Thursday, October 01, 2015

Gun Massacre in Oregon, Anger at the Podium in Washington

President Obama responded to the massacre by firearms in Oregon with obvious anger, but as usual it only clarified what he had to say.

"There’s been another mass shooting in America -- this time, in a community college in Oregon. That means there are more American families -- moms, dads, children -- whose lives have been changed forever. That means there’s another community stunned with grief, and communities across the country forced to relieve their own anguish, and parents across the country who are scared because they know it might have been their families or their children...

But as I said just a few months ago, and I said a few months before that, and I said each time we see one of these mass shootings, our thoughts and prayers are not enough. It’s not enough. It does not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel. And it does nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted someplace else in America -- next week, or a couple of months from now.

We don't yet know why this individual did what he did. And it's fair to say that anybody who does this has a sickness in their minds, regardless of what they think their motivations may be. But we are not the only country on Earth that has people with mental illnesses or want to do harm to other people. We are the only advanced country on Earth that sees these kinds of mass shootings every few months...

The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine. The conversation in the aftermath of it. We've become numb to this.

We talked about this after Columbine and Blacksburg, after Tucson, after Newtown, after Aurora, after Charleston. It cannot be this easy for somebody who wants to inflict harm on other people to get his or her hands on a gun.

And what’s become routine, of course, is the response of those who oppose any kind of common-sense gun legislation. Right now, I can imagine the press releases being cranked out: We need more guns, they’ll argue. Fewer gun safety laws.

Does anybody really believe that?.... There is a gun for roughly every man, woman, and child in America. So how can you, with a straight face, make the argument that more guns will make us safer? We know that states with the most gun laws tend to have the fewest gun deaths. So the notion that gun laws don't work, or just will make it harder for law-abiding citizens and criminals will still get their guns is not borne out by the evidence.

We know that other countries, in response to one mass shooting, have been able to craft laws that almost eliminate mass shootings. Friends of ours, allies of ours -- Great Britain, Australia, countries like ours. So we know there are ways to prevent it.

And, of course, what’s also routine is that somebody, somewhere will comment and say, Obama politicized this issue. Well, this is something we should politicize. It is relevant to our common life together, to the body politic.

 I would ask news organizations -- because I won't put these facts forward -- have news organizations tally up the number of Americans who’ve been killed through terrorist attacks over the last decade and the number of Americans who’ve been killed by gun violence, and post those side-by-side on your news reports. This won't be information coming from me; it will be coming from you. We spend over a trillion dollars, and pass countless laws, and devote entire agencies to preventing terrorist attacks on our soil, and rightfully so. And yet, we have a Congress that explicitly blocks us from even collecting data on how we could potentially reduce gun deaths. How can that be?"

This time President Obama did not try to appeal to current officeholders to see the light or be reasonable, because after all this slaughter, it is clear they never will be.  Instead he suggested to American voters:

"I’d ask the American people to think about how they can get our government to change these laws, and to save lives, and to let young people grow up. And that will require a change of politics on this issue. And it will require that the American people, individually, whether you are a Democrat or a Republican or an independent, when you decide to vote for somebody, are making a determination as to whether this cause of continuing death for innocent people should be a relevant factor in your decision. If you think this is a problem, then you should expect your elected officials to reflect your views."

This latest mass shooting happened a few hundred miles from here, in a community much like this one.  A campus shooting here could kill and maim students I know, faculty I've known a long time, or my partner, or me.  California gun laws are pretty good, but the state line to Oregon is close by.

When I was in college, during the Vietnam War and the high draft calls, I lost one kind of innocence when I realized that there were people in power, and people with money, who would sacrifice my life and many lives in their pursuit of more power and more money.

This is even clearer in the case of gun violence and gun laws.  It isn't about rights.  It isn't about suspicion of government power, though that is a real fear that's being cynically exploited, along with other cynically fed fears. It's about political power and it's about money.  And these people will sacrifice me or you, or your children and grandchildren, and the possibility of including their own in that sacrifice, for power and money.

For more on the prevalence of guns in this country, there's this.

Update 10/2: Profiles of the slaughtered.  It appears to have been a writing class, and one of the slaughtered was a writer and teacher about my age.  President Obama's response to Jeb Bush excusing the slaughter as "stuff happens."  In his statement quoted above, President Obama made reference to the UK and Australia.  Here's an article on what these countries did to virtually end gun slaughter.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Pope of Hope

Pope Francis has ended his eventful week in the United States, and evaluations have begun.  He spoke at the White House, to a joint session of Congress, to the United Nations,  to congregations in New York and elsewhere, to a conference in Philadelphia, (where he was introduced by Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" and spoke at the podium used by Lincoln for his Gettysburg Address) among many other activities.

In ways superficial and profound, Pope Francis came to this American moment as the anti-Trump, as the antidote to the Trumpery that seems to dominate the dialogue.  In a broader historical context, he is this generation's John XXIII, a brother to President Obama the way Pope John was to JFK.  He is the pleasant surprise, adding new moral support (in both senses of moral), another hero of hope.

For me he is the first Pope I can believe in since John XXIII.  His encyclical takes historical place beside Pope John's Pacem in Terris for importance to the time as well as affirming and updating a moral tradition.  But he is also different.  He chose a name never used by another Pope, the name of a saint with a very high profile, a unique and universally known "brand."  Francis of Assisi is the saint of the poor, of Nature, of simplicity and contemplation.  Let there be a Fiat.

  Pope John's encyclical was bold and modest.  Pope Francis' is more scholarly and wide-ranging.  But even though it quotes a long list of his predecessors, the first Pope it names is Pope John.

Though I'm no longer a Catholic, I'm very aware of the pendulum swing represented by his singling out Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton in his speech to Congress.  Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker.  Merton: fearless intellectual, ecumenical, a contemplative who was practically a Buddhist with close ties to D.T. Suzuki, who brought Zen to America.

In his encyclical and his public statements here, Pope Francis' moral positions are firm, but he is politically astute; both sophisticated and straightforward.  By now his asserting that the Earth itself has moral standing is both revolutionary and supported by years of writing and advocacy by others.  But it's especially important because, hey, he's the Pope.

In Washington he made very direct and devastating points in a very soft voice and manner. Some of his statements seem radical because of how warped our political dialogue has become, how extreme the Republicans have become.  His views on immigration are the views of the Kennedys, but today they are radical.  But some of his statements remain as radical as they used to be.  Saying that we don't have peace because of people who make their money from war was considered sacrilegious in the 1960s, and still is.  Although instead of receiving censure, the Pope's call for the end of the arms trade simply was ignored.

His positions are not mine on everything, and the high profile canonization of the symbol of the shameful Mission period and its subjugation of the Native Americans in California was melancholy at best.  But overall Pope Francis is proving to be a real force for hope.

 He is correct that prior Popes have championed the poor and oppressed in their speeches and writings, but he is advocating much more actively, specifically and astutely.  But the greatest hope is in his elevation of the climate crisis as the transcendent moral issue of our moment (and he is unique in championing the poor who are most endangered by it.)  His visit to the U.S. and to the UN this September was no coincidence.  It is part of a global push, the marshaling of moral as well as political authority, to get the necessary international treaty done in December. In this he is exactly on the same page as President Obama.  Their rhetoric of urgency is almost identical.

But someone else should not be forgotten.  The words of Pope Francis reminded me of another spiritual and moral leader, the Dalai Lama, who has been speaking on these principles and issues for many years.  The insane hatred and paranoia of the Chinese when China is so politically and economically important to the West has somewhat marginalized the Dalai Lama in recent years.  So it was hardly noticed that he was soon to visit the U.S. and doubtless add his voice to supporting a climate crisis agreement--or that because of illness and exhaustion, that trip has been cancelled.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Trump, GOPers and the Future: Quaking With Laughter?

"After the final no there comes a yes
And on that yes the future world depends."
Wallace Stevens
opening lines "The Well Dressed Man With a Beard"

In American politics and government, things seem to be moving towards the Big One, the earthquake that changes the landscape.

 There have been smaller quakes for years, but the land has always settled into looking reassuringly as it did before.  There were important changes in that landscape, but they weren't obvious to everyone.  A major quake is of a different order.  We don't know how long it will last, or what things will look like when it's over.

The latest indicator is the resignation of John Boehner as Speaker of the House (and therefore the last time I'll have to look up the spelling of his name.)  He was the trembling finger in the dike of rabid right anarchy--even as he loudly advocated for the anarchists.

This is what a Republican member of Congress told the New York Times:

“There are anywhere from two to four dozen members who don’t have an affirmative sense of governance,” said Representative Charlie Dent, Republican of Pennsylvania."They can’t get to yes. They just can’t get to yes, and so they undermine the ability of the speaker to lead. And not only do they undermine the ability of the speaker to lead, but they undermine the entire Republican conference and also help to weaken the institution of Congress itself.”

And when they are not paralyzing the entire federal government, they are weakening its ability to meet crucial challenges, which sows chaos down to the community level.  Now that they have gotten rid of Banal, they (and we) will have no place to hide.

And then there's Donald Trump.  In a New York Magazine cover story, Frank Rich poses and answers this question: How could a crass, bigoted bully with a narcissistic-personality disorder and policy views bordering on gibberish “defy political gravity,” dominate the national stage, make monkeys out of pundits and pollsters, and pose an existential threat to one of America’s two major parties?

Rich finds his answer not in politics but in fictions about politics: "His passport to political stardom has been his uncanny resemblance to a provocative fictional comic archetype that has been an invigorating staple of American movies since Vietnam and Watergate ushered in wholesale disillusionment with Washington four decades ago."

He's Bulworth (the Warren Beatty movie), Pat Paulsen, Guy Grand (The Magic Christian) and the character Steven Colbert played on his first show.  Except he's a real candidate.

 Among the outrageous things he says (some perceptive, some nuts, some brave, some craven), "Trump embarrasses the GOP by saying in public what “real” Republicans keep private....Republican potentates can’t fight back against him because the party’s base has his back. He’s ensnared the GOP Establishment in a classic Catch-22: It wants Trump voters — it can’t win elections without them — but doesn’t want Trump calling attention to what those voters actually believe."

Trump's trumpery appears spontaneous, which this year's "serious" candidates (from Jeb Bush to Hillary) do not. "It’s as if Trump were performing a running burlesque of the absurd but intractable conventions of presidential campaigns in real time. His impact on our politics post-2016 could be as serious as he is not."

"The best news about Trump is that he is wreaking this havoc on the status quo while having no chance of ascending to the presidency," Rich concludes. "You can’t win the Electoral College in 2016 by driving away women, Hispanics, blacks, and Asian-Americans, no matter how large the margins you pile up in deep-red states. Republicans who have started fretting that he’d perform as Barry Goldwater did on Election Day in 1964 have good reason to worry."

But his gift to American democracy (in Rich's terms) or at least his effect, may be as the fracking operation that starts the earthquake:

"Far from being a threat to democracy or a freak show unworthy of serious coverage, it matters because it’s taking a much-needed wrecking ball to some of what has made our sterile politics and dysfunctional government as bankrupt as Trump’s Atlantic City casinos. If that’s entertainment, so be it. If Hillary Clinton’s campaign or the Republican Party is reduced to rubble along the way, we can live with it. Trump will not make America great again, but there’s at least a chance that the chaos he sows will clear the way for those who can."

I'm not sure I can identify any longer with 1960s style up the revolution joyousness that in other words likely means a period of chaos and destruction.  It would be nice if just the fat cats, the pompous politicos, the well-paid cynics and the vicious haters were the only ones hurt.  But that's not how it usually works.  Still, the logic of an approaching earthquake is compelling.  And clearly we need to get beyond the pious nihilism, the rigid denial that has reached insane proportions.  We need to get to working together to solve the considerable problems we face, to save the future.  We need to get to yes.

Friday, September 18, 2015

News From the Neighborhood

For the foreseeable future, and probably well beyond that, the future of humans in space (if any, which is a big question) will occur in our cosmic neighborhood: the solar system.

And we really are exploring it, even if manned observation is only in the close Earth orbit of the international space station.  Far-flung instruments continue to produce new knowledge--as well as some great photos.

The most recent photos come from Pluto, a world that has generally gotten little respect until now.  Small and remote, demoted from planet status, so only a few scientists dare stake their careers on studying the meager information available, at least until the New Horizons spacecraft mission.

The latest photos show a world "more Earthlike than anyone could have imagined," in the words of this excellent National Geographic piece, and yet very alien--fogs and glaciers of nitrogen instead of water, mountains that formed in some mysterious way, and so on.  Yet it is not the bald featureless globe of prior illustrations.  It is a place.  Be sure to click on the photos here and at the NG piece--they're breathtaking.

Also this week:"NASA's confirmation of the existence of a vast global ocean on Enceladus casts a spotlight on Saturn's icy moon as the most potentially habitable spot beyond Earth in the Solar System for life as we know it," in the words of another excellent piece, this one at the Daily Galaxy.

It has liquid water, organic carbon, nitrogen [in the form of ammonia], and an energy source," said Chris McKay, an astrobiologist at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. Besides Earth, he says, "there is no other environment in the Solar System where we can make all those claims."

Yet it is not the only really good candidate for finding life in the solar system.  (The others also are moons rather than planets. This Daily Galaxy piece is a good summary, with links.)  It's news like this that prods my intuition that some form of life outside the Earth will be discovered in my lifetime.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Unreality Show

Just remember that I am not blogging about the 2016 elections.  But in previous posts that mention it, a theme emerged that has continued: the Republican candidates are insane.

This was the often an implicit theme in coverage of the second GOPer "debate," this time on CNN.  It was overt in Jonathan Chiat at New York Magazine, whose report was headlined At Second Presidential Debate, Republicans Try to Out-Crazy Trump, and Succeed.  He concluded: "The [R] party’s decades-long flight from empiricism and reason shows no sign of abating. Alas, from Trump to Rubio to Carly Fiorina, it is filled with talented demagogues well suited to pitch America on nonsense."

The New York Times editorial board later said pretty much the same thing in an editorial entitled Crazy Talk At the Republican Debate: "Peel back the boasting and insults, the lies and exaggerations common to any presidential campaign. What remains is a collection of assertions so untrue, so bizarre, that they form a vision as surreal as the Ronald Reagan jet looming behind the candidates’ lecterns.

It felt at times as if the speakers were no longer living in a fact-based world where actions have consequences, programs take money and money has to come from somewhere. Where basic laws — like physics and the Constitution — constrain wishes. Where Congress and the public, allies and enemies, markets and militaries don’t just do what you want them to, just because you say they will."
New Yorker satirist Andy Borowitz turned to Strangelovian gallows humor as he headlined his report on the debate Millions Watch American Democracy’s Final Episode: "American democracy, a long-running institution whose popularity endured for over two hundred years, drew millions of viewers to its final episode Wednesday night.

 While the official ratings for democracy’s finale will not be available until Thursday, initial reports indicated that a larger than expected number tuned in to witness the last moments of the nation’s system of government. Network executives had warned that the final episode was not for the squeamish, but many viewers were still shocked by how dark and apocalyptic it turned out to be."

Borowitz followed up with a column entitled  Fact Checking Reveals G.O.P. Debate Was Four Per Cent Fact: "According to HonestyWatch, a Minnesota-based fact-checking organization, over the course of three hours the Republican candidates served up between eight and twelve facts, not including their names and job descriptions."

Also in the New Yorker, Amy Davidson (who is a reporter rather than satirist, at least in intent) began her report:  "With about fifteen minutes to go in the G.O.P. Presidential debate last night, at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, it looked as if it might be hard to pick a low point. The candidates had, after all, been squabbling for almost three hours, long enough to foster fantasies of using Reagan’s Air Force One, which was onstage, as an emergency-escape vehicle."

Margaret Hartmann at New York culled the coverage on each candidate.  One of her choice quotes from others:"Trump came out swinging — but ended up missing. Not only wasn't he substantive — again — but he made some pretty bizarre statements. " —SE Cupp, CNN.

There was one question about the climate crisis in this debate (which brings the number of questions in both debates up to one), and not surprisingly the ignorance and fact-free denial were universal.

Otherwise, the coverage was about as insipid as this "debate" apparently was.  On my Google News page, the topic was dominated by "listicules"--the six big moment, the 10 quotes, the five takeaways, seven ways the debate changed the race etc.  By late today, the conventional wisdom was that dangerous demagogue Carly F. was the winner.  Trump's trumpeting being muted.

The world hangs by a thin thread?  What if something goes wrong with the psyche?  Welcome to the Republican Party.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Psych Out

“Today we are faced with the pre-eminent fact that, if civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships—the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to live together and work together in the same world, at peace.”
FDR 1945--his last speech, prepared but never delivered.

"Nowadays particularly, the world hangs on a thin thread....We are the great danger.  The psyche is the great danger.  What if something goes wrong with the psyche?  And so it is demonstrated to us in our days what the power of psyche is, how important it is to know something about it.  But we know nothing about it. Nobody would give credit to the idea that the psychical processes of the ordinary man had any importance whatever."
C. G. Jung
interview in English, 1957

Professional psychology in its current form has taken some withering hits lately.  In July there was the report that revealed (in the words of the Washington Post story) "Leaders of the American Psychological Association secretly collaborated with officials at the Pentagon and CIA to weaken the association’s ethical guidelines and allow psychologists to take part in coercive interrogation programs after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to a report released Friday."  

It was asserted years ago, and more recently proven, that several psychologists helped torturers during the Bush administration.   This report showed that such psychologists were highly influential in the organization.  But after this report was issued, the APA did not apologize, but defended what it did. Eventually it cleaned house and passed a binding resolution forbidding its members to do anything outside international law.

In August another study made news when a group of psychologists attempted to replicate 100 previously published psychological studies, and most of the time could not.  Their conclusions couldn't be proved, or they were overstated.

This is a kind of internal failure, within contemporary psychology's own assumptions and rules.  These failures were attributed in various technical ways as well as the inflation of results for gain and fame.  Some of the technicalities, other scientists claim, apply to all kinds of medical and other scientific research, so that most research findings are dubious.

But contemporary psychology's bullshit factor is so high for other reasons, many of which are identified by the eminent psychologist Jerome Kagan in his remarkable and predictably ignored 2012 book, Psychology's Ghosts.  Some of the established and therefore repeated mistakes are the failure to recognize and consider context (class, culture, situation) and the hidden biases that define healthy and unhealthy.

For example, Kagan writes: "Too many papers assume that a result found with forty white undergraduates at a Midwestern university responding to instructions appearing on a computer screen in a small, windowless room would be affirmed if participants were fifty-year-old South Africans administered the same procedure by a neighbor in a larger room in a familiar church in Capetown.”

This is not drollery: American university students of European background were the main subjects for more than 2/3 of the papers published in six leading journals between 2003 and 2007. There are usually a small number of participants, yet universal conclusions are offered.

In my review of this book, I add a corollary factor from my own experience: how the participants are chosen, and what that means.  I offer as an example the famous Yale Miligram experiments that purports to prove that people will obey authority figures to the point of causing painful shocks to others. Accidentally in New Haven at the time, I inquired about participating in what I'm pretty sure was one of those early experiments, but I ultimately refused.  Why I was interested, and why I refused suggests other factors that seem to cast questions on these conclusions, and to my mind invalidate them.

In these ways, psychology seems to invalidate itself as a science.  (Some believe that all of the so-called social sciences are pseudo-sciences.)  Psychology's attempt to measure behavior in order to predict it or modify it (often with drugs) is a failed and pernicious project.  It is based in part on trying to ape the methods of so-called hard sciences, depending on experiments and so-called controlled studies and deductions.  Why this doesn't work for anything as complex as human beings was eloquently explained, off-the-cuff, by the late great Jane Jacobs.  Basically, science can deal with just a few variables, and not with connections.  Science and psychology as they are predominantly practiced, deal with averages and quantities.

What contemporary psychology ignores is the psyche.  That just never comes up.  There's the brain and there's behavior.  The mechanism and the output.  It's either falsely mechanistic or falsely quantitative.

The psychology of Jung has been left behind and forgotten.  But it applies to individuals, not averages or quantities, not mechanisms.  In his own inductive science, through seeing patients and through introspection, Jung created conceptual tools that can help people examine and understand themselves enough to make their own changes in behavior.

Some of these tools I explored in the series on this site called The Climate Inside.  Concepts like the shadow, projection, denial, that individuals can use to examine their own psyches and behavior (with or without professional help), and come to their own conclusions. But today even more than in 1957, "no one gives credit to the idea that the psychical processes of the ordinary man had any importance whatever."

Today's psychology is about treating humans as machines.  Most often as computers, "hard-wired" (often by Evolution) and fixable through tricks or drugs. Machines can only be altered from the outside.  But we are not hard-wired (there are no "wires" for a start), any more than our brains are telephone exchanges, or clocks, or our bodies are dynamos--all dominant metaphors of past ages.

Psyche is another word for soul.  Jung saw it as unfathomable, but we could learn something about it--not just from science but from untold centuries of stories and dreams, including the great cultural dreams called myth.  From the arts and humanities, and from minds that make the arrogant and often naive pronouncements of today's psychologists just so much simplistic nonsense.

There's a reason psychologists were so eager to sell out to government torturers--that's a very big client, and today's psychology is all about clients.  It's so obvious from the level of research that they are all about providing information on behavior and how to manipulate it for advertising, marketing and less subtle forms of persuasion and manipulation.  It's clearly a short walk to the best ways to inflict pain.  Today's psychology has no soul.  

Yet here we are, at a time when it is crucial for us to understand ourselves--without a psychology worthy of the name.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Political Climate

As we continue to see in the North Coast sky reminders of forest fires still raging, there are a couple of unexpected political changes internationally in advance of the Paris meetings on the climate crisis, with perhaps more to come.  What they may mean is unclear, but they do offer interesting possibilities.

The biggest news so far is the ouster of one of the world's biggest climate crisis denial blowhards, Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott.  In Australia's parliamentary system, the PM is the leader elected by the majority party, in this case called Liberals.  In what was essentially a party coup, they replaced Abbott with Malcolm Turnbill.  He'd probably be considered a liberal Republican in pre-1980s US.  He is not a global heating denier, and specifically opposed Abbott's position.  He's announced however that for now he's staying with the enacted policies backed by his party.  But he is likely to be more open to negotiations in Paris.

Another surprise was the Labor Party in the UK electing a new leader, Jeremy Corbyn.  Initially given no chance of winning, Corbyn ended up with a nearly 60% majority.  He is considered far left, harking back in some ways to Labor's post-WWII roots, but in other ways his views are not so easily classifiable.  He stood out among the Labor candidates by speaking clearly and directly about the issues.

 Right now Corbyn is given no chance of leading Labor to a majority and himself to Prime Minister, but where have we heard that before?  In any case, there's no UK election before Paris conferences in December.  But he supports efforts to address the climate crisis, and his voice may help push the UK conservative government to a stronger role.

A more directly meaningful change could come from October elections in Canada. The current PM, Stephen Harper, has pretty much taken Canada out of real action to address the climate crisis.  He's been the PM of Oil.  Mostly for other reasons he's become vastly unpopular, but it's not clear what kind of policy will result from this election, since, as the Toronto Star noted, in this country with the longest Arctic coastline, global heating has not been a campaign issue for anybody, and the candidates are quiet or coy about their proposed policies.

  But the timing is such that a saner approach to the Paris meetings may result, from Canada as well as Australia.  That seems to be the view of this Washington Post article.

It must be added that in both Australia and Canada, as in the US, efforts outside national policy are being made to confront climate crisis challenges.  These include major progress in clean energy in Australia, and grassroots and organizational advocacy and action in Canada.

Politics is in many respects an unreal world that can markedly affect the real world.  The news in that real world continues to be urgent: a widely reported study outlines the very dire consequences of burning the fossil fuel known to exist, especially in rising sea levels that would inundate the world's major cities, and the growing speculation that this year's El Nino and other factors are triggering and will trigger a big jump in global temperature.

All this in the waning days of the summer that is almost certainly to be declared officially the hottest on record globally and in the US.  A summary of the summer's climate news in a new column at the Atlantic.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

To Save the World: "There is, suddenly, hope"

Jonathan Chiat, who I tend to quote alot around here, has an impressive piece online and in the current issue of New York Magazine.  It's called The Sunniest Climate-Change Story You've Ever Read: This is the year humans finally got serious about saving themselves from themselves.  The title is maybe a bit too cute, but the subtitle is accurate: it's the premise of the piece.

"Here on planet Earth, things could be going better," Chiat begins. "The rise in atmospheric temperatures from greenhouse gases poses the most dire threat to humanity, measured on a scale of potential suffering, since Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany launched near-simultaneous wars of conquest."

While the comparison in terms of cost etc. may be arguable, it is a potent metaphor:

 "And the problem has turned out to be much harder to solve. It’s not the money. The cost of transitioning away from fossil fuels, measured as a share of the economy, may amount to a fraction of the cost of defeating the Axis powers. Rather, it is the politics that have proved so fiendish. Fighting a war is relatively straightforward: You spend all the money you can to build a giant military and send it off to do battle. Climate change is a problem that politics is almost designed not to solve. Its costs lie mostly in the distant future, whereas politics is built to respond to immediate conditions. (And of the wonders the internet has brought us, a lengthening of mental time horizons is not among them.) "

The nature of the emergency is different.  Fictions about efforts to meet global catastrophes typically include a huge galvanizing event that changes everything, as Pearl Harbor did in vanquishing US isolationism.  Perhaps the nature of this emergency--being in the present widely dispersed, or being familiar phenomena with other causes, etc. In his climate crisis trilogy, Kim Stanley Robinson invented a perfect storm that flooded Washington and ended political denialism-- in this fiction the storm was even called Sandy.  When an actual storm Sandy hit the East Coast and flooded Manhattan in 2012, it demonstrably did not end political denialism.

But in any case, as Chiat points out: "There has not yet been a galvanizing Pearl Harbor moment, when the urgency of action becomes instantly clear and isolationists melt away. Instead, it breeds counterproductive mental reactions: denial, fatalism, and depression."

Nevertheless, Chiat writes--and illustrates convincingly in the rest of this brilliantly reported and written piece--things have changed dramatically for the better in the last few years--and the prospects of a meaningful climate agreement in December are consequently pretty damn good:

The technological and political underpinnings are at last in place to actually consummate the first global pact to limit greenhouse-gas emissions. The world is suddenly responding to the climate emergency with — by the standards of its previous behavior — astonishing speed. The game is not over. And the good guys are starting to win.

The basic reason has also been mentioned here, though not with the force of the numbers that Chiat presents: the rapid and extensive rise of clean energy technologies and their adoption, together with the rapid decline of coal.  The price of solar is falling rapidly, he writes, far faster than even its most optimistic promoters predicted.

In the US, this was driven by the stealth revolution President Obama created by insisting on substantial seed money for clean energy tech in the Recovery Act.  It's starting to really pay off, and Chiat has the numbers.

But it's not just a US phenomenon--Chiat is particularly interesting on China, which is the world's leading carbon polluter (twice that of the second place US) but which is currently getting off the coal standard and onto the sun:

 But in the past year, something amazing has taken place. In 2014, China’s coal production and its consumption both fell, and the drop appears to be continuing, or even accelerating, this year. Derek Scissors, a China analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, who had previously believed Chinese coal use would rebound, conceded his error and called the shocking reversal “an economic and social sea change.” ...

China has made colossal investments in green energy. It plans to increase its solar-energy capacity this year alone by 18 gigawatts — as much solar-energy capacity as exists in the U.S. right now."

What about the rest of the world?  Chiat has the numbers, all in one place, and they are encouraging.  He sees in the combination of pledges already made to cut carbon plus the real commitments to clean energy expansion, the outlines of a doable global climate crisis deal in December.

And while there is some opposition and certainly footdragging in various countries, Chiat is succinct on how backward the US is on this, principally because of the propaganda machine called the Republican Party--which is essentially unique in the entire world:

 Eileen Claussen, former president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, told National Journal that, while some individuals in other countries question climate science, there is “no party-wide view like this anywhere in the world that I am aware of.”

"Of course, it is unfortunate for the future of mankind that climate-change denialism has surfaced as a regional quirk in the most powerful country on Earth," Chiat writes with appropriate tragic understatement.  He writes perceptively about why denialism has set itself in concrete in the Republican party--all the major and minor R presidential candidates and so-called leaders, as well as an apparent majority of its rank and file--with such emotional ferocity that, he notes: "An alarming social study from June found that climate skeptics who read reports about natural disasters were less likely to favor helping the victims if the story connected the disaster to climate change."

(This could be then another reason why they aren't like to respond to the current refugee crisis in Europe, which is--as recent articles suggested --also a climate refugee crisis.)

But it could simply be a matter of time, Chiat suggests, for once the clean energy economy reaches critical mass in the not distant future, the denialism will lose its force.  The greatest danger he says is a Republican winning the White House in 2016.  (Something--he's written previously--that he does not expect to happen.)

The last part of his piece ushers us into the aspects of the future that perhaps I've anticipated too much here: the realities of dealing with the now inevitable effects at the same time as we address the causes of global heating.  He, too, faults leaders for approaching climate change as a win or lose, all or nothing battle. (although this works with his war metaphor, it's not how it's usually said--the word that Al Gore used and even President Obama slipped into his Alaska speech is "solve" the crisis.)

He points out especially that the goals of the international push for action--keeping the temperature rise below 2 degrees C--is approximate: A rise of 1.9 degrees does not mean salvation, and 2.1 degrees does not mean doom. It is a problem of gradations of suffering and expense — but remaining on the lowest possible point on that terrifying, unknowable scale is a question literally of life or death.

 He notes the psychological and political effects of discourse driven by this either/or:

"The danger of black-and-white moralism is that it can be paralyzing. Ironically, the despair of the left has one quality in common with the denial of the right: They are both coping mechanisms. Denial is conservatism’s way of avoiding the collision between its belief that governmental power over the economy must not be extended and the likely truth that climate change is a problem that can only be solved through more government. Despair is a means of coping with the contradiction between the awesome scale of the climate crisis and the paucity of political tools to solve it. Both render us passive bystanders to history and, by hiding our agency, distort our vision of the world. An inability to parse degrees of too little and too late can blind you to something revolutionary and historic taking place."

He ends with a summary evaluation, and with the word that above all, matters right now:

"The limits agreed to at Paris will not be enough to spare the world mass devastation. But they are the beginning of a framework upon which progressively stronger requirements can be built over time. The willpower and innovation that have begun to work in tandem can continue to churn. Eventually the world will wean itself almost completely off carbon-based energy. There is, suddenly, hope."

Monday, September 07, 2015

Labor Day 2015

The Sunday Doonesbury, even more appropriate for Labor Day.  Not much of an exaggeration in academia, but it pertains even more broadly.  Like writers, for instance.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Dances with Kids

President Obama, who might now get the Indian name of Dances With Kids, in Dillingham, Alaska, watching, dancing and talking to Native children during his visit.  Video is about 4 and a half minutes, and priceless.

Here's a preview of announcements President Obama plans to make on his last day in Alaska to address climate crisis issues in that region, including a Denali Commission and federal coordinator to help deal with current and future effects of climate crisis--or "adaptation" and "resilience" in the common jargon.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Climbing the Mountain


President Obama's remarks at the GLACIER conference in Anchorage on Monday probably preview the tenor of what he will be saying from now until the Paris climate summit in December.  His words are very, very direct--no leader has spoken more clearly on the climate crisis.

Climbing the mountain to an international treaty will take such boldness and directness, as well as persistence, endurance and spirit.  This is an impressive start.

Two notable examples:

 "...any so-called leader who does not take this issue seriously or treats it like a joke -- is not fit to lead."

"On this issue, of all issues, there is such a thing as being too late. That moment is almost upon us."

The full speech text is here, the YouTube is here though the President's speech doesn't start till about halfway through. [Update: Here's a better link to just Obama's speech.] Here are some direct excerpts:

...the point is that climate change is no longer some far-off problem. It is happening here. It is happening now. Climate change is already disrupting our agriculture and ecosystems, our water and food supplies, our energy, our infrastructure, human health, human safety -- now. Today. And climate change is a trend that affects all trends -- economic trends, security trends. Everything will be impacted. And it becomes more dramatic with each passing year.

Already it’s changing the way Alaskans live. And considering the Arctic’s unique role in influencing the global climate, it will accelerate changes to the way that we all live.

And the fact is that climate is changing faster than our efforts to address it. That, ladies and gentlemen, must change. We’re not acting fast enough.

I’ve come here today, as the leader of the world’s largest economy and its second largest emitter, to say that the United States recognizes our role in creating this problem, and we embrace our responsibility to help solve it. And I believe we can solve it. That’s the good news. Even if we cannot reverse the damage that we’ve already caused, we have the means -- the scientific imagination and technological innovation -- to avoid irreparable harm.

We know this because last year, for the first time in our history, the global economy grew and global carbon emissions stayed flat. So we’re making progress; we’re just not making it fast enough.

So we are working hard to do our part to meet this challenge. And in doing so, we’re proving that there doesn’t have to be a conflict between a sound environment and strong economic growth. But we’re not moving fast enough. None of the nations represented here are moving fast enough.

Even America and China together cannot do this alone. Even all the countries represented around here cannot do this alone. We have to do it together.

This year, in Paris, has to be the year that the world finally reaches an agreement to protect the one planet that we’ve got while we still can.

So let me sum up. We know that human activity is changing the climate. That is beyond dispute. Everything else is politics if people are denying the facts of climate change. We can have a legitimate debate about how we are going to address this problem; we cannot deny the science. We also know the devastating consequences if the current trend lines continue. That is not deniable. And we are going to have to do some adaptation, and we are going to have to help communities be resilient, because of these trend lines we are not going to be able to stop on a dime. We’re not going to be able to stop tomorrow.

But if those trend lines continue the way they are, there’s not going to be a nation on this Earth that’s not impacted negatively. People will suffer. Economies will suffer. Entire nations will find themselves under severe, severe problems. More drought; more floods; rising sea levels; greater migration; more refugees; more scarcity; more conflict.

That’s one path we can take. The other path is to embrace the human ingenuity that can do something about it. This is within our power. This is a solvable problem if we start now.

And we’re starting to see that enough consensus is being built internationally and within each of our own body politics that we may have the political will -- finally -- to get moving.

So the time to heed the critics and the cynics and the deniers is past. The time to plead ignorance is surely past. Those who want to ignore the science, they are increasingly alone. They’re on their own shrinking island. (Applause.)

And let’s remember, even beyond the climate benefits of pursuing cleaner energy sources and more resilient, energy-efficient ways of living, the byproduct of it is, is that we also make our air cleaner and safer for our children to breathe. We’re also making our economies more resilient to energy shocks on global markets. We’re also making our countries less reliant on unstable parts of the world. We are gradually powering a planet on its way to 9 billion humans in a more sustainable way.

These are good things. This is not simply a danger to be avoided; this is an opportunity to be seized. But we have to keep going. We’re making a difference, but we have to keep going. We are not moving fast enough.

If we were to abandon our course of action, if we stop trying to build a clean-energy economy and reduce carbon pollution, if we do nothing to keep the glaciers from melting faster, and oceans from rising faster, and forests from burning faster, and storms from growing stronger, we will condemn our children to a planet beyond their capacity to repair: Submerged countries. Abandoned cities. Fields no longer growing. Indigenous peoples who can’t carry out traditions that stretch back millennia. Entire industries of people who can’t practice their livelihoods. Desperate refugees seeking the sanctuary of nations not their own. Political disruptions that could trigger multiple conflicts around the globe.

That’s not a future of strong economic growth. That is not a future where freedom and human rights are on the move. Any leader willing to take a gamble on a future like that -- any so-called leader who does not take this issue seriously or treats it like a joke -- is not fit to lead.

On this issue, of all issues, there is such a thing as being too late. That moment is almost upon us. That’s why we’re here today. That’s what we have to convey to our people -- tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. And that’s what we have to do when we meet in Paris later this year. It will not be easy. There are hard questions to answer. I am not trying to suggest that there are not going to be difficult transitions that we all have to make. But if we unite our highest aspirations, if we make our best efforts to protect this planet for future generations, we can solve this problem."

Your presence here today indicates your recognition of that. But it’s not enough just to have conferences. It’s not enough just to talk the talk. We’ve got to walk the walk. We’ve got work to do, and we’ve got to do it together."

Update: speech embedded below

Salmon is Everyone

President Obama's first stop on his Alaska trip was to a roundtable with Alaska Native leaders.  Don't think Native leaders everywhere didn't notice.  Among other things, it is of enormous significance to them and usefulness to the rest of us that President Obama is actively listening to and enlisting Native peoples in efforts to address the causes and effects of the climate crisis.  The President said:

Since I took office, I’ve been committed to sustaining a government-to-government relationship between the United States and our tribal nations. We host tribal leaders in Washington every year. I’ve visited Indian Country at the Standing Rock Reservation and the Choctaw Nation. This week, we're going to be visiting two more tribal communities here in Alaska -- in Dillingham and Kotzebue.

And in fact, by the end of my time in office, I’ll have visited more communities -- more tribal communities than any previous sitting President, which I feel pretty good about -- in case anybody is keeping track.

Returning Denali 's indigenous name, the mountain known officially as Mount McKinley until yesterday, was a symbolic act of great significance, first to the Native communities, but also to Alaska.  Denali is derived from the Native Koyukon language, and means the Tall One or the Great One.  It is the mountain's traditional name, and has been for 10 to 20 thousand years.

Our non-Native culture may not be able to remember anything from a decade or two ago, but Native cultures, through stories, ceremonies and traditions, continue ties to all of its past.  President Obama noted this as a contribution to the discussion.  (Richard Nelson's books, particularly Make Prayer to the Raven and The Island Within, make specifically Koyukon wisdom accessible and relevant to the modern non-Native world, in this global crisis.)

The discussions in Alaska dealt with the problems of rural Native communities dealing with high energy costs and the clear and present dangers brought by climate change.  These impacts are felt in Alaska as nowhere else (yet) in the US.  Alaska and the Arctic are experiencing global heating at twice the rate as the global average.  Alaska may well be the future for the lower 48.

 The round table also touched on other important (and related) issues, such as:

"My administration also is taking new action to make sure that Alaska Natives have direct input into the management of Chinook salmon stocks, something that has been of great concern here."

Down here on the North Coast of California, a victory was achieved as the last legal challenges to the federally mandated increases in water flow from the cold Trinity River were turned back, and millions of salmon may be saved.  The efforts to have the flow increased were led by tribes, such as the Yurok (the largest indigenous tribe in California) and Hupa.  They have joined their traditional knowledge with expertise in the relevant sciences, and they had quantitative evidence in the language of science that could not be ignored, except by politics.  In this instance, they prevailed.

This past Sunday the reading of much of Salmon is Everything was held in HSU's largest theatre, and it was full--very unusual for a Sunday afternoon, and nothing more elaborate than a reading and talk.   Following the salmon die-off in 2002 on the lower Klamath, the play was created over two years as a collaboration between HSU theatre professors, Native professors and administrators, but largely by Native students (who got stories from their families) and non-Native students and community members.  Its first production was in 2006.

From the discussion Sunday it was clear that with the perspective of time, this process ten years ago was enormously important within Native communities.  One person in the audience said that without the efforts that started with this play, the focus that resulted in this year's victory would not have been achieved.

For the audience of Natives and non-Natives, this reading was another step in a positive ongoing relationship. For the audience of students--particularly first years in the STEM program--the reading and discussion afterwards could be an inspiration that can guide their academic careers and perhaps stay with them for the rest of their lives.

This reading followed an appearance by Anna Deavere Smith in Klamath, on the Yurok reservation last Monday.  Though her emphasis was on education, she performed one character directly pertinent to these issues--a fisherman who talked about the meaning of the salmon and the river to the Yurok culture.  For a little more about both events, go here.

Native cultures here realize in a specific, particular way that to save the salmon is to save themselves.  In different ways, in the context of the climate crisis and the ecological crisis of global dimensions, it is true of all of us.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Roosevelt & Hopkins: FDR's Last Words and Postscript

This is the last of a series on Roosevelt & Hopkins, a book by playwright and presidential aide Robert Sherwood about President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his close aide Harry Hopkins during World War II, published in 1948. 

This month marks the 70th anniversary of the first and so far only times that atomic bombs were used on human populations, in August 1945, when American planes bombed the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

  FDR died in office several months earlier (April 12,1945) but he had approved the Manhattan Project and knew that scientists at Los Alamos were close to constructing an atomic bomb. (The first test bomb was successfully exploded on July 16, 1945.)  The Project was highly secret, and Robert Sherwood, among others who worked in the White House, did not know about it.

Robert Sherwood was among other things a speechwriter for FDR, although Roosevelt did the final drafts.  The last speech Sherwood worked on was the last speech FDR wrote, for Jefferson Day (April 13.)  He would not live to deliver his prepared remarks.

Sherwood writes (pp. 879-80):

“For the Jefferson Day speech, he asked me to look up some Jefferson quotations on the subject of science. He said, ‘There aren’t many people who realize it, but Jefferson was a scientist as well as a democrat and there were some things he said that need to be repeated now, because science is going to be more important than ever in the working out of the future world.’

The Jefferson quotation that I found, and that Roosevelt used in his undelivered speech, referred to ‘the brotherly spirit of science, which unites into one family all it votaries of whatever grade, and however widely dispersed throughout the different quarters of the globe.’

I did not know it at the time but I realized later that when Roosevelt spoke of the importance of science in the future he was undoubtedly thinking of the imminence of the atomic age.  He said in his last speech, “Today we are faced with the pre-eminent fact that, if civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships—the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to live together and work together in the same world, at peace.”

The immense responsibilities of World War II and a 13 year presidency during the Depression and the war very likely shortened FDR's life.  Harry Hopkins life was almost over even before the war began.  He was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 1939 and given weeks to live.  FDR got the best medical experts available and transfusions with blood plasma were credited with halting Hopkins deterioration.

Then the war came and Hopkins' life was dedicated to winning it.  He made numerous trips aboard and was FDR's most trusted diplomat with allies.  Both Churchill and Stalin thought highly and even affectionately of Hopkins, and his diplomacy and counsel were instrumental in the successful management of this immense undertaking.  The world had never seen anything like it before, or since.

After FDR's death, Hopkins tried to retire but the new President Truman needed him to continue diplomacy particularly with the Soviets until the end of the war.  He died about five months after the war officially ended, on January 29, 1946.  He was 55.

FDR's political enemies could be verbally vicious as well as obstructive (some Republicans were still talking that way ten or fifteen years after his death, when I was a child.)  But FDR's popularity, and his position as the leader of the free world in wartime, muted much of that expression.

Instead, Republicans (and their newspaper loyalists) turned their hatred on Hopkins, FDR's closest aide who for most of the war actually lived in the White House.  What they didn't dare say about Roosevelt, they said about Hopkins, with impunity.  Hopkins had three sons serving in the armed forces.  One of them was killed in combat in 1943, and combined with Hopkins periodic illness from overwork, caused Harry to be hospitalized.  Sherwood writes (p. 807):

“When Hopkins moved early in May [1943] from Rochester, Minnesota to the Army’s Ashford General Hospital in White Sulphur Springs, there were the usual protests from some of the press. ‘Who entitles this representative of Rooseveltian squandermania to treatment and nursing in an Army hospital?’ was one of the questions. The War Department issued a statement that Hopkins was entitled to this hospitalization as Chairman of the Munitions Assignment Board and that the Secretary of War had authorized his admission.”

In 1948, Sherwood concluded this long book with passages (on p. 932) that ought to be pretty sobering right now in 2015:

“The remarkable luck that we have had in meeting major emergencies in the past should not prevent us now from giving most serious consideration to the question: where is the guarantee that this luck will hold? 

 Presumably it lies in the genius of the American people, but one does not need to have access to any secret documents to know how difficult it is for this genius to express itself or even to realize itself. In the fateful years of 1933 and 1940 the people needed and demanded leadership which could be given to them only by the President, the one officer of government who is elected by all the people and whose duty is to represent the interests of the nation as a whole rather than the purely local or special interests which are too often the predominant concerns of the Congress.

 There is no factor in our national life more dangerous than the people’s lack of confidence in the Congress to rise above the level of picayune parochialism; the threats of Communism or Fascism are trivial as compared with this.”

Referring to the new Atomic Age, Sherwood concludes (p.933): “Our need for great men in the Presidency will continue, and our need for great men in the Congress will increase.”  Today he would add "and women" in both cases, but the point remains the same.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Whose Party Now? And Obama Recharged

I know, I swore to ignore the 2016 presidential race.  Because basically it's a waste of energy and attention.  Jonathan Chiat states my analysis and I don't see it changing: assuming she is nominated, Hillary will win because she's not crazy, and all the Republicans are.

But I can't help but notice how Donald Trump is driving the Republicans crazier.  I saw the headline on my news feed today that Scott Walker proposes a border wall---with Canada.  I had to click on it to make sure it wasn't Borowitz or the Onion.  It isn't.

Trump is as close to crazy as an apparently functional human can be, and not even in a complicated way.  He only knows two judgments: fabulous or terrible, and all he does is state this without much more than a shred of factual evidence, if that.  Trump is bullshit and he's always been bullshit.  When I was editor of Washington Newsworks in 1976 he was a young developer who came to town with a proposal for a convention center.  Our reporter on this story (who later went on to report and edit for the New York Times) thought he was bullshit then.  So that's 40 years of bullshit.  Good way to become a billionaire (if he actually is.)  That may make it smell sweeter for some.  But it doesn't alter what it is.

 But right now he's being taken seriously in a political sense, and Chiat's latest column on this is interesting in that he feels sure Trump is going to wind up running as an independent or third party candidate.   And as Chiat wrote in a previous column, he's going to lose because he is crazy. (While as Rolling Stone says, he may no longer be funny, he's crazy like a dictator.) An independent candidacy will also doom the Republican candidate.  The problems he is causing other Republican candidates are analysed here. 

While we're hanging out at the New York Magazine site, the top rated post for about a week now is an interview with film director Quentin Tarantino.  It's wide-ranging and culturally interesting, and contains a political note about President Obama.  You supported Obama.  How do you think he's done? the interviewer asks.  The fashionable thing is to express disappointment if not disillusionment. But that's not what Tarantino does:

"I think he’s fantastic. He’s my favorite president, hands down, of my lifetime. He’s been awesome this past year. Especially the rapid, one-after-another-after-another-after-another aspect of it. It’s almost like take no prisoners. His he-doesn’t-give-a-shit attitude has just been so cool. Everyone always talks about these lame-duck presidents. I’ve never seen anybody end with this kind of ending. All the people who supported him along the way that questioned this or that and the other? All of their questions are being answered now."

The Washington Post has a nice summary of the President's just concluded vacation, from which he's returned (he says) recharged and feisty.  Tomorrow it's Alaska and ramping up the visibility of the climate crisis. 100 days to save the world.

Monday, August 24, 2015

100 Days to Save the World

Imagination is not a talent of some men but is the health of every man.
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

It's a hard time to be hopeful.  ISIS wantonly destroys the sacred elegances of the past, while beheading and raping innocents of the present.  Terrorists and psychotics use easily obtained and operated lethal firearms to massacre innocents in any ordinary place, while political cynics make sure they remain well-armed. Fearful fanatics seem to dominate all politics; racism and other reactionary passions are seemingly ascendant, making trump cards out of what would ordinarily be jokers.  There are alarming examples of destructive fanaticism on what our impoverished dialogue insistently calls the Left as well as the Right. There is a smell of chaos, caught and eagerly exploited by proudly evil and cowardly trolls in cyberspace and beyond.  It seems that where evil, insanity and cynical greed do not reign, debilitating distraction does.

In short, civilization seems to be falling apart at the moment when it is most needed, when it is most urgent to face up to crisis conditions in the larger contexts of all life on Earth.

But there are contending forces also rising to confront these challenges, to try to save the world and its civilizations, although in better form.  There are visions, organizations, heroic individuals, movements, projects; there are designs in the practical, physical world that offer the hope of new energy systems, new economics and so on.   Many of the books I've mentioned here and elsewhere before (like Down to the Wire, Eaarth, The Great Disruption, America The Possible, and a later entry I haven't mentioned, Klein's This Changes Everything)  that delineate near and far future challenges of the climate crisis, also suggest that meeting these challenges could make the world a better place in other ways--healthier, more just and sustainable, in which humanity flourishes in a world made safe for life.

All of that remains the work of generations.  For this moment, the upcoming and urgent task is to get some international agreement that gives the planet a chance by limiting and phasing out greenhouse gases, in the quantities and in in the timeframe that today's best science suggests will give us a fighting chance to save the future.

An excellent article by John Sutter at CNN entitled "100 Days to Save the World" outlines the reasons, the tasks and especially the reasons to hope that this time when nations meet in Paris in November and December, they will meet this challenge.

Much is moving towards this moment.  The encyclical by Pope Francis, endorsed by leaders of other Christian sects,  preceded the recent Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change   which asserts that for Muslims, addressing the climate crisis is a religious duty.  It calls for a future of 100% renewable energy, and specifically for a climate treaty this year.

“To chase after unlimited economic growth in a planet that is finite and already overloaded is not viable," the declaration said.

To underline the factual claim behind this moral imperative, also last week:

We’re not even nine months into 2015, but by Wednesday humans had consumed an entire year’s worth of natural resources since Jan. 1, according to the Global Footprint Network.

Global Overshoot Day is perhaps a too-cute marketing moniker for what is the most ominous fact of all, for this is the kind of deficit spending that really can't go on.  It is of course not the first such day--though it comes almost a week earlier this year than last.  According to GFN: "Earth Overshoot Day is meant as an approximation rather than an exact date. Still, the data shows that humanity’s demand on nature is at an unsustainable level — one year is no longer enough to regenerate humanity’s annual demand on the planet.”

Not only are humans living beyond the means of the planet to sustain that kind of life, even more evidence arrived last week that humanity has become the most destructive predator on the planet, wiping out predator animals also at an unsustainable rate, with consequences all along the food chain--up as well as down.

The climate crisis makes all of this worse, and even in the near term (another study finds) will likely lead to the most political volatile condition: "food shocks," meaning food shortages and price spikes.

So there is plenty of motivation available for leaders from all nations to meaningfully address the climate crisis, which is the bare minimum but could be the change that opens opportunities for much more, as other factors (especially the advancing technologies and falling costs of renewable energy) move in a positive direction.

Within the US, where support for addressing the climate crisis is substantial but below many other rich nations, there are fascinating findings outlined in an earlier CNN post by John D. Sutter.   In the form of a quiz, he reviews these findings: though 97% of the world's working climate scientists affirm the reality of the climate crisis and its greenhouse gases emissions cause,  only 10% of the American public knows that they do, the fact of this stunning unanimity.  Yet 70% say that they trust climate scientists above all to give them the correct information.

The US doesn't score high on the percentage of people that "believe in" the climate crisis, but on the other hand, only 9% are "sure" it doesn't exist.  And 70% support strict emissions regs on power plants.

There is an opportunity for everyone in these stats, Sutter points out: 67% of Americans surveyed say they strongly or somewhat trust family and friends on this issue.  Currently, 74% say they rarely or never talk about climate change.  This is the denialists' second greatest victory (after buying the Republican party and its obstructionists), for clearly people aren't anxious to get into what they fear will be violent arguments.  In 2008 that number was lower, at 60%.

What will reverse that? President Obama will do his part, as Pope Francis and the UN Secretary General visit in September, and the climate crisis is sure to be talked about.

But it will likely take friends and family as well, although it might start with more controversy than calm. Nobody wanted to talk about the Vietnam war or the draft in the 1960s, until their children demanded it by making a lot of noise.  Climate organizations are making their demonstration plans, so there will more noise made in this next 100 days.  To save the world.