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Sunday Morning on the Planet: Fall Colors

The fall colors have yet to show in Southern California…and yes, you wise guys, SoCal does have fall colors. Specifically, in the sycamores and black walnuts, both of which are abundant in Ventura County.

But in the Midwest, where my good friend August Jennewein now lives, they have arrived. Aug, an excellent photographer, took this shot while on a recent visit to Notre Dame.


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Pouring over the Polls, Obsessively

Reading the polls is a perilous business for an enviro in this country, because Americans who talk to pollsters say they rate protecting the environment highly, but frequently fail to back up that concern  with their votes. According to a recent CBS/NY Times poll, nearly three-quarters of the country believes in global warming, and respondents told the pollsters that "environmental improvements must be made regardless of cost." But this year when it came to voting, voters almost always put the planet at the bottom of their list of priorities. In many polls taken last month, the environment didn’t make the list at all, and topped out at at a mere two percent, far below the percentages concerned about the war in Iraq, terrorism, Social Security, or even same-sex marriage.

But when it comes to puzzling out the motivations of the American voter, the polls still offer the best available clues…and some of these clues look promising for enviros this year. For more, please see this post on Grist.


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Rove Repudiated: Bush Defiant

The cartoon below captures the political moment with Tom Toles’s usual prescience. But it’s worth pointing out: On this topic, as on so many others (global warming, anyone?) the experts have been vindicated. The Bush White House, which seems to take pride in stubbornly refusing to face facts, as a consequence ends up just looking stupid. Remember Karl Rove declaring that "we have succeeded in making these [Congressional] races choices between two local candidates."?

Um, not exactly. And maybe sending an unpopular President on a barnstorming tour around the country to publicize an unpopular might have been, uh, not a genius move? 

Here’s a great example of expert’s forecasting from yesterday’s White House Briefing column by Dan Froomkin:

"MARK SHIELDS: . . . [W]hat we’re going to see repudiated on Tuesday, I believe, is the theory of Karl Rove. Karl Rove believed that, with a permanent Republican majority, which he thought was in the offing, you could govern the nation only with Republican legislation, written by Republican leaders, passed by Republican followers, and just be totally disdainful. . . .


JIM LEHRER: And signed by a Republican president.


MARK SHIELDS: ". . . Republican president — and be totally contemptuous of the minority legislators in the same institution with you. This election will be the revenge of the independent and the moderates; it really will."

The big question remains: Now that Karl Rove’s far-right rally-the-base-screw-the-liberals electoral strategy has been repudiated, will the White House work with Democrats on problem solving?

Early reports are not promising: According to Mike Allen’s insider spin, the prez plans "to plunge ahead with transformative goals like reworking the Social Security system for fiscal longevity." But obviously, despite blowing the political capital in gained from 2004 on Social Security last year, the White House couldn’t even get a bill up for debate in the Congress, despite controlling both houses.  Their chances this year of action on Social Security are nil.

But a special shout-out to the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, and all the others who worked so hard to Say No to Pombo. They warn:

Word on the street is that Pombo and other Republicans have some nefarious legislation lined up for the coming lame duck session of Congress. My sense is that the defeated R’s are bitter and vindictive, and will try to pass some truly awful bills while they still can.

We will be watching. But for now, let’s enjoy this:


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Is Climate Change Bad? Let’s Talk

James Annan is a scientist I would classify as a climatological moderate, because he thinks that  what is known as sensitivity to atmospheric C02 is a little overestimated, so he forecasts temps to rise into a somewhat lower range (about 3C) than the IPCC estimates (between 2.5 and 4.1C).

He drops in a couple of qualifications. He doesn’t entirely dismiss the possibility of sudden change, and he mentions the regional costs of drought. He doesn’t mention the likelyhood of massive extinctions. But with all that said, Annan nonetheless makes an important argument:

"To boldly assert as axiomatic that "change = bad" is, I think, rather
naive and simplistic."

He has examples in mind. Warmer winters in the UK will likely mean fewer deaths overall, he says, even factoring in more heat waves such as the one in 2005 that killed over 25,000 people in Europe. And he thinks the opening of the Northwest Passage will spur trade.

Personally, I think Mr. Annan underestimates the risks of what is commonly known as global warming, and the enormity of the changes it will bring. But I very much respect him, and think you should read his argument, which unfortunately he has yet to post on his site, but so far only as a post in the GlobalChange Google group.

Take a look, and if you can, please tell me what you think.

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Biggest Liars of 2006 Midterms: the Richard M. Nixon Award

"Big Lie" in the National Socialist sense of the term; that is, "a lie "so colossal" no one would believe anyone could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.""

The award is named after Richard M. Nixon, the Republican who left the White House in utter disgrace, but had a long and very successful career in politics thanks largely to his ability with the Big Lie. Nixon was the one who promised voters in l968 that he would end the war in Vietnam within six months; interestingly, this year Conrad Burns (R.-Montana) similarly claimed that the Republican President of today had a plan to end the war in Iraq, but couldn’t reveal it. But since Burns only hinted at the plan, sadly, his lie isn’t big enough to count.

And your 2006 candidates are!

1)    The obvious front-runner, RUSH LIMBAUGH, who claimed that Parkinson’s Disease sufferer Michael J. Fox was "either off his medication or acting" when Fox taped an ad support a Democratic candidate in Missouri who supports stem cell research. In fact, the video of Limbaugh’s lies is far worse than what was reported in the media, and includes Limbaugh’s mocking Fox’s movements, and his claim that Fox’s ad is "purely an act" and "shameless."

Takes one to know one. But interestingly, Limbaugh’s listeners did not follow his cue when the host then tried to change the subject. They kept coming back to it, to his evident frustration. One caller  I heard told Limbaugh that he agreed with him, but said Limbaugh may have motivated voters who like Fox to vote a Democratic slate. Limbaugh sounded taken aback, but could not deny it.

2)    Vice-President Dick Cheney’s claim that he was not referring to waterboarding torture when he told a radio interviewer that dunking terrorism suspects in water was a "no-brainer."

However, the transparency of the lie makes this a weak candidate. If no one believes in the Big Lie, it’s not doing the job.

3)    President Bush’s claim that "the terrorists will win if the Democrats win."

Again, with sixty percent or more of Americans opposed to the war in Iraq, blaming terrorists and Democrats for a national desire for a change in policy is not a Big Lie likely to succeed.

4)    White House spokesman Tony Snow’s claim that President Bush has been "actively engaged in trying to fight climate change."

Now, this is more like it! Snow didn’t cite any bogus factoids, though, which hurts his chances at the coveted Nixon statuette.

5)    First Lady Laura Bush’s claim that notorious anti-environmentalist Richard Pombo (R.-Tracy) is an "enthusiastic steward"  of our nation’s national resources.

"Steward" is a word for an estate servant that means little in the 21st century, but implies a caring and concern. But the truth is, according to the WSJ, that Pombo wants to sell off national parks and public lands, gut the Endangered Species Act, drill along the coasts…and much much more.

The First Lady wouldn’t just say that if it wasn’t true, would she?

Don’t forget to vote today…not that any of my readers likely would.

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Shade Cloth against Global Warming

The Australian Tourism Minister, Fran Bailey, recently said that using shade cloth could protect the Great Barrier Reef from the harmful effects of global warming, according to a report on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:

One of the suggestions is to attach the shade cloth to pontoons, which is an idea Ms Bailey says is worth considering if it will help protect the reef.

"We’re very concerned because this is a $5.8 billion tourist industry on the reef, employing 33,000 people," she said.

"So obviously we’re tackling this problem from both ends – the cause of the problem and also trying to find practical ways to mitigate the problem."

Australian blogger David Jeffrey adds some context:

The Great Barrier Reef stretches over 2,300 km along Australia’s north-east coast. Covering 344,000 square km, it’s almost one and a half times the size of New Zealand. That’s a lot of shade cloth.

Some researchers who have studied the GBR believe it can recover from "thermal stresses," but a 2004 study by the World Wildlife Fund and the Queensland government predicted that 95% of the reef would be bleached–killed–by 2050, even on a scenario that saw reduced emissions of greenhouse gases. 

Hmmm. Time for an experiment, perhaps?

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Sunday Morning on the Planet: Banner Peak

From Buck Forester’s astounding photostream on Flickr. The guy calls himself an amateur. I’m not sure I can accept that! This is a shot of Banner Peak, and the sky over Thousand Island Lake, taken from the John Muir Trail.


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How We Use the World

Sierra magazine, which comes with membership in John Muir’s famous club, is one of the oldest enviro magazines in our country. Its journalism is solid and trustworthy, and its essays often superb, but even though I’ve written for it in the past, I sometimes find it hard to read. The combination of bad news about the planet and the seriousness of the prose can be hard to take. (Muir was often caustic and sometimes outright funny; for whatever reason, his edginess rarely shows up in SC publications.)

But the latest issue of the bimonthly, on food, comes alive in a colorful and appealing way, I think, and I highly recommend it. Also nice–all the big pieces are available on-line. If you like to be coaxed into reading, as I often do, try this Secrets of the Supermarket with professor Marion Nestle.

The connection between how we care for ourselves and how we care for our planet is becoming ever more difficult to overlook, and this issue concludes with the reason why in one wonderful quote from Wendell Berry:

How we eat determines, to a considerable extent, how the world is used.

Also wonderful: this picture of idealist Kate Casale, director of the Alameda Point Cooperative, who teaches kids (such as Farrell Williams here) how to raise their own food:


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Preacher Signs Global Warming Initiative, Therefore Deserves Ruination

Believe it or don’t.

It’s almost enough to make me feel sorry for evangelist Ted Haggard, who apparently while leading a vast congregation and leading the charge against gay marriage, was all the while cheating on his wife with a gay prostitute, aided by methamphetamine.

What did Mark Twain say? 

"Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to Possibilities; Truth isn’t."

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Beyond the Sound Bite: Republicans for Environmental Protection

In a week’s time, the political climate in America will change–or so the experts tell us.

Pollster Charlie Cook, "the Oracle of Washington," calls this a "wave" election, compares it to l994, and predicts the Republicans will lose "at least 20 to 35 seats, possibly more." In the LATimes, conservative historian Niall Ferguson compares this election to l958. Then a two-term Republican president found himself stuck with an unpopular war and a sluggish economy. The GOP lost 48 seats, setting the stage for a dynamic new Democratic President in l960, and Democratic domination of the Congress for the next twenty years.

If the election goes as these pollsters predict, November 7th will be "the end of George W. Bush’s presidency as he has known it," reported the Washington Post.

Will prospects improve for environmental protection?

Probably. But much will still depend on the Republican Party–and since l994, the Republican Party has largely turned its back on its own imperfect-but-real tradition of care and concern for clean air, clean water, wilderness, national parks and ocean waters.

It’s easy to forget, but once Republican representatives did believe in voting for the health and preservation of the planet. In l964, the Wilderness Act  passed by 73-12 in the Senate, and by 373-1 in the House. The Endangered Species Act passed Congress in l973 on a nearly unanimous vote.

In l989, during a shockingly hot shocking hot summer in Washington, D.C., the Senate held hearings on climate change, which featured James Hansen (now something of a movie star).  Later a Republican president named Ronald Reagan authorized the creation of a new federal funding organization, the US Global Change Research Program. This executive order was confirmed by H.W. Bush and codified by the Democratic Congress in l990. The USGCRP has spent billions on atmospheric research into the reality and the threat of climate change since.

Contrast this past concern for the natural world with the Rovian GOP of today. Featured in the House is an Orwellian nightmare named Richard Pombo, who claims to want to protect the Endangered Species Act, even as he guts it, attempts to sell off national parks to corporate givers, and calls for drilling along coasts and in wilderness. (Pombo pushed his anti-ESA bill through the House, but it stalled in the Senate, thanks in part due to opposition from moderate Republicans.)

But there’s hope. Pombo and his money-grubbing anti-environmental zeal turn out to be appalling to Republicans, too. Or so I gather from Jim DiPeso, who helps lead the Republicans for Environmental Protection. During an email interview, without any prompting he said bluntly:

Theodore Roosevelt is on Mount Rushmore. Richard Pombo
is not and never will be.

DiPeso is the REP’s policy director. He insists that most Republicans do care about clean air and water, our wilderness, wild creatures, and lovely climate, and will vote to protect to protect the environment. I found his faith heartening, if not always easy to believe.

For the interview, please see the full post at Grist.

In reference to this story, please note also this fully wonderful VoteGuide to the upcoming election in California’s 11th Congressional district, a seat currently held by the Attila the Hun of money-grubbing bribe-er-donation-taking, lie-spewing anti-enviros, who goes by the name of Richard Pombo. According to the non-partisan site, the Republican Party has outspent the Democratic party 13-to-1 on this race, but is trailing in the latest independent poll, according to the Contra-Costa Times, although the race is very close, and well within the margin of error.

One thing for sure: the grassroots are fired up about this race. Check out this protester highlighting Pombo’s chicken-like refusal to debate. Love those chicken feet! 



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