Posted by: ericgrimsrud | June 30, 2016

Intergenerational malfeasance in Zumbrota?

First, what and where is Zumbrota? The only “Zumbrota” in the world is a community of about 3,000 souls located 20 miles north of Rochester Minnesota. It also happens to be my home town in which my father ran the local newspaper starting in 1946 and passed it on to one of his sons and then a grandson – so that I still get complementary issues of the paper every week.

During the past few years I read about the big windmill controversy of Zumbrota and its county of Goodhue. Because a major national power grid runs through that region and because that region has consistently strong winds, a windmill company tried to get local farmers to allow them to put some windmills in Goodhue County. After a few years of resistance to this idea by the good folks of the county, the windmill company gave up and dropped those plans. While the proposed windmills would have brought considerable wealth to the region and would have provided a major source of carbon-free power, it was not liked by many apparently for aesthetic reasons.

Then, in my last issue of Zumbrota’s News-Record it was reported that a similar proposal for a solar panel farm near Zumbrota was also turned down by the community’s city council. I am guessing that the reason was again claimed to be aestheric since I can think of no other.

As a result of these reports, I used my influence with Peter Grimsrud, my nephew and now publisher of Zumbrota’s News-Record, to run the letter to the editor shown below under the same title as used for this post.

“A 2014 poll (Washington Post, Nov. 19, 2014) found that 74% of Americans under the age of 30 support government policies to cut carbon pollution, as compared to just 58% of respondents over the age of 40, and 52% over the age of 65. The problem set in motion by this divide is that younger generations will have to live with the consequences of the decisions we make today for much longer than older generations. Older generations prospered as a result of the burning of fossil fuels for seemingly cheap energy and tend to look fondly on how things were done back in “the good old days” – while our youngsters will not appreciate how slowly their parents and grandparents came to understand what they were thereby doing to all future generations.

With the above trends in mind, I have observed the resistance in Zumbrota and Goodhue County, in general, to the installation of first windmills and now solar panels. While such installations seem to be “no brainers” to me – I have made extensive use of solar panels on my homes and windmills in my states of residence – I have been surprised at the resistance shown to them in the Zumbrota region where I grew up and still visit regularly. In pondering this, I suspect that the reason has a lot to do with the information provided in my opening paragraph. Moreover, I wonder if the average age of Zumbrotans has significantly increased over time. In any case, it appears to me that Zumbrota has become part of the intergenerational crime being committed almost everywhere in the USA by my own baby boomer generation on all future generations. The only argument against what I just said is that the science behind it is wrong – another unfortunate notion more commonly embraced by the more aged among us. Needless to say, I hope the Goodhue County Board shows more sense concerning its apparent “solar panel controversy” than did the Zumbrota Council.    

Eric Grimsrud, Grand Rapids, MN”

While I hope that by this letter I have not worn out my welcome in my beloved home town, I hope it is also recognized that “what goes on in Zumbrota does NOT, in this case, stay in Zumbrota”. With respect to the global warming problem, Zumbrotans affect the future of the entire planet.  

 

As those who have followed this blog know, I have occasionally used my own alma mater, St. Olaf College of Northfield Minnesota, as an example of an institution of higher learning that does not yet “get it” with respect to the latest requirements for combating the relentless advance of climate change (see my previous post if you need to be reminded of the scientific basis of this). One of those requirements is to completely eliminate the use of fossil fuels for energy production immediately, if possible, and at least within the next couple of decades.  For that purpose, I have encouraged the President of St. Olaf and its investments advisor on its board of regents to divest St. Olaf’s substantial endowment funds from fossil-fuel-related industries.  I think I can already see where my efforts are going in the near future at St. Olaf  – most likely nowhere. Therefore, I was struck by an account of a recent physics graduate of Harvard University named Ben Franta concerning his efforts to encourage Harvard to divest itself from fossil fuels. Many of his thoughts concerning what has happened at Harvard mimic what I suspect will happen at St. Olaf.  The forces at work are the same. Therefore in the remainder of this post, I will provide some of Dr. Frana’s comments and thoughts.  His entire article can be seen at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2016/jun/29/after-6-years-of-working-on-climate-at-harvard-i-implore-it-to-show-the-courage-to-divest   Also note that a previous letter Ben Franta wrote to Harvard’s President is shown in the first comment at the end of this post.

Divestment’s controversy

Essentially all of the climate change controversy at Harvard has revolved around divestment. The idea of reducing investments in fossil fuels as a matter of policy began as an audacious suggestion designed to shock people into seeing the contradiction between our words and our actions on climate. After institutions began adopting the idea, it became a method to call attention to the obstructionism and denial propagated by fossil fuel companies. Institutions that were afraid of making enemies in industry—like Harvard and MIT—were, rather predictably, reluctant to take a public stand. But since the Paris climate agreement in 2015, the idea of divestment has evolved into something much more fundamental and unignorable.

In polite society—at least the kind that self-identifies with science—the Paris agreement is applauded, in essence, universally. Yet the implications of the agreement for investments are beginning to be reckoned with, and they are stark: by the IPCC’s most recent estimate, $100 billion per year needs to be disinvested from the fossil fuel extraction industry for the next twenty years. And when it comes to infrastructure, a recent study has found that no new fossil-fuel-using power plants can be built after next year (unless they are decommissioned prematurely—making them a bad investment). In other words, if we are serious about the Paris agreement, then there needs to be a deliberate shift of investments out of fossil fuels and into clean replacements at this moment. This is, technically speaking, the definition of divestment.

The catch, though, is that this is something that Harvard’s administration has vowed never to do. To analyze why is an exercise in theorizing—it may be due to the logic of economic Darwinism that underlies Harvard’s culture and wealth, a psychology of indignant authoritarianism among Harvard’s governing board, pervasive conflicts of interest (Harvard trustee Ted Wells is currently legal counsel for Exxon Mobil, for example), or nothing more than simple bureaucratic group-think—but regardless of the reason, the fact that the richest private university in the world openly defies the Paris agreement with its investment policies—while praising the agreement with words—is troubling.

And this brings us to an uncomfortable but unavoidable question: does Harvard actually want to fix climate change, or does it merely want to look like it wants to fix it? And perhaps more troublingly: do we actually want to fix climate change, or are we just going through the motions to save face, to avoid admitting to ourselves that, deep down, we aren’t who we thought we were, that we actually don’t care that much what happens to our children—or what happens to the world?

Fake it ‘til you make it

What does it look like to pretend to care? Harvard has announced that “green is the new crimson” and, to much fanfare, spends a special $1 million per year on climate research. But in the face of a civilizational crisis—and for an institution whose research spending is on the order of a billion dollars per year already—what is the intended purpose of this much-publicized $1 million? Harvard spends the same to pay its president (more than the president of the US)—and fifty times more just to pay half a dozen of its money managers. Meanwhile, Harvard likely has hundreds of millions—or more—invested in fossil fuels. If we look past the fanfare and see the world’s richest private university spending $1 million per year to address a civilizational crisis, congratulating itself while investing hundreds of times more in the root cause of that crisis, are we supposed to feel reassured? Or can this only be interpreted as the most illuminating kind of satire of all—that is, the kind that is real?

It might be suggested that universities are places of discourse, not action. Yet when confronted with its stake in and connections to the fossil fuel industry, the discourse at Harvard rapidly morphs into non-sequiturs and censorship. Harvard’s president suggested to me that if we were to move investments out of fossil fuels, then we might have to do the same for sugar, because sugar is harmful, too. Is this real? For those dying around the world, for those living in cities or societies that face destruction from climate change, how is this anything other than a modern-day “let them eat cake”?

When faced with calls for divestment, another Harvard trustee suggested that we should instead be thanking oil companies like BP for investing in renewable energy—which is awkward, because there’s not a lot of that going on. At what point does “daddy knows best” become “I think daddy might be losing touch with reality”? Have we arrived?

In court, Harvard has formally argued that students’ desire for reduced investments in fossil fuels is as trivial and arbitrary as the desire for a new academic calendar or different housing options. Again, does Harvard truly believe that the existence of species, the stability of societies, and the lives of the vulnerable around the world are choices on the same level as whether to start classes on a Wednesday or a Thursday? When we play dumb, are we being clever and bluffing—or are we fools telling the truth? Which is more terrifying to the future of human society?

Harvard staff members have told me they are prohibited from discussing the issue of fossil fuel divestment at all—even outside of work. Imagine if staff were prohibited from talking about greenhouse gas reductions. When the future depends on our actions today, why is a university suppressing discussion?

At a research staff meeting at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, my colleagues and I were instructed by our research director not to speak to journalists who inquire about our funding from the fossil fuel industry. At this moment in history, doesn’t the public deserve to know?

And perhaps the atmosphere of censorship is best summarized by a senior professor in environmental economics who told me that he was willing to discuss any topic under the sun (even “the ballet”)—with the single exception of fossil fuel divestment. I love ballet, too, but don’t we owe the next generation some—any—duty of care? Why is it that reducing emissions is blasé, but reducing investments is taboo?

The need to change

The crucial thing I’ve learned from working on climate at Harvard is that when it comes to climate change, we—even those who profess to care—are not doing everything we can—far from it. While people die around the world, those with the privilege of choice confuse comfort with necessity in order to justify inaction when it serves them. This is our central cowardice, from individuals to institutions. And at Harvard, it has assumed forms of absurdist logic and suppressed discussion.

Divestment—though central to fixing climate change conceptually and perhaps practically—is one issue of many. Yet it has revealed the tip of an iceberg, demonstrating that words of concern on climate only go so far—that when educated and privileged institutions like Harvard are asked to make a sacrifice or take a risk, they too cower behind any rationalization they can find for the status quo—one that loads risk onto the next generation and especially the poor. This indicates that the struggle to fix climate change is not simply partisan but is a deeper test of who we are; it is to be found within even our most enlightened institutions—and within ourselves.

In a sense, there is an absurd irony—a real-life satire—to Harvard’s insistence on investing in a product that will, through sea level rise, ultimately destroy much of its campus, as well as the proud and historic city of Boston. In our enlightened age, our best minds apply themselves mightily—debating the differences between fossil fuels and sugar and academic calendars—simply to achieve mismanagement. If today’s youth wish to save themselves, they will have to rebel against both the powerful and the respectable.

Ultimately, in the history of climate change, Harvard and its kind—privileged, insulated, and foolishly clever—may not matter other than to embody a cautionary tale. But insofar as Harvard does matter, I implore it to change. It can align itself with the Paris agreement instead of defying it. It can accept difficult discussions instead of suppressing them. It can face climate change with the directness and sobriety—the courage—the world dearly needs. Yet it may choose not to. Either way, we can bear witness. And either way, today’s youth must keep fighting to save their generation from the last.

Benjamin Franta has a PhD in applied physics from Harvard University and from 2014—2016 was a research fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.  If there are reasons why the present and future behavior of St. Olaf College will differ from that displayed so far by Harvard, I have not yet seen any evidence of that. Thus, Dr. Franta’s criticisms of Harvard would seem to apply directly to St. Olaf College as well.

 

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | June 28, 2016

Post Paris Accord assessment by Kevin Anderson

As I explained in a previous post entitled “Is the Paris Accord better than nothing?” in December of 2015, the recent Paris Accord provided little comfort for those looking for immediate action against climate change. While it provided a statement reminding us that future temperature increases should not exceed 2.0 degrees Celsius, it said nothing about the specific changes that need to be made in order to achieve that goal. Instead, the climate modeling that was implicit in the Accord assumed that after we have used up our allowed +2C carbon budget (about 1,000 gigatons of total carbon emitted), probably at about midcentury, some presently unknown Negative Emission Techniques (NET’s) will be used to compensate for our continued emissions thereafter. Thus, instead of making modifications to our present carbon intensive lifestyles, the Accord simply assumed that various Dr. Strangelove schemes for removing CO2 from the atmosphere will be invented and successfully implemented later in this century.  In other words, future generations will “simply” have to deal with the mess that ours has made and will very likely continue to make in the coming decades.

After studying the various methods of Geoengineering that might provide the envisioned NET’s, I regard this assumption of the Accord to be little more than a cop-out designed to soothe the collective consciences of our generation. In order to amplify and verify my view here I will refer the reader to a U-Tube interview with Dr. Kevin Anderson, an international leader in the field of climate modeling.  It can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-t9XpFUoGU Please be sure to watch at least the first 6 minutes of this interview.  The U-tube format will also lead you to other presentations and interviews with Dr. Anderson.  His recent full lecture on the subject called “Going beyond ‘dangerous’ levels of climate change” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-T22A7mvJoc  is particularly recommended.

Bottom line: The only viable opportunity we are likely to ever have to prevent the worse outcomes of global warming in the future is the one we now have before us and that is by doing all we can NOW in this and the next decades to drastically reduce our emissions of CO2. This remedy especially requires the participation of the more wealthy among us because we have the highest carbon footprints and are financially most able to quickly make necessary changes.  Ironically as well as sadly, this fact also might help explain why the Paris Accord put so little pressure on the present well-off inhabitants of the Earth and, instead, put that pressure primarily on our grandchildren.  Because the Accord “plan” is very likely to be little more than a pipe dream, it is absolutely imperative that the relatively wealthy persons of the world carefully consider the real and latest assessments of the science involved here – as related in the references to Kevin Anderson provided above. So unless you find comfort in the lie, “but nobody told me about this problem”, please put on your thinking cap and carefully listen to Kevin Anderson.

First, a definition of the word “strident”: it is “presenting a point of view, especially a controversial one, in an excessively and unpleasantly forceful way”. In discussing and writing about the global warming problem, I am sometimes accused of being too strident and exaggerating the dire nature of our present state. The more I learn about this problem, however, the more strident and concerned I get. In this post, I will share yet another reason why I am indeed exceedingly strident on this topic and believe that you should be too.

In point #5 under the “science basics” tab of this website, I previously explained why addressing the global warming problem should have mankind’s highest priority. In making that point, I illustrated the importance of when the “peak” of world-wide CO2 emissions will occur – with the help of the following Figure 1.

scan0005

The CO2 emissions of the world since the beginning of the Industrial Age to Today are shown on the left side of this figure. Those total cumulative emissions are represented by the area under this curve, shown by the red hash marks.  We also know that those previous carbon emissions were about 500  gtons (one gigaton is equal to one billion metric tons) of carbon and that they will increase the average surface temperatures of the Earth by about 1.0 degrees Centigrade (1.8 degrees F).  The political leaders of the world have set a goal of limiting total surface average temperature increase to 2.0 C (note also that most scientists believe that this allowance is too high and should be more like 1.5 C).

Therefore, in order to limit future temperature increase to an additional 1.0 C, the world will be allowed to emit no more than 500 gtons more carbon in all of the next decades and centuries.  Note that when, exactly, future carbon is emitted does not matter.  It is only our “cumulative” emissions that matters because the extra carbon we add to the biosphere lasts essentially forever on a time scale of relevance to human civilizations.

Next, we previously focused on the three curves on the right side of the Figure 1 that represent three different scenarios for future emission.  The blue curve shows one that would apply if the peak of carbon emissions was being achieved today.  In that case note that over the next 100 years we could limit future emissions to 500 gtons (the area under this curve) by using the realistically doable annual reductions of about 6% per year shown in CO2 emissions.  Yes, that scenario for future emissions is conceivable and doable. but unfortunately, we are not currently on that scenario. Instead, we are more likely on one of the other two scenarios shown in which peak emissions are envisioned to be either 15 or 25 years into the future. The 25-year scenario is shown to be virtually impossible to follow through on because after those 25 years of increasing emissions, we will have used up our allowed quota and all global emissions would then have to stop immediately at that point in time in order to limit total future emissions to 500 gtons (the area under this curve).  We can also see that even the 15-years-to-peak scenario would be very challenging to live with after that peak year because of the sharp, but possibly doable decreases required after that peak year in order to limit total future emissions down to 500 gtons.

We don’t know what scenario we are on yet, but let’s assume for the moment that we are on the +15 year peak scenario and then add to it one more important point illustrated in Figure 2 below.

 

emis figureIn addressing the global warming problem, we must recognize that the countries of the world will have differing abilities of making necessary changes. The more developed and wealthy countries of the world will be in a much better position to install alternate means of energy production, such as wind mills, solar panels, and nuclear power plants, than the less developed and poorer countries. Therefore, in Figure 2 I have divided the total emissions shown in Figure 1 into two parts – one for the developed and one for the developing countries.

In the Past section of Figure 2, we see that the emissions of the developed counties (black curve) far exceeded those of the developing countries (red curve) and constituted the lion’s share of previous total global emissions. We also see in Figure 2 that those emissions of the developed countries have finally leveled off and are now expected to decrease in future years. During the last couple decades, however, the emissions of the developing countries, including China and India, have increased so rapidly that their total emissions are now approximately equal to those of the developed countries and do not yet show signs of decreasing or even leveling off. An optimistic view for the developing countries might be that their emissions will reach a peak in +15 years from Today and we will tentatively make that assumption here. As to their emissions after year 15, I have assumed in Figure 2 that they will be equal to the total global future emissions shown in Figure 1 after year 15.

Lastly, we can then see in Figure 2 the very small emission allowance that will be left for use by the developed countries in the future   This portion of the black curve shows that the developed countries of the world must immediately begin a sharp decrease in their CO2 emissions by magnitudes that far exceed anything that is being discussed in the public domain today. As shown in this figure, our goal should be to reach near-zero emissions within the next 10 to 15 years. And recall that this is to limit future temperature increases to 2.0 C while an increase of only 1.5 C is recommended by ongoing scientific research.

Therefore, what we are doing today versus what we should be doing is as different as black and white and certainly merits an extremely strident expression of problem.  The only reason for not adopting this strident view would be that one does not trust the prevailing view of the problem that modern climate science is currently providing.  Yet the American public, their elected officials and even our institutions of higher learning do not seem to be well-aware of what I have described here. The most common response coming from them is to claim ignorance of these latest findings of science and to ignore them. Too many in the public domain also appear to have derived comfort from the erroneous claims of the fossil fuel industries that they are squarely addressing the problem and that all will be OK if they are allowed to remain in charge of our energy sector.

The last decade has shown that the clear and calm expressions of the issue provided by our very best scientists have not moved the public to the required levels of action.  Therefore, what other styles of expression remain for scientists other than very strident ones?  That is, “presenting a point of view, especially a controversial one, in an excessively and unpleasantly forceful way” now seems to be the most appropriate and possibly the only manner remaining when explaining the latest insights of science.  Hopefully the membership of that choir will greatly increase ASAP so that their screams are heard over the soothing, “don’t worry, be happy” melody of our  business-as-usual forces. The future of our descendants depends on it.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | June 1, 2016

The rest of the story by Robert Parry

In my previous post, I referred to an article by Robert Parry in which the great, but unfortunate effect Ronald Reagan’s presidency had on our country was described. Parry’s article prompted me to then read his recent book entitled America’s Stolen Narrative: From Washington and Madison to Nixon, Reagan and the Bushes to Obama .  Assuming the story line of this thoroughly documented  book is accurate, it provides an illuminating set of explanations for several crucially important events in America during the post-LBJ era beginning with the 1968 election of Richard Nixon. This book should be required reading for all Americans interested in the history of their country.  Hopefully, this book will prompt a rewriting of America’s history over the last 50 years.  The events described in this book include the following.

During the election year of 1968, President Johnson was desperately trying to end the war in Vietnam by arranging a peace treaty between the governments of North and South Vietnam. Presidential candidate Richard Nixon was concerned that if the Johnson administration was able to do that, Vice President and 1968 presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey would win the upcoming presidential election. Therefore, Nixon had his Republican representatives in Saigon convince the South Vietnam government that they should stall the pending peace negotiations with the promise that the South would get a better deal under a Nixon administration. The South then did back out of the 1968 negotiations in Paris and the war was not ended under Johnson’s watch. Instead, the Vietnam War went on for four more years eventually resulting in the complete destruction of South Vietnam, the loss of about a million Vietnamese lives, the deaths of 20,763 additional American servicemen with 111,230 wounded.  In addition, the neighboring country of Cambodia was destabilized leading to years of genocide in that country.

Thus, by undermining the efforts of a sitting president to end that war, Richard Nixon became, literally, a traitor to his country. At that time, President Johnson learned what Nixon was doing but decided to keep it a secret because of the shame he thought it would cast on the USA.  Many now believe that Johnson’s decision to protect the reputation of his country by not exposing Nixon’s treachery was a great mistake that later led to Nixon’s inexplicable efforts – such as the Watergate breakin – to find and destroy secret historical records that might prove to be incriminating to him.  In any case, it is clear that because of Nixon’s treasonous actions in 1968, he, instead of Hubert Humphrey, won the Presidency in the extremely close election of 1968.  Because Humphrey would have been a very different president with very different goals, Nixon’s treasonous behavior arguably set the USA on a very different course than it might otherwise have taken.

A similar and equally important event in American History occurred twelve years later in the election year of 1980 when President Carter was facing the Republican candidate, Ronald Reagan. I will only summarize that event here because I have already related this incident in my previous post.  Turns out that via his Republican Representatives, which included George H.W. Bush, and several officers from the CIA including Robert Gates, a career-long yes-man for the Bush family and recent Secretary of Defense, Reagan made an unsavory request to representatives of the Iranian government.  He asked Iran to not release the American hostages that had been held in Tehran since the takeover of our Iranian embassy in November of 1979 until Reagan had been elected and taken office. Thus, on Jan 18, 1981, after 444 days of confinement, the 52 American hostages were released moments after Reagan was sworn in. President Carter had previously hoped for an “October Surprise” in his attempt to arrange a more timely release of those Americans. Thus, for their personal gain, Reagan and his coconspirators interfered with the efforts of the US government under Carter to free our embassy employees in a more timely manner. Such behavior, perpetrated by Reagan, Bush, Gates and other Republican supporters was clearly illegal under American law and constituted treason against the USA and its citizens.

A few years later, the Iran-Contra Affair came to light. By this secret agreement Reagan’s administration illegally and secretly sold weapons to Iran and gave the proceeds to the right wing dictatorship of Nicaragua. Why would Reagan have done such a favor to Iran – which would then use those weapons for their own distinctly anti-American programs?  One of the few logical explanations is that it constituted a payoff to Iran for helping Reagan get elected.  Yes, that sorry tale is now part of our country’s history.

An exceedingly important revelation also made clear in Parry’s book is that the Reagan administration did everything it could t0 hide the notion (coming from its own personnel in the US State Department) that the Soviet Union had been falling apart before Reagan’s presidency and that it would pose much less of a threat to US dominance in the future. With the assistance of CIA officer Robert Gates, Reagan managed to squelch those reports and portrayed instead the opposite view of the Soviet Union to the American public. Reagan preferred to continue and even enhance the Cold War with the USSR in order to continue and increase massive funding of our military.  For that reason, Reagan needed to have a very “scary enemy” out there that was seeking our downfall.  And as we now know, after the Cold War ended, the “neo-con” Republicans who carried on Reagan’s mischief in foreign policy simply changed the envisioned “scary enemy” from the communists to the “Radical Islams” of the world and, since then, have been doing everything they can to fuel wars with the Muslim world.

Which brings us to our war with Iraq. Taking advantage of the mood in the US following 9/11, the neo-cons of the George W. Bush administration including even the widely-respected, but go-along-to-get-along servant of the Bush family, Colin Powell, orchestrated an attack on a country, Iraq, that had nothing to do with the events of 9/11. Not sweating that latter “minor detail”, the younger Bush managed to get a good war going there – one which has now spread to Syria and all neighboring states. The USA, as well as the entire Middle East, has paid dearly for that mistake in terms of human life, material resources and international reputation.

Which brings us to the presidency of Barack Obama. While President Obama initially inherited some of the neo-cons left over from the administration of George W. Bush (including Secretary of Defense, Thomas Gates), he did not share their view that any war with the Islamic world is a good war. He actually favored peaceful coexistence with other countries. Thus, the Republican Party came to hate and automatically criticize President Obama on each and every other detail they could without justification.  Note, for example, that when Obama was first elected in 2008, the GOP Leader of the Senate , Mitch McConnell, was asked what his first priority would be when Obama was seated.  McConnell’s answer, repeated often, was “to ensure that Obama was a one-term President”.  Does McConnell’s statement also not constitute near-treasonous behavior against one’s government?  That is, isn’t a government official obliged to perform his duties under whatever chain of command is selected by the public in a presidential election?  Is it permissible for a government official’s first priority be the ruination and replacement of a new and overwhelmingly favored President who just arrived on the scene? Only if viewed relative to precedence’s set by of the recent Republican Presidents, Nixon, Reagan and George H.W. Bush, can I image that McConnell’s statement might not constitute traitorous behavior.

Thinking of the future, what’s to become of the details revealed in Parry’s book concerning the real recent history of America? Will those details become part of the American story as related in the history books of our public schools or will they be ignored or altered so that our recent leaders are presented in a morally acceptable manner. On one hand, the latter seems likely to occur. After all, how can we teach our youngsters to be good citizens if a large fraction of America’s recent Presidents are shown to have indulged in traitorous behavior for their own personal gain?  And how can Americans continue its self- perception of “exceptionalism” when so many of their recent Presidents are shown to have indulged in low-level criminal behavior against their own country’s leaders at pivotal points in our nation’s history.

This anticipated battle between covering-up or openly telling the American history revealed in Parry’s book will undoubtedly be fierce. In preparation for it, it is worth remembering the motto George Orwell assigned to the authoritarian government he envisioned in his book entitled “1984”. That motto was “those who control the past, control the future and those who control the present, control the past”.  Thus, if the neo-cons of America continue to control the present, we can expect to read very little in our history books about the treasonous actions of some of our recent Presidents.  If our history is to be accurately written, more conscientious Americans will have to wrestle for control of the present.

In his book, Parry also points out the great failure of the Democrats during this period.  They let the Republicans control the present and past by theft of the American narrative.  We will never know, of course, what the world might have been like today if other people, such as Humphrey and Carter, had been elected in 1968 and 1980.  This is because Nixon, Reagan and the Bushes made that decision for us. Winning “at all costs” was their mantra even if that required trashing our democratic traditions as laid out in the Constitution of the United States.  But while all of this was happening, the Democrats tended to be silent “for the good of the country” – starting with LBJ when he did not release his information concerning Nixon’s treason in Saigon back in 1968.

So what, some of you might be wondering, does any of this have to do with the main theme of this web site – climate change. The answer, of course, is that no organization can honestly deal with its greatest and most complex issues without a universally agreed upon foundation providing a minimal level of trust and respect between its participants. The story related here has greatly eroded that trust. Nevertheless, solutions to our greatest issues, such as climate change, can still be greatly facilitated by a correction of our country’s narrative – to one that more accurately reflects who we really are and how we got to our present state. We cannot continue down our current path of political polarization so extreme that personal ideologies have become more important than common sense and the laws of our country.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | May 22, 2016

Ronald Reagan’s GOP

Behold the GOP’s candidate for President in 2016. Not long ago, Donald Trump was a reality show host in which he was the judge and jury concerning the performances of his contestants.  That is about as close to governance and actual reality that he has ever been.

And behold the GOP’s view on climate change. While the view of the world’s professional climate scientists has been clear for over a decade, the GOP still favors its own fantasies in this area simply because they wish them to be true.

And behold their hero, Ronald Reagan, a product of the make-believe world of Hollywood. I will be focusing on this grade-B actor turned politician below and how his influence shaped the GOP of today.

In trying to understand how the GOP came to its present sorry state – in which it presents the likes of Donald Trump and Sarah Palin for election to our highest offices and ignores one of the most important components of human civilization known as science – I have come to lay a large portion of the blame at the feet of their hero, Ronald Reagan, who that party still claims to have been one the best Presidents the USA has ever had. Today, even many Democrats, including President Obama seem to hold him in high regard. I don’t.  While Reagan was in office and ever since then, I have held him in relatively low regard and, more significantly, believe that his presidency set the GOP on the downward course it have been on ever since.  One of Obama’s reasons for acknowledging Reagan’s importance was that Reagan changed the direction of the country.  And sure, he seemed to be a “nice guy” who instilled a needed bit of optimism in Americans. While I agree with those assessments, I also believe that the changes he succeeded in making were most unfortunate.  Had Gerald Ford, for example, been able to carry on the Republican brand after the blow-up of the Nixon administration, I have little doubt that our country and the world would be a much better place today.

Some political analysts have shared my dim view of President Reagan. Therefore, in explaining my views of him, I will first refer you to a column written in 2009 by Robert Parry in which many of Reagan’s shortcomings are described in some detail. It can be seen at https://consortiumnews.com/2014/02/06/ronald-reagan-worst-president-ever-2/

As revealed in Parry’s article, President Reagan managed to do the following during his two terms:

He greatly undermined the public’s confidence in government even claiming that “government is the problem” and cannot provide solutions. He also undermined our confidence in science and its contributions to environmental issues.  He reversed the course of energy conservation and US energy independence set by previous President Jimmy Carter.  He undercut the authority of the EPA previously established by President Nixon.  He slashed taxes on the wealthy and undermined the economic future of the so-called “Reagan Democrats” of the middle classes who were fooled into supporting the faux reality of trickle-down economics. While the salaries of CEOs were increased several fold under his watch, the incomes of our middle class began its slide down to poverty levels.  He helped establish right wing dictatorships in South America that have hindered the development of democracies in those countries ever since.  He ignored US law in achieving unsavory objectives, such as the affair known as Iran Contra.  In what might be regarded as a treasonous act, presidential candidate and then President-Elect Reagan is alleged to have sabotaged President Carter’s efforts to free the American Hostages held in Iran until Reagan took office on the morning of January 20, 1981. If those hostages had been released under Carter’s watch, Carter would have undoubtedly been reelected in 1980.

I was personally very disappointed to see Reagan remove that symbolic set of solar panels President Carter had put on the White House roof. At that time he also encouraged the auto industry to produce more gas-guzzling large vehicles. He increased rather than decreased our dependence on Middle Eastern oil thereby increasing the importance of our military’s control in those countries. While he preached the importance of a balanced budget, he tripled our national debt and changed the USA from a leading creditor nation to a leading debtor nation.

While many believe that Reagan “won the Cold War”, history is increasingly showing that the Soviet Union was already falling apart due to its own internal problems and the efforts of previous presidents. In addition, that war was clearly finished off by Reagan’s successor, George H.W. Bush, whose knowledge of foreign affairs and personal acquaintances with world leaders was extraordinary. While the public is not so well aware of the hard work done by many government officials behind the scenes, it does recall Reagan’s very public pronouncement “Tear down that wall, Mr. Gorbachev!”  I suspect that no President ever got more positive press for so little actual work performed than Ronald Reagan did. I will readily admit that he knew when to step onto the soap box.

On the personal side, Ronald Reagan could be cruel to those who did not share his political goals. For example, the distain he showed to the Carter family at the traditional changing of residents at the White House in January of 1981 provided for him, I guess, one last opportunity to humiliate the President he was replacing.  During the commie witch hunts of the late 40’s and 50’s Ronald Reagan served as a snitch providing information to investigative committees about his fellow actors.  It was later revealed that he was paid to do so by the Herbert Hoover’s FBI. Behind that smiling, aw-shucks, boy-next-door façade, there seems to have been a self-righteous, self-serving, mean-spirited person.  In order to help protect himself from the conflicts that such a person might expect to have with fellow human beings, he selected the perfect spouse for providing needed insulation and unconditional admiration.

So, returning to the present, why should we be surprised to see the likes of Donald Trump becoming the leader of the new Republican Party? Isn’t he the logical result of the trajectory that party has been on since 1980?  Shouldn’t a self-absorbed billionaire living out the American financial dream of achieving obscene levels of personal wealth make him an ideal leader of the modern GOP?  What else matters to the modern GOP?  Certainly not a record of government or public service. Yes, Donald Trump, the GOP’s presidential candidate for 2016, owes his existence to Ronald Reagan.

While the Democrat Jimmy Carter or the Republican Gerald Ford might have proven to be a far better presidential choice back in 1980, does anyone in the modern GOP consider Ford to be anything more than a bit player in the “Reagan Era” when the honesty and integrity of Gerald Ford was no match for Ronny’s silver tongue and faux reality.  It might be a shame and maybe even tragic that the real challenges of the future that had been laid out by Nixon, Ford and Carter were forgotten after we heard those comforting words of the “great communicator” – whose verbal skills and understanding of American history had been honed as the host of the TV series, “Death Valley Days”.  My own expectation is that with the passage of time, Ronald Reagan will be considered to be our very worst Presidents ever – unless he is beaten out by one of his more recent disciples, such as George W. Bush or (heaven forbid) Donald Trump.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | May 18, 2016

Kudos to a US Senator

While I have come to expect less than sufficient leadership on the issue of climate change from most of our elected officials in Washington DC, US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island provides a sterling exception to this trend. For the last four years, whenever the US Senate is in session, he has provided one presentation per week concerning various aspects of climate change. His presentations are excellent and scientifically up to date.  As an example of them, I am providing here one that focuses on the other enormous ecosystem – the oceans – that is also being decimated by increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Senator Whitehouse makes it clear that action against carbon dioxide emissions is also urgently needed in order to stop acidification of our oceans. The acidification of our oceans caused by its absorption of CO2 is damaging our oceanic ecosystems because it makes the calcium carbonate shells of marine critters more soluble thereby stressing and killing those critters. The coral reefs of the world are providing vast and visible evidence of effect.

Please see Senator Whitehouse’s speech at www.youtube.com/watch?v=upbkfkVdrQc  Several additional speeches by Senator Whitehouse follow, each making important points concerning climate change.

After watching Senator Whitehouse’s speeches, one might ask why are there not more US Senators and Representative that have a similarly grown-up views of the natural sciences? And why, one might ask, is there so little scientific expertise of this sort among the elected officials of our country?  And when are we going to learn that we cannot dictate our preferences to Mother Nature, but instead, must use our vast scientific knowledge to live in harmony with Her.

Uffda!! Once again (see my May of 2015 post entitled “The disconnect between modern climate science and St. Olaf College, for example”), it appears that I am about to pick on St. Olaf College as an example of an institution that could provide more leadership in an era when bold and revolutionary changes are needed – if we want future generations to enjoy opportunities that are anywhere close to those my generation had.  Born in 1944, my spouse, Kathy, and I are about to celebrate the 50th anniversary of our graduation from St. Olaf College with the class of 1966.  My classmates and I lived in what could be called a “Goldilocks” era of the USA.  With the Great Depression and WWII behind us, we had carpets of opportunity laid out before us in all directions and most of us prospered with relative ease.  When the industrial forces of America turned from the production of war materials to commercial goods in the ‘50’s, we helped out by becoming good and even insatiable consumers of those goods.  For the energy needed to propel those lifestyles, we had literally unlimited supplies of cheap fossil fuels and still do.  Meanwhile the total population of the Earth continued to rise exponentially – at seven billion today, it is expected to be nine billion by midcentury.

Before even mentioning our now obvious global warming problem, let’s first recall that back in 1968, just after the graduation of my class at St. Olaf, Stanford Professor Paul Ehrlich published a best-selling book entitled “The Population Bomb” in which he warned us about the detrimental effects of our increasing population on the physical conditions of our planet. While his dire predictions of starvation in the ‘70s and ‘80s did not come to be due to subsequent improvements in agriculture, Ehrlich’s prediction now does seem to be bearing down on us for a different, but related reason  –  that is, the changes in climate caused by the greenhouse gas emissions of all of those people.  While the concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere had not exceeded 290 ppm for about three million years, about 100 years ago it started to climb and is now over 400 ppm.

So we were warned about problems such as these way back in 1968 and in more recent decades have been warned countless times by a countless number of climate scientists that we have now reached a limit of planet sustainability because of our past and continuing emissions of CO2 via the combustion of fossil fuels.

So the obvious next question is: what have we been doing about it? And the answer is:  relatively little, as is directly evidenced by the only score card that matters – our background level of CO2 in the atmosphere.  It is now rising even faster than ever –  by more than 2 ppm in each of the last two years.  It has never previously risen so rapidly.  Thus, our background CO2 level is now approaching 404 ppm, a level not seen for over 10 million years. The only thing we have going for us at the moment is the thermal inertia of the Earth – its takes a decade or two to see the full effects of changes in the magnitude of the Earth’s warming by the greenhouse gases.  We have to get our CO2 level down ASAP, not let it continue to increase.

In order to turn things around, national and international leadership of a revolutionary nature is now required. There is no longer adequate time for testing incremental changes that might have been helpful if tried 30 years ago. Building more wind and solar mills will help, of course, but by far, the more important low-hanging fruit that we know will work and absolutely must be harvested ASAP is related to huge CONSERVATION changes spelled here with all caps and not simply “conservation” of the incremental and ordinary sense.  Note that solving the global warming problem means cutting ALL greenhouse gas emissions to ZERO within the next few decades. That goal cannot be accomplished by “all of the above” energy policies and requires that we go “cold turkey” on all fossil fuel use – thereby leaving it in the ground where it belongs and does no harm.

OK, now let’s get back to St. Olaf College – again, this is because it is my own alma mater with which I am somewhat familiar and also because it represents what’s happening at hundreds of other colleges and universities in the USA. Most of these colleges, like St. Olaf, might think they are “doing their part” in combating climate change mainly by increasing energy efficiencies on their campuses. Their remaining problem, however, is that they also choose to be an integral part of the USA’s non-sustainable system of fossil fuel consumption via some of their educational programs and endowment investments.  For example, one of St. Olaf’s most prized programs is its “studies abroad” programs – by which a sizeable fraction of its students take courses involving travel to all corners of the Earth.  No argument here:  there are great benefits to these hands-on, first-hand experiences.  The only problem is that fossil fuels are used to get those students and their teachers to and from those places.  In addition, St. Olaf College regularly invites its alumni to similar experiences abroad involving extensive fossil-fuel-driven transport.

Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of these fossil fuel intensive activities is that they send the wrong message to students and alumni. Does St. Olaf College not recognize that there is no “good” or “ethical” CO2 emissions: all are equally bad.  If a college feels that it must offer these experiences to its students and alumni, they should tell the airlines involved that they will use their services only if their aircraft are powered by carbon neutral biofuels (even though biodiesel is more expensive than regular diesel).  In addition, is there any reason, other than increased expense, why the transport of St. Olaf’s student-athletes to other colleges in the region could not be provided by biodiesel-powered busses, vans and cars.  Is it right for St. Olaf College to have future generations pay for its fossil fuel intensive programs?  If you need something now, shouldn’t it be paid for now, as you use it, instead of passing that bill forward to your grandchildren? At any ethical level, I should think the answers to those two questions are no and yes, respectively.

Therefore, I would like to encourage St. Olaf College to take the opportunity it now has to significantly increase its leadership role on the most important issue of our time. In a recent publication from St. Olaf, the college was able to boast about its involvement some 50 years ago in the civil rights movement of the American South. Some of my own classmates jumped into the midst of that conflict. The forces on the other side of that racial issue were strong and determined.  Considerable courage was required of those St. Olaf students.  One St. Olaf graduate was killed in Selma.  In terms of the future well-being of mankind, the dangers posed by global warming are at least as great as those posed by racial inequality and the courage needed to fight the former is just as great as the latter.  Nevertheless, I hope that in 50 years hence, St. Olaf College can again boast about a leadership role it played in preserving physical conditions on this planet.  By that time the ravages of global warming are sure to be somewhere between substantial and horrific. In the meantime, the only variable mankind has any control over is its cumulative CO2 emissions and St. Olaf College could provide a better example to its students, alumni and other colleges of how to better address this central point.

In order to facilitate the endorsement of these ideas at St. Olaf College, I have done my best to contact its President, its Board of Regents, its Environmental Science faculty and its student newspaper.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | April 14, 2016

Hillary’s approach no good for addressing climate change

Hillary Clinton appears to have the inside track not only on the Democratic nomination but also on the Presidency largely because of her skill in applying her “method” to potential voters. By my use of that term, I am referring to her ability to seek what appear to be “win-win” outcomes for both sides of an issue.  Thus, she is not automatically dismissed by either side and becomes preferable to those candidates with more extreme views and insist on doing things the “one correct way”.  Thus, while supporting some legislation concerning climate change, she is also in support of programs favorable to the fossil fuel industries. Her strong support of fracking techniques discussed in my previous post is just one example.  Another is her hesitancy in promoting a stiff and annually increasing carbon tax.

In return for these moderate views on the subject of climate change, Hillary’s political career and Clinton Foundation have been generously rewarded with enormous contributions from the corporate sector of America, including Wall Street and the fossil fuel industries. Even Warren Buffet, owner of the BNSF railroads with strong ties to the coal industry, is one of her strongest supporters.  Given the overwhelming evidence emerging every day about the enormous problems being caused by global warming, I am guessing that another Clinton Presidency is the best many of these large and powerful corporations can do in order to stay in the fossil fuel business. So yes, Hillary’s record in arranging “win-win” outcomes on complex issues is the reason why she might win the Democratic nomination instead of Bernie Sanders.

But wait a minute. There is something very wrong with this picture.  What’s wrong is that on the specific issue of addressing climate change, a successful outcome cannot be one that is win-win.  A successful outcome requires that one side must lose big time. It requires that CO2 emissions be decreased to near zero in the next few decades because we have kicked that can down the road for too many past decades.  It requires that Hillary’s  “all of the above” attitude concerning methods of energy production be changed to “only the alternates”.  In the fight ahead, Hillary will be up against a much tougher Mama than she – Mother Nature, that is, who only does things one way – Her way – and Hillary will go down with all of the rest of us if she thinks her “win-win” methods will work in this case.

Everyone in the energy business knows what I have just said – including those tied to fossil fuels. Again their only hope of avoiding imminent financial setbacks and of staying in business for as long as possible is to find political representatives who will favor “all of the above” energy policies that provide their industries with as soft a landing as possible in the new world of greenhouse-gas-free energy production that we are all too slowly moving towards. And that representative has to be sufficiently well-regarded by the progressive and environmental communities of the USA as to enable her win-win proposals to sound viable to them.  Thus, Hillary is clearly “their man” on this issue and this fact will help her wrestle the Democratic nomination from Bernie Sanders.

What’s terribly wrong with this picture is that Bernie Sanders is the only one who recognizes that there must be a clear loser in our present fight over energy policy and we don’t have sufficient time left to gradually get it right. While Hillary would have been a strong candidate 10 or 20 years ago, she no longer is.  Only Bernie Sanders “gets it”.  During their amazing political careers, both of the Clintons have been masters at pandering to the public – that’s how Bill won his first Democratic nomination in 1992.  We can only hope that in Grandma Hillary’s twilight years, she comes to see that we no longer have any more time for pandering and delay on the issue of climate change.  We must try as hard as we can to kill the beast that is consuming us.

Thus, if Bernie could win the Presidency, we could look forward to going to work immediately and very forcefully on the problem of climate change. With Hillary as the more likely winner, we can still cross our fingers.  And heaven forbid, if any of the candidates from the other side of the aisle wins the Presidency, we would simply kick that can all the way down to our grandchildren with the enclosed message – Sorry kids, but we were just too busy having a “nice day”.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | April 11, 2016

Even Obama and Clinton’s thinking is fatally “fracked”

President Obama and his former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, have been very pleased with the new American technique of “fracking” by which large deposits of coal and shale are essentially exploded underground thereby opening seams through which entrapped natural gas can escape and be harvested at the surface. Over the last few years these techniques have made the USA the number one supplier of low-cost natural gas and have enabled the USA to reduce its CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants. Using natural gas instead of coal in those power plants results in about one-half as much CO2 emitted per energy unit produced.  Thus, the Obama administration has been able to boast about reducing CO2 emissions while simultaneously improving our economy.  With the assistance of our State Department and fossil fuel corporations, fracking techniques are now spreading to other countries as well.

Other than the fact that natural gas (largely methane) is also a fossil fuel – the use of which will eventually also have to be eliminated – what’s wrong with this picture? The answer is: a very great deal is wrong with this picture as is now being clarified by ongoing scientific studies and measurements.  Most importantly, a very recent study by Harvard scientists has shown that emissions of methane gas have greatly and uniquely increased over just the USA and all of this has occurred since the development of its fracking methods. These measurements indicate that roughly half of the total global emissions of methane are now coming from the USA’s relatively small portion of the total surface of the Earth.

This is exceedingly bad news with respect to the greenhouse gas warming expected in the upcoming next few decades. This is because, on a molecule-to-molecule basis, methane is at least 100 times more effective in trapping the Earth’s heat as is carbon dioxide over that several decade period.  Thus, if we can make the seemingly obvious assumption that methane emissions are being significantly increased by fracking techniques, it appears that fracking is negating any gains we are making via CO2 reductions.  It is even possible that fracking is making greenhouse gas warming worse than it was before its discovery and application.

This is a huge setback for politicians, such as Obama and Clinton, who have favored and boasted about “all of the above” approaches to energy production and especially about gas production via fracking. Going forward, we can only hope that they change their view very quickly.  When one gets down to the core of the matter, it becomes progressively clearer that “all of the above” attitudes must be changed to “only the alternates” which do not result in CO2 or CH4 emissions.

Only a stiff and annually increasing carbon tax can accomplish this – in spite of the best intentions of Obama and Clinton to address the climate change issue in a manner that does not require substantial changes in the business-as-usual forces that have defined our fossil-fuel-saturated lifestyles. It has been noted by this writer that of all of the candidates for the US Presidency in 2016, only Bernie Sanders has promoted a stiff carbon tax and the termination of fracking techniques.  If , as expected, Bernie does not win the Democratic nomination, I hope that he will at least manage to educate Hillary on this most important detail.  It has also been noted how very far the discussions among Republicans have been from this level of detail concerning the causes of climate change.  In short, they don’t have a clue about the science involved.

For more information on this topic, see Bill McKibbin’s recent article entitled “Global warming’s terrifying new chemistry” at http://www.thenation.com/article/global-warming-terrifying-new-chemistry/ This issue concerning methane leakage from fracking facilities is exceedingly important and might even surpass the effect of increased CO2 on global temperatures over the next few decades.

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