IBI Watch 9/15/13

15 09 2013

Arctic Refreeze + Slow Hurricane Season = Climate Change Bunk? //

It’s all the rage. The Arctic icepack will not set a new minimum record this year. It is already refreezing, fast. Those facts have climate science deniers energized. For instance, one of the most prominent of all the climate change denial sites has charts and graphs galore, telling this story that apparently proves climate change is not happening. This site has run pretty much the same story the last two years – see 2012 and 2011 entries. And it is not just pundits and bloggers – here is an established British news source with the same story.

True unbelievers in climate science take some kind of comfort, I guess, in news like the Arctic ice returning, plus this year’s near-record late start to the Atlantic hurricane season. Here is a balanced view of that hurricane situation, from Time magazine. Cherry-picked data serves as potent fuel for fantastical stories, as Rush Limbaugh regularly proves. And just as monthly Arctic ice stats serve some deniers, so have some other deniers seized on the late hurricane start as evidence that climate change activists are alarmists, to be ignored. Note – Taylor is a prime author for the oil-fueled Heartland Institute.

This is all familiar territory. It follows an established script. First, assert falsely that climate change as explained by scientists and science journalists is a perfectly linear process. Support that position with a few quotes, preferably speculative ones, by one or more of your demons – Al Gore or Bill McKibben, just to name two. Then, report your supportive data which undermines that inaccurate depiction of climate science. So you and the forces of do-nothingness win. Or do you?

These facts can’t be challenged. We pump 90 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every day. The current atmospheric carbon dioxide reading is 395 parts per million, compared to preindustrial levels of about 280. Both the daily and cumulative numbers continue to rise, with chaotic consequences that cannot be precisely predicted.


So what is happening now? In the hurricane realm, there are several possibilities. First, as Chris Mooney reports, climate change may actually reduce hurricanes. Of course, thanks to sea rise resulting from warmer oceans and melting ice sheets and glaciers, those hurricanes that do occur will have a head start. And with all the uncertainty, it is also possible that this season’s late start could itself be an anomaly.

As for the alleged return of the Arctic to its long-term solid, frozen status, don’t count on it. Time will prove the denialists wrong. It is only a matter of how fast things happen. For instance, the decidedly conservative, consensus-driven Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change comes out with its latest forecast in two weeks. Leaked information points to more certainty than ever. And though some evidence points to a lull in the temperature rise, our emission-driven acidification of the oceans proceeds. The Seattle Times’ Craig Welch put together a comprehensive article on acidification that includes several imbedded videos. And as for those who persist in their denial of scientific facts and projections, thus paralyzing policy, they will be justly recognized. As this Truthout piece suggests, we might think of them as the Dr. Kevorkians of the planet. Call it pignorance-assisted suicide.


Extremes in Two Mismatched Pairs

So the relationship between hurricanes and manmade climate change is unclear and hotly debated, and the ongoing experiment in liquefying the Arctic is crucial in its effect on weather patterns, not so crucial in sea rise. That’s because the ice, old and new alike, is already floating on the sea.

For a clear view of our climate-changed future, look to extremes today that are part of well-predicted trends. First there are increasingly common weather extremes. The Yosemite Rim fire, just about contained, is one example of an enhanced fire season, driven by higher temperatures and persistent drought. The latest shocking example is the horrific flooding and mudslides around Boulder, Colorado. As of this writing, four are confirmed dead, with hundreds unaccounted for. This disaster is caused by a triple-whammy series of drought, wildfire and finally, the knockout punch of monsoon-like storms that come and stay, dumping months or years worth of rain on the same sun-baked spot. Here are two videos from the Boulder environs – from Salina and Boulder itself. (Scroll down for the Boulder video.) Subhankar Banerjee effectively makes the case for climate change in the Colorado floods. And with the mangled jet stream causing all sorts of mayhem in weather patterns, Boulder-like events could be soon coming to a creek, stream or river near you.

And then there is the melting that really matters – the head-for-the-hills variety. That would be ice that resides on land, until it melts that is and slides into the rising sea. Two extreme locations, two similar stories. First there is Greenland, whose ice is described here by MPR meteorologist Paul Huttner as a “stick of butter in a hot pan.” In other words, it does not move at all for awhile, but then really starts to slip along seaward. Be sure to watch the short video on Greenland’s Mega Canyon. But what about the granddaddy of all ice sheets, Antarctica? If you guessed “accelerated melting, you get the extra credit points. Read here about research at the Pine Island Glacier, being undermined by warming ocean water. Here is 9/15 update from NPR on the same research. Did you catch the possible sea rise there? Six feet? See for yourself how that matters in this terrific interactive map from Climate Central.

So all of this manmade chaos and disruption really matters. But does it matter enough to motivate meaningful changes in energy and greenhouse gas policy? Not yet. But these groups are working hard to wake us up and tip the balance toward adaptation and sustainability – 350.org, the Climate Reality Project and Citizens Climate Lobby.


The Magical Techno Fix

This longstanding idea is often a slam at doomsayers of old – Thomas Malthus – or of more recent vintage – Paul Ehrlich. The idea is this – the earth’s capacity for human occupation is pretty much unlimited, nigh infinite. Hogwash, most ecologists say. But those who really believe in our technical ingenuity (and don’t much give a damn about our fellow travelers on this orb, i.e. any life form that is not human) persist in their sacred faith in technological innovation. Seldom in recent times has this view been given a more articulate or narrowly myopic presentation than in this Erle C. Ellis article in the New York Times. The problems that Ellis ignores or summarily dismisses in this column are too numerous to mention, but he does make at least one true statement – “In moving toward a better Anthropocene, the environment will be what we make it.” To which I would reply with words borrowed from Colin Powell: “If you break it, you own it.”

We have a lot of repairing to do, with or without technological wizardry. And to be fair, there is much more to Ellis’s ideas than this single article would indicate. See the linked video here.

As for the big picture, there is much to learn in National Geographic’s study of the world’s continued population growth. I also like the education and activism being done by Growthbusters, World Population Balance and the Population Connection. The more the merrier? No chance. The best strategy – educate the world’s women and support their family planning choices.


Plant It, and They Will Come?

We have invested much time and sweat in recent years replacing swaths of lawn with wild-looking native and rain gardens. Until this year, we attracted droves of large butterflies, including varieties of swallowtails and of course the lord of them all, monarchs. This year, we have seen exactly three swallowtails and not many more monarchs. In addition, our abundant milkweed shows no evidence of monarch eggs. An isolated, unfortunate incident? Not on your life.

This Minnesota Public Radio interview with the University of Minnesota’s Karen Oberhauser fingers two closely-related culprits – neo-nicotinoid pesticides, and modern factory agriculture’s penchant for decimating “unwanted” plants between the rows. That includes of course milkweed. She offers two remedies – plant more milkweed (maybe it will work for you) and be careful when buying garden plants from nurseries, who may have treated the plants with those magical modern poisons. But all of that means little when our government allows chemical companies such as Bayer and Monsanto to continue this campaign against the natural world. Congress has the power to stop this, if its members would for once think of the common good rather than their corporate sponsors.


A Hypocrisy Interview

I find that I have had the conversation described in this little article before. It serves to prove a long-held theory of mine. That is, that any ideology that purports to have all, or even most of, the answers to all the problems begins to look like a dogma, a religion. Magical thinking, that is. Unreal. Fantasy. Enjoy the script.


1227 Facts

There is a difference between trivia and curious, even meaningful facts. This is why I waste no time on trivia contests and collections, but love, for example Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me and the Harpers Index. This is precisely why a new book hit my reading list. Two of the three authors of 1227 Quite Interesting Facts to Blow Your Socks Off appeared on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday, interviewed by the great Scott Simon. Work is more dangerous than war, the most shoplifted book in the United States is the Bible, and there is an actual word for an affliction that awards the sufferer with feet the size of umbrellas. But the universe is not shaped like a bumbershoot. Try a vuvuzela. Enough said.


Shooting Each Other Some Love

Thanks to comic Sarah Silverman, we can fittingly celebrate two recent recall election victories by the fear-fueled National Rifle Association in Colorado. She has a modest proposal to make the country even “safer.”


Diplomacy Wins, for Now

Bill Moyers’ commentary highlights the power of public opinion in recent events concerning Syria. Collective common sense. What a concept.


“The great challenge of the twenty-first century is to raise people everywhere to a decent standard of living while preserving as much of the rest of life as possible.”
Edward O. Wilson


Contributed links to this posting – Allyson Harper


Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

IBI Watch 10/28/12

28 10 2012

Superstorms, Paradox and Petrol Propaganda  //

Human-made climate change – arguably the most urgent environmental problem the world faces – is not simple.  The underlying science is simple enough and has been known for centuries – add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, increase the atmosphere’s ability to hold heat rather than radiate it to space.  But the specific consequences are not at all simple.  Sure, there is a general warming trend – which has accelerated dramatically in just the past few years, especially in the Arctic.  But other events – like the monster storm currently threatening America’s eastern seaboard, can and will be used as straw man arguments to confuse enough of the public into supporting ‘status quo’ energy and climate policies.  This is what Rush Limbaugh, James Inhofe, Fred Singer and the whole crowd of pignorant pundits and politicos do best.  A terrific new Frontline tells this sad story of manufactured doubt.

But here is the paradox – and the opening for the fossil fuel tycoons and their stooges.  For the near and mid-term future, extreme cold weather events will be part of the mix.  You can expect spinmeisters to state that the relatively early autumn cold fronts that complicate the Hurricane Sandy situation ‘disprove’ global warming.  They have done this many times during major snowstorms in recent years.  It’s big fun for these guys to ridicule Al Gore and climate scientists – but they are complicit in delaying meaningful action, and in the process jeopardizing the planet’s future as a place humans and so much of the natural world can thrive.  Here is an article from the Guardian that talks about climate consequences.

Note this quote from the Guardian article, because it is directly relevant to Hurricane Sandy:

Other new research suggests that the loss of ice could be could be affecting the path and speed of the jet streams, possibly explaining why extreme weather in the northern hemisphere is lasting longer.

“There is evidence of stronger and more intense north Atlantic storms and extreme weather, says NSIDC scientist Julienne Stroeve. “We are thinking we are entering a new climate state. Until we get the next push and reach a new equilibrium.

Equilibrium?  That’s hard to imagine, as we continue to add a couple of parts per million of CO2 (and rising) to the atmosphere each year from our tailpipes, smokestacks and farms.  When you read the forecasts (and after-the-fact) reports on Sandy and so many other storms, think of this – storms that come and stay for days, contrary to historical patterns.  Here is one more look at Sandy and the changing climate, from Joe Romm and Stephen Lacey at Climate Progress

Oh and one more favorite denialist canard – how ice is increasing in the Antarctic even as the Arctic melts.  That’s another one of those ‘Things are fine, so shut up you chicken littles’ kind of arguments.  You can read the actual baloney elsewhere, but here are two antidotes from Climate Crocks and Climate Central.  Seth Borenstein’s Associated Press piece also explains the counterintuitive phenomenon of more ice in parts of Antarctica being totally consistent with a warming world.  You might also consult the Australians – who have a contrary experience with a rapidly melting airstrip in Antarctica.  Take that, Fox News!

With all this melting and mayhem unfolding before our eyes, you would think that our leaders would be urgently planning how to deal with the crisis.  You would be wrong.  Here are NPR stories on the public stances of President Obama and Governor Romney.  My hope is that President Obama, given a second term and a Congress not completely in the thrall of Big Oil and Big Coal, would revert to the leader who talked seriously about climate action at the beginning of his first term.  If President Romney (!) were more like Governor Romney, I would not be so concerned.  But all his current Tea-Party-pleasing pronouncements tell us that he would not just ignore the crisis, but actually undo the limited positive steps the Obama Administration has managed to achieve.  Such is the power of petrol pignorance.

People-Powered Energy Policy

With the hydrocarbon-fueled inertia in our government, you have to look elsewhere for anything like progress.  Here is a new citizens’ lobby (what a concept!) that I just discovered.  Here is a recent story on some veterans fighting for wind energy – against serious fossil fuel opposition, of course.  An organization I represent – the Climate Reality Project – has an upcoming event to raise awareness and support for sustainable climate policy.  And this opinion piece presents an optimistic view of people’s power to generate momentum for sustainable policies.  If only . . .

Energy Independence and Other Fables

Next in line after Governor Romney’s repeated (again and again) assertions about what he knows how to do (‘I KNOW how to get this economy moving, I KNOW how to create jobs, etc.) would have to be this mantra – I will create energy independence for American.  This has to be one of the biggest lies of this campaign, and President Obama has not done enough to debunk it.  NPR’s Morning Edition ran two great stories on this notion this week – Thursday and Friday.  As for energy security – a real-world propaganda-free objective – reviving this narrowly missed opportunity would be a good start.

To the North! (Just Like Before)

I can remember, in the dark days of 2004, when President Bush gained a second term in a second tainted contest, joking with fellow progressives about escaping to Canada.  Now, it seems that some on the other end of the political spectrum are thinking the same thoughts.  But this AlterNet piece notes some surprises awaiting righty expats.  Here is another lighthearted look at abandonment threats.  And of course the exit that I would pay to see happen has met the same fate.  Yup, anytime now.

Pity This Busy Monster Manunkind Not – in Three Acts

With a nod to e.e. cummings, I think each of these three wildlife stories has a common theme.  They are from separate corners of the earth – Tanzania, Japan and Minnesota.  Sure, these are on vastly different scales, but they share a common thread – organized killing of highly intelligent animals for dubious purposes, using cruel methods.  This story would not be complete without links to activist organizations – elephants, dolphins, wolves.

Endorsement from Where?

The practice of newspapers endorsing candidates has always been problematic.  I just received a call from one of my local papers, the St. Paul Pioneer Press.  They have been sending me a Sunday paper, gratis, for the past few weeks.  Ah, but I have a long memory.  Back in October 2004, that paper endorsed President W for a second term, prompting me to cancel my subscription, forever.  I happily told the happy telesales rep my choice. OK, I was just looking for an excuse to tell that story.  But this endorsement of President Obama for a second term is surprising mainly because the state it comes from.  Let’s just say it is square-cornered and about as red as a state gets.  Oh, and it is the unofficial capital of a certain newsworthy religion.

All in a Name

Heard this on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.  Think before you change your name.

“The people of this country, not special interest big money, should be the source of all political power.”

― Paul Wellstone

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

Contributed links to this posting – Elizabeth Bell, Allyson Harper, Edrichus Sykes