Author: Dan Shafer

Interactive Bloomberg Chart Makes it Clear: Global Warming is Our Doing


This is one of the clearest data representations I’ve seen demonstrating the truth of the argument that it is human factors that produce greenhouse gases that is the primary driver of global climate change.

Globe on fire in folded human handsIn separate takes (keep clicking at the bottom of the screen), the chart (from Bloomberg, hardly a bastion of the “L” word), maps all of the major proposed “explanations” for global climate change that are not — at least entirely — humanity’s doing: the natural orbit variations of the earth; solar activity; volcanoes; all for those combined; deforestation; ozone pollution; and, aerosol pollution.

The bottom line: Nope, it really is greenhouse gases, which are caused by human pollution-based behaviors which can be modified with no scientific breakthroughs or major policy initiatives. All it takes is for enough human beings to become aware of the problem and willing to do something about it.

Yep, that’s “all it takes.”

When is a Religious “Principle” Not a Religious “Principle”? When It’s Politically Inconvenient

GOP Presidential hopeful Jeb! (no-last-name-needed) hides behind his adopted Catholicism to defend his position on marriage equality but declines to take his Pope’s teachings about the environment at face value. In doing so, he follows in the grand tradition of the liberal wing of the Catholic Church which has long displayed a kind of “cafeteria Catholicism” (a term I borrowed from American Conservative columnist Rob Dreher).

But if he reserves the right to disavow Pope Francis’ teachings on climate change as revealed in the Pontiff’s release last week of a major encyclical on the subject, then he can’t justify his opposition to gay marriage solely on the basis of Church teachings. He simply can’t have it both ways without revealing a kind of political pragmatism that defies any claim to political principle.

In a story posted on Grist, columnist Mark Joseph Stern wrote, “the candidate seems to follow Catholic teachings when they align with the Republican Party — and dismiss them when they don’t.” Furthermore, he denounced the climate change encyclical even before it was released and, therefore, clearly without having read it. Good, practicing Catholics are not required to agree with or follow the Pope’s teachings as embodied in his encyclicals, but they are required to give those views thoughtful and careful consideration, according to this article from the Catholic News Agency.

Nearly one-third of Congress is Catholic. If all of these politicians were good, practicing Catholics, they would be expected to give serious consideration to Pope Francis’ well-researched and incisive (as well as insightful) teachings on this complex subject. (Yes, I have in fact read the 180-page document in its entirety, which I suspect few if any of those in Congress have done.) If they did that, I suspect it would dramatically shift the tenor of the debate in Congress on climate change policy.

Predictably, Gun Nuts Blame Dead Pastor for SC Church Shootings

“If only he’d supported the right to carry in churches, eight of his parishioners would still be alive.” That’s the pronouncement from a number of nationally prominent gun nuts in the wake of Wednesday’s mass killing at an historic African-American church in Charlotte, South Carolina.

According to this piece on Huffington Post, National Rifle Association board member Charles L. Cotton took that position on a Texas discussion board. The NRA seldom comments diretly on mass shootings. Also voicing that indefensible and insensitive position as right-wing radio talk show host Bryan Fischer (who stopped just short of directly blaming the Rev. and State Sen. Clementa Pinckney). Conservatives rushed to the airwaves all over the nation to express the same insanity.

The underlying theory that you can stop violence with violence has never once been true in the history of humanity and it still is not today. Violence is a cycle. Someone — generally someone more civilized, more enlightened, more compassionate — must be the first to say, “Enough!” The NRA’s political clout is a myth. It’s time to call their bluff and pass meaningful outright registration and permitting rules for gun ownership. As President Obama pointed out — again — yesterday, we are the only developed nation in the world that still allows the private ownership and indiscriminate use of guns.

Enough, dammit!

Progressives Stick to Their Guns, Derail Obama’s Request for Fast-Tracking Trade Authority

I was delighted at the news today that progressive Democrats in solidarity with labor and environmental activists disrupted President Obama’s ill-considered attempt to get Congress to give him authority to fast-track a secret trade treaty with 11 Pacific Rim nations.

My congressman, Sam Farr, announced on Thursday on his Web site that he would vote with the Republicans and Obama on this legislation, which I wrote and phoned him urging a change of heart.

I don’t know whether the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) is 100% bad or only more than half bad. But I do know it’s been negotiated in secret, its draft provisions are being guarded as if they were nuclear weapons plans, even our elected representatives in Congress have been cut out of the loop, and the draft provisions that have been leaked are uniformly bad trade policy. Today’s vote made it impossible, without further concessions by the Administration, for Obama to get the fast-track authority he sought for the treaty.

Even though the House followed the resounding 297-127 defeat of the first bill (Trade Adjustment Authority, or TAA) with the narrowest possible 219-211 win on what was generally seen as the main bill (Trade Promotion Authority, or TPA), the first vote essentially rendered the second meaningless. Without its provisions, TPA is a hollow shell of its former self.

This means that if President Obama wants to continue to negotiate the TPP and submit it to Congress, it won’t be for a straight up-or-down-no-debate-or-amendments procedure by the legislature. Which means it will be a more transparent process. Which is what Obama always said he wanted, except when being transparent was too inconvenient for him and his tightly secretive inner circle have been from Day One.


McKibben to Obama: Here’s a Climate Change To Do List for Your Last 18 Months

Environmental champion Bill McKibben, the guy who pioneered investigation of what we now call global climate change, has issued a special open letter to President Barack Obama urging him to take more aggressive action in his remaining months in office. He suggests that there is still time — but not much — for Obama to become known to history as a climate change champion.

Here, in brief summary, are the key steps McKibben encourages Obama to consider as he wraps up his eight years as President. The list is derived from one prepared by a team of scientists at Nature magazine.

  1. Say no to the Keystone XL Pipeline once and for all. Those Canadian Tar Sands oil deposits are among those scientists agree must stay in the ground.
  2. Stop all Arctic drilling. Same rationale as the Keystone XL Pipeline; this is oil best left in place.
  3. Stop the sale of coal rights in the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming dead in its tracks.
  4. Reverse your stand favoring vastly increased offshore drilling in the United States.

As McKibben notes in the full article (which I commend to your attention), these are all things the President can do without Congress, which is about the only way he can get anything done in Washington these days.

How about it, Mr. President? What’s your earth legacy going to be?


China May Provide Breath of Fresh Air, Be Key to Avoiding Climate Change’s Worst Outcomes

I love to put positive spin on stories that seem not to have such an angle.

Today, at Grist, a story appeared that suggested that China may be so far ahead of its announced plan to reduce greenhouse gases that, “The world could stay within the internationally agreed-upon limit of 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) of warming above pre-industrial levels.”

Say what!?

That’s right. According to a report [PDF] from the prestigious London School of Economics and reported on Grist, China’s move away from dirty coal is accelerating to a point where, emissions “could peak even earlier than” now promised and begin to fall rapidly thereafter. Based on earlier studies and Chinese commitments, it has been estimated that “China’s greenhouse gas emissions are likely to peak, and then begin to taper, around 2025.” But the new analysis suggests the picture might be much, much rosier.

How deliciously ironic would it be if China, a Communist nation of planned economies and tight government control, is able to make such a dramatic change in policy while the Republican Congress of the United States continues to argue that climate change isn’t real and in any case isn’t humanity’s doing? You can see it coming, right? China — not singlehandedly but in large part — staves off the worst of the effects of global climate change, thus essentially saving the human race, and the conservative knuckle-draggers in this country point to their success and say, “See? We told you global climate change wasn’t real and that y’all were just alarmists!”


Growth is the Problem, Not the Solution

distributive_justice_bumper_stickerA friend and colleague recently shared with me yet another economic analysis from yet another economist who was struggling with the question of how to maintain perpetual growth in the economy to keep pace with — or, better, exceed — the rate of growth of the population.

I responded that this economist, like so many of his professional colleagues, is missing — or perhaps deliberately blinding himself to — the underlying Truth about which few if any of them wish to talk.

Growth is the problem, not the solution or even a path to the solution.

We must learn to live with enough rather than demanding excess. We must create a stable economy in which continual growth is recognized for the impossibility it has always been.

Every single resource that must be consumed (and ultimately depleted) to fuel the fires of economic growth is in finite supply. Every reliable indicator — not just from science but from every other area of human endeavor and understanding — points clearly to the impossibility of us continuing to increase the rate at which we consume these largely non-renewable resources.

As long as all of our economic indicators and processes depend on a growing economy, we will keep driving the engines of creation into the ditches of greed.

Distribution, not retribution, must characterize our systems of economic justice.

It is well past time to wake up to this Truth. We need to attempt to reach the point of population equilibrium (Zero Population Growth, or ZPG). We must learn to recognize the absolute and inalienable right of every human being to adequate food, shelter, water, medical care and personal safety. And then we must figure out how to reallocate the distribution of those goods across the broad population of the planet, to diminish or demolish the have-have not gap that keeps us from recognizing our fundamental Oneness.

Saline-Resistant Rice: More Hope for Dealing With Climate Change

It is almost certainly not true that technology will ride to the rescue of the planet as it warms past catastrophic levels but technology can and is helping to mitigate some of the damage being done by humans to Gaia.

The latest one to cross my desk is the breeding (without genetic modification) of new strains of rice that grow fine in salty water. This is proving particularly interesting in Bangladesh, the world’s sixth-largest rice producer. Even though farmers there are reluctant to adopt new seeds, increasing visible evidence suggesting that the new rice is as tasty and nutritious as the older form but thrives in the super-salinated water that has arisen in the Bangladesh delta regions, is beginning to have an impact.

Check out the whole story on this blog post.


“So What You’re Saying Is…” Reasons for Hope on Climate Change

David Roberts at posted a column a couple of weeks ago responding to peoples’ reactions to an earlier piece he’d written on the problems associated with trying to prevent the global temperature from exceeding a 2-degree Centigrade temperature increase in the next 50 years. The original piece was fairly pessimistic, but factual. In response, he got a range of comments, most of which, he says, were reactions to things he decidedly did not say. Teasing out of his responses to those mistaken assumptions, Roberts says what he really wants us to hear are:

It’s not hopeless. “Social change is non-linear. What will be technologically feasible in 2050, or 2080? What political changes will take place between now and then? We have virtually no idea.” Although he admits that, ” He continues, “Hoping for a fundamental shift in human consciousness and politics in the next 10 to 15 years amounts to hoping for a miracle. That’s what hoping for 2°C means — banking on a miracle. Which is fine. It’s great to have hope!”

Only ostriches benefit from keeping their heads in the sand as the globe warms up. And that's temporary.

Only ostriches benefit from keeping their heads in the sand as the globe warms up. And that’s temporary.

We should not give up. “We can’t un-ring the bell, though; every bit of CO2-driven warming is, for human intents and purposes, permanent. Sorry, then, but no one’s allowed to give up — our children and grandchildren will still be fighting this battle. Even if it does become finally, physically impossible to hit 2°C, so what? Carbon emissions still need to be driven to zero as quickly as possible to avoid even higher temperatures. The fight remains the same, no matter the temperature outcome.”

We should not abandon the target temperature. “The 2°C limit can be a useful marker, a statement of common purpose, without being the primary policy driver. For policy, there are more useful, less abstract, less distant goals, like the percentage of clean electricity in the power system, the rate of deforestation, or the level of investment in clean energy RD&D and infrastructure.”

Scientists are not big fat liars. Roberts points out that he did not “accuse scientists of faking anything, despite what a few Twitter trolls concluded. Climate modelers don’t have to make anything up or lie about anything to make 2°C scenarios work. They just have to tweak various contestable assumptions with a wide range of plausible inputs.” He admits that scientists could do a better job of communicating that information and those limitations but sheepishly suggests that scientists “can’t do everything.” Responsible reporters covering the subject have an obligation here as well.

So what is he saying? “Right now we are mitigating for 4°C and adapting for 2°C; we need to do the opposite. If we’re going to hit 3°C or 4°C this century, we need to start making the investments necessary to ameliorate the effects (a process somewhat deceptively known as “adaptation”). This is especially true in poorer countries already ill-prepared for natural disasters, food and water shortages, and resource conflicts. [T]he task ahead remains the same: to get to zero carbon, or as close as possible, as soon as possible; to prepare for a hotter, more volatile future; to protect the most vulnerable, who did the least to cause the problem; and, along the way, to tell the truth about how we’re doing.”

This summary is just that, a summary. I encourage you to read the piece in its entirety. It’s not as hopeless as it sometimes seems, but it’s certainly not a rosy outlook either, particularly if politicians and governments keep playing the ostrich.