Posted by: ericgrimsrud | March 5, 2019

Initial thoughts concerning the Green New Deal

I applaud the GND movement for the attention it is generating on the subject of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) and for the sense of urgency it conveys in addressing it. Given the magnitude of the problem, any successful plan might, indeed, require the extraordinarily rapid changes that the GND recommends. We don’t really know for sure yet how rapidly the ravages of AGW will unfold and it will be better to error on the conservative side. At the same time, however, there are two specific aspects of the plan that I fear might lead to a failure of the GND at its very onset. If so, that failure might then also damage other, alternate plans that might follow.

So, what are the potential show-stoppers of the GND as it now exists? One is that in its most aggressive form, its proposed time frame for bringing all CO2 emissions of the USA to zero is 2030, just eleven years hence. Very few knowledgeable scientists and policy makers are likely to consider this time-line to be possible. So far, our scientific leaders have been challenged to envision how the world can get to zero emissions by 2050, 31 years hence. The sad fact is that over the last 150 years mankind has dug itself into a hole that is very possibly much deeper than the GND acknowledges. From now going forward, we must address the problem with complete honesty and not just wishful optimism.

Another potential problem with the GND, as it presently exists, is that it also includes various social issues, such as universal health care and guarantied federal jobs. This is a huge mistake. The climate change problem, all be itself, will challenge us to our limits and should be placed front and center all by itself. We should not share that spotlight with other ongoing issues even if the others are meritorious and long-overdue. Immediate action on the AGW problem is of paramount importance. We will have the time and inclination to address other issues either sooner or later – but only if the big one is being successfully addressed. Just as there would be little point in replacing the windows of your home if the house itself was on fire.

In a world warmer than 2 degrees C, organized efforts and even organized civilizations, as we know them today, are likely to no longer exist. Due to what we have already done to our atmosphere, we are already half way to that 2 degree C limit. In addition, it should be noted that many scientists believe that the exceedingly dangerous temperature limit that we must not exceed is closer to 1.5 degrees C than 2.0.

Our next swing at this approaching fast ball might very well be our last. So, for the sake of your children, grandchildren and all of our other descendants that manage to be born prior to the onset of uninhabitable conditions on this planet, please pay very close attention to the plans presently being formulated for the stabilization of our planet’s temperature. For starters, I believe that the GND should be modified as suggested here so that it has a snowball’s chance of public acceptance in our rapidly warming world.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | February 22, 2019

Still waiting for St.O’s response

In addition to my occasional posts at ericgrimsrud.org in which I use St.Olaf College as an example of weak academic leadership on the greatest problem of our time (that is, global warming, of course), I have also occasionally sent private letters to St.O President Anderson concerning this issue. For example, two years ago I sent the following letter to President Anderson via email. Because President Anderson appears to be ignoring them, I feel free to share one of them here with the general public.

To David Anderson, President of St. Olaf College, March 12, 2017

Dear David

On the issues of racial, gender and individual rights, your recent actions have shown that you take alleged offenses in those areas very seriously. Your actions concerning the cases of former Professor Dittman and the St. Olaf baseball team, for examples, have shown that you are willing to do more than just “talk the talk” at St. Olaf on these issues. Not that these actions necessarily solve any issue – but they do send a message concerning the ethical and moral principles St. Olaf College embraces.  

At the same time, I wish you could also find the courage to be similarly proactive on the far more important issue of global warming – as I have repeatedly explained on my website, ericgrimsrud.org. Concerning that enormous problem, you have been able to “talk the talk” by pointing to your non-CO2 producing means of electricity production on the StO campus, but have not yet recognized the need to wean the world, including St. Olaf College, of essentially all CO2 emissions within the next couple decades. Concerning that point, you have been silent about how StO might make environmentally responsible changes in its extremely carbon intensive programs such as those involving the transport of a large fraction of its students, faculty and even alumni to distant locations. Note that there is no such thing as “good” or “ethical” CO2 emissions – all of it is “bad”.  Therefore and unfortunately, we can no longer afford to give “travel indulgences” to those claiming to be doing “good works”.  

Given this blind spot at St. Olaf College (and, I should add, in most other colleges and universities) in both action and acknowledgement, I am left to wonder if the administrators of St. Olaf College, including its President, are actually aware of the perils posed by our increasing greenhouse gases and especially that of CO2.  For this reason, I would ask you to reread my post of January 31, 2017 at ericgrimsrud.com, entitled “Power Keg Earth, ready to go off”. It describes the science that dictates much stronger and immediate action on reducing emissions of CO2. Then I would ask you to explain why this science does not have the same effect on you as it does on me.  Because you are not a professional scientist please feel free to include in the preparation of your response any persons at St.O or elsewhere who are knowledgeable climate scientists and whose advice you appear to be taking. Surely you are in touch with such people, right?

I am guessing that the reason for our differences on this issue might be one of the following?  Perhaps you think the science I relate is wrong or exaggerated? Or is it because you think scientists will be able to solve the excess CO2 problem later when its effects become even more obvious? Is it because the Board of Regents of St. Olaf College does not include anyone who understands and appreciates the role science plays in understanding what Mother Nature does?  Is it because the issue of climate change is too serious and difficult for little St.O College to take a public stance on. Is it possibly because the administration of St.O is so focused its problems associated with student and faculty misconduct that it does not see the more important issues of our times?   

All of this reminds me of another time in history exactly 500 years ago when a professor of theology at the University of Wittenberg, Germany, came to realize that the business-as-usual forces of his time (the Roman Catholic Church, that is) had turned Christianity into a business in which wealth was more valued than service to mankind. That state of affairs might have continued if it had not been for the courage shown by Martin Luther. Luther literally risked his life for an important point of principle on which the meaning of his religion depended. Apparently, we need another Martin Luther today to remind us of the difference between a religion and a business. Selling one’s soul to our business-as-usual fossil-fuel-driven industrial complex is just as abhorrent as selling indulgences providing immunity against God’s punishments. Both of these activities interfere with service to the real needs of mankind.

I would be pleased to see your response to my questions and, if you would feel comfortable doing so, please share this letter with other members of the St.O. Board of Regents. In my opinion, the topic addressed here merits the highest level of consideration St. Olaf College can provide.

Sincerely,

Eric Grimsrud

President Anderson has not responded to this letter over the two years since it was sent. As of Feb. 22, 2019, I am still waiting for that response. As a result, I fear that any honest responses to my questions might require admissions that St.O does not want to make in a public forum. For example, I fear that the St.O College of today is more inclined to serve the needs of its corporate donors than it is to those of its students and the general public. As Dwight Eisenhower finished his last term as US President in 1960, he warned the US public of a Military – Industrial complex that he thought threatened our representative democracy. Since that time, another union between our Industrial Complex and our universities has also increasingly threatened our democracy. Even at Harvard University where much of the best research on climate change has occurred, its controlling Board of Regents has refused to divest its enormous assets from the fossil fuel industries. St. Olaf College has chosen to the same.

As I have illustrated in this and other interactions with my alma mater, it appears that St. Olaf College cannot adequately explain its behavior in public. It either “stonewalls” questions on this issue or provides simplistic responses not worthy of serious consideration in view of the magnitude of the problem.  In the meantime, I suspect that St.O has placed its bets on the likelihood that our “business as usual” forces will continue to overwhelm conscientious and responsible discussions on this subject.  As I said in my original letter, Martin Luther would, indeed, not be impressed with this institution that was rooted in the branch of theology that Luther gave rise to.  As I recall, one of Luther’s main points was to show that a religious institution should not degenerate into a business.

 

 

 

 

 


 

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | February 16, 2019

An update on warming and negative emission technologies

Over the last 3 years, I have used my alma mater, St. Olaf College of Northfield, Minnesota, as example of the lack of understanding of climate change that still exists even within our colleges and universities. In those interactions, the stance of St.O has become increasingly clear. In the view of its main representative, President David Anderson, St.O is doing its part to combat climate change primarily via wind mills and solar panels which now provide all of the electrical needs of the St.O campus. Sure, St.O is also financially invested in fossil fuel industries and promotes some very high carbon footprint programs, such as their extensive studies abroad programs, but these environmentally detrimental activities are offset by their wind mills and solar panels – so President Anderson’s argument goes.

These interactions with President Anderson have caused me to question whether or not he understands how dire our real state of global warming actually is today.  Modest half-measures and gradual changes will no longer suffice. In addition, we must have all segments of society involved – especially our colleges and universities who have great influence on the younger portions of our society.

For these reasons, I will refer below a recent presentation by one of the world’s leading climate scientist, Kevin Anderson, without additional comment. Hopefully the great differences between the views and attitudes of these two Andersons, Dave and Kevin, will be made clear and show that St.O College has barely begun to do its part.

The Gordon Goodman Memorial Lecture 2017 – Kevin Anderson

Kevin Anderson is Professor of Energy and Climate Change at the University of Manchester and Deputy Director of the internationally Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. This talk provided the main event at this climate change conference in Sweden. It can be seen at www.science.su.se/english/about-us/calendar/the-gordon-goodman-memorial-lecture-2017-kevin-anderson-1.341476

And be sure to rise as Her Royal Highness of Sweden enters the room!

 

 


 

Unless you and the institutions you represent have been scientifically out to lunch in the last decade, you know very well that:

  • Increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere are causing the heat content and average temperatures of our planet to increase
  • These changes have been occurring continuously and increasingly since the beginning of the Industrial Age – largely due to the combustion of fossil fuels, a process by which geological carbon is converted to its biological forms (CO2 and plants).
  • That new, additional biological carbon does not get converted back into its geological forms for a very long time – it takes millions of years to convert CO2 to limestone and plant material to fossilized carbon.
  • Mankind has not yet discovered a means of removing that excess biological carbon on an industrial scale at a feasible cost.
  • While great advances have been made in the means of energy production by non-polluting alternative methods (such as solar panels and windmills), the atmospheric content of CO2 is still increasing and is doing so at an increased rate each year. It is clear that fossil fuel use is still increasing, not decreasing.
  • In order to have a chance of successfully arresting continued warming for the sake of future generations, we need to reduce CO2 emissions to absolute zero within the next few decades.
  • Given the above information, a central requirement of arresting the advance of additional warming is the elimination of all anthropogenic emissions of CO2 in the next two or three decades. This means the elimination of natural gas, gasoline, diesel fuel, and coal use for providing the energy we require for work, heat, and transportation.
  • These changes have and will continue to cause consternation in many sectors of our economy that have developed a dependency on fossil fuels.
  • Nevertheless, Mother Nature does not give a hoot about the maintenance of our present lifestyles. She does things one way – Her way – in response to the changes we are making in our atmosphere.

So what is my “beef” with St. Olaf College? In their actions and their publications, they do not seem to recognize the list of concerns I posted above. Instead, they seem to be ignoring the calls for aggressive action against global warming. Most egregious of their actions is the fact that they continue to invest in fossil-fuel-related industries. If one wishes to reduce fossil fuel use to zero as rapidly as possible, all investments in the industries that either produce fossil fuels or make extensive use of them must be stopped.

When the President of St. Olaf College was recently asked why they continue to invest in these companies, he offered two reasons. One was that the resources of St.O are too small as to make a difference in the US markets.  In other words, he seems to think what St.O does doesn’t matter.  The other reason he offered was that being invested in the fossil fuel industries provides St.O with a “seat at the table”. Concerning his first reason, he is throwing away his opportunity for leadership on this issue. Concerning his second reason, he is suggesting that the fossil fuel corporations will be receptive to the recommendations of an institution that “talks the talk” better than it “walks the walk”.

Let’s face it. St. Olaf College, like many colleges in the USA, are essentially “business as usual” partners of Corporate America. While they do their best to appear to also be centers of intellectual thought, their inaction on the greatest problem of our times suggests that they are not. They appear to be sitting this one out for fear that their industrial donations might be damaged if they become too active – better to focus instead on civil rights issues that no longer take a lot of courage to endorse.

In closing, one might ask, where are the students, faculty, and alumni of St. Olaf College on the issue of global warming? Have they also been cowed into silence? Do they really believe that their windmills and solar panels allow St.O a pass on participation in the more substantial and possibly more painful changes that will also be required in order to bring emissions to zero in a couple decades? Shouldn’t all fossil-fuel intensive activities sponsored by St.O College be more carefully examined starting right now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | November 8, 2018

Our scientifically hapless media and the lay public they produce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | October 31, 2018

Do your studies abroad now or buy scuba gear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | October 30, 2018

Thoughts of retired physician on climate change


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

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

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | October 28, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | September 24, 2018

Jesus of Nazareth on climate change

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

Mr. James’ Letter:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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