Monday, October 24, 2016

How to suck the oxygen out of everything

A silent prologue

Last week I attended a seminar on urban heat islands, the speaker being a staff scientist with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Mitigation strategies to lower temperatures in urban regions will become increasingly important as half the world's population now lives in cities of one size or another and climate change is raising global temperatures. This is what we call facts. We can verify these facts, anyone can for that matter.

Can't catch my breath

Even though 2016 is not unique, it does seem that we have a higher collection of world leaders at the present time that run the gamut from sociopath, to gangster to merely authoritarian. Democratic values are not winning the popularity contest at the moment.

You would have to be half mad to dream me up.
(Mad Hatter, Alice in Wonderland)

In the United States Donald Trump, the profoundly ignorant, deeply narcissistic and repulsive man-child, for the past year or so, has overwhelmed our political and cultural lives, which in and of itself says something about our present (ideally short-lived) dysfunction.

In a sort of “best of all possible worlds,” the Donald will vanish into the trash can of history along with the White People's Cult, formerly known as the Republican party. But you would have to be “half mad” to believe it's going to be that easy.

Now, to resume our discussion on urban heat islands.... but first make sure you vote and overwhelm ignorance.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Who runs the tribe

The current clown scare is a result of two rising forces in the U.S: social media, and a fear of otherness, whether it arrives in a white Mercedes or a refugee boat.
(Robert Bartholomew, sociologist, Botany College, New Zealand)

I was about to write something on capitalism and “geocide” but a colleague emailed me an interesting article and survey on climate change, not about the science of global warming but about how we “think” about it—or not. Then I came across a video, both disturbing and depressing, but tied indirectly to climate change.

The political spectacle

Reporters for the NYT followed Donald Trump for a year at his various presidential rallies throughout the United States. While this video is about the 2016 election, it could be a rally of a particular kind you might attend in far to many countries today. In fact, it conjures up scenes from the early 1930s in Europe.

Making America Really, Really Not So Great Again

Climate and beliefs

The survey shows that (1) overall opinions about climate are split along (not surprisingly to many) partisan lines and have hardly changed at all, (2) scientific knowledge does not change the opinions of climate deniers, (3) the increase of scientific “literacy” appears to change the views of Democrats but not Republicans, (4) climate beliefs are more about “tribal” beliefs, (5) most people have no organized ideology and firm opinion on issues, (6) elite views are the most important operator on public opinion, (7) tribal attachment is the most important influence not issue attachment and (8) BUT, regardless of where one falls on the political spectrum, everyone likes renewable energy such as wind and solar. Go to Climate Survey to read the details.

Nature, nurture and genopolitics

Two to three years ago the word Genopolitics appeared with increasing frequency. Did genes influence political behavior? Could genetics tell us whether or not we would be on the Left or Right politically? Would it be easier to gauge if we were inclined to be Liberal or Conservative?

There was some interesting scientific research going on. Neuroscience had made some remarkable breakthrough in the last ten years or so and several tantalizing ideas spread beyond brain research. Certainly some political scientists thought they could be nearing the point where predictable patterns of behavior might be understood in light of what neuro-science had uncovered.

We know a good deal, for example, about how hormones and neurotransmitters in our bodies influence behavior. The levels of serotonin in our system might affect our self confidence and sense of worth and intensity of aggression. Some researchers believe that the release of oxytocin, the “cuddle hormone,” might have something to do with increases in generosity and trust.

The problem is that human behavior is complicated and not easy to describe on a flow chart. Some people have a genetic predisposition to alcoholism but never become alcoholics because of environmental factors. A psychiatrist and well respected authority on serial killers, in the course of his research, discovered he himself had the genetic makeup of a sociopath but it was the environmental factor (home life, family) that triggered a full blown monster. At some point there is a good chance we will get beyond merely uncovering “interesting” connections in human behavior and be able to identify cause and effect and replicate it over and over again.

Nevertheless, understanding human behavior, it seems to me, cannot be merely left to brain researchers and various policy wonks but all of us … if we want to succeed. If as this particular climate survey indicates, the one thing we all seem to agree upon is the value of renewable energy. Then what ought we to be doing, if fifty percent of us believe climate change is an existential threat to all of us? Who is thwarting the effort?

While Clinton's emails and Trumps' behavior may be the current American distraction (along with scary clowns), on November 9, 2016, we will be back to dealing with human behavior, which needs some serious hormonal alteration and rewiring.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Coal miners of the world unite and take back the 20th century

Critical thinking still breathing

The most recent issue of Nature Conservancy magazine is devoted to climate change in the U.S. One of the articles discusses the varied strategies taking place across the United States, which often reflects the makeup of the state be it politically, economically, socially and so forth. For example, in Iowa more than one-quarter of greenhouse gas emissions comes from agriculture. The focus here is educating farmers on soil management and fertilizer reduction and working closely with the state's “decision makers.”

In New York state the emphasis is on overhauling the electrical grid system, decentralizing power generation and encouraging more solar and wind energy. In Louisiana reforestation is seen as an important goal, while in Libertarian-inclined New Hampshire energy independence, self-sufficiency and clean energy is attractive across the political spectrum.

The point of all these examples is that there are many different KNOWN strategies to confront climate change, the overriding goal being to keep global temperatures under 2 degrees Celsius. Something like one-third of greenhouse gas emission reductions can be accomplished by the protection and restoration of nature. Ultimately, the strategy for global success is both mitigation and adaptation to climate change and a lot of creative thinking.

What ought not to be considered in the U.S. and across the globe is the increase of fossil fuel production, coal in particular. In the recent vice-presidential “debate,” nominee Mike Pence spoke about the unemployed coal miners and that his party would restore coal production and presumably put the miners back to work.

It's almost irrelevant whether it is ignorance or merely electioneering blather, but coal production needs to vanish, much, much sooner than later. Mountain top restoration of coal mines, among other things, is a better acknowledgment of 21st century reality.

What coal miners and others need is the unvarnished truth about economic change, along with programs that actually provide serious retraining, financial support and a first world education system for their children. Once again, the electorate has considerable responsibility in making this happen, and not merely complaining about what is not happening. Yes, the automobile put the buggy whip manufacturers out of business.

Cigarettes don't cause cancer

A lot of folks remember the iconic photograph of cigarette executives in 1994 raising their hands before a Congressional committee promising to tell the truth about their product. Well, that “truth” proved elusive back then, but in the minds of many people the cigarette industry is nothing more than a criminal enterprise, which is apparently still thriving today in many third world countries.

In 2016 we have the fossil fuel industry, which will potentially have a far greater impact than the tobacco industry ever had. EXXON, in particular, has spent some $31 million dollars funding climate denial campaigns, yet at the same time—unlike the tobacco industry—has conducted genuine climate change studies undertaken by real climate scientists, who clearly state that human caused climate change is very real. It is well worth reading, Two-Faced Exxon: the Misinformation Campaign Against its OwnScientists and Sir Robert Watson, British Climate Expert.

An existential threat is a terrific reason to become involved and become informed about how to make changes that matter to more than merely the comfortable.

Additional reading:


Yes I too watched the presidential “debate” last night. Clearly Donald Trump and depressingly a large number of his supporters prefer the dankness of the sewer rather than fresh air and blue skies. Hillary Clinton managed to utter the words Climate Change at the very end of the evening when an audience member asked a question about energy. While my heart is well to the left of Clinton my head says more than ever she deserves my support. That's where the organizing can take place, in a world where climate change must take center stage.

NEXT: Does Capitalism and “Geocide” Go Together?

Monday, October 03, 2016

Ha, just keep 'em watching the bouncing ball

Climate change is happening now and much faster than anticipated.
(Sir Robert Watson, former chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)

The Arctic is a principal, global driver of the climate system and is undergoing an unprecedented rate of change with consequences far beyond its boundaries.
(David Grimes, President of World Meteorological Organization)

So the American voter wants change?

Possibly one of the world's largest ice avalanches, which contained some 100 million cubic meters of ice and rock, occurred in western Tibet this past July. Glaciologists are not yet certain why an entire “glacier tongue” would collapse so quickly and violently. The glaciers of Central and South Asia, including Tibet, have the largest reserves of glacier ice outside of Antarctica, Greenland and Canada.

As mentioned previously, an international climate goal is to keep temperature rise under 2 degrees Celsius. The current reality is, however, that the Arctic, which makes up 4 percent of the earth's surface has already risen some 4 degrees Celsius. Climate scientists believe that if we don't take far more serious measures, temperatures will certainly rise to 1.5 degrees C by 2030 and quite conceivably 2 degrees C by 2050.

Yes, stuff could happen—in our lifetime. Permafrost could melt in the tundra (where it used to be cold all the time) releasing more carbon dioxide—and methane—making what we call feedback loops an unpleasant reality. Ocean currents could change and weather patterns might begin to vary a lot, with extreme weather events becoming the new reality.

This time you might want to stop living in flood plains and do not expect the government to bail you out citizen. Massive die offs of plant and animal life could occur, along with water wars, forced migration of millions of people across the globe, famines and no more exotic vacations for the privileged and the wealthy … get the idea?

My fellow Americans, ignorance is not bliss, right here in “River City”

Watching the recent presidential debate, I was surprised by the amount of revulsion I felt toward Donald Trump, in my opinion the most unqualified presidential candidate in modern history, but I do not consider him merely an ignorant, narcissistic carnival barker. History offers far too many examples of seeming buffoons and charlatans seducing the citizenry, taking power and then wreaking havoc.

We are being told by assorted pundits that the demographic group designated “millennials,” some 75 million souls, ages 18 to 34 dislike or are uneasy about voting for Hillary Clinton and she could lose the election if she does not get their support.

If you are a 34 year old millennial right now, in 2050 you will be 68 years old and some of you will presumably have children and grandchildren. If you are 25 years old you will be only 59 in 2050. Donald, Hillary and a great many of us will be long gone 34 years from now.

You forget the Greens and the Libertarians

I'm doing my best to definitely forget about Jill Stein and Gary Johnson, the nominees for the Green Party and the Libertarian Party. It is a wasted protest vote. Jill Stein appears to live in a world of illusion and seems to have little understanding of political reality, how the political system actually works and how people actually make decisions.

Then there is Gary Johnson, a seemingly nice guy who needs to brush up on world events before running for the presidency of the United States. But perhaps even more important in a diverse, continental sized country with more than 300 million people, libertarian, free market claptrap is the last thing we need in a world with climate change, demographic increases, global trade, nuclear weapons and a host of grown up issues requiring collective action.

Wishing is hardly enough

My personal wish list includes such things as universal health care, the repeal of Citizen's United, national gun legislation that reflects a 21st century world, criminal justice reform, reducing livestock farming (a global warming disaster), free college education, a genuine progressive income tax, intelligent cuts in the bloated defense budget, increasing funding for our national parks (one of the greatest public policy successes in our history), a large scale infrastructure program and above all, an actual commitment to fighting climate change.

I'm going to vote for Hillary Clinton without reservation, not because she ignites my passion or guarantees my wish list, but because she is capable of the “change” so many Americans claim that they want. Of course the change comes when we who profess the need for that change actually organize, educate and vote at all levels all the time over the long term.

Finally, there is the definition of what “change” means. I have a pretty good idea of what Donald Trump's most passionate supporters mean by change.