Posted by: ericgrimsrud | February 4, 2022

We must retain faith in our democracy

 We Americans like to claim that we govern ourselves via a representative democracy by which all citizens have an equal voice in the selection of our leaders and through them determine the laws and policies of our country. The maintenance of a free representative democracy such as this is not easy, however, as Ben Franklin warned back in 1776 (“you will have a representative democracy – if you can keep it”).  During the 250 years since then, we have witnessed many of the destructive forces Franklin envisioned – most of which have come from internal forces initiated by our own elected officials. While the Civil War era provided the greatest challenge to the maintenance of what Lincoln called the “American experiment”, less obvious but potentially lethal attacks on our system of governance have also visited the USA on a regular basis. In this post we will recall the well-documented history of five events in the post-WWII era that have brought us closer to an authoritarian system of governance

The first of these post-WWII events occurred in the early 1950’s under the watch of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. At that time, the country of Iran had just elected Mohammad Mosaddegh to its office of Prime Minister.  Mosaddegh had been educated in democratic countries of the West and, as prime minister of Iran, was  committed to the development of a free democratic government in Iran.  His plan was not supported by Eisenhower’s State Department, however, because they, along with Britain, wanted to maintain control over Iran’s vast oil reserves.  Ike’s predecessor, Harry Truman, had previously refused to interfere with Iran’s internal affairs and welcomed Mosaddegh’s plan to democratize Iran’s government. Nevertheless, Eisenhour agreed to let his State Department do whatever it wished in order to retain control over Iran’s oil fields and ordered the American CIA to assist them in the overthrow of Prime Minister Mosaddegh.

Therefore, in 1952, the US State Department and CIA secretly orchestrated an insurgency in Iran that managed to quickly overthrow Prime Minister Mosaddegh who was then imprisoned for the 16-year remainder of his life. At the time of his death, Mosaddegh did not even know that he had been betrayed by the USA. After the coup, the Shah of Iran was granted dictatorial powers as long as he allowed the US and Great Britain to retained control of Iran’s oil fields.

These decidedly improper actions of the US State Department and the CIA were not revealed to the public until congressional hearings of the CIA were begun in the 1970’s.  An official admission of guilt by the USA was not issued until 1990.  In 1979 the Shah of Iran was overthrown by the Islamic fundamentalist regime that still is in power today. This led to the host of difficulties that the USA has had with Iran in subsequent decades. As all of these events where further discovered and reported, the USA was clearly shown to have destroyed one of the few fledgling democracies in the Middle East.

Thus, Eisenhower’s shadow government within the USA ignored the laws of our country and those of Iran in order to rob that country of both its wealth and right to govern itself.  While most of us learned to “(I) like Ike” in the 50’s, it was most unfortunate that he joined a political party that lacked an appreciation for the generation of democratic principles abroad.

The second case occurred during the election year of 1968 when President Lindon Johnson was desperately trying to end the war in Vietnam by arranging a peace treaty in Paris between the governments of North and South Vietnam. However, Presidential candidate Richard Nixon was concerned that if the Johnson administration was able to do that, the sitting Vice President and 1968 presidential candidate, Hubert Humphrey, would win the upcoming presidential election. Therefore, Nixon asked his Republican representatives (private citizens in Saigon) to convince the South Vietnam government that they should stall the pending peace negotiations with the promise that the South would get a better deal later 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 more than four more years eventually resulting in the complete destruction of South Vietnam, the loss of about a million Vietnamese lives, and 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.

In this way Nixon’s secret shadow government undermined the efforts of our sitting president, Lyndon Johnson, to end that war – merely for his own personal gain. 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 in that it later led to some of Nixon’s other illegal efforts, such as the Watergate break-in, to find and destroy secret historical records that would 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 significantly altered American history in subsequent decades. In addition, Nixon thereby provided members of his GOP party with a lesson on how it could win if it was willing to put fealty to the GOP ahead of that to his country and constitution.

The third Case: 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. Supporters of candidate Reagan made a secret request to representatives of the Iranian government asking them to not release 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. So, on Jan 18, 1981, moments after Reagan was sworn in, the hostages were released.  Thus, for his personal gain, Reagan and his Republican conspirators again did what Nixon had done in 1968 by interfering with the foreign policy efforts of the US government under a sitting  president who was trying to free our embassy employees in a more timely manner. Such behavior was clearly illegal under American law and constituted treason against the USA and its citizens.

A few years later, the Iran-Contra Affair also came to light. By this secret agreement, a shadow government formed by Reagan sold weapons to Iran and gave the proceeds to a right-wing Nicaraguan revolutionary force called the Contras. Why would Reagan have done such a favor to Iran – which would then use those weapons for their own distinctly anti-American programs? The likely explanation is that it was a payoff to Iran for helping Reagan get elected in 1980 as well as for providing financial support for the right-wing Contra rebels of Nicaragua.  All of this was perpetrated by Reagan’s shadow government without consultation or consent from the US Congress which had previously not allowed US funds to be provided to either party in the Nicaraguan civil war. While Reagan was forced to admit his complicity in all of this near the end of his second term, like Nixon ten years earlier, he was not prosecuted for these distinctly illegal activities.  

The fourth case:  During the Presidency of George W. Bush, the attack on America known as 9/11 occurred.  An immediate reaction to that attack was to suspect that various Islamic nations might have been responsible for it. The Bush administration was particularly interested in Iraq’s potential involvement and used this opportunity to settle past grievances against Iraq’s dictator, Saddam Hussain. Therefore, the administration of GW Bush orchestrated a case for the invasion of Iraq by claiming that Iraq was accumulating various weapons of mass destruction. After the US’s successful invasion and takeover of Iraq in 2003, however, no such weapons of mass destruction were found.  It was subsequently found that other evidence against Hussain gathered by the CIA and the State Department of the USA had been obtained under the pressure to produce such evidence by the Bush administration. Thus, it appears that our enormous military adventures in Iraq during the decade after our invasion in 2003 were put into motion by a misinformed and self-isolated cabinet of GW Bush that used the military power of the USA to settle old scores they had with a sovereign country. That “Mission Accomplished” sent a message to the world that the USA, the supposed leader of the free world, had indulged in distinctly criminal behavior without justifications other than settling old scores.  The fact that many Americans accepted that excuse for our invasion of Iraq suggests that our country has lost some of its faith in the rule of law and is becoming more receptive to the notion that “might makes right”.  

The fifth case: Donald Trump

The reasons why Donald Trump should not have ever been made the President of the USA in 2016 are too numerous to list here but have been extensively reported ever since he decided to have a go at the management of our government about a decade ago. In that time, he has shown himself to be the polar opposite of what is required to oversee a country founded on democratic principles. It is clear that he does not give a hoot about the maintenance of our democracy. His best options for future employment would seem to be as a dictator in some other country that thinks it needs one – unless (Heaven forbid) he manages to again get the support of the American GOP in the upcoming election of 2024.

Thus, a critical question is: will the GOP of today support him in 2024?  If the GOP’s motto continues to be that provided by some of its historic figures, that is, ‘win at all costs’, his chances of success are not so bad. If the motley gang of Trump supporters (who Hillary appropriately called “a basket of deplorables”) are again sucked in by this snake-oil salesman, the representatives of GOP in Washington are again likely to jump into that basket because they know that they have nothing to offer in solving the USA’s real problems. Their interests in government service now appears to be little more than keeping taxes as low as possible and undermining the foundations of our liberal democracy.

In summary, during our 250-year experiment with a representative democracy, the USA had done pretty well in spite of the inevitable “inefficiencies” associated with the concept that every citizen should have a say in it’s management. The government of the USA is presently in a perilous state, however, in that it could conceivably be changed from a democracy to an autocracy. One of our two political parties seems to favor such changes.  I started with a quote from Ben Franklin and will close by adding to it a few words from Winston Churchill: “a democracy is the worst form of government there is – except for all the others”.  And as Franklin warned, it does, indeed, require a lot of work to “keep it”.  The USA must be made sufficiently wise and strong as to successfully address the formidable set of problems before it. Unless Jesus Christ himself expresses an interest in the management of our country, we should continue to support the next best option, a free representative democracy.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | December 30, 2021

How our Christian values are being inverted today

While political views are often affected by the religious views of the public, the opposite can also occur. Our religious views of today, for example, are being strongly affected by political views. The implications of this statement are profound as was explained today in Jennifer Rubin’s op ed in the Washington Post (12/29/2021).  I have provided major portions of her article below (in italics).

Much has been written about White evangelicals’ central role in the fraying of democracy. More attention, however, should be paid to the damage the political movement has inflicted on religion itself.

The demographic — which postulates that America is under attack from socialists, foreigners and secularists — forms the core of the MAGA (Make American Great Again) movement. Many have rejected the sanctity of elections, the principle of inclusion and even objective reality.

The consequences have been dire for American politics. The siege mentality has morphed into an ends-justify-the-means style of politics in which lies, brutal discourse and even violence are applauded as necessary to protect “real America.” Essential features of democracy, such as the peaceful transfer of power, compromise with political opponents and defining America as an idea and not a racial or religious identity, have fallen by the wayside.

Sadly, the degradation of democracy has intensified in the wake of Joe Biden’s victory. The doctrinal elevation of the “big lie,” the increase in violent rhetoric and the effort to rig elections all reflect a heightened desperation by the MAGA crowd.  This has driven the GOP to new lows (e.g., vaccine refusal to “own the libs,” virtually all House Republicans defending an animation depicting the murder of a congresswoman).

While lovers of democracy around the world view these developments in horror, we should not lose track of the damage the MAGA movement has wrought to religious values. Peter Wehner, an evangelical Christian and former adviser to President George W. Bush, explains in a column for the Atlantic how a recent speech from Donald Trump Jr. reflects the inversion of religious faith. “The former president’s son,” Wehner writes, “has a message for the tens of millions of evangelicals who form the energized base of the GOP: the scriptures are essentially a manual for suckers. The teachings of Jesus have ‘gotten us nothing.’ ”

Wehner continues:

It’s worse than that, really; the ethic of Jesus has gotten in the way of successfully prosecuting the culture wars against the left. If the ethic of Jesus encourages sensibilities that might cause people in politics to act a little less brutally, a bit more civilly, with a touch more grace? Then it needs to go. Decency is for suckers.

Understanding this phenomenon goes a long way toward explaining the MAGA crowd’s very unreligious cruelty toward immigrants, its selfish refusal to vaccinate to protect the most vulnerable and its veneration of a vulgar, misogynistic cult leader. If you wonder how so many “people of faith” can behave in such ways, understand that their “faith” has become hostile to traditional religious values such as kindness, empathy, self-restraint, grace, honesty and humility.

Robert P. Jones, who leads the Public Religion Research Institute, writes that “in the upside-down world whiteevangelicalism has become, the willingness to act in self-sacrificial ways for the sake of vulnerable others — even amid a global pandemic — has become rare, even antithetical, to an aggressive, rights-asserting white Christian culture.” The result is reckless self-indulgence that places some evangelicals’ own aversion to “being told what to do” ahead of the health and lives of vulnerable populations.

Jones explains:

White evangelicals remain the most vaccine resistant of any major religious group, with one quarter (25%) refusing vaccination (compared to only 13% of the country). And these refusal rates are not all tied to theological objections. Only 13% of white evangelicals say the teachings of their religion prohibit receiving a vaccine, a rate comparable to the general public (10%).

Strikingly, the evidence suggests churches and pastors are the heart of the problem. White evangelicals who attend religious services regularly are twice as likely as less frequent attenders to be vaccine refusers (30% vs. 15%). If ever there were clear evidence of a massive abdication of pastoral responsibility and leadership, this is it.

As self-identified evangelicals reject small inconveniences and show disdain for others’ lives, Jones observes, “there is no hint of awareness that their actions are a mockery of the central biblical injunction to care for the orphan, the widow, the stranger, and the vulnerable among us.”

In sum, while the White evangelical political movement has done immeasurable damage to our democracy, its descent into MAGA politics, conspiratorial thinking and cult worship has had catastrophic results for the religious values evangelicals once held dear. Jones writes: “It’s important to say this straight. This refusal to act to protect the vulnerable — particularly because of the low personal costs involved — is raw, callous selfishness. Exhibited by people I love, it is heartbreaking. Expressed by people who claim to be followers of Jesus, it is maddening.”

If these trends continue uninterrupted, we will wind up with a country rooted in neither democratic principles nor religious values. That would be a mean, violent and intolerant future few of us would want to experience. Jennifer Rubin

All of this also directly affects our efforts to fight Climate Change.  No organization that promotes White dominance will have sufficient concern for the entire plant as to address this problem in a forceful and effective manner. Therefore, for the sake of planet Earth and all forms of life on it, it is essential that the influence of the White evangelical political movement of the USA be minimized as much as possible.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | October 28, 2021

A house divided against itself cannot stand

Two years prior to his presidency, Abraham Lincoln gave his famous “house divided” speech, part of which went as follows:

“A house divided against itself, cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.

I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided.

It will become all one thing or all the other”.

On the then controversial issue of slavery, he reasoned that the USA would have to decide one way or the other – would it allow the enslavement of the black portion of its population in order to meet the energy needs of America or would it insist that all US citizens be free of such bondage? Lincoln claimed that this was the most important issue of the USA at that time, because he believed that a house divided against itself on fundamental issues such as this one cannot stand for long.

Prior to taking office in 1861, he also stated that if it would save the Union, he would go along with a compromised plan in which slavery would be allowed to continue in the South if the new states being added to the Union be free of slavery. Lincoln reasoned that with such an agreement, the USA would still eventually join the other emerging nations of the western world that were abandoning all forms of slavery.

Unfortunately, the southern states refused to consider any such compromised views on this issue and, instead, tried to withdraw from the Union. This, President Lincoln would not allow and it took a horrendous civil war to get the USA reunited and the 13th amendment to our constitution in 1865 to declare that all citizens of the USA would thereafter be free.  Thus, Lincoln’s prediction that the USA would become “all one thing or all the other” came to be sooner than he expected due to the inability of the North and South to come to any compromised view such as that offered by President Lincoln.   

 In the USA today we have a very similar division of opinion that is sufficiently contradictory as to again bring into question the survivability of the USA as a functioning entity.  As in the Civil War era, the main difference between these two groups is related to the means of energy production preferred by each group. As in the Civil War era, one side today favors an existing well-entrenched means of energy production based on fossil fuels that has become exceedingly problematic and, if continued, is sure to be recognized as such in the next decade or two. The other side favors the expansion of alternative, non-polluting  methods of energy production that are sustainable into the foreseeable future.

Those who recognize that global warming constitutes a real and grave threat to the future of humanity tend to accept the advice provided by our most respected scientific organizations who say that we must discontinue our use of fossil fuels because our atmosphere is already overloaded with the major greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide. The other group strongly favors policies and solutions that will not threaten existing business interests that rely on fossil fuels – even though modern science tells us that we must leave them in the ground.

Because this climate change issue is by far the most important one on the table today, it would be most beneficial to get the participants of this debate onto the same page with respect to the basic approaches they will take in coming to their decisions. The fundamental question in this case is: are we going to follow the recommendations of modern science or are we not? As with Lincoln prior to and in the Civil War era, we can be sure which approach to our problem will win out in the long run. In the next decade or two, monumental changes in our climate will continue to show that the dire predictions of climate scientists have been essentially correct.  As those changes continue to occur year after  year, at some point even the fossil fuel advocates of today will finally be forced to abandon their support of fossil fuels and our “house” will no longer be divided. The critically important point then will be –  will it be too late at that future point for even forceful actions to stop the advance of global warming? While we do not yet know the answer to that question, we do know that the sooner we commit ourselves to a fossil-fuel-free world, the better our chances of survival will be.  

The recently elected Biden administration is committed to the creation of carbon-free economies throughout the world. While achieving that goal will be challenging, it will also be greatly facilitated as both sides of our divided house accept the time-honored notion that modern science provides our best forecasts of what Mother Nature will do in response to mankind’s activities on our planet. While we do need a thriving economy, it must also be one that is predicted to be sustainable for at least several centuries. We, who have contributed so much to the greenhouse gas warming of our planet, should now help President  Bidon do what we can to preserve livable conditions on Earth for our grandchildren and their descendents.  

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | October 8, 2021

Are US citizens going for the Darwin Award?

The Darwin Awards salute the improvement of the human genome by honoring those who accidentally remove themselves from the human gene pool in a spectacular manner. By the various actions it has taken during the recent Covid-19 pandemics, the citizens of the USA have become dangerously close to receipt of this dubious honor.

US citizen’s case for “winning” this award is based on the following observations. The US government and its scientific communities have been strong driving forces behind the development of Covid-19 vaccines and have made these readily available to the American public at no cost. Nevertheless, the total number of deaths in the USA due the Covid-19 viruses have been the highest of any nation in the world due to the fact that a significantly large number of the American citizens have refused to be vaccinated. Their reasons for this behavior generally defy conventional scientific logic and tend to be based, instead, on various conspiracy theories or political affiliations. These folks appear to have forgotten the great accomplishments our country has already made in fighting infectious diseases, such as Polio for example, in the past.

 After Jonas Salk’s vaccine was licensed in 1955, the annual number of polio cases in the USA fell from 35,000 in 1953 to 5,600 by 1957, and down to only 161 by 1961. Thus, the dreaded disease of my 1950s childhood was eliminated by the timely actions taken by our government and its scientific community. A half century later, our scientific knowledge and capabilities in this area has been further expanded.

So why would a citizen of the USA refuse to protect himself or herself today from a virus that is likely to do great damage to all members of their species? After pondering some of the possible answers to this question (other than legitimate medical reasons), abject stupidity and a propensity to embrace wingnut conspiracy theories come to mind.  Hopefully US citizens will come to their senses faster than the viruses can spread throughout our population. Any country that boasts about being “exceptional” should not be in the running for a Darwin Award.    

In addition, the covid conundrum we now face poses a threat to our democratic means of governance. Do we need to force our citizens to comply with vaccine regulations by the authoritarian methods commonly used in China? If so, that step would further distance ourselves from the free democratic society we have tried to maintain for the last 250 years. If US citizens want to maintain our version of democracy, they must remind themselves that “freedom” in the USA does not include an escape from our responsibilities to the welfare of all citizens of the world. The version of freedom offered by the USA requires a strong sense of responsibility and a thorough education.  

(Note: Charles Darwin was a 19th century scientist who proposed that changes to all forms of life on Earth have occurred via natural evolutionary processes in which the fittest members of those life forms have higher rates of survival.)

A large fraction of Americans believes that there is an almighty God who is aware of their individual personal lives and is capable of affecting them in either a positive or negative manner whenever He feels such actions are warranted. It is a common practice, for instance, for religious fundamentalists to ask their God to help others or themselves when a particular need arises. It is also common practice within a wide range of fundamental religious groups to promote specific views on controversial issues of society and to insist that the word of God as revealed in the scriptures of their religions represent the wishes and directives of God.  The potential problem with all of this, of course, is that it sometimes leads to public policies that differ greatly from those derived from the fields of science. This, in turn, can lead to unfortunate outcomes because modern science has repeatedly provided our best predictions of future events. 

The influence of fundamental religious views on our two most important scientific issues of today are very apparent. Concerning one of them, we have today an uncontrolled pandemic throughout the USA due to the spread of covid-19 viruses primarily by individuals who have chosen not to be vaccinated – contrary to the recommendations of science. Many of these uncooperative individuals have been influenced by the evangelical and fundamental branches of their churches, which often suggest that we should leave some of our most important issues for God to decide.  As we now know, however, this approach to the Covid-19 problem has failed to stop this pandemic which now threatens to take over almost all available intensive care facilities of our country.  We are now belatedly trying to make corrections by following recommendations of science that should have been put in place much earlier.

The second example of the unfortunate influence of fundamentalists on public policy today concerns mankind’s attempt to stop the relentless advance of global warming. Far too many of us buy into the view of many fundamentalists who claim that weather and climate are set to the preferences of God who they are certain, designed and created the entire universe. Thus, those among us who accept that religious notion are more easily persuaded by the CEO’s of the fossil fuel industries who also try to  assure us that the influence of their fossil fuel products on our climate is too minuscular to be of importance. Unfortunately, notions such as these are turning out to be contrary to the predictions of science as well to ongoing observations. Therefore, the fundamentalist’s view is very likely to be exceedingly harmful to the future welfare of human beings on this planet.

I have described here the unfortunate influence of religious fundamentalists on the two major scientific issues facing mankind today – one dealing with the efficacy of vaccines and the other dealing with the greenhouse gas warming of our planet. Sadly, in both cases, viable solutions and actions concerning these enormous problems are being frustrated by individual citizens who subscribe to the fundamental branches of their religions. Since many of those citizens lack the scientific knowledge required to thoroughly understand these issues, they must then decide whose advice are they are going to accept. Going forward, more of them will hopefully choose the advice provided by science which has the far superior record of correctly predicting the paths to be taken by Mother Nature.  If we don’t choose the advice of science, we will continue to be in a losing battle against Mother Nature and, as we should know by now, She bats last and always wins. We will have a far better chance of winning this battle if we use all of the gifts either God or the evolutionary process has given us – including our reportedly superior brains.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | September 4, 2021

Making logical decisions on global warming

The 2021 report of the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change provides a clear scientific message to the entire world.  In doing what needs to be done in order to stop the ravages of global warming, we have no chance of success if we continue to dwell on the “good times” we have enjoyed on our planet over the last 150 years – all made possible by the Earth’s plentiful and low-cost supplies of fossil fuels along with free of charge waste disposal into our atmosphere. The ease with which we learned to use fossil fuels for our transportation, heating, and material needs was astounding and it is, indeed, challenging to now imagine how we can manage without them. Yet we now know that the laws of Mother Nature clearly tell us that managing without fossil fuels is exactly what we must do if we hope to provide our children, grandchildren, and their descendents with a chance of wellbeing and even survival on our planet. 

By the combustion of fossil fuels, we have added far too much of the  critically important greenhouse gas, CO2, to our atmosphere thereby creating far too much heat retention on the Earth’s surfaces.  In the last decade, we have already witnessed many of the initial effects of global warming and know that they will continuously get worse in the future. Note, for example, the catastrophic flooding in New York this week delivered by Hurricane Ida which first landed in Louisiana well over a thousand miles away and still had the power to do what it did in New York.  Carbon dioxide is a particularly troublesome greenhouse gas in that once emitted into the biosphere, the excess it creates remains there for several centuries. Thus, atmospheric CO2 is our “gift” to our descendents “that will keep on giving” for many generations. 

So, if we want to retain human-friendly conditions on Earth, Mother Nature very clearly tells us that we must abandon our use of fossil fuels as quickly as possible and use other means of energy production that don’t add greenhouse gasses to our atmosphere.  And, if we can’t do that for all of the functions that fossil fuels have made possible (think long-distance air travel, for example), then we will have to learn how to live with greatly reduced use of those functions.

The long overdue actions we must now take have been made unnecessarily difficult by the fact that we have actually increased our use of fossil fuels during the most recent decades – well after climate scientists have sounded the alarm concerning their detrimental effects.  It is also disturbing to note that some of the top climate scientists in the 1970’s were employed by the  prominent  fossil fuel industries of that era and those scientists quickly discovered that future warming was, indeed, likely to occur via the combustion of  their fossil fuels. Upon receiving those reports, however, the CEO’s of those industries decided to terminate their research programs in climate change and spend that money, instead, on the promotion of doubt concerning the research of others who were coming to the same conclusion. Even today, the fossil fuel lobby continues to do its best to promote the use of fossil fuels.

As a result of that unfortunate history, we now find ourselves in a very deep hole with respect the climate change problem.  We now must figure out how to stop the world’s high emissions of CO2 and how to deal with the CO2 emissions accumulated over the entire Industrial Age. Both of these tasks are truly formidable and will require the full application of all of our mental and physical resources. In order to have a snowball in hell’s chance of success in this endeavor we will, at last, have to make decisions that are based squarely on scientific logic rather than our emotional attachments to how we used to do things in our fossil-fuel-saturated world. 

It is fortunate, therefore, that we do have a clear picture of what a logical approach would be – thanks to our many years of scientific exploration in this area. We know that our global warming problem is primarily due to increased levels of greenhouse gasses. Therefore, we must stop emitting them and remove as much of our historical CO2 emissions as we can. Simultaneously, we must develop alternate means of energy production that are driven by either electronic means or by combustion schemes that do not result in the emission of greenhouse gasses.

In deducing what is going to happen in the future, the most important variable yet to be determined is simply what mankind will do. Will we continue to make matters worse or will we begin to solve the problem?  That is, will we take the path based on scientific logic or the one based on our emotional ties to habits of the past? There really is just one choice that provides any hope for the future. Expecting a different result by repetitions of the past is the very definition of insanity. Only by following the dictates of Mother Nature will there be a light at the end of the tunnel we choose to pursue.  

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | August 9, 2021

Earthlings are now under palliative (going on hospice?) care

The ability of our planet to sustain life for its human inhabitants can now be described in the terms we normally use for the type of health care we provide for our exceedingly ill. One of these is hospice care in which care and comfort is provided to our very sick when they do not expect to live much longer.  That is, the patients in this case have reached a point where it no longer is considered possible to cure them and, therefore, the objective is simply to make the patients as comfortable as possible during the rest of their lives.

Palliative care is similar, but significantly different in one respect. It also provides comprehensive comfort care, but is offered while attempts to cure the person’s illness are continued. Thus, a person under palliative care remains in that state while he or she is either cured of the disease or finally acknowledges that no cure will be found and thereby enters the hospice state of care.

The world’s top climate scientists on the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported today that our planet is presently in danger of reaching a turning point temperature after which automatic, irreversible warming would push our planet over the brink into a new hot-house state intolerable to human beings. In other terms, this report suggests that we Earthlings are in need of palliative if not hospice care due to the present condition of our planet. This need has arisen in recent decades because the Earth has lost its ability to provide the physical conditions that allowed human beings to thrive over the last 10,000 years (a period known as the Holocene). The great threat to our continued existence on Earth is presently due to the huge excesses of greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide and methane, we humans have emitted into the atmosphere over the Industrial Age.  A major cause of these unnatural emissions is our overuse of fossil fuels for energy production.

This well-known problem should come as no surprise in view of the fact that the population of human beings on Earth is now greater than seven billion and is still increasing exponentially – along with the fact that a large portion of these human beings have become addicted to the use of fossil fuels for energy production. Throughout most of the 10,000 year-period prior to the Industrial Age (beginning in the 19th century), the concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere was about 280 ppm (parts per million). Today, it is about 420 ppm, almost 50% greater. The additional retention of heat caused by these excess greenhouse gases has led to increased global average temperatures, now more than 1.0 degrees Celsius greater than it was during the preindustrial era. The IPCC report unequivocally states that irreversible, runaway processes are likely to occur if the Earth’s average temperature increases by one more degree C.  In that case stable human civilizations, as we know them, will no longer be able to exist (due to sea level rise, climate-induced migrations of people, increased violent weather, and the collapse of ocean and terrestrial ecosystems.)  While all of this has been predicted for many decades by climate scientists, those alarms have yet to be taken as seriously as they need to be.

It would clearly be helpful if we had a way to remove the excess man-made CO2 from our atmosphere.  But unfortunately, we presently don’t know how to do that at the enormous scale required.  While it is very easy to add CO2 to the biosphere by the combustion of fossil fuels, it is very difficult to remove it. The natural processes that normally provide this service occur very slowly, taking several centuries to accomplish that task.

In addition, all previous attempts to reduce mankind’s emissions of CO2 by reducing our use of fossil fuels for energy production have not been successful on the scale required. Instead, we continue to find and develop new sources of gas, oil, and coal throughout the planet. This, of course, further increases the carbon content of the biosphere thereby further increasing the Earth’s average temperature. If “business-as-usual” trends such as these continue in the future, we Earthlings will be in need of hospice-like end-of-life care while we wait for the ravages of global warming to render our lives untenable.  

On the other hand, if mankind takes aggressive action against global warming soon enough, then a form of palliative care might remain possible by which the survival of our species is conceivable. This would have to happen prior to the start of irreversible carbon emissions from the vast carbon reservoirs of the Earth such as the frozen permafrost tundra of the Arctic, the methane clathrates of the ocean bottoms, and the peat deposits of the northern hemisphere. 

So, what are these aggressive actions we need to take? They include the reduction and then elimination of CO2 and CH4 emissions by our combustion of fossil fuels, the elimination of other greenhouse gas emissions, the removal of some of the existing atmospheric CO2 by artificial means and the complete electrification of our means of energy delivery. While these required tasks will, indeed, be formidable, if we fail to do them, we will be changing our heath care needs on Earth from that of palliative to hospice – an outcome that would be unacceptable to all.

In the past, we have taken our human friendly conditions on Earth for granted.  We can no longer afford to do that. For this reason, please read and carefully consider the IPCC report of 2021 being released today.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | May 8, 2021

Biden’s FDR-like leadership on climate change

In his recent address to the joint chambers of congress, it was most refreshing to hear President Biden declare that his administration will put a very high priority on combating the relentless advance of global warming. This constitutes a great improvement over the expressed goals of all previous presidents and especially those of Biden’s predecessor.

As we all know, however, the passage of progressive legislation concerning this issue will be strongly opposed by the powerful fossil fuel lobbies. We have already seen some efforts along these lines by various Republican legislators and I will describe one of these below that is indicative of the tactics Biden’s adversaries will use.

All components of our economic system will have to allow its greenhouse gas emissions to be assessed, of course, and this includes our agricultural sector in which the huge beef industry resides. And it is well known that the production of beef is extremely carbon intensive relative to the production of plant-based foods. In spite of this fact, President Biden has not yet revealed any specific suggestions for addressing agriculture’s contributions to global warming. The high carbon footprint of beef production is, indeed, difficult to deal with due to the popularity of beef among the public as well as its producers. For this reason, I suspect that the Biden team is already discussing this issue with all concerned parties including the representatives of both the ranching and farming industries. 

In spite of Biden’s careful approach, his adversaries are already providing Fox-news-like misinformation on this topic by claiming that Biden is actively trying to deny Americans their beloved hamburgers and steaks. The GOP’s reason for this misrepresentation is undoubtedly to encourage the beef lobby to add their support to the fossil fuel lobby as soon as possible so that they can prevent timely actions concerning greenhouse gas emissions – before discussions are given a chance to find clarity, resolution, and points of compromise. Food production is, after all, a huge industry in which a multitude of options are continuously being discovered.    

The tactic described above is frequently used by the climate change inactivists. Instead of addressing the central question of whether or not some specific changes are feasible in order to combat global warming, they skip that part and exaggerate the difficulties that some needed actions might possibly present. However, when a literal “war” is required in order to effectively address a problem, unpopular, but necessary, changes will sometimes have to be made. When WWII was forced on us by Japan and Germany in 1941, for example, we immediately took the actions that were required – even though those actions would result in the deaths of many young Americans whose lives were just beginning and who had done nothing to create the problem. We reluctantly did that, however, in order to fight that all-out war by the most effective means possible. And, if you think that the war against global warming is going to be any less challenging than that fought against our opponents in WWII, you are mistaken.

Prior to the forcing event of Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt, had been in a very difficult spot politically. He couldn’t declare war on Germany at that time even though Germany was overrunning most of our traditional allies throughout Europe. FDR was boxed in largely because of the popular “America First” movement of the USA that insisted we not send our boys off to another European war. So instead, FDR got the Lend Lease program started and did his best to prepare the American public for what he knew lay ahead.

Our current President Biden is now walking a similar tightrope. While he knows that a full-fledged war against global warming will be required, he has to proceed with considerable caution so that he retains sufficient support from the public. That is a difficult task, indeed, that is not at all helped by the business-as-usual inactivists of today.

Needless to say, I am extremely proud of President Biden for courageously taking on this most difficult leadership role. In doing so, he will have a very tough row to hoe because of the technical and political problems he is sure to encounter. He could have easily avoided this greatest of all problems, as most of his predecessors did, but he didn’t because he realizes that we simply must finally face the reality of our greatest existential threat, just as FDR did in the 1940’s. We now have a President who is willing to lead this absolutely essential quest. Many thanks for that Mr. President!! All of us should now join him in his effort to pass a livable world on to future generations.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | May 1, 2021

But where’s the beef in Biden’s climate plan?

While I have been very pleased to see that President Biden intends to give high priority to addressing the world’s greatest problem, climate change, I have also noted that he has not yet mentioned in his concerns the contributions of agriculture and, more specifically, our need to change a large portion of our diets from meat-based to plant-based foods. His reason for this omission is most likely due to political rather than scientific considerations. The agricultural lobby of the USA is very strong and firmly entrenched.  Asking them for their support in reducing beef production is probably about as difficult a task as asking the fossil fuel industries to support reductions in our use of gas, oil, and coal. President Biden is already facing strong push-back from the fossil fuel industries and, I am sure, would prefer that the agricultural lobby not add its great strength to those forces for non-action on climate change.

Nevertheless, in pondering an argument that would explain why changes in agricultural are needed, I happened to see an op ed by Stephanie Feldstein which serves this purpose very well. Therefore, I have included a portion of it below.  Her entire article can be found at the source cited.   

Opinion by Stephanie Feldstein in Washington Post, April 29, 2021

Stephanie Feldstein is the population and sustainability director at the Center for Biological Diversity.  A portion of her op ed follows.

“Americans eat four times the global average of beef. This is particularly troubling since domestic livestock animals and their manure are responsible for more U.S. methane emissions than any other industry. Those emissions, which have much higher warming potential than carbon dioxide, have been increasing, even as the importance of reducing methane gained recognition. Since 1990, methane emissions from manure alone have risen to 68 percent. We can’t meet climate goals without reducing meat and dairy consumption.

Among this week’s angry tweets claiming Americans were losing their right to a rib-eye, there was little argument over whether meat reduction is an effective and necessary climate strategy. That’s because the science is clear on the climate footprint of meat-heavy diets. But Republicans have an appetite for destruction when it comes to the climate, and they’re more than willing to ignore the facts in favor of fueling the culture war over occasionally eating one fewer burger.

The American way of life isn’t threatened by replacing a beef burger with a veggie version. But it is threatened by the climate crisis, which puts Americans at risk as temperatures and sea levels rise and as drought and disease diminish our ability to grow nutritious food.”  

So, there you have it.  It’s another case of a well-established custom facing a clear dictate from science – somewhat like the tobacco wars of previous decades except that in the present case, it’s all of us and our descendents and not just the offending individuals that are at risk.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | April 4, 2021

My response to “The Big Question”


While studying and teaching the science associated with climate change for many years, I am sometimes asked “The Big Question”: that is, what is my best guess as to the fate of planet Earth due to our emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. In this post, I will try to answer that question as well as I can – with the understanding shared by the great baseball philosopher, Yogi Berra, who admitted that “predictions are hard to make – especially about the future.”  Nevertheless, here goes my attempt.     

First, I will break my response into two parts, each of which is determined by what mankind choses to do or not do in the next decade. I will call the simplest of these “Scenario A” in which we essentially make no changes and continue with business-as-usual methods of energy production. This scheme requires little changes in our economy but, unfortunately, is sure to lead to distinctly disastrous consequences. This outcome of Scenario A has been predicted many times based on mature and time-tested laws of science.

The amount of CO2 we have already emitted over the Industrial Age has increased the level of CO2 in the atmosphere to about 50% greater than it was prior to the Industrial Age and higher than it has ever been in the last 3 million years. In addition, it should be noted that the extra CO2 we have added to our atmosphere during the Industrial Age will not come out quickly, but will remain in the biosphere for several centuries. That means that our planet is already in dire straits due to its elevated and long-lasting concentrations of greenhouse gases.

And within Scenario A, CO2 levels and the temperature of the Earth will continue to increase well beyond current levels – eventually leading to a runaway condition in which higher temperatures will cause additional natural emissions of greenhouse gases from various carbon deposits (such as those in the permafrost of the Arctic and methane clathrates of the ocean bottoms). These massive natural emissions will add to the emissions of mankind. This is expected to change conditions of Earth so much that they will become incompatible with existing forms of civilization. This distinctly disastrous outcome is inevitable under Scenario A. Sorry, but that is simply what Mother Nature is expected do in response to our continued use of fossil fuels.  

Another detrimental aspect of Scenario A is that it would quickly lead to “gloom and doom” attitudes under which all efforts for climate recovery would be thought to be useless.  “Enjoy the fossil fuel party while it lasts” would become our motto – as it already is among the fossil fuel advocates.

It should also be noted that the advocates of Scenario A will do their best to offer various “painless” options in which continuous fossil fuel use would be allowed -while claiming to solve the AGW problem in other ways.  These proposals generally involve the removal of CO2 from the atmosphere or making weather modifications, such as would result from increasing the Earth’s reflection of the Sun’s radiation. These proposals appear to be motivated mainly by their potential for selling Scenario A to the public more than to actually solving the AGW problem.  Therefore, if we bet the entire farm on any of these supposedly less painful options, I suspect that we would still be headed for the same disastrous outcomes forecasted in Scenario A.     

Fortunately, there also is a Scenario B that is scientifically feasible and would be much less harmful to future conditions if undertaken before that irreversible runaway event described above occurs. This option would require a great deal of work made especially so because of the fact that we would be starting this corrective action so late in the game.

Scenario B requires that we “decarbonize” our entire means of energy production in a manner that does not cause the emissions of greenhouse gases. This option will require the “electrification” of nearly everything (cars are just one example) that was previously powered by fossil fuel combustion.  A massive increase in the generation of the electrical power and its storage will also be required. For this purpose, more nuclear reactors might be required throughout the world. While the development of an “Electronic Age” of this sort is thought to be technically possible (see my post of Dec 9, 2020 called the “The 100 % Solution”), it will surely run into great resistance from the multitude of people and industries that are addicted to fossil fuels. In frank terms, Scenario B would require nothing less than a complete change from our present well-entrenched Fossil Fuel Age to a new Electronic Age. The technical challenges associated with the creation of a new Electronic Age would be formidable and the focus required to achieve it would be similar to that needed for winning WWII.  And, like WWII, there would be no guarantees of success.   

So, what is the answer to the Big Question initially posed – “what is going to happen?”  A major portion of that question can be answered by any well-informed citizen just a well as a climate scientist because a critical portion of Scenario B depends on our communal and intergenerational sense of values.  Will the present set of human beings on this planet be able to say goodbye to the Fossil Fuel Age in which they have lived all of their lives AND will they have enough faith in the fields of science as to jump into the totally new era that climate science recommends?

So, you tell me what the answer is to The Big Question.  If your answer is no – the citizens of Earth will not be able to make that transition – then my answer is that we are headed for the disastrous outcome associated with Scenario A.  If your answer is yes – we can make that transition out of the fossil fuel age and into an Electronic Age – then my answer is that we might be able to achieve tolerable rather than disastrous consequences.

In conclusion, the future of our planet is currently in the hands of its inhabitants and their leaders. While the relevant scientific parts of the problem are relatively clear, we don’t know yet what people and their political leaders will choose to do. Thus, what mankind chooses to do – probably within the current decade – will very likely determine whether future conditions on Earth will be either disastrous or manageable. My own preference is that we do our best to achieve that new Electronic Age. We have kicked this can down the road for much too long and we might not get a second chance to retain manageable conditions on Earth. In the process, we will also be performing a great service to our grandchildren.   

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