There was a time, prior to about 1950, when our institutions of higher education focused on the academic disciplines they represented – with minimal or at least secondary consideration of the effects their work might have on the myriad commercial interests of the industrial world and the military needs of our armed forced. Then, starting with WWII and the Cold War that followed, our federal government began to provide increased funding to our universities for undertaking research, especially in the sciences, related to national defense. Then, following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, our universities found that they needed another source of funding and found it in our then prosperous industrial sectors. Presently at age 74, I personally witnessed some of these changes at all of the educational institutions I studied and worked at, including St. Olaf College of Minnesota, the University of Wisconsin, Madison, the University of Alberta, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, Washington State University, Pullman, and Montana State University, Bozeman.

As a direct result of these changes, our colleges and universities are now largely directed and controlled today by Boards of Regents, headed by the presidents and administrative staff of those schools along with a group of appointed individuals selected largely from the business communities of their region. As the costs of higher education (tuition, room, board and special programs) have increased enormously in recent decades, the role of the Boards of Regents for raising needed funding has proportionally increased. Without those funds raised by the Boards of Regents and their associated fund-raising networks, the extensive programs now commonly offered to potential students would not be possible. Therefore, it is not surprising that the controlling entity on the campuses as they exist today are the Boards of Reagents who raise the funds for the programs they have created.

There was a time when one could seek the thoughts and advice on any issues of interest from individual scientists or administers at colleges and universities. Today, that task is not so easily accomplished. Both the faculty and administrators are now hesitant to interact with the general public for fear that such communications might go against the “brand” that the Boards and Presidents are trying to sell to potential donors – many of whom come from the wealthiest sectors of our economy. Therefore, even though I am a graduate of St. Olaf College (class of 1966) who became an accomplished scientist in the field of atmospheric chemistry during my subsequent career, I have found it very difficult to interact with all levels of personnel at St. Olaf College on the subject of anthropogenic global warming. They and the economic forces they are tied to don’t what to hear about it. Too much action along those lines could be harmful to the businesses of their donors.

If you would like to see an example of this, scan the list of posts I have placed on this web site over the last three years. About a half dozen of them concern my attempt to engage the administration and Board of Regents of St. Olaf on the subject of man-caused global warming. Specifically, I have suggested that they should play a greater leadership role in this area – by example, as well as by their communications. But throughout my extended, but largely one-way dialog with the President, the Environmental Faculty, and the Board of St. Olaf. I have received exceedingly little feedback – even though I have repeatedly offered to meet with their environmental science departments. I was allowed an interaction with a small group of St. Olaf students about two years ago, but that interaction was unfortunately terminated by the faculty member in charge at the very moment I invited questions and interactions with the students. (That faculty member “explained” to me that the students – apparently all of them – needed to get back to their dorms at that moment in order to study???)

Both the faculty and administration of St. Olaf appear to be under the controlling influence of the Board and do not feel free to express their own opinions concerning the greatest issue of our times. Their only comments on this topic are of the “greenwashing” type, heavy on talk and light on meaningful action (note that the wind mill on its campus does not justify a “free pass” for St. Olaf from participation in all of the other more painful actions that need to be taken by all of us in order to eliminate green house gas emissions).

What a great shame all this is. Institutions that should provide society with intellectual leadership, instead are relatively mute on this difficult issue and provide poor examples of what must be done going forward. As one of America’s leading intellectuals, Noam Chomsky, explained in his address at St. Olaf College last May, unfortunate behaviors such as those we now see at St. Olaf College are the result of the business models that have been widely adopted by college and universities in recent decades. In this way, our colleges and universities have essentially sold their souls to the business-as-usual forces of America. While our institutions of higher education still claim to be centers of intellectual excellence in their lavish promotional literature, in fact, they no longer are. Instead they have morphed into businesses in which their actions are determined primarily by their financial “bottom line”.

So, for example, should St. Olaf College divest itself from fossil fuel industries? “Never”, its President has told me. While that and other actions are now clearly warranted at St. Olaf, some of those actions might go against the “business model” it is now a captive of. For extended discussions of this institutional disease, perhaps President Anderson and his Board should invite Noam Chomsky back again this year.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | November 8, 2018

Our scientifically hapless media and the lay public they produce

Thomas Jefferson is said to have stated: “if I had the choice of having a government, but no media, or a media, but no government, I would choose the latter”. I also believe that our media plays a central and essential role in governing our country but have noted that they do a terrible job of covering issues related to science. This deficiency is most unfortunate, because our modern world is so closely tied to and dependent on the details of scientific issues.

Just think back for a moment two years ago to the many debates that occurred between candidates of both parties for the US presidency. In all of those debates, there was almost zero consideration and questions concerning the greatest environmental problem before us (that would be global warming, of course). That’s right – almost zero attention to climate change. And, all of those debates were directed by members of the media. I suspect that most of the candidates did not want to be put on record for their views in this area and the media happily obliged partly, I’m sure, because they also felt unsure of how to direct such discussions.

So how could that be – one should ask. Isn’t global warming the most important environmental issue today? In fact, isn’t global warming the most important issue, period, on the table. The blame for this ridiculously inadequate coverage lies primarily at the feet of our national and regional media, does it not? Most individuals of the media don’t know very much about basic science themselves and are poor referees of conversation dealing with science.

Note also that whenever the media hosts a legitimate climate scientist, they often introduce that person with the comment, “some scientists think ……” or they frequently include comments made by a pseudo scientific denier who has the opposite view – deniers are all too easy to find. This leaves the public with the impression that the issue is unsettled – something like a 50/50 split even at the basic scientific level. This conclusion is not at all true, of course. Within our legitimate scientific community, the issue is as “settled” as any issue of some complexity can be and it has been studied for many decades. Yet, the media leaves us with the impression that this issue is not totally settled.

So why does our media do this? Part of the reason is that they are taught in their schools of journalism that every issue has at least two different legitimate sides. While this is true in many areas of human interest, it is not true when dealing with a science-based issues. This is because Mother Nature does things one way – Her way – and the goal of science is to identify what that one way is. Nevertheless, no matter how certain and well-understood a given issue in science becomes after years of study and observation, the media still continues to present other alternative and unsupported views as if they were equally credible. The media often leaves the public thinking that the correct science is simply a matter of personal opinion.

The media is prone to doing this because of their training in journalism and their poor acquaintance with science. Let’s face it – studying science is difficult and relatively few choose to study science in earnest – and certainly not those individuals preparing themselves for a career in journalism. They have so many fields to become aquainted with and are not likely to spend lots of time on the most difficult of these. Therefore, when directing a debate on climate change between two or more participants, they typically cannot tell when the comments of one or more of the contestants is scientifically out of bounds, thereby allowing nonsense to consume much of the allotted time.

I have a couple of examples that illustrate how even utterly ridiculous science can pass without comment in the political domain even with hordes of media present. During one of his annual State of the Nation speeches President Clinton said “and we will continue to address our environmental problems – such as stratospheric ozone depletion, global warming and black holes”. So black holes constitute an environmental problem that mankind has any control over? In fact, the closest black holes are about 100,000  light-years away from Earth and even if they had any detectable effect on us, we would have no chance of affecting them. What an absolutely silly comment! What amazed me most about this incident, however, is that I neither read nor heard any comment or corrections by the media about Clinton’s looney comment.

Another example: During one of her State of the State speeches the then Governor of Montana, Judy Martz, she was asked by a reporter “in view of the global warming problem, do you promote the increased production of electrical power by the coal-driven power plants in Eastern Montana”. Governor Martz then scolded that reporter with the strong retort, “my record concerning the regulation our smoke stack industries is absolutely clear. They have been forced to include the latest technologies for the removal of pollutants.” Then, neither that reporter nor those covering that speech bothered to point out that the pollutant under discussion at that moment, CO2, cannot be removed from smoke stacks by existing scrubbing devices. All coal, oil, or gas burning power plants emit all of their carbon as CO2 into the atmosphere. Again, I noted not a single comment in the media concerning this ridiculous statement, neither at that moment nor in the state’s several newspapers the following day. The Governor had just shown that she did not understand this most basic aspect of fossil fuel pollution and the media let it pass most probably because they did not understand it either.

Winston Churchill is reported to have once said “the best argument against a democracy is a five-minute conversation with an average voter”. If Winston was correct, a major reason for this is that our media is the major source of information for the public and, as I have been pointing our here, our media is all too often not sufficiently knowledgeable as to keep discussions of modern scientific issues between the rails of confirmed science.

So, what the media needs, of course, is increased knowledge of science and, if that is not possible, then they need to at least know and understand how the scientific community works and where they can find the best versions of any scientific issue. A public gathering of a political nature is not where the laws of nature are likely to be accurately decided. In such discussions members of the media should arrive with sufficient minimum knowledge as to keep the discussions between the rails of scientific reality. Also, they should know that to downplay the seriousness of the climate change issue is all too easy to do – it is, after all, what we all wish we could do. At the same time, facing this problem squarely and trying to successfully address it can be very difficult to do and might even require a considerable amount of sacrifice and lifestyle change for the public. Yes, the media does control the extent to which the lay public understands the issues before them. That is a great responsibility on which both our democracy and the physical state of our planet depend.

 

 

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | October 31, 2018

Do your studies abroad now or buy scuba gear

Many colleges and universities of the USA are currently expanding their studies abroad programs. On this website I have referred to that of my alma mater, St. Olaf College of Northfield MN several times. By their own admission their international studies programs are now the most extensive anywhere for a college of their size (about 3,000 students) and are also enjoyed by numerous St. Olaf faculty and alumnae. The quarterly reports of this college strongly promote the further expansion of these travel programs.

Therefore, as an interested graduate of St. Olaf (class of 1966), I recently came across two articles that I thought I should bring to their attention. The first appeared in the Washington Post and can be read at

https://www.washingtonpost.com/energy-environment/2018/10/16/rising-seas-could-devastate-historical-sites-across-mediterranean-study-finds/?utm_term=.29b731a03ab7

This article points out how a countless number of historic sites are predicted to be below water within the current decade or century due to our rising sea levels. More details concerning many of these historically important locations throughout the world are provided in the article. If you want to see some of these before they go under, perhaps St. Olaf College could be encouraged to arrange studies abroad programs immediately in those locations. Alternatively, if the locations of interest are already under water, perhaps the physical education department of St. Olaf College could arrange scuba diving adventures to those locations. Studies of this nature could have a promising future as some of our natural diving locations – such as at the Great Barrier Reef of Australia – are dying off due to our rising global temperatures. The increasing production of diving locations at low elevation historic sites are therefore providing potentially ideal locations for new studies/swimming abroad programs. The studies abroad program of St. Olaf now regularly sends their basketball teams to Europe – why not the swim team as well?

The other article that caught my attention blends perfectly with the one just discussed. This second article is by the renown environmental scientist, James Lovelock of Great Britain, who has been an astute observer of environmental changes over most of his 100-year life. The title of his article is ”Humans are too stupid to prevent climate change”. It can be seen at

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2010/mar/29/james-lovelock-climate-change

So, do you not agree that the two articles referred to here go together perfectly. Sure, it would be environmentally stupid for St. Olaf College to take my advice for increasing their studies abroad program. But on the other hand, they have already proven James Lovelock’s thesis to be correct (at least at St. Olaf College) by their existing and still enlarging travel programs as well as by their investments in fossil-fuel-related industries.  (They would appear to not know that their CO2 emissions contribute to global warming)

So “Fram!, Fram!  Kristmenn Krossmenn!”, the traditional motto of St. Olaf College, now becomes “Backwards, Backwards, mentally impaired students, faculty and alumnae “.  Yes, St. Olaf is now more of a business than a center of knowledge and there is a lot of money to be made by serving the needs of their similarly impaired customers and industrial donors.  And because we are so stupid, many or most of us will  continue to enjoy that party while it lasts.  So yes, “Fram, Fram, towards the abyss” also gives the new motto of St. Olaf College, “Oles can and Oles will” an unfortunate  new meaning.  Personally, I hope “Oles won’t” and that they pay much more attention to modern environmental science.

 

 

 

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | October 30, 2018

Thoughts of retired physician on climate change


In surfing the internet, I came across a u-tube video of a former family practitioner from Canada and England named Peter Carter who has spent his retirement years learning, writing, and speaking about climate change. Thus, his recent resume reads much like my own and, in addition, I found that his take on this problem is essentially the same as my own and is, most importantly, consistent with the peer reviewed scientific literature of climate science. The interview provided here provides what I think is the one of the most accurate and realistic assessment of where we are today with respect to the climate change issue. Perhaps because of his own professional background in working with the general public, his communication skills in addressing even difficult issues are excellent. But brace yourself – because of our media does such a poor job of covering this issue, you are likely to be somewhat surprised as well as horrified.

Please listen to his interview and prepare to learn some very important things about climate chance that you were perhaps a bit fuzzy on before.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | October 28, 2018

A renown guest at St. Olaf College tries to wake it up

While I have been very disappointed with my alma mater, St. Olaf College of Northfield MN, for its inadequate actions against climate change, I was pleased to note that the college recently hosted one of America’s most distinguished thinkers to discuss this and related topics. MIT Emeritus Professor Noam Chomsky is a linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, historian, and social critic. A video of his presentation at St. Olaf College can be seen at

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v4FZFldaFbg

As you watch it, please pay particular attention to the second portion of his talk dealing with climate change and, at the very end of his talk (in his response to a student’s question), his brief comments dealing with the detrimental effects business as usual models have had on our colleges and universities. My alma mater is, indeed, now a very well-healed business as evidenced by their beautiful quarterly publications that now focus on their extensive studies abroad programs. If one did not know better, one might think they were reading the advertisements of a travel agency. An associated deficiency in those quarterly reports, however, is an absence of leadership concerning the greatest problem facing mankind today – climate change. The authors of these publications do not even acknowledge that the multitude of students, faculty and interested alumni they send to the far corners of the Earth each year are unnecessarily contributing directly to global warming.

The strong emphasis St. Olaf College places on its extensive studies abroad programs using high-carbon-footprint means of transport – along with its continued investments in fossil-fuel-intensive industries – all work against our climate change problem. All of this sets an example that is in the opposite direction of that promoted by their visitor, Professor Chomsky. I have been trying to get St. Olaf College to recognize these shortcomings for more than three years now ever since my post of May 2015 on this blog entitled “The present disconnect between modern climate science and St. Olaf College, for example.” I have also used St. Olaf as an example of inadequate leadership on climate change in a half-dozen other posts at ericgrimsrud.org since then – all with no detectable impact, as far as I can tell. Hopefully, the leadership of St. Olaf College will take the advice of their distinguished guest, Professor Chomsky, more seriously. Colleges and universities such as St. Olaf should not think they deserve a pass on the elimination their CO2 emissions because of all the other “good things” they do. Mother Nature does not differentiate between “ethical” and “harmful” CO2.  All of it contributes equally to the warming of our planet.

Apparently, I hold my alma mater to a higher intellectual and moral standard than its President and Board of Regents do. That is undoubtedly why my missives to them have been largely ignored, to date, even though I am a St. Olaf graduate whose lifetime research has contributed significantly to our understanding of the Earth’s atmosphere (see my resume at ericgrimsrud.org). Therefore, I hope the StO community is at least listening to the message provided them by Professor Chromsky. There really is a huge disconnect between St. Olaf College and the scientific community on the subject of climate change and what must be done by all people and all organizations to confront it. No, StO College should not think it has earned a pass on climate change action just because the electrical needs of its campus are now provided by a wind mill and solar panels. While St. Olaf College might think it is a special place, it is not that special. It must join all other organizations in trying to eliminate all emissions of greenhouse gases. Only in this manner can St. Olaf College meet our expectations of it for leadership in the fight against the greatest problem facing all of mankind today.

PS:  For those of you who appreciated the style, depth, and relevance of Professor Chomsky’s comments referred to above – as I did – I will call your attention to another recent address of his below.  He is truly a national treasure whose observations and assessments of post WWII American history now provides an invaluable source of information for younger Americans.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | September 24, 2018

Jesus of Nazareth on climate change

I recently received a letter from an acquaintance named Roland James of Morehead, Minnesota.  He is a 1969 graduate of Concordia College (Morehead) and, therefore, undoubtedly shares a Norwegian Lutheran educational background such as my own.  He subsequently spent many years working within the public energy utilities of Arizona and became a strong advocate for the discontinued use of fossil fuels.  The concise letter he sent me is provided below.  After reading it, Mr. James and I strongly recommend that you also read the sermon by Rev. Peter Sawtell referred to below.

Mr. James’ Letter:

The paradox:  If we save the conventional Big American Way of Life based on fossil fuels, we will lose life itself.’  
Mark 8:27-38:  Jesus tells his followers to “deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”  It is clear that truly following Jesus is not safe or easy. He explains further: “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” — the paradox of both saving and losing one’s life.

“Those who want to save their life will lose it” undermines much of superficial and egocentric “am I saved” Christianity.   And Jesus continues, “those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” If you put your own individual salvation and welfare on the back burner and live in love and compassion, seeking justice and focusing on God’s intention for the well-being of all creation — then you will find a life of abundance in community, service and faith. Only by letting go of what we think of as normal is there a path to the abundant life.  But this isn’t only about our internal life. It is also a sacrificial, risk-taking way of living that Jesus called “taking up your cross” out in the world. 

 What is called “business as usual” is now a suicidal way of life.  All we have to do to destroy the planet’s climate and biosphere and leave a ruined Earth to marginalized people around the world, to our children and grandchildren, and to other species is to keep doing what we are doing today.   Just continue with the 10% richest on Earth releasing carbon dioxide and methane at current rates–and the world in the latter part of this century will be climate hell, not fit for life.    

.If we “first worlders” cling to comfortable affluence and consumerism and our addiction to fossil fuels — if we try to save that way of life — we will lose it. But if we give up that exceptional privilege, we will have made a turn toward the sustainability that will bring life to the whole Earth community. That is a modern and social application of the message of Jesus.  Excessive concern about one’s self-interest is not life-giving, whereas commitment to justice and the health of the community brings life.

For first-world Christians, losing our excessive self-absorbed life is essential. There’s a parallel practical truth for our entire society. We need transformation to conservation and efficiency and in energy sources and cultural values. We need to lose our attachment to business as usual if we are to survive as a human species. May we have the courage to do that.

 The related and more detailed sermon on this topic by Rev. Peter Sawtell can be found at http://www.eco-justice.org/E-180921.asp

In summary, it is evident in many quarters that the fundamental messages of Jesus of Nazareth have been effectively muted by our business-as-usual leaders and that we Christians no longer recognize the paradox and dilemma we are presently in.  Thus, many self-proclaimed Christians seem to think that they can have it both ways. For example, the President of my own alma mater, St. Olaf College, when recently asked why some of his college’s endowment funds remain invested in the fossil fuel industries, he is reported to have responded “because that gives St. Olaf College a ‘seat at the table’”.  That response is laughable on its face and differs entirely from that reported of Jesus when he came upon members of his faith using their temple for distinctly questionable business-as-usual purposes.  According to Mother Nature, as well as to Jesus of Nazareth, any organization or species that does not use its God-given gifts and intelligence for the preservation and betterment of its members is not fit for life and will surely loose it.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | September 3, 2018

A scientifically credible reason for the actions of St. Olaf College

Warning!  This post is intended for adults only.

While criticizing American institutions of higher educations (as represented several times on this website by St. Olaf College and Harvard University) for their inadequate leadership in our fight against global warming, I have wondered what their real reasons for their inactions are.  If the leadership of those institutions know that our continued use of fossil fuels will eventually lead to the demise of the human civilizations on this planet, that might suggest that these academic leaders are sociopaths who do not really care about the future of human beings.  Since I personally know faculty and administrators at St. Olaf College, however,  I am absolutely certain that they are not sociopaths – they care very much about all citizens of the world.  So that then leaves me with a dilemma – why do the actions of St. Olaf College and so many other colleges and universities on this issue – such as their continued financial support of fossil fuel industries – resemble those expected of sociopaths?

This leads me to next suggest that these institutions do not accept the science behind global warming.  However, I do not believe in that possibility either. Certainly, the highly respected scientific research power house that is Harvard University would not go against the clear scientific consensus of thought on this most important of environmental issues and, I am sure, neither would the science departments of St. Olaf College. 

So, let’s try again: why would these institutions of higher education be behaving like sociopaths?  There is at least one other explanation that might be both believable and credible – even though, if true, neither St. Olaf College or Harvard University would be inclined to admit it at the present time. This reason is best described by the leading proponent of it, a retired professor of climate science at Arizona University name Guy McPherson.  The essence of his view is that it is presently much too late to arrest our drift towards the onset of catastrophic positive feedback effects which will quickly lead to the near extinction of the human species.  And, he forcefully predicts that this will occur very soon –  within the present decade.  While McPherson’s projections might sound like science fiction to most, they are not.  They are based on readily available science along with the application of the uncertainties typically assigned to scientific assessments of the future.  In my view, the most important of these uncertainties concerns the rates at which the positive feedbacks McPherson refers to kick in.  They might or might not be much slower than he envisions.   

You can make your own assessment of Dr. McPherson’s credibility and thoughts by observing an interview of him at

 https://guymcpherson.com/2018/04/interview-with-canadian-prepper/

Be sure to listen to both part i and part ii of this video.  If you have difficulty in finding part ii you can find it at:  

https://guymcpherson.com/2018/04/interview-with-canadian-prepper-part-ii/

Now, if you did, indeed, do as I requested above, your view of the climate change problem might be somewhat different from what it had been prior to listening to Guy McPherson’s explanation of it.  You might, for example, now be more seriously considering the possibility that it is indeed much too late to do much about the relentless advance of global warming.  And, If the folks at St. Olaf College and Harvard University tend to share the view of Dr. McPherson, that might at least partially explain their behavior. This would then make them not sociopaths, but prudent administrators of their institutions financial resources – which they might need in the all-too-soon coming decades – during which “enjoying the party while it lasts”, McPherson tells us, will be the only game left for human to play out during the remainder of this geological epoch.

So, to St. Olaf College (my alma mater) and Harvard University:  my apologies to both of you for my previous criticisms of what seemed to me to be sociopathic behavior if, in fact, your behavior was based on the scientific views of Guy McPherson. If your actions are thereby explained, please do continue to invest your financial resources in fossil fuels industries, if your wish, and please do continue and even expand your high-carbon footprint activities, such as your studies abroad programs.  And, I will now admit that is might turn out to be a good thing for St. Olaf students to witness first-hand the degradation of all parts of our planet along with other citizens of the world and especially those whose portions of our planet will be affected before ours.

In closing, I will add:  if I have identified here the reason behind the inactions of St. Olaf College and Harvard University concerning the fight against climate change, it also explains why neither of those institutions of higher learning would care to admit to their motivations.  Both of those institutions prefer to boast about how they are preparing their students for the future and they prefer to suggest that that future includes the long as well as short terms.  By an admission of belief in McPherson’s view, any claims they retained to for the long-term welfare of human beings would merely constitute deceptive pandering. Thus, we have not heard from either of these institutions of higher learning any credible/logical explanations for their behaviors, so far.  If a scientifically credible one still exists, other than that suggested here, perhaps the folks at my alma mater, St. Olaf College, could share it with us. I would be please to provide exposure to it on this web site.  Unless things have change recently in our democratic republic, the truth, even if unpleasant, is to be preferred over fantasy. 

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | August 25, 2018

Folks at St. Olaf College need to read this

I have often wondered what it might take for the President and Regents of St. Olaf College to envision the absolutely disastrous path the world continues to follow by its “business as usual” attitudes concerning our use of fossil fuels.  In view of the continued financial investments of St. Olaf College in fossil fuel industries and the exceedingly high carbon foot-prints of many of their most highly touted international travel programs, one is forced to conclude that St. Olaf College just “doesn’t get it” – that is, the latest scientific implications of climate change. Given that St. Olaf College claims to be a leader in the field of undergraduate education, its selective ignorance on this most important of all scientific issues is most unfortunate as it is also downright anti-intellectual and cowardly. Yes, it does take some courage to go against the grain of the B as U forces, many of whom I suspect are generous donors to St. Olaf College.

So, when I came upon the attached article at http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/07/climate-change-earth-too-hot-for-humans.html?utm_campaign=nym&utm_medium=s1&utm_source=fb

I thought it might get through to the folks at St. Olaf who claim to be directing an up-to-date institution of higher education and, in addition, one that claims to have a high regard for the moral aspects of mankind’s presence on this planet.  Enough said.  If this article does not awaken the President and Regents of St. Olaf College to the need for real and forceful action in this area, perhaps nothing I can say will.  As the article makes clear, mere lip service, a windmill, and a bunch of solar panels will no longer cut it.  Changes in basic life styles are required now so that our grandchildren will have a chance of mere sustenance later.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | July 21, 2018

Arresting our skid towards political and planetary degradation

On our first 4th of July, Benjamin Franklin is said to have been asked by a citizen of Philadelphia, “Mr. Franklin, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy? – to which he responded “it will be a republic, if you can keep it”.

First, we should remind ourselves that the definition of a republic is “a state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives”.  And if the Americans of that era did not understand what Franklin meant by his “if you can keep it” remark, anyone who has lived during the last century should.  By not sufficiently heeding Franklin’s warning, it is now clear that we have lost a lot of our respect for and confidence in our republic and, indeed, are in danger of not “keeping it”.

This lack of confidence in our republic today is regularly displayed by the frequent observation that our political system is not doing a good job of managing our country – followed by a litany of reasons for this. Most prominent among those reasons is the extreme level of polarization within our two-party system and the gridlock that has resulted.  If our differences are not sufficiently plentiful for some, they make up new ones.  An example of this is now being displayed on our football fields where one of America’s most revered pastimes used to be played out in relative harmony, void of political influences.  As our imagined as well as real problems grow, our democratic system becomes easier to undermine by those who prefer to change it to some sort of autocracy in which a powerful subset of citizens call the shots. In this way the democratic Weimar Republic of Germany was brought down in 1933 by that era’s greatest autocrat. If we lose confidence in our democratic system, our American republic could also be replaced by some version of Nazism. Therefore, we should all know by now what Franklin meant by his admonition, “if we can keep it”. 

To understand our present government, it is essential to note how and why it changed in recent decades. Contrary to the suggestions of some, major changes did not just instantly occur with the election of Donald Trump – whose lack of respect for and knowledge of our country’s history is, indeed, unique among previous American presidents. Trump had a great deal of help from at least two other recent Republican Presidents, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. Each of these men did much to undermine time-honored American principles of representative democracy and thereby paved the way for presidential candidate Trump.

Richard Nixon began his trip to infamy in 1968 by undermining the efforts of our sitting president, Lyndon Johnson, to end the war in Vietnam. Nixon’s success in this treasonous act, contributed to his victory in the presidential election later that year and also led to the deaths of some 20,000 American soldiers with 100,000 wounded and about one million additional Indochinese casualties in the four years of warfare that followed.  By this and other actions, Nixon taught his party that winning at all costs, even if resorting to treason, was acceptable.  Fortunately, he was eventually brought down by some of his other illegal activities in what became known as the Watergate Affair. Assuming the “Nixon era” is ever accurately portrayed in the history textbooks of our public schools, the confidence of future US citizens in our government will be appropriately diminished.

Just a few years later, Ronald Reagan also stooped to that low level of foreign affairs interference in order to get to the White House. While the then sitting President, Jimmy Carter, was doing his best to get 50 American hostages released from Iran, Reagan’s election team (which included the future president, George H. W. Bush) secretly urged the Iranians to hold onto those hostages until Reagan was in the White House. Then, Reagan did, indeed, win that election thereby reaffirming Nixon’s lesson of winning by any means, including treason.

As president, Ronald Reagan then continued to interact with foreign governments in ways that were distinctly illegal.  In what became known as the Iran-Contra Affair, he orchestrated a complex agreement in which arms were illegally sold to Iran with the proceeds going to the right-wing dictatorship of Nicaragua. When exposed, Reagan admitted his role in this affair. Thus, his treasonous acts have now also been added to the public record and should appear soon in the history texts of our public schools. All of this, of course, has done great damage to the credibility of our American democracy.     

Another lesson Reagan imparted to his party was the suggestion that “government does not solve problems – it is the problem!” (this, while he was simultaneously increasing the size of government during his own eight years in office!).  This cynical and hypocritical view of government has also done great deal of damage to our representative democracy. By declaring that our government does not solve problems, what system was Reagan suggesting we replace it with? – perhaps some sort of autocracy led by himself and a group of business leaders? Have we forgotten what happened to Italy, also, when such system was adopted by Benito Mussolini in the 1920s?  We don’t know exactly what Reagan had in mind. We only know for sure that he significantly reduced our confidence in our representative republic thereby opening the door to other less democratic options.   

And so now we presently have another President, Donald Trump, who seems to have also gotten to the White House via the direct assistance provided by another autocratic foreign power (the details of this are presently emerging).  Both Nixon and Reagan might have been proud of Donald – whose motto is also winning at all costs and whose method is also to show no respect for public sector government (most of the officials Trump has selected during his presidency have been ill-suited to their tasks and have quickly been thrown under the bus by their boss, thereby leaving the boss as the only man left standing).  As the antidemocratic deeds of this American anomaly continue to play out, we should not be taken in by the “Great America” he promises. The autocrats of history have a well-documented tendency of taking their devotees down with them when their phony dreams begin to unravel.

Having lived his life at the very centers of English, French and American power, Benjamin Franklin became both a wise and worldly man. It is telling, therefore, that he knew not only what the best form of government was for the USA but also emphasized the type of vigilance that would be required to keep it. In the past, the greatest threats to our representative republic have come from within our political system.  While our founding fathers did not know Nixon, Reagan, and Trump, of course, they knew their ilk – that is, demagogues who seek support by appealing to the desires and prejudices of ordinary people rather than by rationandal argument. Like it or not that is what we presently have and future elections provide our only means of “righting” our ship.  Yes, in order to “right” in this case we need the help of all, including those on the Right who value our representative republic. 

So, finally, how does all of this relate to the climate change problem?  Two of the latter-day Republicans discussed above have become symbolic and literal leaders of antienvironmental movements. Among the first things Reagan did upon reaching the White House was to remove the symbolic solar panels President Carter had installed on the roof of that building and then encouraged Americans to go back to driving large, gas-guzzling vehicles. He was clearly in the pocket of our fossil fuel industries. Our present Republican President Trump is even worse – that is, a hard-core denier of the science behind man-caused global warming.

While I used to be a political independent, I have now totally given up on the Republican Party. They have shown themselves to have far too few conscientious grownups in their midst even while they have controlled all three branches of our federal government.  Therefore, along with the intellectual leader of their party, George Will, I hope that all seats in the 2018 and 2020 elections go to Democrats. The Republicans have all too clearly shown that the problems of today are too much for them to address in any helpful manner and that their only real concern is to keep our nation’s wealth where it presently is – even if that means letting both our republic and planet go down the tubes.  

 

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | July 1, 2018

St. Olaf College needs to meet Ella Lagé

As the readers of this website know, I have often used my alma mater, St. Olaf College of Northfield, Minnesota, as an example of an institution that should know better than to be invested in the production and use of fossil fuels. Certainly, St. Olaf College is aware of the science behind global warming and (I assume) is aware of our moral responsibility to preserve human friendly conditions on this plant for future generations. Nevertheless, it is also a fact that  a portion of the considerable financial endowments of St. Olaf are still invested in companies that seek to find, remove, and/or use increasing amounts of fossil fuels. While I have chided St. Olaf’s President and Board of Regents for these investments and have encouraged them to divest their assets from all of them for the sake of future generations, they have so far refused to do so. The only reason I have heard from them for this is that any divestments by them would be too small as to make a difference.

Therefore, when I came across the U-tube video to be referred to below, it immediately occurred to me that the leadership of St. Olaf College needs to meet Ella Lagé.  As a private citizen of Berlin, Germany, she found a way to make a great difference in fossil fuel investments and did this with meager financial resources.  Enough said.  Please listen carefully to Ella’s presentation and help her (and me) convince our colleges, universities, and other institutions to divest their resources from fossil fuel production and use.   

See this video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LRQWXFCaOGs

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