Posted by: ericgrimsrud | September 15, 2017

The great nutrient decline

For many years, the deniers of man-caused global warming have claimed that our increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere is a good thing – because it will “fertilize” the production of plant life and thereby increase the production of food for our increasing world-wide population. Even before needed experiments were performed to test this claim, however, there was considerable doubt that it would hold up because of the recognition that increased plant growth does not necessarily mean increased nutrient growth. The needed experiments referred to above are now beginning to be reported and the news, indeed, is not good: see www.politico.com/agenda/story/2017/09/13/food-nutrients-carbon-dioxide-000511

Turns out that the protein content of our staple crops, such as rice, wheat, barley, and potatoes have been continuously decreasing in inverse proportion to the rise in atmospheric CO2. That is, the atmospheric CO2 level has increased by about 40% over the industrial age starting in about 1850, and the amount of protein nutrients in our staple crops may have decreased roughly by that same amount. This would mean, of course, that unless a person is eating greater quantities of these basic foods, the nutritional value of his or her diet would be decreasing.  At the same time, the extra CO2 in our atmosphere appears to be causing the sugar content of our plants to increase.  Stated another way, our staple crop foods are increasingly moving towards “junk food” whereby the ratio of calories to nutrients in increasing.

Thus, a favorite, but bogus claim of the deniers of global warming should now finally be laid to rest and my condolences go out to the many of our elected officials in Washington DC and elsewhere who loved to make it.  It was, indeed, a simplistic claim that could be understood by simpletons. But like so many other things in life it required careful scientific investigation in order to verify it and that test is failing.

So, I am now wondering what our President and the jolly band of scientific retards in his cabinet are thinking. Probably something like “Damn those scientists! We do our best within our departments to shut them up and replace them with our own stooges – but peer-reviewed science still manages to get through! Perhaps we need a new Department of Scientific Journals in which our stooges could regulate and “correct” all information coming out of them. If Russia, our President’s model for effective governance, can do that, why can’t we?

On a more serious note: aren’t there some grownups left in our controlling Republican Party who could call out the numerous scientific clowns who remarkably find themselves in key leadership positions today.  Since when did Mother Nature care an iota about the political preferences of human beings?  Do Republicans think that Ronald Reagan sits at Her side?

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | September 7, 2017

Second 500-year weather event now upon us

As Hurricane Irma is about to arrive in South Florida, it is instructive to reread my comments on this blog posted about one year ago (see https://ericgrimsrud.org/2016/08/10/state-aided-deception-continues-in-florida/).  In that post, the encouragement of the State of Florida for continued and even enhance residential construction in South Florida is related. Since the Governor of that state has been a hard-core denier of the detrimental effects of global warming, it will be interesting to see what spin he places on the effects of Irma.  I expect his response will be that the extraordinary strength of Irma was due entirely to natural causes and was not affected by mankind’s emissions of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere.  Assuming he cares about any other states in the USA, I suspect he will say the same about the origin of Hurricane Harvey in Texas.

Oh sure, Mother Nature caused these two 500-year extreme weather events in less than two weeks from each other without any assistance from the distinctly unnatural emissions of CO2 by human beings, right?  Going forward, Americans should beware of Florida’s snake-oil salesmen, such as Governor Scott.  They might soon be trying to sell you one of their state’s multitude of bridges, for example.  After all, they will soon become “bridges to nowhere” and Florida will need the proceeds of such sales for payments to the contractors who are still  building the infrastructures of South Florida’s latest coastal  communities.  If you need help in believing the existence of this twisted logic, you should read again my previous post indicated above.  Heaven help those Iowa pig farmers referred to there who are counting on retirement bliss in South Florida.

 

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | August 28, 2017

Our President will have another “Deep Thought” tomorrow

In anticipation of President Trump’s visit to hurricane-ravaged Houston tomorrow, we can expect him to proclaim total surprise as to just how devastating a modern hurricane can be – just as he was so surprised to learn a couple months ago how complicated our nation’s health care system now is. This is to be expected in view of his and his cabinet’s efforts to not learn anything about the science of climate change and to ensure that no one else does either. They simply had to do this, you understand. If our President is to make good on his promise to “make America great again”, he is going to have to sweep a few of our problems under the rug and especially those as devastating as Tropical Storm Harvey.

While he might be able to get away with smaller deceptions in some areas, he will have a very difficult time doing it with the issues related to climate change. A lack of universal health care, for example, might diminish the quality of life for many Americans who have little wealth and influence, but should not affect that of the wealthy among us. On the other hand, the ravages of Mother Nature induced by our increasing greenhouse gases will affect all localities of the USA including our coastal regions where a large portion of our well-off citizens live during much of the year. While wealthy and influential folks might be able to arrange local laws so that storm relief is provided to them when the ravages of climate change hit their neighborhoods, the USA cannot afford to continue to do the same for all of our large sea-level cities, such as Houston, New York and New Orleans, just to mention three that have already been devastated. As the present clean-up in Texas goes forward, it will be interesting to observe the responses to pleas for federal assistance by Texans – especially in view of the fact that the representatives of Texas voted against such assistance to New Jersey four years ago following the devastation of that state by Hurricane Sandy.

All of this would pose quite the conundrum for most of our past Presidents, but just watch – it will not for President Trump. His operational mode is always to make sure that he is not held responsible for any failures of government (a Harry Truman he is not). Thus, I suspect that his summary comment in Houston tomorrow will be “nobody knew our climate was getting so complicated!”.  He has a point: most of the people who had previously made such claims where labelled “fear-mongering extremists” of the scientific community by his administration and, of course, he pays no attention to “losers” of that sort whose influence is being eliminated the “Great America” envisioned by President Trump.  Thus, the science advisers to his administration are indeed being replaced by “nobodies“.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | August 7, 2017

Pandering versus scolding in politics

Over the last half century, we have witnessed the universal triumph of pandering over badly needed straight-talk in all of our Presidential elections. This trend was firmly set in the election year of 1980 when the incumbent Jimmy Carter was running against Ronald Reagan. Because of the Middle Eastern oil embargo of that period, the USA was struggling to meet its energy demands. This prompted President Carter to gave his famous “malaise speech” in which he provided an unusually frank and somber assessment of the problem. The speech is well worth listening to again and can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KCOd-qWZB_g

While his speech squarely addressed that energy crisis, it went beyond this specific issue by addressing the basic character of the American public. It showcased Carter, the deeply religious Babtist, as the nation’s “minister-in-chief”, beginning with self-flagellation as he recounted criticism of his leadership, and then addressed what he believed to be a growing loss of confidence by the public in its nation’s institutions and leaders.

I thought both then and now that Carter’s speech was as excellent and appropriate as it was unusual. While the speech did immediately generate some positive feedback, its longer-term effect was in the opposite direction as soon became clear. Ronald Reagan, with his sunny optimism, was successful at portraying Carter as the nation’s “scolder-in-chief” who was too willing to blame Americans for the nation’s ills. Although polling suggested that many Americans’ views on the issues were closer to Carter’s than to Reagan’s, that did not prevent Reagan from winning that election. Americans liked the pandering he provided more than Carter’s appeal to our sense of responsibility. Upon arriving at the White House, Reagan immediately removed Carter’s symbolic solar panels from its roof and encouraged Americans to buy more gas-guzzling vehicles.

When Reagan then went on to be reelected in a landslide against another straight-talking Democrat named Walter Mondale – by campaigning on an “It’s morning again in America” theme – the die was cast. At that critical point with respect to our country’s policies on energy, the USA turned backwards towards the simplistic and environmentally flawed views of the ’50’s.

Mindful of the purported lesson of Carter’s “malaise” speech, no successful national candidate ever again made the mistake of speaking so candidly, and in such critical tones, about the American people – even if such criticism is absolutely true and desperately needed. Instead, candidates on the hustle are much more likely to take a page from the Reagan playbook by emphasizing the indomitable American spirit, can-do work ethic, etc., while ignoring the tough bits related to reality. Woe to any candidate who slips up and leaves himself open to the charge that Americans might be at fault for anything.

Subsequent repetitions of this behavior are numerous. For example, in the election year of 1992 the incumbent, George H. W. Bush, was running against the upstart Bill Clinton of Arkansas. Clinton had won the nomination of the Democratic party by unmatched pandering against a cast of seasoned Democrats including Jerry Brown, Paul Tsongas, Tom Harkin and Bob Kerry. Clinton promised to take care of all the country’s several serious problems, including our health care systems for all ages, our decaying infrastructure, our military obligations, and our increasing national debt, all without raising taxes. The liberal wing of that party loved what he said in spite of its improbability and viewed him as their Messiah who could end the 12-year Republican domination of the White House. President George W. was still basking in the glow of Desert Storm, a well-managed push-back against the military exploits of Iraq’s Sadam Hussain in Kuwait. But that support vanished in a flash when he also responded to the increasing national debt that had accrued during his and Reagan’s terms – thus going back on his infamous “read my lips – no new taxes” pledge. For this bit of straight, responsible and wise action, he lost the enthusiasm of his own party and Bill Clinton was elected.

The most blatant example of successful pandering by a Presidential candidate, however, must surly go to our current President, Donald Trump. His use of it, mixed in with generous doses of ignorance, deception, falsehoods, and “alternate realities”, brought him – instead of a vastly more experienced opponent who lacked her husband’s knack for pandering – to the White House. President Trump has to be the most outrageous example of an ill-prepared person ever voted into the US Presidency by a gullible, pander-loving, citizenry and there is no one to blame but ourselves for the present chaotic state of affairs this has created in Washington DC.

In considering the future, one wonders whether it might not finally be time to avoid the panderers within our political system. Aren’t we now in deep enough “do-do” as to finally follow the few politicians that talk straight about the real issues before us? Isn’t our national debt now high enough to merit such straight talk? Shouldn’t our health care system finally be made adequate to ensure that any American’s illness need not constitute the end of his or her financial wellbeing? And isn’t our current state of global warming sufficient to merit our full attention and strong action?

In trying to envision the type of leaders we need in order to begin moving in the right directions, I recommend that you listen again to Carter’s speech referenced above and consider the distinct possibility that the reason his ideas were not roundly accepted and acted upon in 1980 had everything to do with the recipients of that speech and their fatal preference for pandering over straight talk. Thus, it appears to me that, yes, we do need another leader of Jimmy Carter’s ilk today but even more importantly, we need a voting public of grown-ups who can handle and respond to a very well-deserved dose of scolding.

When the “Greatest Generation” (that Tom Brokaw wrote about) responded to the realities their era – that is, the Great Depression and WWII – I am sure that generation had in mind the future of all American generations to follow and not just ours. Isn’t it time for our generation to recognize that “it’s not all about us” and endeavor to leave behind a better world for further generations?  For that purpose, I hope that the Democrats can do better in 2018 than offer just another “better deal” and that the Republicans will think about more than just cutting taxes. We are in desperate need of leaders who can raise the consciousness of Americans above the superficial and immediate. While some might laugh at that notion, others believe that we are “an exceptional” nation capable of doing great things. The present moment of political chaos in Washington DC might provide an excellent opportunity for making needed changes in our priorities and attitudes along the lines recommended by Jimmy Carter almost 40 years ago.

 

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | July 28, 2017

Our ailing political system

Whether the issue under discussion in Washington DC is health care, immigration, climate change or any other of some complexity, our national political system is showing itself to be essentially useless for addressing needed changes and action. While all of the reasons for this are too numerous to list here, one stands out above all of the others and it pertains to two “lessons” learned and embraced by one of our political parties during the last half century. While these lessons have proven to be effective in winning elections for that party, they have also proven to be poisonous for our nation as a whole. So, what are these lessons and where did they come from?

The first came from Richard Nixon who showed his party members the importance of “winning at all costs” – even if treasonous behavior is required. During the election year of 1968, his representatives in South Vietnam convinced the leadership of that country to not sign any peace agreements with North Vietnam at that time and assured the South Vietnamese leaders that they would get a “better deal” in the future under a Nixon administration. Thus, President Johnson’s efforts to end the war in Vietnam during his last year in office were thwarted and the war continued for more than another decade – with the additional loss of more than 25,000 American and 100,000 Vietnamese lives. It appears now that the subsequent Watergate break-in in 1972 was part of Nixon’s efforts to conceal his traitorous route to the White House. In spite of getting caught in his cover up efforts, Nixon taught his party the importance of “winning at all costs”.

Later, the Republican Party was again taught this and another lesson by Ronald Reagan who also resorted to treason in order to get to the White House. Like Nixon’s, Reagan’s treasonous action was again to interfere with the ongoing foreign affair efforts of a sitting president. In the election year of 1980, President Carter was trying to arrange the release of the 55 American hostages taken during the 1979 Iranian revolution. Through his representatives, which included George W. Bush and Robert Gates, in secret meetings they convinced the Iranians to hold those hostages until Reagan was in the White House. To the continuing embarrassment of President Carter, the Iranians did that and Reagan won the election. In return for this favor, President Reagan managed to provide the Iranians with advanced weaponry by way of a secret and illegal scheme that became known as the Iran-Contra Affair – all of which Reagan confessed to in 1987. Thus, Reagan reinforced the first lesson of Nixon – win at all costs even if that requires treasonous behavior against the sitting President of the USA and, therefore, the USA itself.

The other useful lesson that the Republican Party learned from Reagan was to promote the concept that “government does not solve problems, government is the problem”. This distinctly deceitful tune is still a favorite of the GOP today and helps one understand why today’s GOP does not care to govern even when voted into power. They now want to be elected mainly for the purpose of undermining and discrediting the US government. They have no intentions of running it effectively. We are presently seeing the proof of this. After complaining about Obama’s health care system for 7 years, the GOP now controls all branches of government in DC, including the Presidency, both houses of Congress, and one could say the Supreme Court. So, what are they doing about their promised changes in our health system? Nothing – other than continuing to complain about the Democrats and hoping they can somehow avoid the responsibility of legislative changes on this issue.

Today, we have only two political parties that have a reasonable chance of winning national elections. While both parties have serious shortcomings, one is absolutely cursed by its adoption of the two guiding principles described above – which makes effective governance impossible. Thus, as long as the Republican party controls our mechanisms of government, its two mantras of “win at all costs” and “government is the problem” will continue to promote near-treasonous behaviors and willful failures in Washington DC. It is true that the public has lost confidence in government – just as Reagan had hoped. Thus, we now have a new Republican President who is an “outsider” in the extreme with little knowledge of and respect for American governance. He presented himself simply as a “winner” in the Republican nominating process and was selected over all of the other offerings of his party. As he now trashes both the time-honored institutions of our country and the people that serve in them, he does not worry about stepping outside the boundaries of our legal system. And, why should he? After all, isn’t that how both Nixon and Reagan got to the White House? Meanwhile, almost all of his Republican colleagues in DC watch in apparently approving silence. While we are beginning to see a few words of pushback by his Republican colleagues, we have yet to see any action.

Thus, in the GOP of today, winning is apparently more important than the retention of credibility and a respect for our institutions of government. When asked at the end of 2008 “what will be your highest priority going forward now that Barack Obama has been elected to the Presidency?” the Republican Leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell said “it will be to ensure that Obama becomes a one-term President”. It is not surprising to me that McConnell has never apologized for that distinctly un-American, anti-democratic comment. Apparently, McConnell thinks he lives in an autocracy in which the two lessons of Nixon and Reagan apply: that is, disrespect government and win.

So, what’s to be done about this? For those Americans who wish to retain their democratic system, the answer should be obvious. We need to throw the autocrats out and replace them with proponents of a free and open democracy. And, we should not fear for the wellbeing of those dismissed autocrats. Opportunities for people of their political persuasion are abundant in our current President’s best friend, Russia, and that appears to be one of the very few places on Earth to which President Trump is trying to build bridges.

For anyone interested in learning more about some of the relatively new history of American foreign affairs highlighted in this post, I recommend a book entitled America’s Stolen Narrative by Robert Parry for starters. In view of the embarrassment associated with some of this history, it might be a while before we see it in the standard textbooks of our public schools. I fear that pending additions to American history will get even worse as it begins to include the deeds of our now controlling Republicans who want to ensure that our government remains inactive and essentially useless. Perhaps the most tragic of these outcomes will be the GOP’s current efforts to prevent all attempts to resist global warming. Sad! Exceedingly sad! Especially for future generations.

It is imperative that we get these stories into our history books ASAP for the excellent reason pointed out by Robert Parry in America’s Stolen Narrative. “He who controls the present controls the past and he who controls the past controls the future.”

 

 

 

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | July 8, 2017

The disparate effects of Christianity on Climate Change

Having been raised in the Christian / Lutheran tradition, I have been particularly interested in the level of assistance provided by that segment of American society for action against the relentless advance of global warming. In assessing that level of assistance, I have been mindful of one of the fundamental questions Christians have asked themselves endlessly since the onset of that religion. That question is: are good works or faith more important in achieving good standing within that Church? Our personal responses to that question can determine how we face all of life’s challenges – including the greatest of these today, that associated with the greenhouse gas warming of our planet. Unfortunately for the sake of future generations, the version of Christianity that has become most prominent today is not the one that might have most effectively caused Christians to take the strongest action against climate change. In order to understand this, it is useful to consider the evolution of the Christian Church since its very beginning.

During much of the 1st Century AD, the prevailing view within the Christian Church to the question posed above was that good works were more important than simple faith. This was undoubtedly because the new Christian Church of the first century was centered in Jerusalem, the home of James, the brother of Jesus. In line with his structured and strict Jewish background, James (known as “James, the Just”) strived to become a literal follower of the example set by Jesus of Nazareth and in doing so thought one had to give service to mankind the very highest priority of all things – more even than a mere statement of belief in any deity. In the year 70 AD, however, the city of Jerusalem was completely obliterated by the Romans thus putting an end to the Jewish dominance over the further development of Christianity. In its place, the prolific writings of the Apostle Paul became the dominant influence, leading to the different view which is commonly embraced by Christians today.

Paul believed that faith, rather than good works, provided the main route to acceptance into God’s Kingdom – which, by the way, gradually came to be thought to last for eternity after physical death. He proclaimed that no man could achieve such “salvation” through good works alone – while any person, including the gentiles of the world, could gain entrance simply through their faith in Jesus Christ and belief that He was the Son of God, who died for our sins, was raised from the dead, ascended into Heaven, and now sits at the right hand of God the Father. Needless to say, this version of Christianity was far better received by the non-Jewish gentiles of the world and by the 4th Century became coupled to and promoted by the Roman Empire. The Nicene Creed was produced in that century and is still widely used today as an affirmation of one’s Christian faith. By the Protestant Reformation led by Martin Luther in the 16th Century, the perceived importance of faith over good works was additionally reinforced.

Before moving on to the main point of this post I will insert here a brief account of how this prevailing Christian view affected life among American Lutherans at the beginning of the 20th Century. In 1917, three separate Lutheran synods met in St. Paul, Minnesota, in order to form a unified American Lutheran Church. At that meeting, the Insurance Commissions of the States of Minnesota (Jacob Preus) and Wisconsin (Herman Ekern) were invited to promote the creation of a non-profit insurance program for the predominately rural Lutheran residents of the Midwest. One of their greatest obstacles in gaining acceptance of their insurance scheme was the prevailing notion among those Lutherans that the future should be left in the hands of God and that their faith in Him provided sufficient security for their families. Nevertheless, Preus and Ekern argued that Christians should also consider specific actions of a communal and distinctly secular nature that might be of great benefit to their families and descendants. Eventually, they won considerable support among the Lutherans of the Midwest and then throughout the entire insurance industry. The insurance company thereby formed was named Lutheran Brotherhood Insurance and then Thrivent Financial. This story provides evidence of the notion that “doing good deeds” for one’s family and descendants can still be highly regarded within Christian communities.

[Side note: One reason I am well aware of this story is that Herman Ekern was among the first American-born generation of my own clan of “Grimsruds” that emigrated from Norway to a homestead near Chaseburg, Wisconsin, in 1858. Herman’s mother, Elizabeth Grimsrud, was raised on that farm. BTW, another member of that first American-born generation was my grandfather, Lawrence Grimsrud, who was also raised on that farm and, like his cousin, Herman, also served in the Wisconsin state legislature at the beginning of the 20th Century].

OK, we are now prepared to discuss the effects of all this on how modern-day Christians are likely to approach the issue of Climate Change if they wish to remain in good standing within their church. If modern Christianity had retained the dominant view of the 1st Century, the answer to this question would be clear. That is, if good works towards mankind, both living and future, were of primary importance in attaining admission to God’s Kingdom, then, of course, one would be obliged to be very good stewards of the physical place in which we all live and depend. In fact, that specific action would become the most important “good deed” we all could perform – for the good of all, including ourselves.

But, as related above, the faith and belief that most Christians now pledge fidelity to is not that 1st Century version. It is far more likely to be the one modified by the Apostle Paul in which salvation and admission into the Kingdom of Heaven can be achieved alternatively by “believing in Him” and verifying such by sincere recitation of the Nicene Creed. Thus, we see a great many people today, who legitimately believe themselves to be in good standing within the Christian Church of today but possibly are not within that “out of date” version of the 1st Century.

Thus, you can see where this line of thought is headed. The most common versions of the Christian Church today make it relatively easy for their members to “take a pass” on performing the good deeds that need to be undertaken today in order to sustain the human-friendly conditions on the Earth that we and our ancestors have enjoyed. The good deeds required to do that do, indeed, constitute a very tough row to hoe. Furthermore, according to Paul, “man cannot be saved by good deeds alone” so that even extraordinary service in that direction might not lead to salvation and good standing within the Christian Church. In addition, one’s total record on good works would probably be measured over one’s entire life while Paul tells us that the faith route to salvation can be achieved in an instant and even later if we happen to indulge in “business-as-usual” for a while longer. Thus, is it any wonder that on the subject of climate change, “talking the talk” is so far ahead of “walking the walk” in the Christian Communities of today? In order to gain more traction against the further deterioration of our planet, it appears that we need to rewrite the Apostle’s Creed a bit placing more attention on the Book of James. To my knowledge, it is the only Book in the New Testament that places primary importance on walking the walk of good deeds. If that could be done, the remaining question would then be – are the Christians of today as good as those of the 1st Century? That is, are we capable of taking the path set by Jesus of Nazareth without always resorting to the alternate route recommended by Paul?

 

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | June 16, 2017

Science denial and acceptance with selective ignorance

In our personal opinions concerning the greatest problem we have today (which, of course, is the relentless advance of global warming), most of us fall into one of the two categories listed in the title above. The denial of the basic science involved in climate change is still widely embraced by a large portion of Americans and in the words of Mark Twain, “Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt”. It is also a major shortcoming of irrational people who cannot or will not accept the logical conclusions derived from scientific evidence. The symptoms of this malady include a distain for science itself, and the promotion of “alternate truths” based on religious, philosophical, or economic beliefs and preferences. Essentially all of the Republicans presently in control of all branches of our federal government are members of an industrial/governmental consortium of deniers who do not accept the prevalent views of science. This is most unfortunate, of course, because the disciplines of science have historically provided us with our most accurate predictions of what Mother Nature is likely to do in the future in response to any changes that occur on our planet.

An equally large number of Americans today seem to accept the scientific view of climate change. In actually combating that problem, however, it is also necessary for these believers to actually “do” some substantial things about it and this is where the rub still comes. Many, even among the most progressive believers of the science, still don’t get it. “Talking the talk” and “walking the walk” are two very different things, of course. When “doing” requires substantial changes in our lifestyles, even the believers can completely ignore some of the most important aspects of the science – that part that tells us what needs to be done. In doing so, these more progressive citizens demonstrate “selective ignorance” of the science involved resulting in behaviors that differ relatively little from those of the hard-core deniers of climate change.

There is perhaps no easier way to illustrate this point than to consider our most preferred mode of long distance travel – that provided our airline industries. I have met very few progressives who recognize the need for major changes in this area and most, in fact, tend to completely ignore the suggestion. Since I have previously provided considerable detail about the increasing effect of airline travel on CO2 emissions in another post (see Air traffic, out of control in November 2016 archives) I will simply refer you to that post here rather than repeat its contents.

The environmental progressives of today do happily relate many of the beneficial things they do undertake in order to reduce their carbon footprints. They are also generally supportive of alternate forms of energy production. But again, they still avoid changes in those aspects of their preferred standard of living for which acceptable alternatives are not yet readily available. Again, our flying habits provide clear examples of this. Flying to and from distant places, rapidly and frequently, is now commonplace and increasing. Rather than doing something about this specific problem, we tend to favor programs that enhance it. Consider, for example, our now extensive “frequent flyer” programs by which supposedly “necessary” business-related travel can be used to obtain typically “unnecessary” private excursions. Consider also the recent explosion of “studies abroad” programs promoted by our colleges and universities through which thousands of students, alumni, and faculty members fly to remote locations of our planet. Also, there are the humongous travel campaigns directed at the general public. While the benefits of these travel programs to its participants are clear, it must also be recognized that there is no such thing as “good” or “ethical” CO2 emissions. All man-caused CO2 emissions must now be considered “very, very bad” and all carbon intensive aspects of our current lifestyles must be changed – if one accepts the prevailing science of climate change and cares about the wellbeing of future generations.

Thus, we have two, and not just one, huge sectors of America today whose attitudes need to be either changed or overcome somehow. Of course, we need to convince the deniers of man-caused climate to accept the prevailing view of our scientific communities. But we also need to convince our existing set of environmental progressives that they should not indulge in selective ignorance of those aspects of the science concerning the actions that must be undertaken. While both of these tasks are formidable, both would be greatly facilitated by the adoption of a stiff and continuously increasing tax on the fossil fuel extraction until we manage to leave it all in the ground. Because we have ignored this problem for so long, there really are no longer any other good options available to us.

In considering the message related in this post, please keep in mind the following set of FACTS.

  1. The extra CO2 mankind adds to the atmosphere every day will last for several centuries resulting in continued heating, which, in turn, will last for several millennia.
  2. Our excess atmospheric CO2 is the main long-term driver of global warming.
  3. The wealthy portions of the Earth’s population (which includes me) have, by far, the greatest carbon footprints.
  4. Changes in the behaviors of the wealthy will have the greatest effect on total global CO2 emissions.
  5. If you want to put a happier face on the picture I have related here, you should spend more time reading the deniers’ “literature”.

 

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | April 20, 2017

Getting science back into our legislative branches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | March 30, 2017

Our President’s quest for a better bandwagon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | March 14, 2017

On the colonization of academia by the fossil fuel interests

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

So a relevant question is: is this really happening at Harvard and others top schools, such as Harvard’s equally prestigious neighbor, MIT?  A recent article in the Guardian says that it is – and to an extend much greater that the public realizes – and provides some specific examples. The article can be seen at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2017/mar/13/the-fossil-fuel-industrys-invisible-colonization-of-academia

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

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

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

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