Archive for 2008 May

Extreme Weather, Coming to Your Town Soon

The new graphics columnist for The New York Times illustrates issues powerfully, as in today’s column.

Charles Blow’s words make the point we all know:

According to the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of
Disasters, there have been more than four times as many weather-related
disasters in the last 30 years than in the previous 75 years. The
United States has experienced more of those disasters than any other

Just this month, a swarm of tornadoes shredded the
central states. California and Florida have been scorched by wildfires,
and a crippling drought in the Southeast has forced Georgia to
authorize plans for new reservoirs.

Who do we have to thank for all this? Probably ourselves.

year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued reports
concluding that “human influences” (read greenhouse-gas emissions) have
“more likely than not” contributed to this increase. The United States
is one of the biggest producers of greenhouse-gas emissions.

But much more powerful is the image…


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Chart of the Week

From the scientific global warming report required by a l990 law, belatedly released by the White House, the Scientific Assessment of Global Change on the United States report (via the WSJ)…a graph showing temperature increases by region [pp56].


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Nobel Prize Winner Sees Climate Disaster Ahead

According to Andy Revkin’s invaluable Dot Earth, Nobel Prize winner F. Sherwood Rowland foresees atmospheric CO2 soaring to the level of 1,000 parts per million, two or three times what most experts (such as James Hansen) consider sustainable, resulting in a disastrously different planet.  

This brings to mind news of the filming of "The Road," the most harrowing apocalyptic novel I have ever read by far, which foresees an unspecified but total natural disaster — the end of the biosphere. The New York Times had a nice piece about that as well recently, with a publicity photo from the filming:


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Betrayal, Says McClellan. No Problem, Says McCain

This morning Byron York, who is an excellent reporter even if he does work for the National Review, summarized the moment in press secretary Scott McClellan’s career when he went from spokesman for the President to critic of the President.

The first [defining moment] was when McClellan told reporters that he had talked to Karl
Rove and Lewis Libby and that neither had anything to do with the
disclosure of Wilson’s identity. "Karl Rove and Scooter Libby both, I
asked them point blank," McClellan said this morning. "Both assured me
in unequivocal terms, no."  McClellan then passed on their word to
reporters, and he says he was deeply disillusioned when he found out
that that was not true.


The second defining moment, McClellan said, was in April 2006, "when I
learned that the president had secretly declassified the National
Intelligence Estimate on Iraq," also as part of the Wilson matter.
McClellan said when that revelation came out, he went to the president
and told him that reporters were saying Bush had secretly declassified
the NIE so that it could be used in the White House’s defense.
Approaching the president on Air Force One, McClellan said, he
described what reporters were saying.  Bush, according to McClellan,
replied simply, "Yeah, I did it."

"For me," McClellan said, "I came to the decision that at that point I needed to find a way to move on."

Both these moments are classic examples of dramatic reversal, as defined precisely by Aristotle approximately 2500 years ago. The English word used to describe characters who in one moment go from love for another individual to hatred for that same individual, due to a revelation, is betrayal.

McClellan is still too rooted in his past history to state what happened to him that bluntly, but he has become a public example for a larger betrayal of the nation, which is why this story is turning out to be much bigger than expected for the GOP.

Noteworthy is John McCain’s reaction to the story. According to the Wall Street Journal, McCain is confident it won’t affect his bid for the White House:

Asked about the book, McCain replied that he hasn’t read it but said he believed that Saddam Hussein had the weapons and he is glad Hussein is no longer in power.

McCain goes on to criticize the "failed strategy" pursued by the Bush administration, arguing that the American people feel betrayed not because we went to war, but because we fought it so badly.

Will this adroit but unemotional response answer McClellan’s dramatic criticism of Bush and his allies? Time will tell, but methinks Aristotle would scoff. To a man who accuses you of lying, you cannot say; well, but it doesn’t matter that the White House lied, because it would have worked out if only

…because the lie still stands. Prediction: This issue’s not going to go away.


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Honor a Veteran: Avoid Unnecessary War

Arguably the most surprising political magazine in the country today is The American Conservative, because it is firmly — passionately — anti-imperialist, pro-local, and pro-poetry. It’s the one magazine I read today that makes me rethink who I am on a routine basis.

Here’s a fascinating column by Bill Kaufman, about a mostly forgotten SDS leader from the 60’s who preached reconciliation between the New Left and the Old (populist) Right.

Maybe we should be thinking less about honoring veterans of foreign wars, and more about avoiding wars in foreign nations. For the planet, and for ourselves. Kaufman writes:

If Obama bears the standard, the revolutionary
posturing of Bill (“kill your parents”) Ayers and Bernardine (“bring
the war home”) Dohrn will serve as the synecdoche of ’68 in Republican
minds. Prepare for another aphasiac episode in what Gore Vidal calls
the United States of Amnesia. But I say to hell with Ayers and Dohrn.
Let us remember the other New Left—a humane, decentralist, thoroughly
American New Left that regarded socialism as “a way to bury social
problems under a federal bureaucracy,” in the words of Carl Oglesby,
president of Students for a Democratic Society in 1965-66 and a key
figure in its Middle American wing, which extended from independent
anti-imperialist liberals to trans-Mississippi “Prairie Power” radicals.

The column goes on to explain why Oglesby deserves our attention, now more than ever, Keep in mind that some of the writers for this magazine are strong supporters of Obama. Who would’ve thunk it?

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The Tax That Might Just Save the World

Those wild-haired nutjobs at the Financial Times explain. Using statistics and studies to delve below the obvious (prices go up, people become conscious of their energy useage — and waste). It’s textbook economics:

In the long run, simple energy saving should trim energy demand by 3 to
5 per cent for each 10 per cent rise in the price of energy. That is a
worst-case scenario, ignoring the possibility of technological
improvements and switching to low- or no-carbon fuels.

So a twenty percent rise in the price of energy could reduce consumption (and emissions) by about ten percent. Be interesting to chart California’s electric consumption versus past price increases, see how that rule of thumb stacks up vs. recent history.

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Guitar Lake: Wish I Was There

Well, here it is vacation, and I’m going to be staying at home…here’s one of the places I wish I was, Guitar Lake, on the back (western) side of Mt. Whitney, at about nine thousand feet. Not the greatest camping spot, in truth, a little on the barren side, but beats the heck out of the version on the eastern side of Whitney, Trail Camp, at 12,000 feet, which is barren, windy, cold, with no cover, a broken solar toilet, and throngs of people.

Guitar Lake at least has great sunsets…

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Obama: Can He Be Trusted on Coal?

For enviros concerned about global warming, nothing matters more than opposing the construction of new coal plants, in this country and around the world. That’s because coal is by far the most carbon intensive of all fuels. James Hansen, the world’s leading climatologist, has been talking about its menace for years. In an op-ed published in the Boston Globe (here) earlier this year, he wrote:

If the wonders of nature, our coastlines, and our social and
economic well being are to be preserved, our society must begin phasing
out coal use until and unless the carbon dioxide emissions are captured
and stored. Continuing to build coal-fired power plants without carbon
capture will lock in future climate disasters for our children and

The people of Massachusetts took great risk, for
the sake of themselves and their progeny, when they drew a line with
the British at Lexington and Concord. It is time for a line to be drawn
with the powerful special interests, who reap profits from our
fossil-fuel addiction.

Changing the course dictated by
fossil-fuel interests will not be easy. It requires leadership to
define a path with increased support for energy efficiency and
clean-energy sources. But this is what citizens must demand, as they
tell their government to say no to coal.

So now that Barack Obama has all but officially secured the Democratic nomination, we must ask the question: Will he oppose coal plant construction?

It’s especially important because as a legislator from a coal state, early in his career he did support the coal industry, and in the Senate in 2005 even supported a liquified coal measure that would have sharply boosted coal emissions. Now running for national office he has called for a ceiling on carbon emissions, and mostly stopped using the phrase "clean coal," an industry favorite, because it implies that coal can be burned without adding millions of tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere — a falsehood.

But in Kentucky, he distributed an ad (here) in which he talked of "leading the fight for clean coal" and touted his support for the industry. It didn’t work, but it did trouble Obama backers — such as yours truly.

Can he be trusted on this issue? It may be too soon to tell: Republicans (such as Grover Norquist) have been suggesting that McCain could make hay against Obama in coal states. In a recent Los Angeles Times article (here), we learned:

Norquist says…that McCain’s position means "he won’t be able to
draw a sharp contrast" with his Democratic opponent…and
thus will miss the opportunity "to do what Bush did to Gore: travel the
coal states and tell workers that the Democratic candidate favors
environmental rules that will cost you your job."

Promise to destroy the planet to win an election? Don’t worry: it’s "conservative." What could go wrong?

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Keeping Dead Orangutans Out of Your Hair

Good to see my fellow writer on Grist, Glenn Hurowitz, pop up in the Los Angeles Times. His op-ed against the use of palm oil is a good model, I think, of how to firmly but fairly encourage people not to use products that destroy planetary health. He writes:

While showering a few weeks ago, I realized I had run out of
conditioner. So I reached up and grabbed my wife’s bottle — Clairol
Herbal Essences Rainforest Flowers, "with essences of nourishing palm."

label caught me slightly by surprise. As an environmental journalist,
I’ve been writing about the ecologically destructive effect of palm oil
for some time now.

Whether it’s used as an additive in soap,
cosmetics or food, or processed into a biofuel, palm oil is one of the
worst culprits in the climate crisis. Most of it comes from the
disappearing, ultra-carbon-rich rain forests of Indonesia and Malaysia,
of which a whopping 25,000 square miles have been cleared and burned to
make way for palm oil plantations.

burning releases enough carbon dioxide into the air to rank Indonesia
as the No. 3 such polluter in the world. It also destroys the last
remaining habitat for orangutans, Sumatran rhinos, tigers and other
endangered wildlife. So what was this deadly oil doing in our otherwise
ecologically friendly apartment?

Darn good question. Dang, and I used to love Herbal Essences. Smelled like the 70’s to me.

For a moment I congratulated myself on not having any palm oil in the house…but then remembered the Ivory soap.

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Presidential Candidates Won’t Kill to be Elected

This presidential election, for the first time in decades, will not feature candidates for the highest office in the land donning hunting gear and going out with guns to shoot small animals. The contrast to the 2004 election, in which both candidates made a publicity stunt out of killing for votes, is stark.

In September of that year, The Arizona Republic published in September a strong op-ed by former White House speechwriter Matthew Scully, who excoriated both presidential candidates for killing innocent creatures while trolling for votes. Scully, a true-red Republican who loathes cruelty to animals, wrote:

Sport hunters, in the
rhetoric of the 2004 campaign, are nature’s noblemen, the object of
endless flattery from both candidates because of the importance of
rural swing states. In West Virginia a few weeks ago, President Bush declared, "I’ve come by because first I
love to hunt and fish," and now repeats the theme at every rural stop.
Senator Kerry meanwhile was in Iowa, struggling before a skeptical audience to convey his own passion for
the blood sports: "I go out with my trusty 12-gauge double-barrel,
crawl around on my stomach. . . . That’s hunting."                                                 

in word is no longer enough, however, to convince sport hunters you’re
one of them. And so we now have the dreary ritual in which candidates
have to go out and kill something, with cameras present to record the
moment. Senator Kerry got the job done in Iowa last fall, summoning the regional media to come along and watch him dispatch a couple of pheasasnts. Two shots, two birds, five minutes, and it was over, leaving us all so very impressed.

This has led to some grumbling among gun lovers, especially since McCain in the past supported a ban on  unregistered sales at gun shows. The Los Angeles Times found one writer at, a popular gun rights site, saying of Mccain at the NRA convention that "He needs to be in the audience listening instead of being at the podium
speaking. Maybe Cheney will take him hunting."

(photo from misscaro, a photographer in Oregon who hates hunting with a passion)


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