Thursday, May 24, 2012

Political Climate Crisis

The reality is undeniable.  According to the World Meteorological Organization of the UN, last decade (2001-2010) was the warmest globally since records began in 1850.  Nine of the 10 past years are among the 10 warmest all-time.  Global land and sea surface temperatures are 0.46 C above the longterm average. That 10 year period was "marked by extreme levels of rain or snowfall, leading to significant flooding on all continents, while droughts affected parts of East Africa and North America."

All of this was predicted by the models based on global heating.  The science based on research of thousands of years of physical evidence (ice cores, etc.), and the basic physics of what happens when greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere, they all agree. 

But there are still those who deny the undeniable.  Why?  Apart from other explanations (including psychological factors explored here in the "climate inside" series) that he doesn't contradict, Chris Mooney offers his perceptions.

First, he suggests that denial is shrinking--and getting more specific.  "The denial of global warming is no longer mainstream within corporate America or the fossil fuel industry, then—and that can only be considered a major achievement. And yet at the same time, it is stronger than ever among Tea Partiers and the Republican Party itself. And this fact—that these traditional industry allies have themselves diverged with industry on the matter—surely demonstrates that this is not really a live scientific issue any longer. It is a political issue."

But why?  Corporatist GOPers, not hard to figure out.  But the Rabid Religious Right?  The Tea Partisans? Mooney's answer:   "To understand how to ultimately defeat climate denial, you first have to understand what it is: motivated reasoning on behalf of individualist values. What this means is that libertarian types—often white and malewho have decided that the climate issue is something that environmentalists concocted to impose global socialism will come up with any reason to attack the science that their minds can create. And the human mind can create an awful lot of reasons. Especially among the intelligent."

This is at least a rationale that is of a piece with a lot of other related rhetoric.  It relates to a suspicion of anything big, government or corporations.  And the most important part of it is the suspicion that the cost of efforts to end greenhouse gas pollution will fall on the individual, not corporations or government.  It will be individuals (and families) who will have to do without, and pay more for getting less.

This is an analysis that absolutely has to be kept in mind in crafting specific solutions. There is no doubt that the deck is stacked against the 99%, and it is stacked at least partly by corporate power through government.  That it gets confused and conflated with socialism, totalitarian world government, oppression of white people, etc. does not completely invalidate this perception.

Mooney goes on to suggest that the way the Rabid Right denialism will lose its political potency is when something like Cap & Trade becomes a reality, becomes the new normal.  He suggests that even as early as this summer, if it is as hot and ripped with violent weather as previous months suggest it might be, the political will to do so may start coming together.

We'll see about summer and how it plays into this Big and possibly Fatal Choice election, but I have my doubts about his analysis of how denialism will dwindle.  I think immediately of the Affordable Care Act, and how denialism of a different kind, and virulent political opposition, has not abated much since it was passed, and has begun to become part of the new normal.

As big a political factor as denialism is in the United States, it is not the only factor in the failure to confront the Climate Crisis.  This detailed report based on tapes made in meetings of world leaders during the Copenhagen climate summit provides a pretty clear picture of the geopolitical barriers:  besides the U.S. political lacunae, there is the desire of developing countries (China and India especially) to keep on developing unfettered by carbon limits (at least until they've cornered markets on green technologies.)  Only Europe had the political will to set limits, and who knows if even European nations would be so unified today. 

Update: On precisely this topic, nations again fail to agree on action, with pretty much the same dynamic.

Another bit of perspective is gained by Joshua Green, who points out that without the GOPers rampant misuse of the filibuster over the past three plus years, we would be living in a different America, the first part of which is especially relevant to this theme: "Had the filibuster not applied, the United States would have a market-based system to control carbon emissions, which would limit the damage from global warming, vitalize the clean technology sector, and challenge other large polluters like China and India to do the same. The new health care law would have a public option. Children of undocumented immigrants who served two years in the military or went to college could become US citizens. Women paid less than their male colleagues because of their gender would have broader legal recourse against their employers. Billionaires would not be able to manipulate the political system from behind a veil of anonymity. 

Dozens of vacant judgeships would have been filled. The Federal Reserve would have operated with a full slate of governors, including Nobel Prize-winning economist Peter Diamond. Elizabeth Warren would be director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, not a candidate for the Senate. And Mitt Romney would be paying a higher tax rate than the 13.9 percent he shelled out in 2010, since a provision to end the carried-interest tax break wouldn’t have died in the Senate. (By my math, that filibuster saved Romney $1,480,000 in 2010 alone, the difference between the 15 percent he paid on $7.4 million earned in carried interest and the top marginal rate of 35 percent.)"

                  I still believe in global warming.  Do You?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Lives of Quiet Inspiration

We may think about what would happen in our lives if a sudden disaster strikes.  Much of the dread associated with apocalyptic scenarios assumes the worst, not only in what happens, but in how people respond.  But real situations don't always turn out that way.  In fact, they usually don't.  In this speech to the Joplin High School Class of 2012, a year after the catastrophic tornado there, President Obama describes the values that help get a community through, both in general terms but most tellingly in the specific case of Joplin.  He returns often to the theme of how these values are imprinted on these students because of what they've experienced there in the past year. 

"As you begin the next stage in your journey, wherever you’re going, whatever you’re doing, it’s safe to say you will encounter greed and selfishness, and ignorance and cruelty, sometimes just bad luck. You’ll meet people who try to build themselves up by tearing others down. You’ll meet people who believe that looking after others is only for suckers. But you’re from Joplin. So you will remember, you will know, just how many people there are who see life differently; those who are guided by kindness and generosity and quiet service."

" And so, my deepest hope for all of you is that as you begin this new chapter in your life, you’ll bring that spirit of Joplin to every place you travel, to everything you do. You can serve as a reminder that we’re not meant to walk this road alone, that we’re not expected to face down adversity by ourselves."

"Yes, you will encounter obstacles along the way," President Obama concluded.  "I guarantee you will face setbacks and you will face disappointments. But you’re from Joplin and you’re from America. And no matter how tough times get, you’ll always be tougher. And no matter what life throws at you, you will be ready. You will not be defined by the difficulties you face, but by how you respond -- with grace and strength and a commitment to others."

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

“The fundamental job of the imagination in ordinary life, then, is to produce, out of the society we have to live in, a vision of the society we want to live in.”

Northrup Frye

Photo: by Jason Major in Texas--one of many of the annular eclipse of the sun on Sunday.  It would have been visible here except for our customary North Coast cloud cover.  There was some eerie light at dusk, though.  I imagine this is what it would have looked like, on the top of the hill leading down to the Arcata downtown, as the sun set over the bay.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Whither the Weather?

With some of the hottest winter and spring months on record in the U.S. just behind us,  these forecasters say we're in for a hot summer.  Their methodology and predictions are a lot more limited than the headline suggests, but the dryness of soil bumping up the temps by a degree suggests how many "small" effects combine to create a cycle that feeds on itself.

Here on the North Coast, by the way, the pollen is so heavy that people who care about such things can't keep their cars clean of it.  More to the point for me, there are more and more severe spring colds that are exacerbated by hay fever.  I'm just coming out of one myself, and I hardly ever get colds.

In Climate Crisis news,  a new study concludes "A safe haven could be out of reach for 9 percent of the Western Hemisphere's mammals, and as much as 40 percent in certain regions, because the animals just won't move swiftly enough to outpace climate change."  This is about the ability of mammals (large and small) to migrate when conditions threaten them.  Apart from the specific animal species ability--which is usually greater than human animals would predict--the barriers are the cities and highways in the way.

One of the fears about Arctic melting is the possible release of methane gas, a very potent greenhouse gas which could accelerate the Climate Crisis beyond current predictions.  A new study shows evidence of methane release in various Arctic locations.

Another study looks at an area where Climate Crisis models predict changes, and those changes are happening: the salinity in the oceans.  The effects of these changes are what the models predict: dry areas getting drier, wet areas getting wetter, which in addition to longterm effects translates into longer and more severe droughts, and more floods.

Meanwhile, fire season in the West started early--for example, in Arizona (above photo.)

Any good news?  Yes. Power generation from carbon-spewing coal in the U.S. has fallen 19% in one year.  But the Obama initiatives to replace coal with green energy may founder as GOPer Congress threatens federal tax breaks for green industry.  Although not of course subsidies to oil and coal.