Sunday, March 29, 2015

2015

A windy Sunday at Clam Beach.  First time seeing wind surfers there--two close to shore, at least two more farther out.

But it was too windy for our outing.  We drove a little farther north and found a sheltered spot on Trinidad Beach.  Just right.

1965

They are called the 60s, a single ten year lump to praise or blame.  But those of us who lived through them know that each year of that decade was different, had its own shapes and smells, and each was filled with momentous events sufficient for a decade, so the 60s were as crammed and as various as a century.

Those of us who were young then were a big part of those events--as participants, victims and instigators as well as observers and receivers.  Those events--those arcs and moods, revelations and confusions--marked us, influenced the flow of our lives in the crucial decades of our teens and twenties, and to one degree or another determined our fates.

And as this decade of fiftieth anniversaries for various events of the 1960s, it is well to look at the context of an entire year--like 1965.  There's a book about that year that centers on the music but includes other elements, called 1965: The Most Revolutionary Year in Music by Andrew Grant Jackson.  The possibly inflated claim of the title notwithstanding, it suggests how much was happening.

Slate further emphasized this recently by selecting a single week from 1965, that included the recently commemorated Selma march, but also the release of Bob Dylan's Bringing It All Back Home (almost every song was great, but one side of the albums also had Dylan singing his songs backed by a rock band--and that much was revolutionary.)

It was also the beginning of a less well remembered but vital at the time phenomenon, the first "teach-in" on the Vietnam war.  The teach-ins set a certain standard for debates on college campuses, and an anti-war movement grew out of factual information and reason as well as principle and emotion.  That kind of nuance is missing from the three-word, three-note push button references to elements of the 60s.

There's even more about this year at the blog The '60s at 50.

This Slate article and probably the book also bring to light another aspect of remembering the 60s, which is the 60s weren't and aren't the same for everyone. Some events may unite us in a single year, but the flavor of a year for each us depended on when we got "turned on" to a particular record or musicians, book or author, etc. and what our particular enthusiasms were, as well as those of our friends.

 The author's contention that "technology was the root cause underlying all the changes" may pander to today's worship of new technologies, but seems to me to be way overstated.  Yes, technologies like television and some invented drugs (The Pill, LSD) played big roles, but they were not the root cause of much of anything about 1965.  (It's also a stretch to call pharmacology "technology."  If it is, almost everything is.)  I will stipulate however that without electricity for microphones and electric guitars it certainly would have been a different year.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Whatever Happened to Recycling?

This was the original slogan of the environmental movement that led to recycling becoming public policy in many if not most US municipalities: "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle."

It was the "recycle" that dominated, perhaps to its own detriment.  But what seemed like environmental idealism became a surprising reality.

I remember when the city of Pittsburgh was about to begin mandatory recycling in the 1980s.  One of the city's newspapers editorialized that it would never work, we lived in too much of a "throwaway society."  I wrote an oped piece for that newspaper, claiming that it would work--that a combination of youthful idealism and especially a cultural resistance to waste in Pittsburgh's traditional, immigrant culture, reinforced during the Depression and World War II recycling, would make it feel natural.

It was quickly clear that I was right--people did recycle in Pittsburgh, and elsewhere.  The problem has seldom been compliance.  But especially once it seemed there was money to be made doing it, the problems were economic.

When we moved to the North Coast almost 20 years ago, Arcata had no curbside recycling.  What they had instead was a Recycling Center, and a strong environmental ethic.  Like other citizens, we separated recyclables in our kitchen and garage, and periodically I would load up the Volvo and take everything to the Recycling Center.  I'd drive into it, park, haul out my boxes and stuff recyclables into the appropriate bins.  We separated newspaper from cardboard, and glass bottles by their color.  Plastics were a pain--all those numbers--but I could also easily recycle batteries and other somewhat exotic materials.

It was kind of a fun place, too.  People were friendly, and there was a shop with donated--hence recycled--items, including books, records, clothes, stereos, lamps etc. but mostly elements people used to build and replace things.  For awhile there was a free bin of books, where I found a rare book I truly treasure (Fernald's English Synonyms that separates them by shades of meaning, instead of jumbling them together Roget-style, as if they actually all meant the same thing.)

But then Arcata Garbage got the contract for curbside recycling, and the Recycling Center faded and closed.

  At first, Arcata Garbage supplied us with a reycling bin with two sides: one for paper and cardboard, the other for metal and plastic.

In the past few weeks, they've replaced the two-compartment bin with one, and it's no longer necessary to separate at all.  The latest communique from Arcata Garbage describes what is recyclable and what isn't.  But if you're uncertain what qualifies, they have a new slogan: When in doubt/throw it out.

So there it is: 20 years from Reduce, Reuse, Recycle to When in doubt/throw it out.  I've read recently of consternation in the recycling/garbage business because China is no longer accepting certain plastics---apparently they were taking most of it, so few US companies invested in processing here.  I suspect that's true of more than certain plastics.  It really would not surprise me if everything in our recycling bins ends up in landfill.  But I keep doing it anyway, whispering those erstwhile magic words to myself.  Reduce.  Reuse. Recycle.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Hope on Monday

So what was the most inspiring, hopeful and useful for the future event of Monday March 23?

Well, it sure wasn't this guy announcing he's running for President.  Although the Onion's story about announcement took a little of the edge off. Tues. Update: Not to mention this classic Borowitz.

Nor was it even the 5th anniversary of the signing of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. Not that it shouldn't be celebrated--so far it has been very successful, and will very likely be seen in the future as one of President Obama's most significant achievements.  And just as it took a generation before the transformational success of aspects of the New Deal, of the G.I. Bill of Rights after World War II--to name two programs opposed by "conservatives" that either barely made it into law (the G.I Bill) or were prematurely destroyed (the New Deal)--were widely acknowledged through real life testimony, it may take that long for this program to take its place next to Medicare (another program opposed then and still in essence opposed by--well, that guy who announced Monday) as crucial to the American future.

No, the big event Monday was the White House Science Fair.

For those of us whose memories of school science fairs involve sweating over a half-assed and embarrassing exhibit the night before it was due, this is nothing like that.  These kids are more than awesome--they are awe-inspiring.

Here briefly are some of their projects:

 Kelly Charley, 15, noticed that communities lacking electricity often build fires to stay warm, but that particles and ash from wood-burning fireplaces can be dangerous to breathe. She developed a solar-powered radiation system that circulates air and heats the interior of buildings. It can run without access to electricity or running water. Kelly, a sophomore at Navajo Preparatory School in Farmington, New Mexico, received a United National Indian Tribal Youth 25 under 25 Youth Leadership Award for her work to promote spiritual, mental, physical, and social well-being. Her heater design made her a finalist at the 2014 International Science and Engineering Fair.

Inspired by the global energy crisis and the lack of electricity around the world, Pittsburgh ninth-grader Sahil Doshi designed an innovative carbon-dioxide powered battery called PolluCell. Comprised of multiple electrochemical cells wired in parallel circuits, PolluCell harnesses the power of carbon dioxide and waste materials to generate electricity, reducing the environmental effects of pollution.

Jose Valdez, Casandra Dauz, and Jaleena Rolon are a team of elementary school students who competed in last year’s Future City Regional Competition, which challenges students to tackle infrastructure and natural resource challenges by designing cities of the future. The team created the “City of Crystal Water,” where agricultural “fish pens” separate industrial, commercial, and residential zones and vehicles travel along dams equipped with paddles that produce hydro energy. Recognizing the importance of connecting their idea with their rural, desert community’s cultural diversity, the team incorporated four languages into their City presentation: Spanish, English, American Sign Language, and Tewa, a Tanoan language spoken by Pueblo Native Americans.

During the summer before ninth grade, Bluyé DeMessie, 18, visited his relatives in Northern Ethiopia and was shocked by the lack of clean water. Over the last four years, Bluyé developed a novel method to convert agricultural waste into a bio-charcoal that is capable of removing pollutants from water within a short contact time.

When Sophia Sánchez-Maes learned that algae has the potential to yield 5,000 gallons of biodiesel annually per acre, she wondered how best to harness that promise. She computationally modeled algae growth in order to optimize that phase of the biofuel production process. Then she began work as a National Science Foundation Young Scholar, investigating how to convert a particular extremophile algae from Yellowstone into biofuel, with promising results.

A team of Ohio 6th graders got inspired after befriending some Haitian students in 2010, right before the region’s devastating earthquake. Team “Quake Safe” wanted to find a solution to help make the many structurally unsound buildings in Haiti safer. The students experimented with materials that could withstand pressure and unique construction shapes to find a building design that would be both cost effective and structurally sound. Their hyperbolic bamboo creation takes on a paraboloid shape, inspired by the shape of Pringle chips, and uses bamboo – a fast growing renewable resource that is easily accessed by most in the region.

And listen up, California:

A team of Florida grade schoolers set out to find a renewable way of generating safe drinking water from ocean water – currently a costly process. The team designed WateRenew, a conceptual system that uses wing-like structures to harness energy from the vacillating hydroelectric forces of the underwater swells. WateRenew converts energy from the elliptical motion of waves into electrical energy that can power desalination of ocean water into drinking water. The desalination process incorporates a special “reverse osmosis” membrane made out of graphene to trap salt while allowing water molecules to flow through.

A number of participants developed projects to respond to mental and emotional needs of children and adolescents. Some invented projects inspired by medical conditions of grandparents, family members or themselves.  For example:

Emily Bergenroth, Alicia Cutter, Karissa Cheng, Addy Oneal, and Emery Dodson, 6 (Tulsa, OK). After chatting with their school librarian, the “Supergirls” Junior FIRST Lego League Team from Daisy Girl Scouts’ troop 411 discovered that some people have disabilities that make it difficult to turn the pages of a book. They came up with the concept of a battery-powered page turner that could turn pages for people who are paralyzed or have arthritis.

Looking for a little hope?  Look no further than these.

The Real Climate Day After Tomorrow



A little more than a decade ago, the first and so far only climate crisis disaster movie called The Day After Tomorrow based its disasters on the effects of a slowdown of major ocean currents caused by an influx of fresh water from Arctic melting.  (The same mechanism figures in the contemporaneous but much more scientifically realistic climate trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson.)

Today the climate sci world has been buzzing about evidence that this phenomenon is happening, much faster than models predicted.  The video above, and the most mainstream story about it so far (in the Washington Post), referenced the climate sci-fi of that movie.

The Post piece begins: "Last week, we learned about the possible destabilization of the Totten Glacier of East Antarctica, which could unleash over 11 feet of sea level rise in coming centuries.

And now this week brings news of another potential mega-scale perturbation. According to a new study just out in Nature Climate Change by Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and a group of co-authors, we’re now seeing a slowdown of the great ocean circulation that, among other planetary roles, helps to partly drive the Gulf Stream off the U.S. east coast. The consequences could be dire – including significant extra sea level rise for coastal cities like New York and Boston."

The consequences, unlike in the movie, aren't going to cause a sudden new Ice Age (the scientists say), although they could bring colder weather to specific places, such as the US East Coast--and maybe, says one blogger on the subject today, they already have:

As such, cold water bleeding from the great glaciers of Greenland not only poses a threat to ocean circulation, it also poses a risk for generating significant disruptions to atmospheric winds and related weather as well. Ones that could set off increasingly intense storm events in the Northern Hemisphere similar to what was seen for the US Northeast this winter (but likely worsening with time) and the extraordinarily powerful barrage of storms hitting England during the winter of 2013-2014."

So it's today as well as the day after tomorrow, though it may just be getting started. Notes another climate blogger, it "is expected to continue, even intensify through year 2100..."

Though the original research is published in a scientific journal, the authors summarize it at Real Climate.  Another relevant blog post adds some more scientific chatter and more links.

Finally, I had cause recently to look up my San Francisco Chronicle Insight piece of 2004 about The Day After Tomorrow, though it was published days before the movie came out.  I found it interesting to read now, given all that has happened and has not happened in the decade since.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Humboldt Bay North Coast Weather Report

Friday night we had a relatively brief but intense rain shower here in Arcata.  I went out on both porches to listen to it, this rare event.  Saturday was sunny but with low cumulus clouds and wisps of mist all day.  We visited northern Humboldt Bay at Manilla. The Bay was turquoise (see above), which must have pleased photographers for post cards, among others.  At the Manilla Dunes recreational area, people walked their dogs, fished, and in one case, fished with their dogs (see below. Click on the photos to see more clearly what I mean.)

 Saturday night it rained, lighter but steady, and Sunday it has been raining like that until evening.  It's the first day of steady rain this month, and one of the few such days since December.  March is usually considered the last month of our rainy season.

Climate News: The Long and the Short

In terms of scope and long-term effect, the biggest climate news of the past week was about East Antarctica, contained in research by an international team published in Nature Geoscience.  The Washington Post summarized the import:

"A hundred years from now, humans may remember 2014 as the year that we first learned that we may have irreversibly destabilized the great ice sheet of West Antarctica, and thus set in motion more than 10 feet of sea level rise.

Meanwhile, 2015 could be the year of the double whammy — when we learned the same about one gigantic glacier of East Antarctica, which could set in motion roughly the same amount all over again. Northern Hemisphere residents and Americans in particular should take note — when the bottom of the world loses vast amounts of ice, those of us living closer to its top get more sea level rise than the rest of the planet, thanks to the law of gravity."

This research is preliminary, requiring data that now is likely to be sought before this year is out.  But the implications of greater than previously estimated melting in Antarctica adding some 20 feet to sea level rise expected before last year are enormous.  These levels will not be totally achieved for decades, perhaps a century or more, but they suggest profound changes to our coasts and everything now on them well before that.

At the Earth's opposite pole, the accelerating loss of Arctic sea ice--which hit a record low winter peak this year, it was revealed a few days ago--has both long term implications for sea level rise and short term relationships to our weather, as seen the past several winters in the US and elsewhere.

The likelihood that weather patterns now and in the near future are changing due to climate crisis phenomena, perhaps for a long time to come, received more support this past week.  According to one report, the nature of the new El Nino adds to suggestions that we're about to jump into a new climate and weather reality, characterized by global heating and local effects including more violent storms with more precipitation, and continued drought where this is drought now:

“One way of thinking about global warming from the human influences is that it's not just a gradual increase, but perhaps it's more like a staircase, and we're about to go up an extra step to a new level,” says climate scientist Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research."

Though heat released from the Pacific is more and more predicted to have this temperature jump effect, that's on top of a very consistent pattern of increasing global temperatures.  Last week NOAA announced February 2015 was among the hottest Februarys on record, and the first two months of this year suggest 2015 will be hotter than the record-breaking 2014.  But February is notable for another historical reason, this article in Slate notes:

"It’s been exactly 30 years since the last time the world was briefly cooler than its 20th-century average. Every single month since February 1985 has been hotter than the long-term average—that’s 360 consecutive months."

The China Signal

A forthright statement on the climate crisis by China's top weather scientist made the news on Sunday. It included specific warnings about expected effects in China itself.

According to regional experts quoted in reports, China has avoided and even suppressed media reports on the climate crisis except in general terms.  But apparently the situation is now so dire that this officially sanctioned statement was made, and it pulled few punches.

 Different news organizations emphasized different aspects of the statement.  International Business Times for example highlighted the statement that Chinese "wealth accumulation" adds to the problem.  (This article however provides interesting details and background.)

Interestingly, the BBC report included this quotation from the statement:"To face the challenges from past and future climate change, we must respect nature and live in harmony with it," the Xinhua news agency quoted him as saying. "We must promote the idea of nature and emphasise climate security."

There's a certain philosophical basis in Chinese culture for the idea of respecting nature and living in harmony with it that may well resonate. The phrase "climate security" may appeal to Chinese cultural as well as political nationalism.  It seems possible if not likely that this statement is creating groundwork for some actual changes that the Chinese government has in mind.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Big Brother of the Climate Crisis

There was a certain desperate humor--gallows humor maybe--in the stories about Florida's rabid right governor Rick Scott forbidding state employees from murmuring the words "climate change."

Yes, it's outrageous and deserves investigation.  And yes, such policies are not unknown in other states.

But a new story has emerged that takes this over the line into Big Brother territory, into an actual and consequential action of the Thought Police.

When an employee of the Florida environmental protection who says he "didn't get the memo" about the ban, used the term "climate change" in a report on a coastal managers forum where climate change was discussed, he was sent home for two days.  And he was told he had to receive a mental health evaluation from his doctor before he was allowed to return to work.  Because only a dangerous and deluded maniac would say the forbidden words, and have the forbidden thoughts.

Forget the irony that we're all talking about "climate change" instead of the climate crisis because the media has been successfully lobbied by Frank Lunz, the Republican-paid pollster, who thought the term up as a way of neutering the issue.  Now even their neutral substitute of "climate change" is heresy.

This is an incident that can't be permitted to just disappear.  Sending dissidents to mental health prisons is the obvious next step in the Stalinization of Florida.   This has to be stopped now.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Water Water Nowhere


Update: Famiglietti disagrees with the implications of the "one year of water left" headline (see the precision of his quote in what follows--the one year refers to reservoirs), and other experts agree that California is not going to run out of water completely in the next few years.  However, in another followup story, PBS Newshour focused on the dire groundwater situation--with implications for the nation's food supply.  Meanwhile, the reliable NPR has a brief story on the CA drought bill.  And respected reporter Dan Walters asks the tough questions about the CA response and the future.

When it comes to stark headlines, this one is pretty high up there: California Has One Year of Water Left.  It was the result of an oped in the LA Times by Jay Famiglietti, senior water scientist for NASA at the Jet Propulsion Lab.  The gist:
"Right now the state has only about one year of water supply left in its reservoirs, and our strategic backup supply, groundwater, is rapidly disappearing. California has no contingency plan for a persistent drought like this one (let alone a 20-plus-year mega-drought), except, apparently, staying in emergency mode and praying for rain."

Right on cue, Governor Jerry Brown announced a $1 billion package to address the ongoing drought, sent to the legislature today.  According to the official governor's office page, here's what it does: The legislation includes more than $1 billion for local drought relief and infrastructure projects to make the state's water infrastructure more resilient to extreme weather events. The package accelerates $128 million in expenditures from the Governor's budget to provide direct assistance to workers and communities impacted by drought and to implement the Water Action Plan. It also includes $272 million in Proposition 1 Water Bond funding for safe drinking water and water recycling and accelerates $660 million from the Proposition 1E for flood protection in urban and rural areas.

I have no expertise in this area, but it does sound to me as if even this proposal is still about staying in emergency mode, though maybe a little money could be set aside for some fearsome rain dances.  Again I can't evaluate it except in terms of its characteristically vague bureaucratic language, but there is something called a California water action plan, 

I'm not sure it adequately addresses either the long term or short term emergency, but if all this gets the state conversation into high gear, we may get down to brass tacks.  Some of the issues involved (and facts in contention) are suggested not only in this Newsweek article about the oped and what it means, but in the comments.

 It seems for instance that the issues of water use by agriculture and other industries need to be more forthrightly addressed, which will happen only if citizens form a countervailing power strong enough to force that to happen.  But if it can happen anywhere, it's California.

If taken literally, the warning of one year of water left is tantamount to previewing Armageddon in twelve month's time. Maybe the very idea of running out of water in a year will focus attention, though it could seem so over-the-top that people back away from it.  I know for instance that up here in the north country we've got more than a year's supply, though maybe not much more, after this year's non-winter.  In any case, the age of climate crisis consequences has definitely arrived in California.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Smoke of Climate War

Merchants of Doubt is a new documentary by Robert Kenner that explores the climate crisis denial industry.  As the Washington Post describes it: "The germ of Kenner’s latest project, a simultaneously entertaining and inciting exposé of professional charlatanism — practiced, most saliently, by those hired to make the case that global warming isn’t real, or at least that there is no scientific consensus on it..."

Kenner sees his film as arriving as the tide may be turning against the deniers, at least in the mainstream:

 “I think your paper is far less inclined to show deniers on the op-ed page these days,” he says. “That’s a big change, because they were being published continually. The fact is, that confused people, and that was a big part of the problem.”

According to Kenner, change will come, but not from those shouting at the edges of the argument. Rather, it will grow out of the confused middle, where films such as “Food, Inc.” and “Merchants of Doubt” shine light on hidden, and uncomfortable, truths.

“You’re never going to convert a third of the people right away,” he says. “But as with the civil rights movement, you don’t go to Bull Connor and say, ‘Oh, you’ve got to change your mind.’ You change the people around Bull Connor, and then Bull Connor has to change. You change the culture.”

Polls are showing the reality is sinking in, which makes going after deniers directly more plausible, especially if you are trying to reinforce existing political support and expand it through changing cultural norms of acceptance.  The Obama-inspired organization OFA is currently concentrating on "exposing" deniers.

We may be where we were maybe 20 years ago in the smoking wars.  Big Tobacco had its highly paid flacks, their agents of confusion, and they were becoming identified as such as laws were being passed to limit and then end smoking in public places.  When the cultural change came, it was in terms of absence.  The tobacco promoters went more or less underground, off the grid, and mostly international.  They were on the other side of the mainstream consensus.

But such change in the climate crisis won't come without heavily funded opposition. The film apparently focuses especially on one such agent of doubt and chaos, named Marc Morano.  Somehow I got on his emailing list when he was working for James Inhofe, the fully paid-for chief denier in the US Senate leadership.  His emails go directly to the spam bucket, but I did notice his latest one.  He quoted characterizations of himself in reviews of this film, all very negative: that he was despicable, satanic etc.  Clearly he was very proud of this.

So ego helps make him a happy warrior.  In this era when a unique brand virtually guarantees employment and power, especially with the monied rabid right, he's delighted to have this niche pretty much to himself.  Plus he doesn't have to do anything directly threatening to his life, like smoking cigarettes for show.  He may well live out his life dodging any inconvenient disasters caused by the climate crisis.  But not even money is likely to fully protect his children (if any.)

Morano refers to his opponents as "warmists."  That's really the key to what he does.  Sounding  like communist or fascist, it's a bit undone by the warmth of it, but it still makes the basic rabid right point: Accepting the realities of the climate crisis is an ideology--a political ideology--allied with other non-"conservative" ideologies and partisan politics.

The rabid right sees everything through its ideology, and any purported fact that doesn't fit within its ideology is false for just that reason.  And if the rabid right takes that attitude towards their own worldview, then they assume that everyone else does, too.  Everything is ideology, plain and simple.

Those kind of deniers will never give in to reality.  They will remain dangerous because they are deep within the infrastructure of one of two major political parties, and because they are funded by extremely wealthy ideologues and those whose fortunes depend on fossil fuel industries for their insane increase.

Eventually they will be undermined by cultural consensus.  How long that takes, and what's done in the meantime anyway to address the causes and consequences of the climate crisis, will likely determine the fate of contemporary civilization.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Peaceable Kingdom #1

          March 2015 by BK

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Backwards Since Selma

Evaluating American capacity to respond to challenges, fifty years after Selma,  George Packer in the New Yorker pointed out the most telling difference, without getting into the relative change in racial attitudes.  The gist:

"As brutal as the Alabama state police and the Dallas County sheriff’s department were on Bloody Sunday, as violent as the vigilantes were who killed Jimmie Lee Jackson, James Reeb, and Viola Liuzzo in those weeks, as much progress as America has made in fifty years, something has gone seriously backward since 1965: the quality of American institutions." 

[photo above is President Obama embracing a granddaughter of Martin Luther King, Jr. at Selma.  This and photo below are White House photos.]


Packer illustrated the difference with examples literally from that day's news.  Here are the concluding paragraphs of this trenchant piece, with my emphasis:

"There may still be ordinary Americans as brave and committed to justice as the civil-rights movement’s foot soldiers, but we no longer have a national government (or a federal bench, a press corps, labor unions, businesses, religious groups, universities) capable of coming together with the imagination, wisdom, and self-restraint necessary to achieve something on the scale of voting rights. These days, Congress can hardly keep the Department of Homeland Security open without tearing itself to pieces. As Charlie Dent, a Republican representative from Pennsylvania, said to the Times, “We really don’t have two hundred and eighteen votes to determine a bathroom break over here on our side.”

On Monday, forty-seven Republican senators addressed an open letter to the Iranian leadership, declaring that “we will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.” The senators noted that Obama will leave office in 2017, while many of them will go on serving for decades—so why should the clerics pay any attention to the executive branch? The senators didn’t release classified U.S. intelligence on the nuclear negotiations, but it’s not altogether clear what stopped them. They’re doing all they can to sabotage their own country’s position in the talks, practically making themselves the de facto ally of hardliners in Tehran. Try to imagine such actions by America’s elected leaders during the Cold War.

It may be that the postwar decades, with a booming mixed economy, middle-class prosperity, and an agreed-upon enemy, created unique conditions for Americans to address some of the country’s deepest problems, such as a century of Jim Crow. Our problems today, from climate change to economic inequality, seem immovable not because they’re so much harder, but because we no longer have the political tools to budge them. Perhaps that’s why, last Saturday on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, President Obama spoke more about the daring spirit of the American people than the greatness of constitutional democracy. If solutions arise from this generation and the next, they seem unlikely to come from Washington. They’re more likely to start in obscure places like Selma."

It's a sobering conclusion.  One hopes that these problems are not so deeply embedded in today's institutions, or in today's national culture, that they cannot be overcome relatively quickly.  But recent events, and of the recent past, suggest he's right about solutions for at least this generation.

A large part of the problem may also be defined as the lack of quality in the people who are in positions of leadership in these institutions.  I keep thinking about the nearly 900 pages of the book by Robert Sherwood I read, called Roosevelt and Hopkins, which deals in literally documentary detail with high level decisions and activities in the White House just before and during America's participation in World War II.  The immense undertaking in such a short time, the immense dangers of failure, with surrounding politics nearly as idiotic as today's, required near-genius from our leaders, and unrelenting dedication (several died soon afterwards, including Hopkins and FDR.)  We got it then.  It's not clear that we would get it now.

One more thing... Elizabeth Cobb Hoffman at Reuters chimes in on the Republican Senators letter to Iran:

"What happens when senators and congressmen go around a controversial president to communicate directly with the enemy? They undermine the stability of their own party — and the integrity of the nation.

That’s what happened to the Federalists, the glorious political party of George Washington, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton. Could the same thing happen to today’s Republican Party?...

The American people never forgave the Federalist Party for flirting with treason during that war. Today, Cotton and other Republicans court similar disgust with their disloyalty toward the nation’s sitting president."

Monday, March 09, 2015

The Accelerating Climate Crisis Future

A new study by climate scientists published today affirms that the rate of global heating will increase dramatically in the very near future, and keep on increasing.  Scientific American summarizes:

"By 2020, warming rates should eclipse historical bounds of the past 1,000 years — and likely at least 2,000 years — and keep rising. If greenhouse gas emissions continue on their current trend, the rate of warming will reach 0.7°F per decade and stay that high until at least 2100.

The northern hemisphere will be the first region to experience historically unprecedented warming. The Arctic, which is already the fastest warming part of the planet, will see temperatures rise 1.1°F per decade by 2040. North America and Europe will see slightly lower, though equally unprecedented, warming.

“With those high rates of change, there’s not going to be anything close to equilibrium,” Smith said, underscoring the profound potential impacts on both the natural world and society."

  This study is independent of those that looked specifically at ocean capture of heat that probably accounts for the slow (but steady) rate increase in recent years, below what was predicted.  Those studies also conclude that there will be a compensating temperature spike in the same time frame--beginning around 2020, or before.

As these conclusions reach policymakers and the public, the pressure to deal with the consequences of the climate crisis will probably increase, but the refusal to deal with causes--to even recognize them--continues to be a barrier to addressing both consequences and causes.

Live Science chronicles some extreme instances in the US, such as Florida where an unofficial ban directed by its governor forbids even using the words "climate change," "global warming" or even "sea level rise."  There and in other coastal southern states, the fear of fall real estate prices and rising insurance costs outweighs the fear of rising waters.

 "Sea level rise" is re-branded as "nuisance flooding."  If the seas do rise to the worst case levels anticipated, Miami will be underwater by the end of the century and eventually pretty much the entire state of Florida will follow.   Quite a nuisance, at least if you live in Florida.  Some of this rise is still dependent on current and near future greenhouse gases pollution.  But if we just close our eyes real tight, it will all go away.  Though not for the grandchildren.

The Rabid Right Dispensation


Jon Stewart is leaving The Daily Show, so he's doing some summing up within his segments these days.  As part of his response to  Fox's reaction to his leaving, he sums up exactly what's been going on for years: the "conservative" or rabid right movement has been jihading reality for being insufficiently rabid right, and most everyone has been appeasing them.

  But as he says, they will never be satisfied by any appeasement, only complete surrender--only a rabid right reality.  That they intend to take the rest of us down with them into their self-destructive pit of ignorance and insanity is no secret.  They'll literally destroy the planet as we know it to make their points. But the extent to which our institutions and zeitgeist are cooperating is almost as bad.

And even if he's exaggerating a bit, I believe there's truth in it when he says that one reason he is leaving The Daily Show-the most consistent bulwark against the rabid right, using the best weapons ( truth, analysis and ridicule)--is that fighting this fight with an unrelenting and ever more obsessive foe is enough to drive anybody crazy.  We haven't figured out the appropriate balance of smacking them down and ignoring them entirely.

On a different but related manifestation of the rabid right's manipulation of an equally craven media, here's Steve Almond at Salon about the obsession with meaningless scandals, concluding that "scandalizing is the journalistic equivalent of spam."

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Sunday Bloody Sunday

Today the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday was marked by thousands marching across the bridge in Selma.  President Obama is holding the hand of Amelia Boynton in a wheelchair--she was among those beaten on this bridge.  Here's a fine piece on the anniversary and the march itself, with links to the text of President Obama's speech Saturday.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Selma is Now



I am not even going to attempt to summarize this speech, given with the Selma bridge behind him, on the 50th anniversary of that definitive march.  I believe it will be considered one of the best speeches in recent US history, perhaps in all our history.  Here is a transcript.

 And it is certainly about our history.  It is vintage Barack, plus some JFK and not a little of Lincoln.  Quoting Walt Whitman,  Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Robert Kennedy, the same passage of Isiah that President Kennedy once quoted.  A pointed section in which he defines what loving America means, what American exceptionalism is, in terms that destroy all the "feeble" criticism.  Notice how many times he uses the word "imagination," including moral imagination.  The speech is about equal rights but more.  It is about how Americans march for change.  Given recent posts here, I could not help think about the climate movement, and the need for expressing moral imagination in that.  The moral imperative of the future, of life on earth as we know it.

I also thought about voices who can express our history and identity to all of us.  The only other such voice in public life who can really talk about American history I could think of was Bill Clinton, and he couldn't do this.  Certainly no known presidential candidate.  This was a moment.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Climate Crisis Comes Home

The sea level is rising faster in Humboldt Bay than anywhere else in California. The main route of 101 will face inundation in several places--including the strip that links Arcata and Eureka.  But there is no money to do what's necessary to make this corridor viable by raising or re-routing the roadway.  "Today there's not enough money to maintain what we already have," a Caltrans official said.

Those are a few highlights from two articles in this week's Mad River Union, covering Caltrans and Arcata officials Local Coastal Plan efforts to addresses some of the consequences of the climate crisis.

Until now, the mapping of low-lying areas has been motivated by preparing for possible earthquakes and tsunamis.  We see "Tsunami Zone" signs everywhere, including in the Arcata bottoms, miles of prime agricultural land that begins at the coast and ends up with housing developments.  That's just one low lying area bordering the sea or the bay.

So there are many vulnerable places, and it only takes one small entry point to flood acres of land.  Besides the Arcata-Eureka corridor, Caltrans identified three other highway sites that are especially vulnerable.  The Arcata Marsh with its local and migratory birds and its innovative sewage treatment system is also threatened, along with power generation and transmission, gas and water lines, as well as transportation.

Apart from the lack of funds to protect from some of these anticipated catastrophes,  there are the unprecedented solutions that involve competing bureaucracies on multiple levels of government.

But officials who gathered at a recent joint meeting on environmental problems and heard detailed analyses of coming challenges also heard a warning to get started on all this now or "The North Coast will find itself in tough competition for resources with other coastal regions," particularly the big and politically powerful ones like the Bay Area, Long Beach and San Diego.

It's all an indication of what many communities are facing.  But it's more specifically what we are facing, here at home.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Climate Crisis: Future and Past

My previous post included reference to the recent predictions of a sudden spurt of global heating in the near future, as heat is released by ocean waters where it has been stored, temporarily slowing the rate of atmospheric heating caused by greenhouse gases.

This is a more comprehensive article on that subject.  John Upton writes:

Humanity is about to experience a historically unprecedented spike in temperatures. That’s the ominous conclusion of a vast and growing body of research that links sweeping Pacific Ocean cycles with rates of warming at the planet’s surface — warming rates that could affect how communities and nations respond to threats posed by climate change.

This is a very near future prediction. The research seems to indicate that this spurt could begin at any time but probably within the next five years.

The article reviews the research, some connections between higher temps and the climate crisis ("A suite of modeling studies have independently concluded that heat waves that ravaged Australia in 2013 would have been almost impossible without the warming effects of our greenhouse gas pollution.")

  It also briefly reviews preparations being made (and not made) to deal with the effects, especially hotter temps for longer periods. “The public health community is starting to talk a lot more about climate generally,” Georgetown University Law Center adjunct professor Sara Pollock Hoverter, who specializes in climate change and climate resilience, said. “I think that all of us need to do more.”

The article also discusses whether new doses of extreme weather will finally lead to action, with a little more detail--but no firmer conclusion (i.e. from probably to maybe) than the piece I linked last time.  You know what I'm going to say: it's crucial to always talk about both causes and consequences, or we may yield to panicky attempts to deal with effects and ignore addressing the causes.

Now--about the past.  In a previous post, I referenced a 1958 Bell Labs TV docu that warned of a possible climate crisis, and President Johnson's mention of the possibility in 1965.  Lately I've stumbled on a more precise reference from the 1970s--at a very crucial and unlikely time.

The subject is mentioned in Breach of Faith: The Fall of Richard Nixon by Theodore H. White (whose "Making of the President" series of campaign books set a new standard.)  The book begins with Nixon's final days as President, as proof of his criminal behavior became clear, his support vanished layer by layer, and his closest aides tried to guide him towards resignation.

 White pauses in relating the dramatic developments at the Supreme Court, on Capitol Hill (the House impeachment investigation) and in the White House to note the ongoing issues being engaged within the government that had nothing to do with the presidential crisis. One was this: the NOAA administrator Robert M. White was trying to impress on other officials the concern of scientists that the 1974 Midwest drought might be a harbinger of major climate change in the future.

Ten pages later, at the moment Nixon was making his televised farewell to the White House staff, White brings the subject up again.  Weather scientists were 
preparing for a meeting that afternoon "with other executive agencies, trying to devise some plan that might bring the long-range problems of climate change to the attention of the New President."

But--White quickly adds--"...the next President, or the next few Presidents, might have a fifty-year span in which to make ready this civilization for the changes that climate might force on mankind..." so they paused to watch Nixon's farewell.

This book was published in 1975, yet White considered the concern serious enough to write about it in this context.  This excerpt tells us of course that such concerns existed at a high level in 1974.  But it also suggests one reason nothing much was done: there's always some drama of the moment to absorb attention.

That has remained true for forty years.  By the time that fiftieth year comes, those civilization-challenging changes will very likely be impossible to ignore.  And the world will be changed, for considerably longer than 50 more years.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

The Truth of Consequences

The weather may be exceptionally frigid in New York or surrealistically pleasant in California, but the consequences of the climate crisis are becoming starkly clear.

New York City peers through the snow at the future, as reported in Scientific American:

Heat waves and floods caused by climate change could mean disaster for the Big Apple's five boroughs by the end of the century, with sea levels now predicted by a new report to climb by as much as 6 feet by 2100.

According to the New York City Panel on Climate Change, an independent body composed of climate scientists, New York could see a 6-foot increase under a worst-case scenario that has been revised from previous estimates that 2 to 4 feet would be the maximum rise.

The report also marked a new estimate for how hot it could become within the next 80 or so years, with the panel projecting a temperature increase as much as 8.8 degrees Fahrenheit and a tripling in the frequency of heat waves by the 2080s in the city.

As for the current cold, yes--the climate crisis, the warming Arctic, is definitely involved.  So: colder, snowier winters AND way hotter summers.  Meanwhile, records reveal that sea levels north of New York rose faster in a two year period (2009-11) than ever in history.

California is acutely aware that despite (or because of) the winter sunshine, the state is in deep drought.  A mid-February report suggests this is the wave of the future.  As the SF Chronicle reported:

The Southwest, including California, along with the Great Plains states, will endure long-lasting “megadroughts” in the second half of this century, worse by far than anything seen in the past 1,000 years, a team of climate experts said Thursday. The driving force behind the devastating droughts? Human-induced global warming, the team reported.

Then as the month ended, a report from Stanford piled it on.  The San Jose Mercury News:

Human-caused climate change is increasing drought risk in California -- boosting the odds that our current crisis will become a fixture of the future, according to a major report Stanford scientists released Monday. The finding comes as cities across the Bay Area wrap up the warmest three-month stretch of winter on record.

Moreover, there are signs that the recent slowdown in the rate of actual heating
as predicted could be coming to an end--and we'll get compensating and dramatic spikes in temperatures.  This could accelerate concern--or panic--at least concerning effects.

What happens when you are not prepared for the consequences of global heating--when you don't even see them as consequences?  Another report points to Syria, as described by Salon:

A major new study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences examines climate change as a contributing factor to the 2011 uprising in Syria, connecting the dots from our greenhouse gas emissions to an international conflict that’s killed 200,000 and displaced millions.

It's not the first such study to reach those conclusions, and not the first region of the world with warfare ascribed in part to the effects of climate change, though most reporting ignores this.  But the Pentagon and others are taking it all pretty seriously.  It is already in many places what Michael Specter in the New Yorker describes as "A Thirsty, Violent World."

Here in the states at least some people are asking the questions that are likely to become louder and louder, as in this article that asks "Are We Even Ready for a Megadrought?"

Are we ready for the effects?  Sooner or later, the public outcry will begin.  Is anybody ready to link the effects to the causes, so the future won't be even worse?  On the megadrought, for instance, one of the authors of the previously noted report emphasized: "And that's a really important point - we're not necessarily locked into these high levels of mega-drought risk if we take actions to slow the effects of rising greenhouse gases on global temperatures."

He's not saying drought won't happen--just that it could be less than the worst case scenario, particularly further out in time, if we deal with the causes of global heating.  But the connection has to be made--we must always be talking about both causes and consequences.

Meanwhile, mega-funded denialist nonsense continues in Washington, abetted by our lamestream media (yes, Sarah, I'm with you there, though for entirely different reasons.)  John Podesta left the White House with a hopeful statement about the prospects for action on the causes of the climate crisis.  I hope he's right, but until the public dialogue links the causes and consequences, we're unlikely to address the climate crisis intelligently and with the required focus.

Friday, February 27, 2015

He has been, and always shall be, fascinating

There was news some days ago that Leonard Nimoy had been rushed to the hospital. A story I read concluded that he was feeling better because his Twitter feed had resumed, but when I saw that the tweets were previously published poems, I had a feeling that all was not well.

Still, it was a shock to wake up to the news today that he had died. It's a major moment that will take time to absorb. Sobering and sad, but occasion to remember his many contributions, especially to the living mythology of Star Trek. Coincidentally I've been focusing recently on that mythology, and those contributions. This event will sharpen and deepen that exploration.

My relationship with Nimoy was brief and pleasant. I interviewed him by phone and met him once in person in connection with a New York Times article I was writing on Star Trek, just as what turned out to be the final season of Enterprise was starting. He emailed me to say how much he had enjoyed the article, and the feedback he'd received about it. We exchanged emails, as he advised me on book publishing matters.

This past week I caught up on his recent interviews on YouTube--I especially liked these, with Geoff Boucher. Also this one with Pharrell Williams. Nimoy had a singular life, and a very full one. He had a lively mind and a complex personality. He was large souled. In many ways he was a keeper of the soul of Star Trek.

Of all the Nimoy photos floating about today, I like the one below, with the Buddha statue in the background (Trek Movie used it, among others.) I ended my phone interview with Nimoy by telling him a story that involved the San Francisco Zen Center.

I stayed there once, a few months before our conversation, in one of the rooms they rent to visitors. My room didn't have its own bathroom, so that night I walked down the hall to the large common bathroom and shower. Monks, many of them young, also lived on that floor. I took a wrong turn on the way back to my room and found myself in the monks' wing. As I turned back in the correct direction I noticed a bookcase in the hallway outside the monks quarters, filled with books. I couldn't see the titles in the dim light, except one: I Am Spock.  It is of course by Leonard Nimoy.

He laughed and said, "Thanks for that." Along with difficulties and travails, he had rewarding careers and a rewarding life, but it turns out that all I have to say today is just that: Thank you, Leonard. It's been fascinating.

May he rest in peace. His work and his legacy live on, into the future.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

This is the month of the 30th year since my book The Malling of America was published.  If memory serves, it's also the official publication date, so it's officially 30 years exactly: February 26, 1985.

Last year I thought about preparing an anniversary edition, a kind of final wrap on an era, with an introductory essay bringing things up to date.  Maybe I'll do it eventually but it seemed too daunting.  Surprising the emotions and memories it can still evoke (the book and publication etc, not the topic.)  The main motivation to do it would have to be mine.  I'd have to essentially publish it myself, as a print-on-demand.

But there still is a paperback edition available through online booksellers, like Amazon for instance. (That's the paperback cover up there.) Amazon also offers a hardback but they don't reproduce the first edition cover, so I have no idea if these are legit, especially the ones called "new."  The used ones are cheap enough to gamble on, though.  The ex-library books are probably pretty nice--I never liked the garish dust cover but the book itself looks quite elegant, with the title in gold on white.  Maybe I'll order one myself--I like that my book was in libraries.  I'd like to have one with that library card envelope in the back.

I let the 25th anniversary go by without even a mention on a blog. Seemed unseemly to be the one noting it, or maybe just humiliating.  Don't know why I mention it this time, except that the day didn't go by without recalling it.

Drop the Denial? Probably Not (Mr.) Soon

Why do some people persist in denying the realities of the climate crisis?  In some cases, the cause is easily named: money.  Last week Greenpeace revealed documentary evidence (obtained through the Freedom of Information Act) confirming that one of the most prominent scientists who insists that climate changes are not caused by greenhouse gas pollution has been generously funded by the fossil fuels industry, and just about nobody else.  The Guardian:

Over the last 14 years Willie Soon, a researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, received a total of $1.25m from Exxon Mobil, Southern Company, the American Petroleum Institute (API) and a foundation run by the ultra-conservative Koch brothers, the documents obtained by Greenpeace through freedom of information filings show. According to the documents, the biggest single funder was Southern Company, one of the country’s biggest electricity providers that relies heavily on coal.

Does this mean that the deniers who quote him religiously will soon drop Soon, and maybe even their denial?  Not in the media or in other rabid right institutions, for most of their paychecks also depend on orthodox denying.  The fact that Greenpeace got the documents will invalidate the numbers themselves in the eyes of many deniers.  Because all of their "facts" are 90% ideology, they believe as an article of faith that everybody else's facts are as well.

Beyond those addicted to Koch--and we're all shocked, shocked that gambling has been going on here--there are others who lack a direct profit motive.  But according to Joel Achenbach in the National Geographic  there are other ways to profit--by remaining a member in good standing of your group, your circle of actual and virtual friends, your associates (and not appearing weird to them may also be a matter of keeping your job, moving on up, etc. and therefore also related to money.)  He quotes Dan Kahan of Yale:

In the U.S., climate change somehow has become a litmus test that identifies you as belonging to one or the other of these two antagonistic tribes. When we argue about it, Kahan says, we’re actually arguing about who we are, what our crowd is. We’re thinking, People like us believe this. People like that do not believe this. For a hierarchical individualist, Kahan says, it’s not irrational to reject established climate science: Accepting it wouldn’t change the world, but it might get him thrown out of his tribe.

“Take a barber in a rural town in South Carolina,” Kahan has written. “Is it a good idea for him to implore his customers to sign a petition urging Congress to take action on climate change? No. If he does, he will find himself out of a job, just as his former congressman, Bob Inglis, did when he himself proposed such action.”


This article has many other observations and theories, some I would argue with, some I'd give a "yes, but..."  And I sense I wouldn't agree with much else that Kahan writes (what does he really know about rural South Carolina towns?), but since this agrees with my own observations I'll endorse it.  A lot of what people say--including almost all gossip--is really about being recognized as a member of their group, even if it is not a group of their choice but of circumstance, like (most often) in the workplace.

How does any of this change?  Global heating as an "issue" is so difficult because it is part of a bundle of issues that define politics and groups.  Republicans won enough in 2014 that they're not budging from any of their stands, no matter what the consequences.  But more generally, big changes on apparently intractable issues happen underneath the surface noise, person by person, then group by group, until suddenly it's all over.  It happened with South Africa and apartheid, it happened with cigarette smoking.

One of the most effective anti-apartheid tools was disinvestment, and it was incremental over years.  As was noted before here, disinvestment in fossil fuels have been accumulating even faster.  One of the big academic holdouts has been Harvard.  Last week some 30 prominent alums signed a letter in support of disinvestment:

The alumni included Maya Lin, the architect of the Vietnam war memorial, Nobel laureate Eric Chivian, Pulitzer prize-winning author Susan Faludi, academics, preachers, former US senators and Securities and Exchange commissioners as well as Bill McKibben, the founder of the group 350.org, which has driven the campus divestment campaign.

And the dance goes on.

One more thing...

President Obama vetoed the bill Congress passed to force him to approve the Keystone pipeline.  A flurry of emails ensued, including from environmental groups.  The Climate Reality Project claimed total victory, but 350.org got it right--the veto was not on the merits of the pipeline, but on Congress usurping an executive branch function.  Though it seems more and more likely that this administration will not approve the project itself, that decision hasn't happened yet.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Torture Games

The Senate Intelligence Committee's Report on Torture has been published in paperback, though it is apparently a 549 page executive summary--the documentation running into the many thousands of (heavily censored) pages.  An excellent summary and commentary on the Report--what it does and doesn't say and do--can be found at the New York Review of Books in an interview with Mark Danner, who knows the topic from having covered it for some time.

Even given the tenor of the initial coverage of the report's findings--chiefly that the torture imposed by the CIA was even worse than previously known, and that despite CIA and GOPer claims it resulted in no important information--Danner highlights even more hair-raising contexts.  For instance, that torture was a first resort, done without any real planning or investigation into precedent and results, and that the prime suspect involved gave lots of good information before he was tortured, and none during or after.  Here's Danner:

"What I think is strictly speaking new is, first, how amateurish the torture program was. It was really amateur hour, beginning with the techniques themselves, which were devised and run by a couple of retired Air Force psychologists who were hired by the CIA and put in charge though they had never conducted an interrogation before. They had no expertise in terrorism or counterterrorism, had never interrogated al-Qaeda members or anyone else for that matter. When it came to actually working with detained terrorists and suspected terrorists they were essentially without any relevant experience. Eventually, the CIA paid them more than $80 million.

The second revelation is the degree to which the CIA claimed great results, and did so mendaciously. Sometimes the attacks they said they had prevented were not serious in the first place. Sometimes the information that actually might have led to averting attacks came not from the enhanced interrogation techniques but from other traditional forms of interrogation or other information entirely. But what the report methodically demonstrates is that the claims about having obtained essential, lifesaving intelligence thanks to these techniques that had been repeated for years and years and years are simply not true. And the case is devastating."


It remains a puzzle to me--as it does to Danner--why the Obama administration hasn't pursued prosecutions, or even why the President kept this report at arms length.  The Senate report itself doesn't include recommendations for any actions. Danner suggests it's melancholy evidence of the power of the CIA.

Another fact I didn't know: the Senate committee got the votes to conduct the investigation only when Democrats agreed to limit it to the CIA, and to stay away from the Bush executive department.  Even so, while the FBI comes off pretty well in this report, and the Justice Department not as badly as it might have, the fingerprints of Dick Cheney and G.W. Bush and their minions are all over this.

As Danner says, without prosecutions that involve judicial decisions, all that prevents the US engaging in torture again is President Obama's executive order, which can easily be disregarded by a future presidency.

Meanwhile, it appears that US police have taken more than surplus military weaponry from the so-called war on terror. The depravity unleashed by torture and other abrogation of rights justified by the Bushites has come to the United States, perhaps in racial attitudes, but specifically (according to one report) in the adoption of police state tactics and familiar CIA "black sites" but for American citizens in at least one major U.S. city.

The only positive in this is the fact that the Senate committee did investigate, and that after all the roadblocks thrown in their path by the CIA and allies, it has actually been published.  We'd all like to forget this happened, that our leaders could be this cowardly and depraved, or that people who did it are still politically powerful.  But what we'd better remember is that it could easily happen again.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Less Than Zero


The first time the words "below zero" were impressed on my consciousness as a child, I was thrown into a quandary.  If zero meant "nothing", what could possibly be less than zero?  (Yes, this was before Robert Zimmerman got out of Minnesota.)  How could anything be below nothing?

But there it was, and my mother took it very seriously.  For years afterwards, any temp "below zero" was like a cosmic event, what "awesome" actually means.  And in western Pennsylvania in the 50s and 60s there were more than a few.

When I lived in Pittsburgh in the late 80s and 90s, that winters were shorter and milder was street wisdom.  I recall a veteran of the Squirrel Cage bar pointing to where ice used to form on the street in front of it in November, not to disappear until March.  Not then, though.  Not anymore.

So I appreciate that folks in that part of the world had to readapt to that kind of weather this winter, after a generation or so.  It's hard to judge at a distance whether it is more extreme now than even back then, but it does sound like it.  And a lot less predictable.

That global heating could lead to intense cold and big snowstorms may be counter-intuitive, but it was predicted long before it started happening.  The physics of it aren't complicated, though the many factors involved make the time and specific manifestations difficult to predict.  But readers of Kim Stanley Robinson's climate crisis trilogy from the 90s will recall that intense cold visited Washington as a consequence.  Cold and snow is there now.

Here we've had no winter at all.  The tulips are blooming (I took this photo however in March last year), the hummingbirds departed several weeks early, and it's generally been a warmer, sunnier winter than any in the 19 we've seen here.  Even last winter was not this consistently mild.  We also did not get the wet February we got last year.  We got some moisture from the storms earlier in the month, and some foggy days.  But the last appreciable rains were in early December.

The departures from normal here are certainly a lot more pleasant, which is some ways makes them more eerie.  But the new extremes in the East as well as most of the West, which right now may not be so far from normal variation to be intrinsically alarming, certainly add an edge to the kind of scientific speculation that emerged this past week, predicting mega-drought for the West, and significant deterioration of livability in New York--studies I'll review in another post.

In some ways, getting our heads around the climate crisis is a little like dealing with the concept of below zero, though even more complicated to contemplate.  We get to some understanding by degrees, by paying heed to what climate scientists say about the weather, and adjusting our ideas accordingly, about what the climate crisis is and what changes it can make.

For right now though, my thoughts are with those suffering cold and snow extremes in places I used to live (Boston, DC, PA etc.) or have visited, like Niagara Falls, where days of below zero temps actually froze parts of the falls themselves (photo above.)  But I'm still going out in the sunshine.