twin Cities reader of this blog is invited to request a presentation from this blogger. Church group, social group, community group large or small does not matter. It is enlightening, not all gloom and doom, and even entertaining. I might even throw in a related song or two for the right interested group. Think about it.

Wolves Return; What Happens?

The answer – a cascade of surprises, as reported by science journalist George Monbiot on NPR.

Science Shut Down

The current partial federal shutdown has many victims. Unfortunately, that club does not include members of Congress. But it does include scientific knowledge and progress, in a variety of ways. Considering the Tea Party’s role in promoting pignorance, hey, maybe they are winning after all?

“We would be a lot safer if the government would take its money out of science and put it into astrology and the reading of palms. Only in superstition is there hope. If you want to become a friend of civilization, then become an enemy of the truth and a fanatic for harmless balderdash.” – Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Contributed links to this posting – Bonnie Blodgett, Mark Goldberg, Allyson Harper, Jeff Syme


Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

IBI Watch 6/2/13

2 06 2013

Happy-Talk or Sustainability? //

The future world will be the result of our choices as individuals, but also as societies. I think about that when I hear the growing chorus of well-meaning people who have a “solution” to the mounting crisis of bee die-off. They prescribe a laudable individual choice – plant more flowers, particularly native varieties. You can glean plenty of that good advice in this recent Star Tribune article, and also this NPR interview with scientist Marla Spivak.

It’s hard to argue with advice such as planting less grass and more flowers. After all, our chemically nurtured lawns are a big part of the problem – grass is nothing like a natural habitat for insects, and the fertilizers and weed killers create all manner of environmental problems. But this is clearly a case where individual virtue can make us feel good, but will go only so far in solving the serious environmental problem.

Articles about bee decline, or colony collapse disorder, carry a common theme. It could have multiple causes, we are told – fungus, landscape changes, mites, etc. Neonicotinoid pesticides are mentioned, but sometimes as an afterthought. Minnesota author William Souder – who recently wrote an acclaimed biography of environmental pioneer Rachel Carson – sees a Silent Spring connection. And look at this piece from MPR featuring beekeeper Steve Ellis. Make sure you watch the imbedded two-minute video.

Since research shows the pesticides affect bees’ navigation and orientation, and that is exactly what beekeepers are observing, a sensible approach would be to ban the stuff – particularly considering what is at stake. Our friends in Europe have seen enough. To us environmentalists, that sure looks like a prudent choice, considering the evidence and the risk. But here in the US, we are no nervous nellies, by God.

I fear this controversy is devolving into another policy-paralyzing stalemate – like the granddaddy of those standoffs, climate change. Powerful moneyed interests insist there is no danger, or insufficient proof, or the cost of fixing the problem is too high – as the situation warrants. Pick your business-as-usual-preserving argument, and go for it. It’s a winning formula. Just ask ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, back in the news this week with some creative new magical thinking.

Though the issue of bee decline is not as much in the public eye – for now – as climate change, I see the cause of “controversy” and resultant policy paralysis as one and the same – corporate control of the system. (How is that last article for a laugh?) The cure is the same as well – getting corporate money out of politics.

If we don’t get smart, we will push pollinators, the climate and who knows what else beyond the point of recovery before we finally set about creating sustainable, common-good policies that serve us all in the long run. In the meantime, let’s plant lots of pretty native flowers. They provide some beauty as we rearrange the deck chairs. And let’s play some fiddle music while we watch the fires. Worked well for Nero.

Climate Change Awareness and Action

Despite the almost daily recent weather events with varying levels of connection to climate change – the repeated pounding of the Plains by tornadoes and armadas of slow-moving storms, the freakish late-spring snowstorm in the Adirondacks, the fast-melt flood destruction of a small Alaska village to name just a few, a significant portion of the American public has still not connected with reality. Part of this refusal to respect scientific facts – carbon dioxide at about 400 parts per million is radically changing weather patterns – can be traced to the propaganda of Tillerson and company. But not all of it. Remember that accepting manmade climate change as real will require change and sacrifice, especially from us in the comfortably rich West. That’s inconvenient, and we just wanna be happy.

But prominent activists are keeping up the pressure. Former Vice President Al Gore’s latest message compares our treatment of the atmosphere to dumping waste in a sewer. Dr. Paul Ehrlich – he of The Population Bomb fame – writes about planetary limits. And Organizing for Action is raising a ruckus within the Obama Administration – trying to get the president to take a stance worthy of his campaign positions on climate change issues – mainly the Keystone XL pipeline.

This blog post offers suggestions for our mission – should we choose to accept. That would be – talking to ideological conservatives about climate change. The prime directive – awaken a critical mass of the public so we can build climate-friendly policies and clean energy before it is too late. The single biggest step, I believe, would be a carbon fee, along the lines of the system suggested by activist and former NASA meteorologist James Hansen. And an essential interim step is halting the madness of tar sands oil, by rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline – a main cause of longtime climate activist Bill McKibben.

Ceding Land to Nature

For environmentalists, it’s an inviting prospect – returning certain lands to something like a wild state. Watch this short video by George Monbiot (author of Heat) to get an idea of what this is about. If this sounds a bit romantic, quixotic, that’s because it is. While Monbiot points out that an area the size of Poland will be abandoned by agriculture in the next several decades, it is hard to imagine burgeoning humanity purposefully returning vast swathes of land to wildness. And yet, our technological blunders and wars have set up some dramatic, if little-realized, examples of just that.

Take Chernobyl’s neighborhood. Various accounts – including this one – have described Mother Nature’s rebound in the devastated area deemed too radioactive for human habitation. And further to the east – the standoff between the Kim dynasty in North Korea and its southern adversary has brought an endless hair-trigger drama to the peninsula. But the DMZ that divides the countries is something of a natural paradise – with no nuclear disaster either. Both areas, and so many others, are explored in a book I can’t recommend strongly enough – The World Without Us. Forget the movie by the same name, but I can guarantee that Alan Waisman’s book will get you thinking in new ways about the relationship between the natural world and humankind’s stamp upon it.

If Korea’s dictators named Kim finally come to their senses, and when Chernobyl’s curies finally diminish to tolerable levels for humans, it is hard to imagine wise leaders setting such prime real estate aside for nature. But still, groups dream and – more important – act.  The DMZ Ecology Research Institute’s work is featured in this post. There appears to be no group specifically working to preserve the Chernobyl exclusion zone, but you can learn more here from Voice of America’s bureau chief in Moscow.

Closer to home, and actually all over, this group works to connect wild areas, even in the midst of ribbons of freeways. That is exactly the message that emerges from another of my oft-recommended sources, David Quammen’s The Song of the Dodo.

Own a Little Less; Share a Little More

I am a lifelong advocate for and user of public transit. I started out riding to high school via the Q1 bus and the E train in Queens NY. Nowadays, I live in a southeast suburb of St. Paul MN. I still find ways to use transit whenever possible – I rarely drive to work for instance. But many people resist public transit because they “need” a car. And indeed, transit does not go everywhere. But several encouraging trends are sidelining more autos – and the beneficiaries are many. First, check this NPR story on bicycle sharing systems. It’s well produced and tells a very positive story. And car sharing is also on the rise. Here is an overview, with a cover quote from, of all people, the Chairman of Ford Motor Company. Young people are just not as enamored with the car as my generation, and that is a good thing for this crowded planet of ours.

Dingbats Stifled

There are two losses to report this week.

When the passing of Jean Stapleton was announced yesterday, I felt I had lost a member of my family. Her most famous character, All in the Family’s Edith, was the wise, kind foil to her husband, the irascible bigot Archie Bunker. OK, so my mom is not much like Edith. My dad on the other hand, had much in common philosophically with the immortal Arch. I reminded him of this so frequently that for the last few years of his life, he called me Meathead at least as often as I called him Arch. Of course, Stapleton was a fine actress who had other roles, including a portrayal of Eleanor Roosevelt. RIP, Jean Stapleton. Those were indeed the days.

The other passing is not a death at all, but a departure nonetheless. If you can watch the eight-minute farewell video, you have more patience than me. (For a shorter, comical version try this.) But scroll down for the amazing, facts-be-damned quote collection. What politician has provided more entertainment than our own Michele Bachmann? I am indeed sad to report this departure. And cartoonists are in mourning all over. But let’s give credit where it is due. The lady did win four congressional elections – no small achievement. And she also set herself up as a weighty scientific voice. Aye, we will miss ye dearly, Congresswoman Bachmann.

“If the bee disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live.”

― Albert Einstein


Contributed links to this posting – Allyson Harper


Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

IBI Watch 10/21/12

21 10 2012

It’s a Pander Party . . .  //

. . . And we are all invited!  We listened in vain for ANY mention of environmental issues in the first two presidential debates and the veep matchup.  Yes, I know the economy is foremost in people’s minds, as usual, but in the long run there is nothing more important than clean air and water and a livable environment.  And without those, the economy won’t mean a hell of a lot.  Yes, President Obama was much more energized and on-message in the second debate, and Governor Romney continued his mythologizing.  But nothing annoyed me more than all the jaw-flapping on both sides about ‘energy independence’ and the notion that a president controls gas prices.  It seemed like an argument over who is more in support of what I call our long-term energy policy under both parties, i.e. ‘Find lots more oil and coal, and burn it all up – fast!’  And when Obama failed to pounce when Romney rhapsodized about his love for coal – the full exploitation of which is a death sentence for a livable planet – you could see pandering in full flower.  An insult to our intelligence – gas prices are more important than a whole range of important issues – energy choices, pollution and especially climate change.  Now all is not lost on this issue – Obama is right on to declare that Romney basically wants to let Big Oil and Big Coal run the whole energy policy.  But where is the open discussion about what our addiction to fossil fuels is doing to destabilize the climate?  And when Romney cherry-picks the failures among those trying to build alternative energy, what is his solution? You know it – “Drill, baby, drill!”

There is still time to demand better.  Sign this petition from the League of Conservation Voters.  Or you can act here with Climate Silence.  Better yet, do both.  And if you think the focus on international affairs precludes dealing with the environment in general and the climate crisis in particular, you are not paying attention.

Remember – the economy of a subsidiary of the environment, NOT the other way around.

Green Chained

There is one candidate who, if included in the debates, would make sure the environment is not neglected.  I speak of the Green Party candidate, Jill Stein.  As you might expect, her candidacy is all about sustainability.  IBI Watch readers who live in thoroughly blue or thoroughly red states might consider casting a vote her way.  Her ideas are so dangerous, though, to the powers that be and business as usual, that this happened on the night of the second presidential debate.  Democracy Now also covered the arrest of this dangerous radical.

This incident reminds me of two of my favorite causes – getting corporate money out of politics and allowing a truly level field for all candidates.  The two issues go hand in hand, and, you might say, are also shackled in today’s America.  But they don’t have to be.

Plutocracy Ascendant

In this blog and elsewhere, I have long followed the growth of plutocracy in America – a process we have built with increasing intensity since about 1980.  But I learned much – and you can, too – from a fine interview that Bill Moyers just did with two expert sources on the issue.  His two sources have a long track record of reporting on this phenomenon.  Matt Taibbi has reported on plutocracy with admirable, biting wit, in Rolling Stone.  Here is an example.  Chrystia Freeland is the author of a new book that headed right to my reading list – Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else.  Moyers himself is so impressed that he has organized a book club around this first selection.

Taibbi and Freeland cover the whole gamut of issues here – wealth and income inequality, ‘too big to fail,’ the idea that America is on its way to being another Russia, Brazil or maybe a gigantic banana republic.  But what is new here for me is a term for something I have observed – ‘government capture,’ also known as cognitive capture.’  This is a way of describing how the super-wealthy have increasingly cemented their hold on the reins of power, but also gotten in the public consciousness that things should be this way, and really always should have been this way. And lest you think these two authors are the latest reincarnation of Marx and Lenin, note that Freeland especially presents a balanced view.  Yes, globalization has changed the world to foster some concentration of wealth and power – but US government policy is also a major driving force.

This discussion about what is happening in American society is also explored in a historical way by the same Chrystia Freeland.  She recently covered a work comparing modern America with the Venice of the 1400s.  Not an example we should seek to follow, thank you very much.

This story of Venice’s rise and fall is told by the scholars Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, in their book “Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty,” as an illustration of their thesis that what separates successful states from failed ones is whether their governing institutions are inclusive or extractive. Extractive states are controlled by ruling elites whose objective is to extract as much wealth as they can from the rest of society. Inclusive states give everyone access to economic opportunity; often, greater inclusiveness creates more prosperity, which creates an incentive for ever greater inclusiveness.  Sound familiar?

Vote This Way, or You Will Pay

One of the demons released by the infamous Citizens United Supreme Court decision is this – employers feel emboldened to ‘persuade’ their indentured servants, er, uh, employees that is, to support the Big Boss’s political issues and candidates.  If you are say, Robert Murray, or David Siegel, or one of the Koch Brothers, guess which side you will be pushing?  As Moyers notes in his commentary, these guys are pushing their power right to its legal limits.  Concern is growing over this persuasion, which you might call employment bullying.  Soon, more and more of us may be able to truthfully sing that final line from the iconic Merle Travis song – ‘I owe my soul . . . to the company store!’  That song of course is ‘Sixteen Tons’ – performed here by Tennessee Ernie Ford (‘cheered on’ by some well-heeled fans).

Do-It-Yourself Geoengineering

Why reduce greenhouse gases?  Technology will save us from climate chaos – Rex Tillerson told us so, recently.  And so what if those snail-paced, hypercautious governments are too sclerotic to be bold, be brave, be Randian?  Take the iron into your own hands, and go dump it into the ocean, may all those nervous nellies be damned.  Edward Teller must be rejoicing at the bold, visionary action taken by this pioneer.  Oy.

Calling Tar Sands Oil Out

When I am feeling discouraged about the massive government inaction on climate change, I seek out stories of activists taking bold steps.  Such is this story about a group that punked a ‘climate conference’ that was organized and paid for by the marauders themselves.  This story reminded me of notable heroes in this regard.  If you have never heard about the Yes Men, you need to watch that linked video.

But back on the serious side, here is why scientists are in an uproar about further exploitation of tar sands oil.  If there ever was a lose, lose, lose proposition for the climate, ecosystems and the very planet, it has to be tar sands oil.  Also protested here, as covered by Democracy Now!

Empathy?  Nah.

Maybe it is just the old FDR Democrat in me, but somehow, I think these two stories go together.  Meet Paul Ryan in the soup kitchen, and Paul Krugman in full critique mode regarding the Romney approach to health care.

Human Nature and Society – Assumptions Reconsidered

Before you dismiss these links as ponderous, heady, even – God forbid – boring, think again.  Radiolab ran a terrific program this week on change.  The most compelling segment for me was this one.  It is an amazing piece of accidental research that calls into question – from afar in the primate kingdom anyway whether we will always fight wars and kill one another because it is simply ‘human nature.’ I find a strange affinity with this segment from This American Life.  It chronicles a quixotic (and possibly ethically questionable) campaign by a legislator on behalf of early childhood education.  You just won’t believe which state we are talking about here.

Binders Unbound

OK, I could not resist.  Cheers!

‘The highest patriotism is not a blind acceptance of official policy, but a love of one’s country deep enough to call her to a higher plain.’

-George McGovern

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

Contributed links to this posting – Mark Goldberg, Allyson Harper

IBI Watch 10/7/12

7 10 2012

Destroying the Climate in Order to ‘Save’ it  //

In June, Rex Tillerson – CEO of Exxon Mobil – raised eyebrows with his dismissal of the climate crisis as an ‘engineering problem.’  That sort of thinking – the planet as machine that can be controlled by us all-powerful humans and our techno prowess – is nothing new.  Edward Teller – the brilliant but misguided physicist often assumed to be the model for Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove – laid out a plan for managing the planet’s thermostat late in his long career.  Here is a recent link to articles on the topic offered by those fun-loving Freakonomics guys.

As it becomes clearer by the day just how seriously our fossil fuel emissions have harmed the planet’s climate – and how the future looks more threatened all the time – expect the talk of ‘engineering’ solutions to rise, and even translate into crazy action.  The most popular ideas – science fiction madness applied in the real world, every one – include mirrors launched into space to reflect sunlight, artificial volcanoes that spew sulfur into the stratosphere  (creating deliberate pollution that also reflects solar energy), and seeding the oceans with iron to stimulate plankton growth.  The consequences of such global tinkering cannot be predicted except to say this – expect the unexpected, and the unexpected will almost certainly be nightmarish.  And the sad, tragic, exasperating fact is that we will even contemplate this hubristic Russian roulette while not having taken more than a small fraction of the steps that have no consequence other than short-term investment costs – regulating carbon emissions  and rapidly harnessing renewable energy.

Geoengineering is just the latest, most audacious attempt to insure our continued fossil-fuel orgy.  In other words, its purveyors believe it is wiser to play God with the planet’s regulatory systems so that we can push ahead with business as usual, rather than start respecting the natural systems we depend on.  I was thinking about how this is the ultimate greed-driven willful ignorance, when a friend sent an insightful and inspiring link.

This presentation by Katherine Dean Moore, a philosophy and ecology professor at Oregon State University, brought a standing ovation at the Nobel Conference at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter. This year’s topic was “The Global Oceans,” and her talk was titled “Red Sky at Morning: Ethics and the Oceanic Crisis.”  She issues an urgent call for a ‘planetary ethic,’ to end our ‘moral monstrosity on a cosmic scale.  Her main point is this – more information is not going to persuade enough of us to create a critical mass for sustainable, respectful policies.  We have to tap into values, and understand that it is just plain wrong to harm the future.  This one is well worth your time, friends – including the panel at the end.  Just beware (or skip) the seemingly endless introduction.  If you watch through to the panel, look for Carl Safina – author of several important books about protecting the oceans.

Some Good Reasons to Act on the Climate Crisis

Yes, these stories fall short of the ethic demanded by Katherine Dean Moore, but they provide some valuable motivation, and potentially protect the future.  And hey – the last one is extremely funny.  First – a Huffington Post article on the island impact of ocean rise.  Next, a Common Dreams piece on the accelerating Arctic ice melt.  Here is an AlterNet piece on the immediate health gains of a cut in pollution overall.  And here, Stephen Leahy writes on how cutting soot pollution can slow ice melt.  This article in particular is useful, as it gets into clear, easy-to-understand effects of ice melt, and feedbacks.  But wait – I promised some comic relief.  Yes, the rogue weather girl – the one who tells the truth like no mainstream media weather forecaster – is back for round 2. Did you wonder how her sidekick got that neck brace?  (It happened in round 1.)

One Week, Three Debates

Did you hear there was a debate this week?  I’ll get to that one – briefly – in a moment.  But first – this NPR story is the kind of debate we NEED to hear.  Concise, courteous, on-issue, no grandstanding.  Needless to say, it involves neither major party.  No, this is an All Things Considered debate between the Green Party’s Jill Stein and the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson.  I wish we could vote for these people and not worry about helping the major party we oppose in the process.  How to do that?  Easy, sort of.  Ranked-choice voting.  And how can we get that?  Even ‘easier.’  Get the big corporate money out of politics.  And then there was a mock debate held Saturday evening, featuring two media heavyweights from opposite corners – Jon Stewart and Bill O’Reilly.  Here’s the video.  Who won that debate?  That is, who is now the Mayor of BS Mountain?  And oh yes, President Obama and Governor Romney took turns walking all over Jim Lehrer this week, and in between had something like a debate.  President Obama seemed detached, and Governor Romney shall we say, molded the truth.  He did admit that number 26 was not true.

Suppressing the Vote Suppressors

There is good news on the voter fraud scam.  First, Pennsylvania Republicans will have to try to cull the herd of voters again after the November electionOops.  Second, the exclusion syndicate is under investigation.

New Deal or Gilded Age?  Choose Wisely

Paul Krugman’s commentary describes the actual referendum we will have in just a few weeks.

“No action is without its side effects.”

-Barry Commoner

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

Contributed links to this posting – Bonnie Blodgett, Jeff Carlson, Tess Galati, Allyson Harper

IBI Watch 9/23/12

23 09 2012

Paying the Price of Change   //

Each week, we see new  havoc that our greenhouse gas emissions are wreaking in the world.  Sometimes the changes are linked to the obvious culprit, and sometimes we pretend not to notice.  Here are several examples of both, and some hopeful signs that many of us are making the connection and working on solutions.  Too bad that does not include our American federal government.

First, the clearest and most ominous.  Every spring in Minnesota, weather forecasters make a big deal over ‘ice-out’ dates on lakes.  Well, we are getting damned near ‘ice-out’ time on the Arctic Ocean, at least in summer.  Our 2012 melt season absolutely smashed the old (2007) record for Arctic melt.  This video interview with Walt Meier, a scientist at the U.S. National Ice and Snow Data Center, explains the science, the context and the significance for us non-Arctic residents.  Note Meier’s key quote – ‘much faster than expected.’

Next, this article (and a linked video) from Huffington Post charts 10 expected consequences of global warming, ranging from inconvenient to devastating.

Here is a video posted by Sarah Seltzer on AlterNet that details all the extreme weather phenomena piling up over the past few months.  Any day now, people will notice the trend.

Global warming is of course not limited to the land.  Check this account from Mother Jones’ science reporter, Julia Whitty, about the incredibly warm ocean depths.

Next, a friend sent me a link to a story on a new cloud formation.  Granted, there is no explicit link established between greenhouse gases and undulatus asperatus clouds, but 90 million tons of CO2 per day spewed into the atmosphere is going to cause some change, right?  (Note – the linked video is strictly for laughs.)  I have seen these incredible, ominous clouds several times this summer – and they sure look new and different to this longtime observer.

And finally, the esteemed Noah Adams missed a big opportunity with this story.  Since I began observing and studying global warming in the late 80s, I have been expecting events like the one described – the disastrous Michigan apple harvest now playing out.

The weather phenomenon that killed all the buds – a late April freeze – is all too normal. But the setup – ridiculously warm fall and winter, followed by summer in March – in no way normal. Until now. Welcome to Eaarth.

So what are we doing about this?  If you’re Rex Tillerson, not much (except making lots more money – he always adapts, via his engineering solutions!)  But if you are James Hansen, plenty.  I like his fee and dividend idea – a fee on carbon-generating fuels that is used to incent consumers to make sustainable choices.  Also plenty, if you are former Vice President Al Gore.  And finally – if you are a large corporation whose livelihood depends on a stable climate, more than you might think – real support for regulating carbon.  Too bad these guys are drowned out right now by the siren song of pignorant corporate cash from the likes of Big Oil and Big Coal.  But it won’t always be that way.

Joe Romm from Climate Reality shares some powerful advice on winning the climate argument.

How We Wreck the Place (And Fix it, Sometimes)

Human impact on the planet is shocking and constantly growing.  This surprises little, considering we have passed the seven billion mark in population.  A book I am currently reading, The End of the Long Summer, describes the ways – climate change being only one – we have transformed the planet.

Here are three wildlife stories that are in the news right now.  First, a maritime view – tropical fish in the Bay of Fundy.  Hmm, wonder how that happened.  (See the Julia Whitty piece above for details.)  Second, what’s with all the confounded spiders in Guam?  This lesson in ecology might surprise you.  (Snakes on a plane, man!)  Third – an absolutely heartbreaking story about African elephants and the illegal ivory trade – which is booming.  An excellent, devastating investigative work from this month’s National Geographic.  Good thing all this slaughter is being done in the name of God, or at least, the God industry.  This video explains the religious link (hint, it’s ecumenical), and points toward hope.

So, I promised some good news.  Here is one happy story about a tech fix for an unfortunate eagle.  Of course, too bad the poor bird had to have her beak shot off in order to benefit from this new wizardry.  But that’s another tale for another time.  And then, there are always those deserving organizations doing fine work on behalf of wildlife – that merit our support.  Here are a few of my favorites.




Hey, Protect This!

Pity the poor American conservative.  He looks at the future, and what does he see?  Immigrants, an aging population, and a minority majority, that’s what.  So, how can he maintain the status quo, i.e., a government that does big business’s bidding, no questions asked?  Well, there’s always fear – that works wonders.  Then there are Karl Rove’s oily, well-funded, Supreme-Court-blessed lying campaigns.  But nothing works like culling the herd – of voters, that is.  I will have lots more to say about this hugely important issue in coming weeks, but for now I cede the floor to the amazing (and potty-mouthed, be warned) Sarah Silverman.  Tell those &%)@s to go   )%_)@*!

“The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it comes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism – ownership of government by an individual, by a group,”

― Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

Contributed links to this posting – Jeanine Bontrager, Cassie Callan, Jeff Carlson, Allyson Harper