Posted by: ericgrimsrud | April 20, 2017

Getting science back into our legislative branches

We clearly need a lot more scientific influence in our legislative bodies both in Washington DC and at the state levels. While most of our congressmen are well-trained in the rigors of law and/or economics/business, very few have more than public school educations in the sciences. Of the few legislators that do have some backgrounds in science, these are typically in the applied fields of engineering or medicine rather than the basic physical sciences. We therefore have a problem in our legislative branches whenever issues come up that can be well understood only be those with solid backgrounds in the basic sciences.

The most important issue of our times, climate change, provides a clear example of this. In order to decide what Mother Nature’s responses will be to mankind’s enormous conversions of geological carbon (fossil fuels) to biological carbon (carbon dioxide and plants), the only option available to most of our elected officials is to refer to others who claim to have that understanding. Unfortunately, the number of want-to-be advisors on environmental issues far exceed those having bona fide scientific experiences. In addition, most of those want-to-be advisors are actually lobbyists with motivations and pockets much deeper than their levels of scientific understanding. Given the fact that they outnumber our legislators in DC by about 5 to 1, it is not surprising that they have a great or even determining influence on legislation.

For the purpose of addressing this problem, the USA has established several professional organizations in all of the sciences that regularly offer their advice on issues involving science. In addition, we have the National Academy of Sciences, an organization that President Lincoln established in 1862 specifically for providing our government the best advice available on any scientific topic. Its members include the most renown scientists of the USA in all areas of science. These scientific organizations, including the NAS, have no actual power in setting legislation, however. They simply advise those that do. Sadly, the advice of these professional scientific organizations is now routinely ignored by our legislative bodies that tend to be controlled by financial interests. Therefore, our country routinely goes “forward” along its “business as usual” paths without a clue as to the most likely responses Mother Nature will have to the impacts of mankind on our planet. It should be noted that almost all of our legislators within the majority Republican party in Washington do not even acknowledge the near unanimous view of all of our professional scientific organizations on the subject of climate change. Only on the Democratic side do we have a few Senators, such as Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Al Franken of Minnesota, who can intelligently explain the scientific basis of global warming to their colleagues and the public.

I can think of no resolution to this disconnect between science and our legislatures other than the following. We need to have far more scientists at the front lines of power where the actual decisions are made. That is, we need far more legislators who have had solid educations and experiences in science. There are several reasons for this in addition to the obvious one that scientists typically know a lot more about scientific issues than lawyers do. One of these is that lawyers and scientists are taught entirely different ways of approaching the issues before them. Lawyers are typically hired or assigned to support one side of an issue – they are on the side of either the plaintiff or the defense. Therefore, lawyers typically start with the “answer” they favor and then do their best to prove that the evidence supports their preference.

Scientists, on the other hand, are trained to do exactly the opposite. That is, they typically start with the observable evidence and work towards the most likely conclusions. This fundamental difference between lawyers and scientists makes all the difference if the issues under consideration concerns what Mother Nature is likely to do. No one can claim to represent Her interests. But we do know that She does things one way – Her way – and historically the disciplines of science have provided our most reliable predictions what She will do. Trying to understand the natural world is what scientists do.

Another very important difference between scientists and lawyers concerns the breath of history that is relevant to their deliberations. Lawyers have derived their total sum of knowledge from documents written by other human beings over the last 5,000 years or so – since the beginning of human civilizations. Thus, lawyers, like much of the general public, have an ingrained “feeling” that our relevant history dates back only to that recorded by humans – even though that period is of almost negligible duration relative to the natural history of our planet. Thus, with all due respect to our essential profession of Law, lawyers are typically useless in assessing what Mother Nature is likely to do in response to the physical changes we are making on our planet. A sense of the Earth’s natural history over many millions of years is required in order to do that.

Thus, whether lawyers or scientists would make better legislators depends on the subject under consideration. If the question before them is whether or not some activity is in compliance with the laws of our country as laid out be the Constitutions and subsequent rulings of our courts, a background in law would obviously be more useful than one in science. On the other hand, if the issue at hand concerns what Mother Nature is likely to do in the future in response to the various inputs of mankind, then a background in science would be much more useful in determining what corrective action, if any, might be warranted.

In response to my last point, the lawyers are going to say “but we have scientific organizations, such as the National Academy of Sciences, for providing the scientific advice we need”. And to that comment I will repeat, “yes, but the NAS has no power and recent history has shown that its advice is now resisted or ignored if it is not favored by the controlling financial interests of our country.

If you now happen to agree with me that we need more professional scientists in our legislative bodies, the next question you might have is – are a significant number of professional scientists likely to change their professions from science to politics. Over the last several decades, the answer to this question has clearly been “no” – very few active scientists entered the fields of politics in the USA during the post WWII era. At the end of that war, the importance of science was so well recognized by our federal government that scientists were encouraged to focus entirely on their research and were well funded to do just that. An unfortunate result of that arrangement was that there was less need for scientists to make the case for science in the political arena and scientists gradually lost their ability to effectively communicate with the general public and their elected officials.

This attitude in now changing among scientists, however. Large numbers of scientists in all areas are now realizing that they simply must become parts of our political system for all of the reasons I have cited above. This change of attitude has been given a big boost by the election of Donald Trump to our Presidency.  President Trump is undoubtedly the more scientifically-challenged President we have ever had in the post WWII era. The set of equally ignorant cronies he has placed in positions of central importance to matters of science, energy and our environment has also provided great motivation for a return of solid science to all levels of our government.

Fortunately, some help now appears to be on the horizon. An account of movements currently underway designed to get more scientists involved in US politics was provided recently in the Feb 6, 2017, edition of the New York Times in an article by Amy Herman and Henry Fountain entitled “Scientists Show Signs of a Political Pulse”.  Let’s hope these movements once again bring first rate science back to Washington DC and our state capitals.  To think we can go forward without it in this day and age is nothing short of insanity.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | March 30, 2017

Our President’s quest for a better bandwagon

President Trump appears to be on the verge of becoming a “big loser” – something he was not at all used to being when operating within the business world. As the leader of our democratic republic, however, he appears to be in way over his head. While his pandering skills were sufficient to get a gullible portion of the general public to vote for him, they do not appear to be appropriate for running our government. He is now providing us with clear examples of this almost on a daily basis. In addition, it is becoming clear that Trump does not really care very much about any of the issues he decides to either embrace or attack. He simply wants to be perceived to be “the boss” who can arrange “big deals” of any kind. Thus, he now appears to be looking for a new “band wagon” he can join in the hopes that this will result in “successes” he can claim as his own.

The latest examples of this revolve around environmental issues where one can easilly find powerful, if unscrupulous, violators of environmental regulations who are always in need of close friends in Washington. Up to this point, he has shored up many friendships in this area even if, in doing so, he has had go against the science concerning them. President Trump has now even gone the full ten yards in that direction by promoting the further development and use of the most problematic of all forms of fossil fuels, coal. While there is no doubt that he will, indeed, find very desperate “friends” in that industry, his offer of their salvation is little more than another con job. A return to the coal age will not happen for a long list of reasons as related below.

For starters, the combustion of coal provides only about half of the energy per CO2 molecule produced relative to that provided by the combustion of either gas or oil. That is, its effect on greenhouse gas warming is twice as bad as that of gas and oil. In addition, the combustion of coal also results in the emission of several primary pollutants, including sulfur dioxide, mercury, and variety of toxic metals. And note, also, that the often-used term, “clean coal”, is no more than a phony construct suggesting that the CO2 emitted by power plants will be removed and put back into the geosphere. Carbon capture and sequestration is a technology that has been demonstrated only on a very small scale and will never become financially feasible on the massive levels required. And finally, the abundant supplies of gas and oil now being produced by fracking technologies have provided inexpensive and cleaner forms of fossil fuels for use in fossil-fuel-driven-power plants. Coal is no longer needed in that industry.

In spite of all of the above, President Trump is doing his best to develop friendships within this needy segment of society by irresponsible pandering to them. While Hillary Clinton went to West Virginia to encourage its citizens to diversify their economic base beyond coal production, Trump is encouraging them to remain focused on the mining of their coal. Just as he has already abandoned the “repeal Obamacare” bandwagon, he will surely also prove to be ineffective in bringing back the outdated era of coal. Trump’s only objective here is to fool some gullible and needy people into helping him extend his pointless presidency. One can only hope that as Trump goes forward and gets hammered by the realities of climate change, he will eventually see the benefit to himself of jumping onto a far better bandwagon.

This seemingly illogical thought has some merit – as I explained in one my previous posts entitled “An up-side to a Trump presidency” (see archives, March 2016) about one year ago. That post was placed prior to the presidential election of November of 2016 and included the following statement:

“Of all of the Republican candidates, it is most difficult to guess what Trump would do about climate change if elected. This is partially because the leadership of GOP has been AWOL on this topic over the last two decades and has put no pressure on its candidates to take the issue seriously. And even if the GOP had recommended some specific actions or non-actions on climate change, it is unlikely that Donald Trump would pay much attention to them. The Donald has found great success in being a very loose cannon within the GOP and to the consternation of his party’s leaders has shown that he can take whatever view he wishes on all topics.  In short, the Donald has become bigger than the GOP itself.  Concerning the single issue of climate change, this could be a good thing since the GOP has done its very best to obstruct all actions concerning it.”

By making this imagined 180 degree change and becoming our leader in the implementation of corrective action against climate change, President Trump could thereby become known as the “Savior of the Planet” and position himself for receipt of the world-wide accolades that might then follow. What outcome could better suit his need for praise and admiration? I suspect that he really does not want to become the new “King of Coal” and thereby add to his legacy as a “loser”.  I could imagine (and hope) that President Trump will continue to cut any tries he still has to his political party and eventually see that he has a far better chance of achieving widespread acclaim by joining the grown-ups of the world. This has happened before, you know, when Richard Nixon went to China, for example.  Fortunately, the motives behind politicians’ actions are less important than their consequences.


Posted by: ericgrimsrud | March 14, 2017

On the colonization of academia by the fossil fuel interests

In several of my posts I have expressed disappointment in the lack of climate change activism coming out of our colleges and universities and have suggested that this results from financial relationships between our academic institutions with the fossil-fuel-related industries that are far too close and far too lucrative. In those posts, I have included as an example even our oldest, most wealthy, and most respected private university, Harvard. If this is happening at schools as well-healed and highly regarded as Harvard, one can be certain it is also happening at almost all other institutions of higher learning which are even more desperate for funding of their graduate and undergraduate programs.

So a relevant question is: is this really happening at Harvard and others top schools, such as Harvard’s equally prestigious neighbor, MIT?  A recent article in the Guardian says that it is – and to an extend much greater that the public realizes – and provides some specific examples. The article can be seen at

The title of the article “The fossil fuel industry’s invisible colonization of academia” sums up its contents. Turns out Shell Oil directly funds a great deal of the research on climate change at Harvard while Shell and other oil companies do the same at MIT and Stanford. Thus, the publications produced by the recipients of these funds claim to be seeking something they call the “middle ground” or the “compromise” between the use of fossil fuels and the non-CO2 producing alternate means of energy production – even though no such intermediate state is generally thought to exist among most independent climate scientists. That notion is nothing more than a preference of the fossil fuel industries. Thus, undeserved credibility is provided to this dubious quest by the inclusion of Harvard personnel in it. In return, Harvard collects her reward, just as any prostitute does for services rendered. For the details of these transactions related in more politically acceptable terms, read the article referred to above.

Moreover, this article goes on to say that “the fossil fuel interests have colonized nearly every nook and cranny of energy and climate policy research in American universities, and much of energy science too. And they have done so quietly, without the general public’s knowledge.”

A lot of money can, indeed, be made by colleges and universities today by not taking their traditional responsibilities for the pursuit of truth too seriously and it appears that most of our nation’s colleges and universities are following the examples set by Harvard and MIT. This might also explain why small colleges, such St. Olaf College which I have frequently used as an example on this blog,  does not dare to divest its endowment funds from the fossil fuel industries.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | March 13, 2017

Yours truly on climate change program

I would like to call your attention here to a TV program concerning climate change that is appearing on select cable-TV systems in Twin Cities region of Minnesota.

My perspectives on climate change are the featured in this 28-minute edition of Democratic Visions  a community access series produced by Jeff Strate with the help of other volunteers who live in the southwest suburbs of the Twin Cities.  Jeff, a St. Olaf College classmate of my wife, Kathy, and me (class of 1966), superbly manages the interviews shown in this video.  The program is enhanced with numerous graphics and recent video news clips and  comments concerning climate change issues.  I serve as the (generally) serious climate change scientist and humorist Jon Spayde, in the guise of his “Professor of Negativity” character, adds an imaginative and delightful  5-minute dose of dark humor.

The entire program is posted on YouTube at



This edition of Democratic Visions can also be seen

on select Twin Cities cable TV systems –

Eden Prairie, Minnetonka, Edina, Hopkins, Richfield, Comcast Channel 15 —

Sundays at 9 p.m., Mondays at 10:00 p.m., Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m. and Saturdays at 2 p.m.

Bloomington – BCAT Channel 16 —

Tuesdays at 2:00 p.m. & 10:00 p.m.; Fridays at 9:30 p.m.; Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. & 2:30 p.m.

Minneapolis – MTN Channel 16 —

Sundays at 8:30 p.m., Mondays 3:30 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m.

Programs are streamed during airings –

Champlin, Anoka, Ramsey, Andover – QCTV Community Channel 15

Mondays 10:30 am, Wednesdays 10:30 am, Thursdays 1 pm, Fridays 1 pm, Saturdays 10:30 pm.

Schedule can vary but consult website –

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | February 17, 2017

Science squeezed out of our institutions

Scientific insight in the USA has historically come from either our government laboratories or our institutions of higher learning. And it has been essential that these centers of research “tell it like it is” rather than provide information that is simply comforting to the public and our controlling political and commercial forces. Tragically, that is not happening today.

With the recent election of President Trump and the GOP domination of our legislative branches, we now have very little scientific information concerning climate change that is getting past the gatekeepers of those bodies. In addition, the majority of our elected officials in Washington DC appear to have only minimal regard, at best, for scientists and even science, itself. As implied in one of my previous posts of January 2017 entitled “Sir, are you now or have you ever been a climatologist?” scientific input from our nation’s research laboratories and regulatory bodies, such as the EPA, is on the verge of being essentially outlawed so that the preferences of various business entities can proceed without regulatory or scientific interference.

As has been illustrated by my interactions with the upper administration of St. Olaf College described in my previous post of January 2017 entitled “On the compartmentalization of a difficult decision at St. Olaf College”, we appear to be experiencing a similar blockage of scientific input to the leadership of this and other institutions of higher learning of USA. An important function of these academic institutions used to be provide advice of the highest intellectual caliber concerning the world’s problems. This function appears to have been negated by the strong financial ties that now exists between the administrations of our academic institutions and existing corporate powers. As a result, very few of our nation’s colleges and universities have been sufficiently influenced by the latest information concerning global warming as to divest their endowment funds from the fossil fuel industries. This, in spite of the near-unanimous agreement among climate scientists that the combustion of fossil fuels must be stopped as soon as possible.

Trying to get our society to do the things that are necessary to combat relentless advance of global warming is difficult. Most people will do something of an altruistic nature for the overall good of mankind and future generations only if they are taught, encouraged and led by those who do understand the entire problem and, in addition, are willing to walk the walk required to get there. This leadership role is one that our colleges and universities are well poised to play but do not because they have placed a higher priority on a continuation of the donations they receive from their exceeding wealthy “friends” tied to fossil fuel dependent industries.

Perhaps the only example of late for movement in the opposite direction has come from a group of former leaders of the GOP. This group includes former secretary of state James Baker who served under George H.W. Bush; Henry Paulson who was treasury secretary under George W. Bush, and George Schulz, who was secretary of state under Ronald Reagan. They have proposed the implementation of a stiff and annually increasing carbon tax on the production of all fossil fuels. As this website has continuously explained, the implementation of a stiff carbon tax is essential if our atmosphere is no longer going to be used as a free-of-charge garbage dump for the disposal of the CO2 produced by the combustion of fossil fuels. While this suggestion is long over due and is unquestionably fair and apppropriate, it apparently took a few elderly “grownups” within the GOP to acknowledge this.

Another ray of hope is that our media will become more forceful on this subject.   Our American democracy has been built on a foundation of a press free of government interference and governed by strong professional ethics. I happen to be very well aware of this elevated view of American journalism because my own father was a life-long practicioner of it. Of course, the media occasionally gets stuff wrong, and whenever they do they need to put it right. Nevertheless, they are the foundation of an informed democratic dialogue. Our president is currently throwing mud over all issues and especially that of climate change – and is doing so deliberately with malice directed towards the institutional traditions of our country.  He’s telling us we are being lied to all the time by everyone. That has a corrosive effect, deepening public distrust of the media and other institutions at a time when they already enjoy historically low levels of confidence. We cannot let that happen and we need a strong and active media now perhaps more than we ever have. It would also help a great deal, of course, if our colleges and universities would wake up and get more intimately involved.




Posted by: ericgrimsrud | February 9, 2017 recognized by Feedspot

When one manages a one-person, low-budget, low-profile blog, it is easy to think that its author is the only person paying much attention to it. Therefore, I was heartened to learn that Feedspot has deemed to be one of the 40 best blogs dealing with the subject of climate change. This list can be seen at  as well as the criteria they used for their ranking. Since my blog was ranked right at the #40 cutoff point a couple days ago when I received this recognition, I will obviously have to continue to do my very best in order to retain this much-appreciated acknowledgement. I will do that, of course, and I thank Feedspot for noticing my efforts, to date, which have now been carried on for going on five years with a few posts placed each month.

Feedspot is an online source of information that consolidates references to news and information dealing with many specific subjects of wide interest, including climate change. Shown below is the award seal they granted us for achieving their “Best 40” list in the global warming category.  Note that their list includes websites on “both sides” of this publically unsettled issue.


Those of you who have followed this blog over the last couple years, know that I have picked on my alma mater, St. Olaf College of Northfield, Minnesota, several times as an example of how our colleges and universities could become far better leaders than they are in addressing the world’s greatest problem, that is, global warming. More specifically, I have criticized the administration of StO for two reasons. One is that their college’s endowment funds are still invested in the fossil fuel industries and the second is that they promote a great deal of unnecessary travel by carbon intensive means of transportation. While 20 years ago, these activities used to be environmentally acceptable, they no longer are – as our out-of-control greenhouse effect pushes us to the very edge of our planet’s range of stability.

If I can assume that StO College has not joined the ranks of climate change deniers, I find that the stances it has taken on the issues of investment and carbon intensive travel are both hypocritical and indefensible. They do not appropriately acknowledge the urgent need for the extreme action that is called for by the latest science concerning climate change. This, in spite of the fact that StO has several departments of science that could keep its administration up to date on the latest state of climate change science. Apparently, that is not happening.

It is not difficult to guess why any scientifically-challenged college administration would avoid going the full ten yards in a fight against global warming. One superficial reason is simply that “everyone else” is indulging in these carbon intensive activities and another is that any change in their investments would have only a “tiny effect” on the vast world of finance. Both of these anemic excuses are unacceptable and even irresponsible,  however, if uttered by an institution of higher learning that claims to be preparing their students for the challenges those students will face upon graduation. One of my favorite quotations concerning “education” comes to mind: “In teaching, example is not the most important thing, it is the only thing” – Albert Schweitzer.

Granted, StO College is to be commended for greatly lowering its carbon footprint on its campus by the installation of windmills and solar panels and increased insulation in its buildings. While these changes are very helpful with respect to reducing carbon emissions, they were always wise for a financial reason – the payback time for these changes is now down to less than a decade, after which the power provided by them will be free of charge for at least a couple more decades.

So if StO college is promoting the use of carbon-free sources of energy for altruistic, and not just financial reasons, why then has it not divested its endowment funds from fossil fuel related businesses? This time, the answer appears to be related only to a financial concern. StO college undoubtedly receives significant donations from fossil-fuel-dependent industries and wants that source of income to continue. Ties such as these between colleges and industries are now so ubiquitous that participating colleges have become essentially integral parts of our all-powerful industrial complexes. For this reason, most colleges can now be just as appropriately described as being “business partners” as being independent “centers of intellectual thought”.

So yes, I think I understand why St. Olaf College is not interested in assuming a distinctly higher level of leadership in the world’s fight against global warming. But what has not been so clear to me, is “HOW” StO manages to maintain a semblance of moral rectitude and self-respect while it continues to promote programs and investments that absolutely and unequivocally result in the elevation of the  main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, in our atmosphere.

In communicating with President David Anderson of St. Olaf College, I have learned a bit about ‘HOW” StO tries to get away with the more hypocritical components of its climate change stances. Their plan seems to be based in the judicious “compartmentalization” of various elements of their program so that there is no one central person or even committee that is charged with deciding and defending their stance – in spite of its profound moral implications. At least I have not been able to find and communicate with that “center”.  I will provide two examples that illustrate this operational scheme below.

The first example is how StO gets maximum PR in their own “war” against climate change by highlighting their impressive efforts to decarbonize their electrical needs on campus (this does not include the heating of their buildings which I assume is provided by the combustions of natural gas). As a result of these changes, StO claims to provide a uniquely low carbon footprint per student use of electricity. While these changes are to be commended for environmental reasons, it is also recognized that they are now financial “no brainers” with respect to long-term energy use. Nevertheless, the PR value of these upgrades in their physical plant, gives StO a useful leg up in defending their other exceedingly fossil fuel intensive activities such as their extensive studies abroad programs for both students and alumni.

My second example of StO’s compartmentalization of their response to climate change concerns my own attempt to communicate these concerns to the Board of Regents at StO. About one year ago, I unsuccessfully tried to get the following letter sent to ALL of the Board’s members.

                                                                                                     March 18, 2016

To the members of the St. Olaf Board of Regents

My wife and I are St. Olaf graduates, Class of 1966 (50th Reunion this June). I spent my working years as a chemist and more specifically as an atmospheric chemist (my full resume can be seen at Since retirement, I have been doing my best to bridge the wide gap of understanding that exists between our climate scientists and the general public. That is why I am writing to you now.

Since retirement from my day-time jobs, I have developed a web site in which I can relate and discuss my thoughts to and with many people in an efficient manner. One of my concerns is that even our nation’s colleges and universities don’t seem to realize how very badly we have already painted ourselves into a horrendous corner – one that our descendents will be paying for all too soon. Rather than going through all of my reasons for this in this letter, I will urge you to dial up my website, and read some of its posts.

In particular, I would encourage you to first read ‘The disconnect between modern climate science and St. Olaf College, for example’ which appeared in May of 2015. Also I would encourage you to read ‘Exxon Mobile continues to deceive’ posted in March 2016. And especially please have a look at ‘Why so little ethical guidance from academia?’ posted in February 2016. You might also find some of my other posts useful in assessing the gravity of the climate change problem and, more importantly, our inadequate responses to it so bluntly explained in ‘The tyranny of the contemporary’ posted in February 2016.

The problem of climate change has now moved well past the point where appropriate leadership is simply undertaking technical refinements on one’s campus in order to improve energy efficiency. Because we have waited far too long for action, we are now between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Much more strident leadership and immediate action are needed. The issue is now more a moral than technical one. As an example of such a leader, please have a look at the video I linked to in ‘StO, for example’ referred to above in which Dr. Kevin Anderson describes the challenge before us in clear and sobering terms.  

So what might St. Olaf do about all of this? For starters please read some of my posts and its many links to related information. The answers are clear, if not attractive. Divesting from fossil fuel industries and reducing carbon footprints are great starters – the low-hanging fruit, that is, that we know for sure will work and can be done. Paying more attention to the Keeling Curve than the Dow Jones Average would be another good idea. If we fail in this, Geoengineering with all of its unknown and unintended consequences will be next – while our grandchildren will be wondering why we simply rode out the party when simple corrective actions were still possible.

Thanks for considering, Eric Grimsrud

 In determining how to get my letter to all members of the Board, I asked President Anderson for help. He told me that while he could not provide me with each of their email or physical addresses, I should send my letter to him and he would forward it. I was then very disappointed to be informed by President Anderson that he would be forwarding my letter only to the investments adviser of the Board and not to the entire board. This disappointed me because the reasons for my objections to some of StO’s policies were based entirely on moral and not financial considerations. I would think that any decisions based on altruistic / moral reasons would have to be made by the entire Board and not by only one of its members. Furthermore, I would expect that the financial adviser who was sent my letter would feel responsible to advise the rest of the board only on the financial viability of any investment opportunity – a topic my letter did not address. I have received no feedback concerning the fate or impact, if any, of my letter even though the above letter was sent almost one year ago – leaving me to assume that it was simply ignored.

So that is my story concerning my attempt to get StO up to date with respect to what now needs to be done in order the prevent the worst aspects of future climate change. Overall, I have been very disappointed in this effort. Like so many other colleges, StO has learned to excel in “talking the talk” on climate change and in taking only those steps that would be financially beneficial anyway. They are not willing, however, to take the risks associated with taking the next, more difficult steps, such as divesting StO College from the fossil fuel industries and learning how to manage their special student and alumni programs in a manner that does not require the emissions of large quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere.

“Urgency” is the key word here – that StO does not seem to get yet. Mankind has painted itself into an extremely small corner with respect to its allowable future carbon emissions. That number is now commonly thought to be less than about 400 gigatons total while we are presently emitting about 10 gigatons of carbon per year. While our annual world-wide emissions are still increasing (yes, they have not even been leveled yet!), we must somehow bring them down to near zero in the next few decades. Is this “alarmist” talk? You bet it is, but is also the talk coming straight out of modern science.  And StO does a great disservice to its students by not telling it like it is and not walking the entire walk.

Obviously, StO should not think its windmills should give it a “free pass” for its future omissions and, instead, should begin to act more responsibly with respect to the greatest challenge facing the world today. In short, its time to cut back on the deceptive PR, tear down those walls of compartmentalization, get connected to the best and latest science of climate change and for the good of your students, pay attention to the comment of Albert Schweitzer provided above.

It goes without saying that the problem illustrated in this post applies equally to most of the private colleges of the USA, including our first and still most influential, Harvard College of Boston. Thus, an important component of our society is not helping nearly as much as it should and, if it chose to, St. Olaf College could become a novel exception to this most unfortunate trend.



Posted by: ericgrimsrud | January 31, 2017

“Powder keg Earth”, ready to go off

Perhaps the most sobering aspect of global warming is that we might be nearing a tipping point of monstrous importance. This point will be reached when the emissions of the Earth’s vast quantities of stored carbon begin to add significantly to our atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide and methane. To appreciate what I am referring to, let’s start with the figure shown below.

ssc-2016-agw-handoutThis figure shows the change in average ocean bottom temperature of the Earth over the last 65 million years (that is, since the extinction of the dinosaurs). This figure shows that our average temperature has been decreasing over the last 50 million years. Over that long period, a vast amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide was converted to vegetation via photosynthesis. Following the death and oxidation of that vegetation, much of its carbon was converted back to atmospheric CO2. A large fraction of that organic matter was not completely oxidized back to atmospheric CO2, however, and instead was trapped on the Earth in the form of various organic compounds. The most abundant of these is methane (CH4) which is formed by the complete anaerobic reduction of all organic matter under oxygen-deficient environments such as those that exists in soils and ocean bottoms.

Over the last 50 million years, the products of these anaerobic processes have continuously accumulated in specific locations as the Earth’s temperature decreased. In particular, massive quantities of methane clathrates have been deposited below the ocean floors of coastal regions throughout the world. Similarly, a lot of volatile organic matter has accumulated in the permafrost of all high latitude regions of the Earth.

Thus, the Earth today can be legitimately said to be a loaded “powder keg” ready to “go off”. All that is needed to trigger this virtual explosion is an increase the Earth’s temperature to a point the initiates that process. Once initiated, the increased atmospheric level of the powerful greenhouse gas CH4 will further increase temperature causing yet more CH4 to be released. An irreversible run-away process will then occur, releasing more and more CH4 until the natural deposits have been depleted. The total amount of greenhouse-gas warming thereby caused would far exceed that which we would expect to occur by the combustion of all of the fossil fuels on Earth. To put it frankly, the “game” would indeed then be over for our species on this much warmer planet. I realize that to the lay public, talk such as this sounds like “science fiction”. Unfortunately, this is the prediction of well-documented and strait-forward science.

Nevertheless, let’s ask again, is this horrendous outcome really possible or even likely? Yes, absolutely it is – if we continue our emissions of CO2 into the atmosphere. Business-as-Usual projections of the Earth temperature all point to non-stop temperature increases throughout this and the next century. The only variable mankind has any control over is its cumulate total emissions of CO2 and CH4 (which is oxidized to CO2 within 10 years of its emission) over time and there are currently no indications that these emissions will be leveled, much less brought to zero as is required. Global emissions of CO2 by fossil fuel combustion are still increasing, not decreasing or even leveling. In short, there is no reason to expect that the “triggering point” of “Powerkeg Earth” will not be reached within this or the next century.

In addition, we also know that carbon explosions of this type have occurred before when the Earth’s temperature was increasing. One of these occurred about 56 million years ago and is clearly seen as a “momentary” event of about 150,000 years duration in the figure above. The temperature rise that caused this carbon explosion is thought to been the motions of continental shelves and a resulting increase in volcanism and CO2 emissions.  This thoroughly studied event is called the Paleocene -Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM). This event is very similar to that which is now poised to occur due to mankind’s combustion of fossil fuels.

Since the science behind all of this is now so well established, the only alternative left for those who can’t accept it will be to deny the science and the field of science itself. Many and perhaps most will probably do exactly that. After all, do you think the unfortunate souls that were herded into the barracks of Auschwitz told each other that they and their children would soon be headed for the gas chambers? No they did not. Their favored view was to promote the idea that the work they did in those “work camps” was too important to the German war effort as to allow their extermination. For that very same, understandable reason, the general public and the officials we tend to elect will continue, as they have to date, to ignore the implications of the business-as-usual “plan” we are presently on. It is profoundly unfortunate that a portion of the human anatomy has not yet evolved sufficiently as to enable our species to face its greatest problem.

Stated instead in religions terms, we have not made optimal use of the greatest gift God has given us – our brains. Instead, we are presently suffering from what I call the “hubris of mankind”. We tend to think “we have been here a long time” and have “faced some tough times before” and “can handle just about anything that comes our way” and “will surely solve this problem also when the clear need arises”. All of this is unadulterated BS, of course. On the geological time scale, “we just got here” and have not even paid due attention to what our scientists have learned in the last couple decades.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | January 22, 2017

America First and Climate Change

We are presently witnessing a potential change in US international policies and alliances as evidenced by recent pronouncements of our new President, Donald Trump. Along with his “America First” isolationist preference, he has declared our NATO alliance “obsolete” and has promoted closer relations with the Russian Federation. If continued, these changes would have profound effects on many aspects of American life including our attempt to fight climate change.

Perhaps naively, we had hoped that Russia and the former Soviet satellite countries would have become more open and democratic after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989. However, ever since Vladimir Putin became the dominant leader of the Russian Federation in 1999, Russian policies and methods of governance have instead become increasingly authoritarian and dictatorial.

In addition, Putin has been doing his best to undo the accomplishments of the Western democracies by endeavoring to split and weaken their alliances such as NATO, the EU and even the United Nations. By his interference with the recent US presidential election, Putin has even managed to diminish the level of trust and respect Americans have in their democratic procedures.

The main reason why the international policies of the USA might be drifting back towards those preferred by Russia’s Putin is that one of Putin’s greatest admirers is the new President of the USA. President Trump has been consistently praising Putin’s style of leadership and has even claimed it to be superior to that of former President Obama, who happened to be one of the world’s strongest advocates of the liberal democratic model of governance. President Trump has also disparaged other democratic leaders of the Western democracies, such as Angela Merkel of Germany, while celebrating Putin’s “strength”.

One specific action recommended by both President-elect Trump and President Putin has been to promote the formation of an alliance against the Islamic State. Trump’s designated national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, has promoted such a “War on Islam” for years on the grounds that the “common enemy” of the Western democracies is radical Islam. By this alliance, the USA, Russia, and similarly minded countries would supposedly be the “good guys” and those countries with untethered Muslim citizens would be the “bad guys”, thereby creating a multitude of conflicts between the two new “Great Powers” envisioned by Trump, Flynn and Putin. In addition to the fact that this “good guy / bad guy” view of the world is grossly oversimplified and loaded with inaccuracies, there are several other aspects of it which, if adopted, would prove to be very problematic.

One of these is that this America First view and its War on Islam would sound the death knell of the world’s effort to solve its climate change problem. Only a world view that has a priority on linking, rather than dividing, all countries of the world has a chance of success in this endeavor. The global warming phenomenon is being caused and experienced by all people and all countries and the Earth is now much too small as to squander of its resources, energy, and focus by allowing any parts of it to engage in warfare against others. International order, peace, and cooperation are essential if we hope to address global warming. The phony war advocated by Putin and Trump would only serve to mask the greatest of problems ever faced by mankind.

In short, the world view of our new President must not be allowed to prevail. We must strive to get along with all nations no matter what their culture and religious preferences are. Given the fact that our planet will be home to some 9 billion people by mid-century, not doing these things will create a living hell on Earth by that time, shaped by institutional breakdowns, mass migrations, universal wars, and profound physical degradations of existing conditions by Mother Nature’s response to the impacts of mankind. Even within his upcoming four-years tenure in the oval office, wiser heads must prevail starting immediately.


Posted by: ericgrimsrud | January 12, 2017

Why Republicans take no action on climate change

Most of the Republicans elected to serve in Washington are not stupid. Most have noted the overwhelming evidence growing every year showing that the Earth is being warmed by increased levels of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. And one would have to be a complete intellectual moron to not pay attention to what America’s scientific experts in this area are telling us. For these reasons, I happen to believe that only a minority of serving Republicans fit that description. Yet the Republicans in Washington have done essentially nothing to help our country address this problem. Why is that?

For some time now, I have thought I knew the answer to that question and then this morning I read an op ed in the Washington Post (see it at ) that reinforced my notions. This op ed was written by a person, Sheldon Whitehouse, who should know the answer: he has served in the US Congress over the last decade and has, perhaps more than any other Congressman, paid a great deal of attention to environmental issues.

In his op ed, Senator Whitehouse’s main points were the following. According to an estimate by the International Monetary Fund, the fossil fuel industries receive subsidies of about $700 billion per year and they gravely fear the loss of this revue. For that purpose, they spend several hundreds of million dollars for lobbying efforts every election cycle in order to ensure the continuation of those subsides. While such obscene levels of financial influence used to be illegal in the USA, in the post-Citizens United era in which we now live, there are no restrictions on the amount of money anyone or any corporation can “invest” in a given election. Thus, the halls of congress are literally awash with almost unlimited amounts of money to be used as needed in order to get the desired result. If an outcome in a given contest is uncertain, more money is simply poured into the fossil fuel preference. Thus, our Republican representatives in Washington and at the state levels know very well that they will be replaced in the next election cycle if they show signs of growing a conscience on the issue of climate change. Thus, they speak with each other quietly and only in private, not wanting even their staff to hear any personal thoughts they might have on this topic. In other words, they are still “bullied” into submission by the fossil fuel industries.

So yes, I believe that is about it. To argue that there is a lot more to it serves only to take needed focus off the most important cause. So yes, money does indeed matter and even determines – even when spent on the continuation of stupid and clearly self-destructive policies. In order to remove this malignant blockage, one or more of three things must happen. One would be that the shame-resistant CEOs of our fossil fuel industries step aside (and certainly not be appointed to the office of Secretary of State!). Another would be that our elected representatives either develop some intestinal fortitude or agree to single-term limits. Another would be to overturn Citizens United so that votes determine outcomes rather than dollars.

Older Posts »