IBI Watch 11/17/13

17 11 2013

A Tale of Three Storms //

Important lessons repeat themselves until we learn. Here are stories from three extreme storms – all of them recent, one with a recently observed one-year anniversary, and one fading from memory already. They are from different parts of the world, and yet are linked in a crucial way. Each is supercharged by manmade climate change, denialist claims notwithstanding.

The first storm of course is the devastating Typhoon Haiyan, from which the Philippines continue to reel. The most important thing right now, with survivors still struggling to find water, food and shelter, is to help. Take your pick from the 25 organizations listed on this page. But the best way to help victims of future storms is to keep them from becoming victims at all. To do that, we must learn the lessons these storms teach, understand the connections, and, yes, change our fossil-fueled ways.

To get an idea of the level of destruction, look at the slide show at this CNN story, which also makes the climate change connection. For those willing to accept the science – not nearly enough of us to effect wise policy at this point – the most obvious climate change connection is documented sea rise. That means the storm surge gets a boost. But the other driving force is this – tropical storms of all sorts get their energy from warm ocean waters. For every degree of water temperature rise, the atmosphere holds 4-8 percent more water. So the storms spin up faster winds, and then have that much more water to drop as torrential rain. This story is told here and in this Democracy Now segment, which also includes comments from Jeff Masters of Weather Underground.

The Philippines is frequently the target of typhoons, and its state of development contributes to the effect of the storms and the difficulty in cleaning up afterwards. But even the richest country in the world finds it difficult to rebuild after devastating tropical weather. The one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy was just a few weeks ago. This NPR Science Friday segment shows the NYC metro area is far from back to normal – and important long-term rebuilding and resilience questions remain. This Skeptical Science post takes on the climate change connection directly.

The third storm is very recent, well out of the normal range of weather behavior, and yet already largely forgotten. It is a storm of a different type – not tropical at all – and yet shows the effects of manmade climate change. It’s the out-of-season blizzard that hit South Dakota just last month – called a “freak blizzard” here at Time.com. It’s one thing to describe a storm like this as “freak,” but that sounds to me suspiciously like “fluke,” which definitely does not apply here. When 3.5 feet of snow falls, smashing records, that is definitely an example of extreme weather.  And this kind of extreme weather is an example of stalled systems. This is no doubt connected to a jet stream-warping phenomenon documented by Rutgers University’s Jennifer Francis. (You can learn more in one of my previous posts – Wacky Wobbly Weather.)

So all these direct and indirect connections to climate change should move us to action. Should, but not yet. But there is new evidence that more people here in America – which really must lead the way to meaningful global action on climate change – are seeing through the smokescreens spewed by the likes of the Koch Brothers, Exxon Mobil, etc., and their enablers in Congress. But then there is the current climate conference in Warsaw – with things not looking exactly rosy – surprise, surprise.

It’s clear – the dithering and self-interest continue as we get deeper and deeper into this manmade climate crisis. But Mother Nature will keep bringing us these lessons, and in this case her timing is uncanny. Typhoon Haiyan punctuates this year’s gathering. More or less the same thing happened in 2012, prompting an emotional speech by the Philippines’ representative, Naderev Saño.  This year, he is taking a more extreme step – a hunger strike.

I have heard it said that the only thing that will get our American government to care about climate change will be two direct-hit climate-change-warped hurricanes slamming into Washington DC. I am not sure even that would sway the paid servants of Big Oil and Big Coal, masquerading as representatives of the public. But until then, it is wise to support organizations like this one – the Climate Reality Project – that are working hard to turn the ship of state around. That of course, and prepare for the next lesson.


An Unhealthy Debacle

How is it possible? Starting with good intentions and a (nearly) universally embraced goal, health care coverage for all, the Obama Administration has actually made the situation arguably worse than when they started. I will spare you the details – all you have to do is turn on the radio or TV to be almost immediately drowning in them. But this morning’s NPR Weekend Edition did a nice job of outlining the political quagmire President Obama finds himself in, and that is just where the trouble begins.

My intent is to make this the last story I write on health care for a long time, and here are just a few reasons why:

  • Other advanced countries have universal health care, mainly via single-payer systems; we can’t, strictly for political reasons.
  • The whole notion of forcing people to buy private health insurance, though it squeaked by in constitutional terms, is also politically and commercially unworkable.
  • The whole basis of the Affordable Care Act (not “Obamacare!”) is a gigantic workaround that leaves in place the main reason why our current system does not work for so many – the profit motive at its heart. (Read more at my recent post. Scroll down to “Rube Goldberg’s Health Care for Cows.”)
  • The administration has been set up for failure here – first by the fact that corporate money rules our entire system, and second by being thwarted at every turn by the dramatically more corporatist of the two major parties – as two brilliant cartoons depict – Tom Tomorrow and the Star Tribune’s Sack.
  • In a single, errant stroke, President Obama may have simultaneously transformed himself into a limping lame duck, and handed the Republicans a thick club to beat Democrats with incessantly, starting with the looming 2014 Congressional election.
  • And the best reason of all – I am bloody sick of the whole pathetic disaster.


A Three-Headed Challenge

At the risk of oversimplifying, my goal here is to link three stories in one brief post. The first is the degree to which we are deforesting the planet. From Alberta tar sands to climate-change-driven catastrophic forest fires to the most concerning of all, the destruction of the Amazon and other rain forests, we are methodically disabling the planet’s lungs, on which all life depends. Here is more on that story from National Geographic.

Globally, the main driver of deforestation is agriculture, and that story is interesting, complex and also vexing. That’s because the challenge is not just the deforestation – which is bad enough – but also the way the farming land is managed. According to numbers cited in this Grain.org story, agriculture produces about half of all human-generated greenhouse gases. And a lot of that is based on unsustainable practices.

It’s not possible to think about these challenges without going to the root of the problem – human population that is well past seven billion, headed to where? Ten? Twelve? Rough, crowded sailing ahead. Here is a group working to challenge the growth at any cost mindset, and here is another actively working to give women more choice over how many or few children to birth.


Blows against the Shopping Empire

Though seasonable retail jobs have long offered workers a chance to pick up some extra income, it has probably become quite a drag for retail employees in recent years. Remember that quaint notion of Black Friday? When the stores would open at Friday sunrise for eager holiday shoppers?  Think how many thousands of retail employees who are now caught up in the Thanksgiving Day arms race? Enough, say two major retailers – Costco and Nordstrom’s. Worth supporting.

Also worthy – and very much in need right now – of support is that irrepressible anti-shopping activist, Reverend Billy Talen. This is a guy who ties it all together – social justice, environmental activism, over consumption – and presents his ideas in a mock-preacher persona that commands attention. Here is a recent video post marking the first anniversary of Hurricane Sandy. The good reverend – who by the way is set up for friends on Facebook – is looking at possible jail time for telling truth to power. I hope you will sign this petition to help head off this unfortunate, ridiculous exercise of stomping out free speech. Earthallujah!


Sharing is Good and Growing

Former President Bush does not show up in the news too often – no doubt by his choice. So I had to note this appearance that I think says a lot about his deepest held ideas. But in one of his more lucid, articulate moments in the public eye, he talked about an “ownership society,” and how owning things was a key to prosperity and stability. That is true to a point, but if everything is owned, it means we each have to have our own personal example of each product and device. What do you think that does to consumption?  Fortunately – and this is one of those things that can offer a glimmer of hope for the future – many younger people are learning the benefits of sharing services – especially, but not exclusively – cars. Learn more from this NPR story.


Help Will Not Come From Elsewhere – Guest Post

Rolly Montpellier offers a thoughtful essay on the futility of expecting magical techno-fixes. He offers a call to action, and includes an excellent clip from the late, great Carl Sagan that is always worth watching. Rolly Montpellier blogs at BoomerWarrior. He also features my work from time to time. Here is an example.


No Depression

With all the environmental problems facing us, this is no time for people who understand what is going on to curl up in the fetal position and surrender. How about some science-based ways to stay reasonably positive and motivated to make things better? Don’t worry, be happy. (responsibly, sustainably, of course!)


“Through our reactions we create delusions. Without reactions the world becomes clear.”  – Buddha


Contributed links or content to this posting – Bonnie Blodgett, Bobbie Chong, Allyson Harper, Rolly Montpellier


Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN