Tag: Climate Change

Key to Democratic Party Future: Learn to Capitalize on GOP Blunders and Stupidity

The Democratic Party has for many decades — since the 1930’s in fact — has apparently been unable to respond aggressively and clearly to repeated horrific governance decisions made by the Republican Party. I don’t know if the Democrats are afraid of not playing nice and thereby offending someone who might be not quite a Republican or if they’re just inept. Probably some of both.

But a footnote to an insightful piece appearing today on Huffington Post brought the problem into stark relief for me. The article was about Fox’s George Will’s “firing offense” uttered during an interview about the economic policies of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1930’s. During the interview, Will, a right-wing polemicist whose primary claim to fame is a good vocabulary, made this comment about the way the depression was handled and the cause of a recession that took place for 9 months during the depression:

There is a serious argument to be made that Roosevelt stopped too soon. Far from being bold, he wasn’t bold enough, because the recession within the depression that came along in 1937 came because they prematurely declared victory.

In other words, in the context of both the interview and the history he was reviewing, Will suggested that a good argument could be made that cutting government spending (stimulus) too soon caused the recession and prolonged the Depression.

This kind of thinking, as the article points out, is right-wing heresy. And while Will still has his job at Fox, it’s safe to bet that high-level conversations about his future with the network are being conducted as you read this.

HuffPo columnist Paul Abrams placed a footnote at the point in the text when he was discussing Will’s heretical comment. Here’s the footnote itself:

Note how nothing has changed on the Right. Despite their opposing all of FDR’s spending in the first place, despite calling for even more precipitous cuts in spending that would have made everything even worse, they had no embarrassment, no twinge of intellectual dishonesty, calling it the Roosevelt Recession. Today, they [falsely] accuse Obama of cutting Medicare, whereas they would destroy it, forever. The difference is today’s Democrats are so inept, they cannot make hay of it, whereas FDR did. (Emphasis added)

The Democrats, if they are to regain any sort of legislative control nationally or in the states, must call out Republicans when they make outlandishly ridiculous, historically inaccurate, ignorant comments such as can be heard and read on all of the mainstream and progressive news media in great numbers every day. As distasteful as I find it, name-calling may well need to become the Order of the Day.

Climate change deniers’ comments are in fact unsupported by the science, self-serving and incomplete, but those high-falutin’ judgments don’t win voters. Let’s call them what they are: dangerous, selfish, ignorant, and flat-out wrong. The people who espouse such views are not well-meaning, misguided individuals, they are selfish, narrow-minded bigots interested only in political pandering. They either know they’re wrong in which case they are immoral pursuers of power at any cost, or they don’t realize they’re wrong in which case they ought not be qualified to hold public office. There is no sense in which this subject comes down to different ways of accomplishing the same goal. The planet is in danger. The human race really could become extinct. And as my favorite video on this subject argues, even if 97% of scientists are wrong, fixing the problem is less expensive than not fixing it in any case.

Democrats need to be bold, to call foul when confronted with willful ignorance or political pandering. To use clear, unambiguous language to call out the opposition and force them to defend their positions with facts and science, not ancient holy books and centuries-old prejudices.

I don’t expect this to happen. I expect the Democrats to continue to try to out-Republican the Republicans, to tread lightly when describing their opponents despite the ugly language used against them, to turn the other cheek and to cede control to the Party of No. That’s one of many reasons why I’m a Green.

Belief in Special Creation is Not a Harmless ‘Difference of Opinion’

It probably doesn’t surprise you that less than half of Americans believe in evolution by natural selection. (According to this piece, it’s actually 48%, with much smaller percentages of conservatives accepting what has long been accepted science.)

By way of comparison, only 9-17% of UK residents believe creationism is the correct explanation for human life. Similar numbers, though trending somewhat lower, prevail elsewhere in Europe. (For a detailed analysis of the state of this belief situation in 2006, check out this piece.)

Until recently, I’ve dismissed these ignorant-by-choice citizens on the grounds that it’s basically harmless whether or not they buy into evolution, unlike the colossal worldwide and nearly universal damage that is being caused by their scientific cousins, the climate change deniers.

I think I was wrong.

If you believe that a God (who is only accessible through a specific spiritual path) created everything in the Universe — or at least on Earth — specially and individually, then you believe that mankind is unique and that it stands at the pinnacle of that creation. By creating a completely fictional disconnect between mankind and the entirety of remaining creation, you remove from homo sapiens any obligation to nurture, care for or even care about any other animal or plant life on the planet. This makes you believe you live outside the ecosystem that is planet Earth. In that name of that superiority you can justify slaughter, deprivation of habitat, extinction, enslavement and other abuse of fellow creatures of all varieties.

Creationists_ReadOneBookToon450OBut it is even more dangerous than those observations would indicate. If you are the result of an act of special creation by God, what of those who are different from you in your own race (by which I mean humanity, not ethnicity)? Are they also equal and superior? Broad evidence fails to support that hoped-for observation. Western Europeans who invaded and colonized North America slaughtered millions of natives who had lived on the land with various degrees of peacefulness for many centuries before their arrival, all in the name of superiority and by demonizing and declaring savages those who stood in the way of their expansionism, to which they felt Divinely entitled.

Do American conservative Evangelicals and Republicans believe, e.g., that all Muslims were also specially created by God? That we are all part of one humanity under God? Again, broad evidence suggests the contrary. The same may be said, of course, of those fanatics who form the lunatic fringe of any religious grouping.

A belief in special creation is completely incompatible with a belief in our inherent and Divine Oneness as a species. And, as I’ve written many, many times over the past decade or two, until we grasp and integrate our Oneness, we cannot solve the myriad of problems we face as humanity, problems which transcend national, cultural, racial and religious borders. Resisting Oneness is another insidious effect of the belief in special creation.

It really is essential that we begin working together as humans to eradicate this unfounded mythological belief. So much good will derive from such efforts.

Of Course the Democrats-Lite Lost

Huffington Post's Headline in the Aftermath of Tuesday's Crushing Democratic Defeat

Huffington Post’s Headline in the Aftermath of Tuesday’s Crushing Democratic Defeat

In the aftermath of yesterday’s Democratic Party bloodbath at all levels of government, one White House aide summed up best why the party in power during a perceived economic uptick, however slight, managed such a crushing defeat. “We gave Dems no reason to run,” said an adviser to President Barack Obama. “We ran as Dems-lite,” according to the Huffington Post analysis from Sam Stein and Ryan Grim.

Exactly.

There were dozens, perhaps hundreds of tactical mistakes from local Congressional races to the Senate. The distrust of the Obama team for the Senate’s Democratic leadership became palpable (and will be a much bigger influence on the next two years than anyone yet sees). Americans’ ability to see beyond the watery statistics to the real economy was too keen and drastically underestimated. There were ten times as many reasons, explanations and excuses for what happened as there were offices up for grabs.

At the end of the day, we got the kind of government we wanted…and deserved.

Low voter turnout, an historic fact of midterm elections, was clearly a major factor. But we often treat low voter turnout as a separate cause of electoral defeat when it is actually the barometer of effects. As the Obama aide said in the HuffPo piece, the party gave Democrats no reason to turn out.

I don’t see a remedy in sight. Not for the rest of my lifetime. And that’s a tragedy. I’m not using hyperbole here; it matters only a little which of the major political parties is in charge any more. But on some issues, it does matter a little. And the overriding issue of the day in this world we’ve created is climate change. With Sen. James Inhofe in charge of a key Senate committee and science deniers all over Congress, it is all but a guarantee that the next two years will see no real progress on that front. We don’t have two years to waste. The American people last night all but sealed the fate of humanity. Barring a massive awakening by the grass roots all over the globe, the clock’s ticking is now virtually unstoppable. Within 100 years, humanity’s slide to extinction will almost certainly be a sure thing. And when that realization dawns, historians will look back on the midterms of 2014 as a key turning point in the defeat of humanity.

And it will be both major parties’ fault.

Wyoming Wants Its Own Version of Scientific Truth

The state of Wyoming has become the first in the nation to reject proposed national science teaching standards because the rules require the teaching of man-made global climate change as fact. The president of the state board of education says he wants to look into whether “we can’t get some standards that are Wyoming standards.”

Cool idea. Let’s give every state the right to set their own standards for what is scientific truth.

It’s not so surprising, really. Wyoming is (did you know this?) the nation’s largest coal-producing state. (Don’t tell West Virginians. They think they have that distinction and they’re entitled to their own version of the truth, don’t you know.)

The problem is that people in these backward and ignorant states get to vote in elections. And though I know it seems elitist — and probably is on some level — the fact is, an uneducated or, worse, misinformed, voter is worse than no vote at all. I’m a firm believer that we get the kind of government we deserve and want in this country. So if you look at Washington these days and shake your head and wonder how they can be so incredibly ignorant and incompetent, you need look no further than the ignorance of scientific and other fact bases that are perpetuated and staunchly defended by the Neanderthals and Luddites who run local school systems in some of these states and who scream “states’ rights” whenever an inconvenient truth rears its ugly head.

Education by ignorance harms all of us.

Greed And the Propagation of Ignorance: Major Cultural Problem at Work

Dilbert Cartoon: When did ignorance become a point of view?Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times has an important and interesting column today about the study of the propagation of cultural ignorance as a major problem in our cuture. In fact, you should stop reading this right now and click on the link to read his entire piece.

The focus of his note is Stanford history of science professor Robert Proctor’s pioneering work in the field of “agnotology”, which Wikipedia defines as “the study of culturally induced ignorance or doubt, particularly the publication of inaccurate or misleading scientific data.” Dating back to the science of Nazi Germany and coming into its own in America with the tobacco wars, this disingenuous attempt to line the pockets of greedy corporations and individuals through disinformation and doubt is an insidious cancer on the body politic.

Proctor, who coined the word agnotology, is quoted in the Wikipedia entry as saying:

“Historians and philosophers of science have tended to treat ignorance as an ever-expanding vacuum into which knowledge is sucked…. Ignorance, though, is more complex than this. It has a distinct and changing political geography that is often an excellent indicator of the politics of knowledge. We need a political agnotology to complement our political epistemologies.”

Seriously. You should read the Hiltzik piece. It’s a real eye-opener and helps explain a great deal of our current political landscape. When “both sides” of a non-argument — such as that being touted by many “objective” journalists around the indisputable issue of climate change — becomes de rigueur as a way of defining “balanced reporting,” we are already perhaps too far down the road to expect salvation.

 

We’re Number Five! Which is Better Than Last Year’s Number 10! U.S. Rises in Innovation Index

According to the recently released Global Innovation Index, the United States catapulted from the 10th-most innovative nation on earth to the fifth position over the last year. That presumably bodes well for the near-term future of the U.S. economy.

Top-ranked Switzerland maintained its position, followed by Sweden, the UK, and the Netherlands. The Top 10 consisted of the same countries as the 2012 study but postion-shuffling took place.

Europe dominates the list with 7 of the 10 positions. Two Asian nations round out the list with Africa and South and Central America unrepresented. I was surprised to find that Japan wasn’t in the Top 10; at one point, it was the largest patent-producing nation on the planet by far. It is ranked 22 on the current list, four spots behind South Korea.

So what?

Innovation is arguably the only path to economic growth that does not necessarily involve further plundering of the earth’s resources. Frequently, innovative change reduces reliance on such resources. Seen from the perspective of someone who focuses a great deal of time and attention on global climate change, innovation is very often (though not always) a “Good Thing.”

 

Artificial Liver Buds Give Biological Researchers Fresh Hope

Turning stem cells into functional organs is a huge goal of modern genetic biologists, and it’s a goal that seems much closer today than ever thanks to the work of a Japanese research team.

Photomicrograph of human stem cells made from skin cells

Stem cells are being made from skin cells these days rather than embryos.

Gina Kolata, science reporter for the New York Times, reports the new research in her column today. According to Kolata, the researchers were able to generate tiny functioning livers which, when transplanted into mice, behaved much as human livers. The goal of growing full-sized and fully functional human livers this way is still many years off, but at least this experimentation has been able to demonstrate the real possibility.

Genetic researchers have been suffering a lot of disappointments and near misses in recent years, so this news came as particularly welcome to that community as well as to health care professionals.

The team’s findings were published in the journal Nature, to which I’d provide you a link but they require a very expensive subscription to read their precious contents. (Can you tell I don’t like that practice much? Can you also tell they don’t care?)

Does humanity face a future in which we will be able to grow replacements for all the major organs and essentially keep ourselves alive indefinitely? Until, of course, global climate change wipes out our species and its labs full of artificially grown organs.

Science giveth, politicians take away.

The End of…Pasta? Wheat May Be Early Major Casualty of Climate Crisis

A substantial portion of the world’s population depends on wheat for its primary food source. In fact, wheat is the second largest food crop for human consumption, behind rice, throughout the world.

There is a great deal of evidence suggesting that wheat may be the hardest-hit and earliest-affected agricultural product to be affected by the climate crisis. As extreme weather continues to plague the planet and becomes more frequent, experts are attempting to put the crisis in some sort of understandable context.

Mark Hertsgaard does a brilliant job of assessing the global impact of the climate crisis specifically on wheat  in a new article posted on the Daily Beast. The article, which appears under the tantalizing title “The End of Pasta?”, provides some interesting data as well as astute observations about the interconnection of climate and food.

“Three grains—wheat, corn, and rice—account for most of the food humans consume,” Hertsgaard writes. “All three are already suffering from climate change, but wheat stands to fare the worst in the years ahead, for it is the grain most vulnerable to high temperatures. That spells trouble not only for pasta but also for bread, the most basic food of all.

The problem with any crisis as broad in scope as that presented by our current climate change experience, is that it has too many moving parts. Particularly in the United States, where it seems everything becomes politicized, this often leads to two extremes in discussing how to resolve such crises.

On the right, the tendency is to dismiss, minimize, or reduce to bumper sticker slogan status any crisis that can’t be solved or addressed in 25 words or less. That may sound like a criticism, but in fact there is a streak of envy in that observation. Thanks to a great many factors, the attention span of the average US voter is terribly short. Descriptions and solutions that can be reduced to a small number of words will always bear a certain attractiveness to our culture.

On the left, the tendency is to enlarge, alarm, and “explain” to death the various interconnections and effects of a crisis of this proportion. Regardless of the fact that this degree of complexity is essential to a thorough understanding and appreciation of the problem, most people simply won’t sit still long enough to hear it. There are far too many complex problems on our collective plate.

Perhaps by reducing the focus of climate change on the one aspect of life all civilizations seem to share, namely that of eating, people like Hertsgaard will be able to bring new clarity to the conversation.

At least one can hope.

 

Wind Plus Solar Plus Storage = 99.9% of Grid Needs, Affordably

I was greatly encouraged today to read the news of a new study in Delaware that suggests that it would be affordable to combine wind and solar with storage to replace substantially all of the nation’s power grid.

The finding is contained in new  research by the University of Delaware and Delaware Technical Community College and reported in Science Daily.

According to the report, “Unlike other studies, the model focused on minimizing costs instead of the traditional approach of matching generation to electricity use. The researchers found that generating more electricity than needed during average hours — in order to meet needs on high-demand but low-wind power hours — would be cheaper than storing excess power for later high demand.”

 

Generation WE: Watch the Video, Hear Them Roar

Since it appears inevitable that we the Baby Boomers will leave our children and grandchildren in worse shape than we are for the first time in our country’s history, maybe it’s time we started turning over power to Generation WE. Check out this video from KarmaTube for some inspirational messaging that holds out what may be the humanity’s last best hope for survival.

Video from KarmaTube