Posted by: ericgrimsrud | November 27, 2015

Can we address even the trivial contributions to climate change?

In a recent article by Joshua Melvin (see it at;_ylt=AwrXnCbGDFdWqTIApAnQtDMD;_ylu=X3oDMTByM3V1YTVuBGNvbG8DZ3ExBHBvcwMzBHZ0aWQDBHNlYwNzcg ) he lists a large number of  seemingly harmless activities routinely undertaken by most of us and then assigns a “carbon footprint” to each of these.  His examples include the issuing of emails messages, the use of plastic bags and bottles, lab top computers, and even coffee and TV’s – as well as the consumption of banana’s and cheeseburgers. While the provocative title of his article was “What’s the carbon footprint of an email”, he was remiss in not also including anything concerning how we can and should pay for the carbon costs of these activities.  Mr. Melvin was doubly remiss in not making this solution clear because it is so very simple and has been advocated by climate scientists for many years.

The answer to this question is (for the nth time on this website) is to assign an appropriate fee (call it a tax if your like) for all use of fossil fuels for energy production and then let the free market provide alternate means of energy production and, indirectly, the means of providing all of the functions, including electronic emails, listed by Mr. Melvin. All of this can be done without emissions of CO2 using existing technology and would, indeed, be done if we had an appropriate carbon tax.

To address just one of the examples listed by Mr. Melvin, consider our use of plastic bags.  I would not be surprised if Mr. Melvin assumed in his calculation of the carbon footprint of these ubiquitous items that they will always be burned after use.  But why would we continue do that if the burning of plastic converted its fossil-fuel-derived carbon to CO2 and a charge was applied to that activity?  Instead, we would undoubtedly either bury that plastic forever in a land fill or reuse its carbon for the production of other plastic materials.  Or we might then use bags made out of paper coming from a paper mill powered by a renewable source of energy.  Or we would use our own cloth bags dedicated to such purposes. Where there is a will, there is usually a way.  Mr. Melvin’s article draws attention to how needed changes will affect even simple activities we all take for granted.  While he is correct, it should also be understood that the only thing required to address the trivial list of challenges he describes is just a tiny bit of will.

While we still have so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, we should also acknowledge that have so much to do during the remainder of our lifetimes if our grandchildren and their families are to similarly blessed.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | November 24, 2015

Concerning that “hiatus”

The favorite myth of the Deniers of man-caused global warming in recent years has been their claim that global warming has not occurred during the last decade.  This period of relatively little temperature change has been called the “hiatus” and used by the Deniers to discredit the scientific communities of the world who are convinced that global warming is occurring due to the activities of mankind and will continue into the future if business-as-usual energy policies persist.

Meanwhile, the scientific community has shown that we have not, in fact, reached a point of temperature stability yet and that future temperatures will continue to climb. They have pointed out that what might appear to be a pause in temperature increase over the last decade is largely due to natural variations that have momentarily offset some the greenhouse gas warming caused by humans.  In addition, the scientists have warned that natural variations go both ways, up and down, and when they turn towards warming, the Earth will experience an unprecedented jump in global surface temperatures.

Well folks, guess what?  With only two months left in the year 2015, we can now predict with a good level of certainty what the temperature will be for 2015.  That prediction is shown as the last point on the graph shown below.

Need I say more?  Don’t think so other than to ask why the Deniers would have used these data to suggest that global warming had stopped in the year 2000.  Now that we are about to enter a new decadal era in which distinctly increased temperatures are expected to regularly set new annual records, one wonders what the Deniers will come up with next. Since I am sure that the snake-oil salesmen of the fossil fuel corporations are well aware of H.L. Menden’s encouragement to their ilk – “no one ever went broke by underestimating the intelligence of the American public” – I fear that they still might not change – in spite of the clarity of the facts.  So Senator Inhofe, Rush Limbaugh, and most of the Republican candidates for President, is there still something about the graph shown above that you don’t understand?  If not, why not finally get on board and become part of the solution.

Yes, indeed, that statement is true.  About 50 million years ago, for example, CO2 levels were about 1,500 ppm, almost four times higher than today, and as a result our oceans were much more acidic.

Since the Deniers of AGW repeat these statements often, it is important to know what the appropriate responses are. That response is relatively easy to provide if the Denier is referring to the effect of CO2 on our climate.  One simply has to point out that the world was very much warmer 50 million years ago precisely because of that higher level of CO2 in the atmosphere. It was so warm, in fact, that the world had no ice on it and sea levels were about 70 meters higher than today – thereby flooding a large fraction of today’s land masses on which billions of people live.

But there is another closely related claim that the Deniers of CO2’s detrimental effects make today that is more difficult to respond to.  Environmentalists now correctly claim that our increased atmospheric CO2 levels are making our oceans more acidic and that this will be very detrimental to critters in the sea that have shells made of calcium carbonate (CaCO3).  This is because CaCO3 is more soluble in water of higher acidity and this will put greater stress on critters with CaCO3 shells.  If this claim is correct (which it is) how then does one respond to the Denier’s retort that “if CO2 levels were four times higher 50 million years ago and the oceans were therefore much more acidic than today, why then were ocean critters, including those with CaCO3 shells, so prolific back then (as we also know from the fossil record)? That question is a tougher one to answer and is more likely to produce a “gotcha” moment if the issue is not well understood.  Therefore, the rest of this post will provide a response to that potential show-stopper that will hopefully be useful whenever the question comes up.

First, let’s consider the three equilibrium reactions shown below involving atmospheric CO2 and the solid CaCO3(s) of critter shells.  Note that the term “equilibrium reactions” means that the reactions shown go both ways, forward and backward.  The rates of these three reactions are relatively fast in both directions resulting in an equilibrium state that responds quickly to any changes in the system – such as the addition or removal of any of the species shown.

CO2 (atm)   +  H2O   =   H2CO3                      (1)

H2CO3 +  CO3 =   =   2 HCO3                         (2)

Ca++  + CO3=   =   CaCO3(s)                          (3)

In accordance with Reaction 1, as the level of CO2 rises in our atmosphere, more of it will be dissolved into the oceans – where it is instantly changed to H2CO3 by the addition of one water molecule to that CO2 molecule.  This makes the oceans more acidic because H2CO3 is a weak acid.

The ocean naturally contains H2CO3 and the two other acid-base forms of this species shown in Reaction 2.  The most abundant of these is the bicarbonate ion HCO3–  which is an acid-base neutral species. Another is the weak base, carbonate ion CO3=.  Upon being added to the ocean, H2CO3 will react rapidly with the CO3=  ion to form more HCO3–  at the expense of CO3=  as shown by Reaction 2.

Reaction 3 shows how solid CaCO3 is formed by the combination of calcium ions, Ca++, and CO3= ions.  As the concentration of  CO3=  is reduced by Reaction 2, the formation and retention of a calcium carbonate shell (CaCO3) by Reaction 3 will be made less favorable and, therefore, will stress any critter that requires such a shell.  Thus, the combination of Reactions 1 – 3 supports the notion that shell-bearing critters should not have existed in the very acidic oceans of 50 million years ago, as claimed by the Deniers.

But wait! There is more and the Deniers are also wrong on this one.  Events that occur over a relatively short period of time (such as over a several years or decades) can differ greatly from those occurring over a relatively long period of time (such as a few millennia) because in the natural world other much slower reactions have determined the final equilibrium states.

The most important of these slow processes is called CO2 “weathering” which occurs in raindrops as they fall from the sky and land on rocky surfaces that contain various inorganic calcium and silicon compounds including solid CaCO3 (s).   In a raindrop, Reaction 4 is the same process as shown by Reaction 1 above except that in this case, CO2 is being absorbed into a rain drop consisting of pure water instead of into the pH-buffered ocean. Therefore, the H2CO3 molecules thereby formed are not substantially changed by a Reaction 2.

CO2 (atm)   +  H2O   =   H2CO3                                           (4)

H2CO3   +   CaCO3 (s)    =   Ca++  +  2HCO3     (very slow)           (5)

Then, by the very slow process shown as Reaction 5, H2CO3 in the rain water reacts with inorganic components of the rock (such as CaCO3) to form Ca++ and bicarbonate ions which are eventually carried to the oceans.  Given enough time, this process adds enough calcium ions to facilitate the formation of CaCO3 by Reaction 3 previously shown above.  In addition, the amount of CO3=  is then also increased somewhat by the reverse of Reaction 2 – also facilitating the formation of CaCO3(s).  It should also be noted that Reaction 5 would have been much faster in the warmer world of 50 million years ago when much more water vapor was in the atmosphere resulting in much more rainfall than today.

All of this taken together shows that, yes, increased acidification of the oceans will stress CaCO3-shelled critters in the sea – but only if a change in atmospheric CO2 levels occurs relatively rapidly – as it now is.  On the other hand if those changes occur over a long period of time – such as over several millennia or millions of years – the oceans will still get more acidic but the formation of CaCO3 shells will then be facilitated by the slow weathering process shown by Reactions 4 and 5.  These two slow reactions will then become the dominant means of providing both Ca++ and CO3= ions to the sea, instead of the dissolution of CaCO3 (s), thereby providing sea critters with an efficient means of making their shells.

Hopefully, this post helps explain why sea critters prospered in geologically ancient times when the Earth did not have forces acting on it that changed background CO2  levels so quickly as mankind is presently doing.  Therefore, one simple response to the second question of the Denier posed above is “we are doing some things to both our atmosphere and our oceans much too rapidly as to allow Mother Nature’s natural corrective processes to keep up”.  Therefore, the chemical system determining CaCO3 solubility in our oceans is momentarily out of balance and our shell-bearing critters are paying the price.


Posted by: ericgrimsrud | November 5, 2015

What if Exxon had told the truth?

About 25 years ago, Exxon made a conscious decision to stop providing the public their scientific opinion concerning the likely effects of carbon dioxide emissions on future global temperatures. Up to that point in time, Exxon scientists had been leaders in the field of climate change research and had provided reports to both their Board of Directors and to the public at large. That research had caused Exxon scientists to suspect that the effect of our increasing atmospheric CO2 levels on future global temperatures might require corrective action.  In fact, within their own company, Exxon did take action concerning their operations in Arctic regions where climate change was expected have particularly pronounced effects.

Then in 1990, Exxon’s CEO and Board of Directors became even more concerned about the negative effect this new scientific information might have on their own business.  For this reason, they decided to change their strategy concerning climate change research. They stopped doing it themselves and, instead, decided to put their money behind a public campaign designed to spread doubt on the similar scientific conclusions being drawn by all other scientists on this topic. They did this via their own advertisements and their financial support of organizations and individuals who shared that goal.

Therefore, since 1990 Exxon has been telling the general public and our elected officials that we don’t know enough yet as to merit corrective actions.  In addition, they have urged us to allow the fossil fuel industries to continue to “drill, drill, drill” in a quest for finding more gas and oil reserves.

For their intentional misrepresentations of science of climate change, I believe that Exxon (now ExxonMobil) should be prosecuted.  Surely, our criminal code includes statutes that aim to prevent harm knowingly done to the public merely for a corporation’s financial gain.  My previous post on this web site focused on that point and I will not repeat that argument here.  Instead, I will refer you to another article bearing a similar title  – “Imagine if Exxon had told the truth” by Bill McKibben (see it at In his article you will see how we could have avoided many of the tragic setbacks that will result from our last 25 years of ignorance and conflict on this subject – which could have been avoided if the most lucrative corporation in the history of our country had simply told the truth concerning its own discoveries in the area of climate change 25 years ago and had not, instead, used its considerable reputation, resources, and influence to undermine the same opinions being developed by other scientists in university and government labs thoughout those 25 years since 1990.  A few thoughts of my own on this question will follow.

If Exxon had continued to tell the truth 25 years ago, our atmosphere today would contain a significantly lower level of CO2 – now passing the 400 ppm mark which is 40% greater than is was at the onset of the Industrial age.  Back in 1990, the background level of CO2 was 353.  During the last 25 years annual emission rates have continuously increased throughout the world thereby causing that 50 ppm additional increase in that most recent 25-year period.  In addition, annual emission rates are still increasing today – they have not yet even leveled off.  Surely with help – instead of the hindrance – that might have been provided by Exxon over the last 25 years, we would have by now stabilized and even reduced CO2 emissions by today.  Instead, we simply watch those emissions continue to rise today and blame it on other countries, such a China and India, who understandably had looked for leadership from the developed countries that are largely responsible for creating the elevated CO2 levels we have today. Clearly, the general public of the USA has also been remiss in going along with the comforting, but misleading advice provided by ExxonMobil and the likes of Rush Limbaugh and not that provided by all of our scientific academies.

The tragedy of all of this was clearly laid out in the 5th point explained under the “Science Basics” tab at the top of this web site.  That point was explained with use of the figure shown below.

Mens Breakfast 2015

As was more thoroughly explained in “Science Basics”,  in order to prevent global surface temperatures from increasing by more than 2 degrees centigrade, future emission rates will have to be reduced as shown to the right side of “Today”.   How rapidly those emissions must be reduced strongly depends on the date of our “peak emission” rate.  If that date were today, our future reductions would have been doable as shown by the blue curve.  We are not on that course, however.  Emission rates continue to increase every year.  Thus we are on a course described either by the green curve or perhaps the red curve for which the year of when our global emissions are leveled and thereafter decreased.  In both of these cases, future reductions in emissions will have to be so extreme as to render them exceedingly difficult or even impossible.

If Exxon had told the truth 25 years ago, it is very likely that we would have managed to stay on a course in which the peak emissions rate was achieve either by Today or sooner.  In that case future emissions reductions throughout the 21st Century would have been doable as shown by the blue curve. Thus we find ourselves today facing a task that is either exceedingly difficult or not even possible – depending on when exactly our peak year is reached.  All of this because Exxon decided to place a higher priority on its short-term financial gains over the last 25 years and, even worse, did their very best to prevent any efforts to reduce those annual emissions.  From the recent Citizen United ruling of our Supreme Court, we learned that Corporations deserve the rights of individual citizens.  I hope that also means that they should be held responsible for criminal behavior intentionally perpetrated on their fellow citizens.  If the words we use to formulate the laws of our country have any meaning, ExxonMobil should be forceful prosecuted for intentionally doing great harm to our environment and the public. I can not think of a greater, more profound and more lasting disservice ever perpetrated on human beings.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | October 25, 2015

Something we should do right now – Prosecute!

The second report of Exxon’s misrepresentation of their own climate change research during the last 25 years is now out. It recently ran in the Los Angeles Times and can be seen at  (I previously discussed the first report in a September 2015 post. You should also read that report if you missed it.)

As you read these reports, ask yourself: if they are accurate, does Exxon’s behavior not constitute a crime against the citizens of our country and more generally one against humanity, in general?  For example, how could Exxon’s actions be considered less harmful to public wellbeing than the criminal behavior of the tobacco industry in its misrepresentation of the health hazards of tobacco products?  Shouldn’t we be prosecuting Exxon today for its intentional misrepresentations of fossil fuel use during the last 25 years – during which Exxon was very well aware of the likely detrimental effects of the elevated carbon dioxide levels present in our atmosphere?

I, like Bernie Sanders, think that Exxon should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Why not?  Is Exxon now one of those “too big to fail” corporations that must be excluded from punishments for its criminal behavior – perpetrated solely for its own financial interests?  Is the fact that an appropriate fine for their past behavior might bankrupt Exxon and lead to great financial losses for its numerous investors constitute a reason for not prosecuting this crime?  Are our laws and the enforcement of them determined merely by envisioned financial outcomes of such prosecutions?  If, on the other hand, words have meaning and the laws created by those words have substance, shouldn’t we proceed with the legal case against Exxon on the basis of the information being revealed in these emerging reports? If, due to their long-time usage, fossil fuels are now as American as apple pie, wouldn’t we still prosecute even a vendor of apple pies if that vendor knew their product contained a substance that was likely to be harmful to humans and then focused their promotional efforts on hiding that knowledge from the public? For recommending that we do the right thing in this instance, is Bernie Sanders going to be dismissed as a “socialist” because he dares to hold one of our nation’s largest and wealthiest industries accountable for its actions? Are we going to continue with the suicidal assumption that what’s good for our fossil fuel industries is also good for our economy?

Yes, this really is a test case for addressing that ever-present question: is the USA today an oligarchy run in accordance with the preferences of its most wealthy or is it a constitutional democracy run in accordance with its Constitution and laws. For those of you who believe the latter, it would seem appropriate to encourage the legal actions recommended here. For those of you who believe the former (and I am sure there are lots of you out there), you might at least consider divesting yourselves from the fossil fuel industries before the very thin ice on which their existence now depends melts away.

To Abe Lincoln’s famous quote, “you can fool some of the people all of the time and perhaps all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time”, I would add, “and you can never fool Mother Nature at any time”. And, it turns out, our fields of Science have historically provided our most successful means of predicting what Mother Nature does.

The unforgivable crime committed by Exxon was to deliberately hide and obscure that scientific information from the public view over the last 25 years – just so it could continue to rake in billions per year for as long as possible. Considering the likely outcomes of their successful charade, Exxon’s actions are now sure to set in motion a literal holocaust of physical conditions for future generations trying to develop meaningful lives throughout our entire planet.

In order to conduct the trial being suggested here – the historical importance of which would be sure to rank with the trials held in Nuremberg starting in 1945 – perhaps we should consider using lawyers from other countries that appear to be more aware than ours of science, in general, and climate science, in particular. If so, it might be particularly appropriate to have German lawyers return the favor American lawyers once provided them in the prosecution of German citizens for various alleged crimes against humanity. Germany today seems to have a far better sense of its obligation to preserve the global environment than does the USA (see my previous June 2015 post concerning this point). In addition, due to the indebtedness most American politicians have to the fossil fuel industries for financial assistance during their elections, it might be more appropriate to hold those trials somewhere other than the USA.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | October 16, 2015

Democratic Candidates easily Trump the Republicans

After watching the Republican presidential candidates ignore the greatest problem that faces mankind today, I was very pleased to see that climate change was clearly recognized and appropriately discussed in the Democratic debate last Tuesday.  Of the five presidential candidates included, only the remarks of one, Jim Web, were forgettable – he merely stated the obvious fact that addressing this problem would be of no use if other countries of the world weren’t involved.  All of the other candidates seemed to recognize the absolute necessity and urgency of the problem and had credible suggestions for strong action.  In addition, I was very pleased to see in this debate the substantial amount of time and questions devoted to this topic. This point, alone, constitutes a landmark change in American politics.  Finally, it appears that addressing climate change has become one of the highest priorities for at least one of our political parties.

As I had related in a previous post on this website (July 28, 2015) Bernie Sanders is the strongest and clearest Democratic candidate on this issue in that he strongly advocates a stiff and badly needed carbon tax on fossil fuel use. On this issue, Hillary Clinton is not as strong as Bernie, but is gradually getting there.  She has now at least come out against the Keystone XL Pipeline and, I believe, is smart and aware enough to learn what has to be done. Her great advantage is that she acts and looks “presidential” and is eminently qualified and electable.  My hope is that if and when she does win, that Bernie Sanders also rises to a place of prominence in that new Democratic administration – the country would be very well served by both of them.

And if, on the other hand, a Democrat does not win the Presidency next year, I can’t bear to think about what would then (not) happen. One of the few things that the Republican candidates agreed on in their last debate was that “nothing can be done” about global warming! The threat posed by our elevated CO2 levels has now risen to such a high level of extreme urgency that it has momentarily turned me into a “single issue guy” – just as Winston Churchill was similarly affected in 1940 when Nazi Germany advanced to his doorstep. At that time Churchill offered the British people “blood, toil, sweat, and tears” in the ensuing fight and declared that “without victory, there will be no survival”. Yes, whether we all realize it or not, we are presently engaged in an analogous war of survival and this one is with the barons of the fossil fuel industries. Their lucrative, but suicidal means of producing energy makes them the new “evil empire” that simply must be taken down if present forms of civilization are to survive. And in doing so, it would help a great deal if our dysfunctional Republican Party would simply disappear into their self-imposed respite from public service. If one can’t lead or follow, my suggestion to them is that they simply get out of the way and remember that accepting those 30 pieces of silver being offered by the fossil fuel barons would not nearly cover the far greater costs they would be passing on to their grandchildren.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | October 8, 2015

We need either better people or a very stiff carbon tax

Now that Pope Francis has gone home, we have to deal with our environmental problems with the cast of characters that live full time in our country – and that will be exceedingly difficult, as I will make clear in this post.

According to the most comprehensive view I have ever heard on the subject of climate change (see this 45 minute lecture at, the only means of significantly reducing CO2 emissions in the current decade would be via changes in the lifestyles of the “most wealthy” among us. They are the ones that emit the most CO2 and the only ones that have the option of making changes.  And who are the most wealthy ones?  Again, according to the scientific analysis cited above, that group is very large and includes almost everyone, for example, who travels via airlines once or more per year and has an annual income of roughly $50K or more.  That includes most of the people I know, including myself.

In discussing the problem of man-caused climate change with almost everyone I encounter, that conclusion is invariably reinforced.   Those discussions quickly come to a point where it is clear that my wealthy friends and I are, indeed, ruining our planet and are not going to voluntarily use the opportunity we presently have to save it from further degradation by CO2-induced warming.  There is a great deal of “talking the talk”, of course, but very little “walking the walk”.

When we reach this point in our conversations, further discussion almost always comes to a close with the following thoughts,  I suspect,  lodged in my friend’s head:   “What’s this?  Change my lifestyle?  I have worked hard during my lifetime.  Don’t we owe these things to ourselves?  Surely, you are joking, Eric.  You don’t seem to know how things are done today?   You are crazy.  Only a few whackos will change their lifestyles to that extent for something that has not actually happened yet. “  And note here that I am not referring to conversations with Deniers of climate change.  I am talking about discussions with people who consider themselves to be conscientious concerning environmental issues.

Furthermore,  I have seen almost no improvements in that discussion over the last 10 years  – the period over which the “wealthy” among us have clearly been called out in scientific reports such as that cited at the top of this post.  The prevailing opinion that we owe a high life to ourselves now seems to be one of the modern laws of human behavior even though it is sure to threaten our very existence.  Humans, as it is said lemmings do, are charging toward the cliffs and are being led by the most prosperous among them.

How this ubiquitous view of the wealthy can ever be overcome, I am not sure.   Maybe this change is impossible because people simply aren’t that good.  Thus, one means of encouraging change might be to heap well-deserved ridicule on ourselves and especially on my own generation of Americans. That brings to mind a joke I heard some time ago when George Bush was running for the Presidency. The joke went like this: “George was born on 3rd base and while growing up, he increasingly came to believe he had hit a triple!”.  I think the brunt of this joke could easily be changed to my generation of Americans.  We were born in a “Goldilocks” era of American history in which everything was “just right” for its youngsters. The Great Depression and the Second World War were behind us and ahead lay an unprecedented period of prosperity and material abundance.  Red carpets of professional opportunities where laid out for all of us in all directions.  But now, as my generation nears or is in retirement, it tends to think that we all “hit triples” during our working years and deserve a high life for the rest of our days.  And if the science tells us that a high life will make life increasingly difficult for our grandchildren – well, we just choose to not think too much about that. After all, maybe “something will come up” or maybe our scientists have overlooked something. That is possible, right? (even though it is exceedingly unlikely after several decades of intense study).  In any case, our plans are to stuff as much of that high life into our remaining years as we can.  We deserve it, right?  So Eric, can’t we please change the subject – as even my close relatives have told me numerous times.

In order for any society to address great problems, some level of leadership among the best educated and wealthiest would be nice to have.  However, we don’t have that in our country today.  In fact, our most wealthy and best educated are leading the degradation of our planet and are not using their considerable influence to change things.  I suspect that ours will be the last generation to pay more attention to the Dow Jones Industrial Average than to the Keeling Curve (and if you don’t happen to know by now what the latter term refers to, you should hit the “Science Basics” tab at the top of this website and read “Point 2”).

There is only one way I can think of by which the “behavior” of people can be significantly improved and that is by the installation of a stiff and steadily increasing, revenue-neutral Carbon Tax. With this additional fee assigned to fossil fuel industries for their use of our communal atmosphere as a CO2 waste dump, needed changes would be expected to follow due simply to traditional market forces.  Again, if you don’t now know what I am now talking about, please have a look at my first post of November 2014 on this blog in which this carbon fee plan was thoroughly explained.  Seems to me that the wealthy should, at the very least, be using all of their influence to get this energy plan in place as well as divesting themselves and the organizations they belong to from the fossil fuel industries.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | September 27, 2015

Why Pope Francis stands out

Pope Francis firmly believes that the problem of global warming should be vigorously addressed as soon as possible.  His view appears to come from a healthy dose of common sense (he knows what the scientific experts think), but also from his understanding of Christian Doctrine.  Yet, many Christians in the USA do not accept Pope Francis’ view on this issue.  I agree with Pope Francis on climate change, of course, but in my case, that is primarily because I am a scientist who has studied this issue for many years. So why does Pope Francis stand out so far ahead of most other Christians on this and other issues? Having been exposed to the doctrines of Christianity in my own life, I think I understand why Pope Francis’s view on climate change is so much clearer and stronger than those of most Christians. In a nutshell, I believe this because Pope Francis considers the example provided by Jesus of Nazareth to be the cornerstone of the Christian faith rather than other aspects of the faith that others might consider to be of equal or even more importance.

Upon my own exposure to Christian Doctrine starting from childhood, I learned a great deal about the teachings of a carpenter from the small village of Nazareth who Christians came to believe was the Son of God. The most important message Jesus of Nazareth delivered was how we should live our lives. That message comes through repeatedly in the first four gospels of the New Testament. It is also summarized in his “Sermon on the Mount” and has been condensed further into what is known as the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.  These simple statements struck me as being perfectly suited to and even essential for those living in a democratic form of government where power and responsibility are placed with the people.  I happen to consider this portion of the Christian faith to be the most important and it seems to also be for Pope Francis.

The complete Christian Doctrine also includes other parts, of course, that might be just as important or even more important to many Christians. These parts deal with what happened after the crucifixion of Jesus. The Apostle Paul repeatedly tells us in his many contributions to the New Testament that the physical Jesus was raised from the dead and ascended into Heaven where he sits at the right hand of God. Paul also goes on to explain that all who believe in that resurrection and also that Jesus is the Son of God will be “saved” – that is, allowed to enter the Kingdom of Heaven upon their physical death.  

Like many others, I have often wondered about and even questioned aspects of these additional portions of official Christian Doctrine. The obvious reason is that some of it is clearly illogical and superstitious relative to the contents of the first part concerning the teachings of Jesus.  Nevertheless, the Apostle Paul insists throughout his many contributions to the New Testament that “salvation is based on faith and not on ‘works of the law’”, so there you have it. Paul’s view became official Christian Doctrine.

By definition, Pope Francis represents the faith of Catholic Christianity with respect to all of its aspects and I am sure he does that. But compared to previous Popes, he seems to place much greater emphasis on the lessons provided by the Nazarene carpenter. To Pope Francis, that appears to be the central theme of Christianity. The Pope’s namesake, Saint Francis of Assisi who was a Catholic friar of the 12th century also felt that way. So where Pope Francis has departed from his predecessors and from many who presently claim to be Christians is that he has moved from talking the good talk to actually walking that walk as laid out by Jesus of Nazareth. The simplicity of his lifestyle, his emphasis on helping the poor and preserving human-friendly conditions on our planet are all radical departures from past papal practices.

By returning to the kind of issues that the Jesus of Nazareth focused on, Pope Francis has, I understand, become a disappointment to many Catholics and Christians.  Some of these disappointed souls might have preferred to see a papal attitude more like many of his predecessors – where the main objective was to root out various forms of heresy. Other disappointed Catholics lob softer criticisms, such as that of the Catholic Jeb Bush when he recently said: “I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinal or my pope.  I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting into the political realm.”

The problem with Jeb’s view is that politics has always been and always will be about who we are as people. Our views on central political questions such as the economy, the environment, abortion and civil rights depend on our basic beliefs concerning our duties to others and about how we live our lives.  These are fundamentally moral issues and Bush’s remarks make it sound as though he thinks the outcome of political battles is not affected by those basic values.

Pope Francis might be called a radical, but if he is one, that is only because he speaks in the language of the common person and is calling Christians to embrace the simple and clear mandates of their faith as expressed by Jesus of Nazareth.  In doing so, Pope Francis appears to be awakening a portion of the world that has become dead to Christianity. If he’s breaking new ground, it’s because he’s reminding people of what it means to be a follower of and not just a believer in Jesus Christ. Pope Francis is reminding us that followers of Jesus Christ should focus more on the welfare of all of the Earth’s inhabitants and on the gift God has given us, that is, the Earth itself, and less, perhaps, on their own self interests. In short, Pope Francis has reminded Christians that it is just as important to “behave” as it is to “be saved”.  With all due respect to the Apostle Paul, I also happen to believe that the former leads to the latter.

So thank you, Pope Francis, for coming to visit us!  My previous declaration in a post last June entitled “Halleluiah, our leader has arrived!” was clearly not misplaced .

Tune of the Week, thanks to I Heart Climate Scientists:


Posted by: ericgrimsrud | September 21, 2015

Two Proofs that the Deniers have achieved their goal

We should not delude ourselves – the Deniers of man-caused global warming have, in deed, achieved their goals and I will provide two proofs of this in this post.  But first, we must recognized what has been and still is their goal.  Contrary to common belief, their goal has not been to get the public and their elected officials to actually believe that fossil fuel combustion would have no effect of the Earth’s temperature  –  as they have repeatedly claimed.  Also, their goal has not been to get the public to believe that our grand kids will be OK if we continue to burn fossil fuels  –   as they have also claimed.  Their goal has also not been to get the public to believe that the alternate, renewable means of energy production would not work –  as they have repeatedly claimed.  No, none of these statements describe their real goals because they have known for years, just as I have, that all of those statements are false and eventually would be found to be so. That is, the Deniers never expected any of those statements to be believed in the long run by the general public.

OK, so what has been the goal of the Deniers?  It is simply this: to create conditions and attitudes that would promote the continued use of fossil fuels for as long as possible. That’s it. The opportunity that the Deniers want to take advantage of is the simple fact is that our planet contains enormous quantities of fossil fuels and there are still countless fortunes yet to be made by using them.  Thus, their financial investments in those reserves are still enormous.  The Deniers therefore hope that the world will continue to take its chances on the continued use of fossil fuels if they can continue to create a sufficiently high level of confusion, doubt and distrust concerning the science involved. They have bet that these efforts, along with the ever-present mental laziness and greed inherent in human beings, will continue to do the job. This strategy has worked exceedingly well, to date, and shows every sign of succeeding into the future.

So why do I say that the Deniers have achieved their goal? There are two very clear facts that provide proof of their unqualified success. The first proof concerns the only score card that matters – the level of carbon dioxide in our background atmosphere.  That number is now slightly more than 400 parts per million (ppm) CO2.  Prior to the Industrial Age beginning in the mid 1800’s, that number was 280 ppm and had never exceeded 300 ppm during the previous three million years.  In the first decades of the Industrial Age that number began to increase at a rate between 0 and 1 ppm per year.  Throughout the 1900’s,  it was increasing at a rate between 1 and 2 ppm per year.  Today, it is increasing at a rate between 2 and 3 ppm per year. This number is the best means we have for monitoring how mankind is doing with respect to controlling its CO2 emissions and from them, it is clear that mankind is in no way getting better at controlling them – in spite of all the hype to the contrary provided by our fossil fuel industries. Things are getting worse and emissions are now grossly out of control with no signs of improvement.  It should also be noted that once there, the new elevated level of CO2 will remain in the atmosphere for several centuries continuing to heat the Earth well beyond natural levels.

The second proof that the Deniers have achieved their goal is sorry state of a critically important piece of legislation that simply must be passed if the problem of climate change is ever to be seriously addressed. That needed legislation is known as a Carbon Tax, or a fee charged to fossil fuel producers and users for the use of our atmosphere as a waste disposal dump for CO2.  As we now know, the costs of addressing the problems caused by the excess carbon in our atmosphere will be somewhere between enormous and astronomical –  depending on when we finally halt those emissions. And why should future generations, only, be asked to pay those costs?  Shouldn’t today’s users of fossil fuels make that payment right now – as they choose to burn fossil fuels?  In spite of the exceedingly clear and fair logic behind a Carbon Tax idea, it has gotten nowhere, to date, in Washington DC and this simple fact also provides proof that Deniers of man-caused global warming have achieved their goal. Until Carbon Taxes are applied around the world, there will be no level playing field for the other means of energy production and those based on fossil fuel combustion will continue to have its unfair cost advantage.  If an appropriately stiff and steadily increasing Carbon Tax is finally implemented, the Deniers know that the fossil fuel industries will be put out of business within in a couple of decades. Thus, the absence of a Carbon Tax today continues to ensure a bright financial future for the fossil fuel industries. As long as they provide (seemingly) cheap forms of energy, why would their use ever be discontinued?

Thus, our planet races ever faster today towards its own destruction. Perhaps the best hope for corrective action in the future might be the occurrence of some catastrophic event clearly linked to climate change – such as the complete and continuous flooding of some of the world’s largest coastal cities. When that occurs, perhaps the Deniers will acknowledge that they have made enough money off the demise of our planet and finally stop resisting corrective actions.  Don’t count on that, however. More likely they will simply move on to the final stage of Denial – which is to claim that it is too late for anyone to do anything about it.

Alternatively, perhaps some other controlling force of humanity that has survived up to that point will finally insist on forceful action.  I don’t know what form of government that might be but it might not resemble the one we presently have in the USA.  Note, for example, that in the Republican Debate of last week, the only “wisdom” offered by the candidates of that party was that our government is not capable of successfully addressing climate change – and, therefore, there is no point in trying! Thus, by their own admission, the Republican leadership is saying that a democratic form of government run by Republicans could not successfully address this problem.  I hope the other half of our political system has greater respect for the potential of our American financial and political systems.

So yes, the Deniers have indeed achieved their goal, to date, and are a long ways towards collecting the full 30 pieces of silver for their services to the fossil fuel industries. The future of humanity now hinges on the “rest of the story” to be played out in the current decade. Will the powerful forces of human ignorance and greed continue to win out over a higher level of understanding and conscientiousness?  For the sake of the latter possibility, I am very pleased to note that we have every discipline of modern science, as well as the Pope of the Catholic Church, on our side.  This is a good sign because climate change is both a scientific and moral issue.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | September 17, 2015

The Republican “debate” on climate change, Not !

During the five-hour, two-part, Republican presidential debate last night there was only one mention of man-caused climate change – delivered near the very end of that marathon program when viewership was greatly diminished. The short, dismissive comments that followed that single question took less than three minutes before the debate moderator abruptly changed the topic to vaccines.

Only three of the fourteen candidates were asked to respond: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.  All three argued that nothing should be done by the American government to combat the problem.  All three backed up their argument with the erroneous claim that government efforts would not do anything to solve the problem.

Why, I am asking myself today, did the moderator not at least ask each of the fourteen candidates to explain their views on this issue.  By asking only three to respond – two of which were already known to be hard core deniers of the problem – appeared to me to be a predetermined means of protecting the other candidates from potential embarrassment.  At the same time, each candidate was asked for his or her views on topics of far less importance, such as the legalization of marijuana, for example.  What’s going on here?  Isn’t the issue of climate change more important than any issue related to marijuana?

I have been consistently very disappointed with and critical of the Republican Party on this web site.  Gosh, I wonder why. Could it be because they don’t seem to give sufficient consideration to our future beyond tomorrow.  In view of what their Business-as-Usual preferences will be doing to subsequent generations, I wonder if they have no sense of shame, concern for others, or humility. If that is the case, it should come as no surprise that their front-runner is none other than the know-it-all bully-of-all-bullies, Donald Trump, who I have read is not concerned about climate change. Nevertheless, I would have preferred to have heard directly from Mr. Trump last night his latest views on this topic.

In any case, it appears that if the issue of man-caused global warming is to be appropriately recognized and addressed, those efforts will have to come from the Democratic Party.  Fortunately, that party does appear to have some grownups within it’s leadership whose interests and concerns include the welfare of our grandchildren and future generations.  I look forward to that debate and hope its moderators do not protect the Democratic candidates from the tough questions associated with this most challenging issue of our times.

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