Posted by: ericgrimsrud | December 31, 2017

Why I give St. Olaf College such a bad time

Those who have followed this website have noted that I have frequently used my alma mater, St. Olaf College of Northfield, Minnesota, as an example of the weak leadership that has been provided, to date, by our institutions of higher education in the fight against global climate change. While considering the reasons why I do this, I recently came across an essay by Business Green author Leo Barasi who shares my concern, and provided the answer to the question posed in my title. On December 27, 2017, Mr. Barasi wrote:

“2017 has left climate deniers with nowhere to go. Merciless hurricanes, heatwaves, floods, and droughts swept the planet all year, along with impossible-sounding fires – in icy Greenland; and in California in December. All are an early taste of what life on a hotter world would be like. Public opinion recognizes the link with climate change, with international polls showing that worries about global warming are now at record levels with vanishingly few people thinking it’s a hoax.

Yet the climate war is far from over. While climate denial may have lost, there is another problem: climate apathy. Most people understand climate change is happening, but just don’t think about it much and don’t accept they should change their lives to deal with it. This matters because stopping dangerous climate change won’t be possible with only popular measures like replacing coal power stations with solar panels. There will have to be difficult changes too, like cutting emissions from flying and meat eating. So long as many people are apathetic, governments will avoid the hard changes that are also needed.

The death of climate denial is one of the most under-appreciated stories of 2017. When the climate deniers played their hand this year they found the world had left them behind. But climate apathy is proving more resilient than denial, and is stopping the world confronting what it will take to live up to its promise to stop dangerous warming. It will take more work to turn that apathy into action.”

So that, in a nut shell, is why I am giving St. Olaf College a bad time. I am trying to get them to move beyond their present state of apathy concerning the most important problem of our time. My alma mater should be providing much more leadership on this issue than it does considering the abundant assets St. Olaf College has in all intellectual areas, including both the sciences and the humanities. Up to this point in time, however, its timid response to this potentially catastrophic problem is very disappointing to those of us who have personal connections to the college and also understand the science behind global warming (my St. Olaf education was not waisted). From my own interactions with St. Olaf on this topic, I believe that the college needs to recall the fact that it was intended to be much more than a successful financial enterprise catering to business-as-usual forces of its region. As it enters the new year of 2018, St. Olaf College might consider living up to its original motto, “Onward, onward, Christian soldiers!” and its new one “Oles can and Oles will” by joining worldwide efforts to preserve livable conditions on the only planet we have. For starters, St. Olaf can help in this effort by changing or terminating its most carbon intensive activities and by divesting itself from carbon intensive industries. In addition, it should stop suggesting that its windmills and solar panels provide it with a free pass to some sort of “pretend world” with respect to their other high carbon activities. Living in the real world, where there are no such things as “good” or “ethical” emissions of carbon dioxide, is the only way any of our institutions can be of assistance.



Posted by: ericgrimsrud | December 16, 2017

Yes, there is life without flying!

It is ironic that prior to the 20th Century, people wondered whether or not humans could learn to fly and now we are asking ourselves if we can learn to live without flying. When I make the suggestion of not continuing this most carbon-intensive of all human activities, I know that suggestion is almost always going to be ignored. Essentially everyone of moderate or above means has become addicted to the convenience of flight and is not yet likely to consider giving it up. Instead, most will almost certainly want to continue flying and at increasing frequencies even though climate change scientists have told us countless times that the lives of our grandchildren will thereby be detrimentally affected.

The resistance to this suggestion is entirely expected. After all, my friends might say, what would our modern lifestyles be without fast transport by aircraft? We have places to go and people to see, right? Could we possibly return to the travel limitations of the ‘50’s? No way! is the resounding answer. I suspect that many even doubt that a modern professional and personal life is possible without transport by aircraft. How could the students of St. Olaf College, for example, get to the far off destinations of their now 50-year old, nation-leading Studies Abroad programs without flying? Sure, many of my generation travelled abroad on those slow boats to wherever during the summer time but now our kids must get there and back quickly so that the more traditional components of their studies can be attended to on campus. And, of course, those students must have an instructor with them for both the on-campus and off-campus experiences, right? How else could the college charge tuition fees on top of the travel expenses? In addition, why not offer the same type of enrichment programs for the alumni, parents, and all friends of St. Olaf College. The future of such programs is endless and will, indeed, be forcefully pursued – according to the latest Fall 2017 publication of the St. Olaf Magazine.

As a scientist, citizen and grandpa observing all of this, however, it is clear to me that far too many of us do not take sufficiently seriously the future of our planet beyond the lives of our immediate families. Instead, we happily pass the environmental costs of our most carbon-intensive habits on to our grandchildren and their families. In my opinion, all of this is a testament to (1) the limited scientific intelligence of human beings, (2) a surprising lack of concern for other generations, and (3) the ease with which our consciences are soothed by corporate propaganda. Throw a bit of “come fly with me” sloth into the mix and you have a “nobody home” situation in which the forces of immediate gratification determine everything.

It might still be helpful, nevertheless, for people to know that there are, in fact, some environmentally conscientious individuals who have managed to swear off their most carbon-intensive activities and especially that of flying. A climate scientist named Peter Kalmus is an example of such a person and his story can be read at

Note that Dr. Kalmus is a very busy person who used to fly about 50,000 miles per year. He presently has not flown since 2012, however, for the reasons I have suggested here and remains just as active and happy in his profession. Yippee! Proof that it can be done!

Another person who has not flown for many years and yet has a busier professional life than nearly everyone reading this post is Dr. Kevin Anderson of London’s Tyndall Centre, Great Britain’s leading center for climate modeling.

Dr. Anderson is one of the leading climate scientists in the world who arranges his travel plans very carefully in order to avoid all travel by air. Recently, he went from London to China and back by train in order to attend an international meeting and make several professional visits while also attending to a lot of “office work” while in transit. During his entire month-long trip, I would assume that maintaining his usual communications with everyone in his personal and professional life was also achieved via his cell phone and PC. In addition, Dr. Anderson provides regular presentations of his research via the internet so that all interested parties around the world can see and even speak with him without incurring of a greenhouse gas cost. I strongly recommend that you watch at least one of his recorded talks, such as that at If you are able and willing to give about 30 minutes of your busy day to this video, you might be as profoundly affected as I have been by the both the professional and personal example set by Dr. Anderson.

There are now a few websites that promote abstinence of air travel and provide helpful discussions of how this can be done most conveniently. Two of them are and Over 400 academics have signed a petition at the first site mentioned and several Earth scientists have joined Dr. Kalmus in telling their stories at the second.

Individuals that take up this lifestyle often note that they are respected for the examples they provide and, most importantly, their examples are then often followed by others. Perhaps the most important contribution to the climate change problem these scientific “non-flyers” make are the examples they provide for others on how to live an environmentally responsible life. In order to have the total needed effect, however, these all too rare examples of leadership must be multiplied by the thousands and that is why I am constantly encouraging the leadership of our colleges and universities to provide much more leadership than they do. Who is better positioned than they to learn all about the need for immediate, all-out action against greenhouse gas warming AND how to impart that knowledge and commitment to others. And, I hope I can assume here that the leaders of our academic institutions are mindful of the wise worlds of Albert Schweitzer: “In teaching, example is not the most important thing – it is the only thing”.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | December 4, 2017

Changing the discussion from mere climate change to extinction

Let’s face it. With the benefit of hind sight, the ultimate fate of human beings on this planet appears to have been set a couple hundred years ago when new machines and a powerful means of driving them were discovered. Fossil fuels then ignited the Industrial Revolution and the Haber–Bosch process (for making nitrogen-based fertilizers) unleashed the human population bomb. And since then nothing has been able to stop the deadly carbon feedback loop that resulted – not even decades of scientific research and warnings.

Much like our primate ancestors, modern humans are prone to ignore threats that are not immediate or local. The global ecological overshoot which then follows is not readily recognized by the lay public. After all, global warming is caused by invisible greenhouse gases and the rate of its warming is retarded by the thermal inertia of the Earth which is quite large. Things change, but not overnight. All of this creates an under-the-radar threat that gradually undermines both our reasoning and responses. The Earth is not infinitely large, however, and now even the lay public knows that we are running up against its limits.

Still, in spite of this knowledge, humanity continues to follow the same old biological script of overshoot and collapse always seen in other organisms from bacteria to lemmings to caribou and elephants. Fossil fuels are enabling a different level of destructive overshoot, however, that will be a million-fold greater, culminating in one final and spectacular explosion of our “powder keg” Earth (see post by this name in archives of January 2017). As our temperature rises, these events can be expected to render our planet unsuitable for thousands of species, including ours.

Unfortunatelcy, open-ended growth appears to be inherent in all of nature – I doubt that any species has ever learned how to limit its own population by his own initiative. We also know, however, that any species that transcends its environmental resources cannot survive. Mother Nature will invariably “take care of them”, so to speak.

The beauty and wonder of this planet is presently being trashed by the most recent version of primates whose cleverness in tool-building and energy generation has far outstripped its ability to handle their environmental effects. Add in the development of mass consumerism, planned obsolescence, and the hypnosis of corporate-sponsored TV promoting unsustainable lifestyles and you have a passive, malleable population happily marching towards the abyss of climate instability. What me worry? No way! I am too busy keeping up with the vast opportunities provided by our business-as-usual carbon intensive lifestyles.

It comes as no surprise that we have been taken in by a bankruptcy artists who dabbled in Reality TV. In addition, every one of Trump’s cabinet picks is a big middle finger in the faces of all of us, including those who fell for his pseudo-populist rhetoric. Only billionaires, Wall Street sharks and hardcore laissez-faire capitalists might happen to like what is happening as they seek to deregulate and privatize every last bit of what remains. The allure of capitalism for the gullible masses has always been that you’re just one lucky break away from becoming one of fat cats.

President Trump is thus the living proof of the ongoing breakdown of our social system. He gets most of his numerical support by playing on the fantasies of those among the white classes of all financial levels who resent the gains made in recent decades by minority groups. He unnecessarily pokes his nose into minor disputes, such as the taking of a knee prior to football games, in order to increase racial hatred. His popularity among his core supporters is enhanced by his Third-Reich-like misrepresentations of his imagined villains, including immigrants, persons who happen to be of the Muslim faith, social progressives, and those of the free press who resist his authoritarian tendencies. President Trump is serving in an era of global resource depletion and environmental degradation and on that front is doing his best to ensure that those who are primarily responsible for this decay are not held accountable.

Free market ideologues are generally either climate “agnostics” or downright “deniers” because acknowledging the reality of human-induced climate change would be an admission that industry must be curtailed or controlled. Left-leaning people generally accept the science partially because it goes along with their criticisms of capitalism which externalizes social and environmental costs for the benefit of the few at the top of the economic hierarchy. Thus, we see parasitic Trump surrounding himself with right-wing, climate denying, fossil fuel corporatists and insiders who will be doing everything in their power to dismantle health and environmental regulations as well as social services – all of which are viewed by them to be barriers to capitalist expansion.

Perhaps our chance of developing a sustainable culture already passed us by some time ago. People will try to adapt until they cannot and then myths will be created to explain away the harsh realities. That appears to be the phase we are now in. Corporate America does a great job in comforting us by claiming that they are on top of it all and that the future will be bright as long as our regulatory forces are kept at bay. Even the administrations of our universities and colleges, from which most of our understanding of global warming has come, do not have the wisdom and courage required to make a strong public stand. Instead, almost all of them still insist that their endowment funds remain invested in the fossil fuel industries. Their greatest fear is that the large donations they regularly receive from those industries might be terminated if they become climate change activists.

Thus, I sadly suspect that a chaotic future with all of its horrific glory is awaiting us: complete with locked-in biosphere collapse, the irreconcilable contradictions of techno-capitalism, a dysfunctional political system, and a populous that is blind to the bigger picture. Our planet is now home to about 7 billion people. Growing at a rate of 200,000 per day, it will be home to about 9 billion by midcentury – unless Mother Nature has other ideas. And unfortunately, our large numbers are not a safeguard from extinction. In fact, it works the other way and that appears to be where we are headed.

I recognize that what I am saying here is hard to swallow. And for that very reason, most are not swallowing it and instead, are choosing to enter into what I have called the “pretend world” (see my previous post in October of 2017). There are countless programs that will help you with this transition – including the “Studies Abroad” programs of St. Olaf College that are described in that same post. A multitude of commercial and academic programs such as these offer unlimited opportunities to travel the world via CO2-emitting aircraft in order to learn more about the wonderful world the organizers assume will always be there – in spite of the damage these very same programs are doing to it. So, if you wish to enter this pretend world, you will have lots of company and can “enjoy the party” while it lasts. Your photos might be among the last taken around the world prior to the great ecological crash that many scientists believe is just around the corner (again see post of October 2017 cited above).

If Charles Darwin was alive today and asked if the human species merited survival into the next century, I suspect he would vote thumbs down and point out the obvious: why have humans not made better use of their brains which were reported to be the best the Earth has ever seen. It would indeed be somewhat embarrassing if homo sapiens turned out to last such a short time on this planet while the pea-brained dinosaurs lasted a couple hundred million years until they were finally brought down by another sudden change in our atmosphere that time caused an event beyond their control and not of their making. The self-inflicted termination of the human era will demonstrate the danger of using only that part of our intelligence that served our immediate gratifications.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | November 18, 2017

James Hansen seeks a new way forward

Dr. James Hansen has proven to be the father of the climate change movement in the USA. While his research in this area has been of primary importance for about four decades, his efforts to engage the public and our government has also been the most substantial of all scientists. Unfortunately, those efforts have not yet been sufficient to generate the responses needed in our legislative bodies – even as the time allowed for effective action is quickly running out. Therefore, Dr. Hansen is now changing his focus to a different branch of government – the judicial branch. For an up-to-date account of these efforts, see:

Dr. Hansen’s change in tactics – to get needed actions via our court systems – is driven by his acknowledgement that our legislative and even executive branch is strongly and perhaps entirely controlled by the deep pockets of special interests, which in this case are the fossil fuel producers and users. If the fossil fuel lobbies ever suspect that some member of our legislative branches is starting the grow a conscience with respect to the damage fossil fuel use is doing to our environment, an alarm is promptly sounded alerting those industries of the need to replace that legislator in the next election cycle. Thus, both legislative houses in WDC have been essentially useless in addressing the greatest problem of our time.

Whether he will be proven correct or not, Dr. Hansen’s hope is that our judicial branches will be less vulnerable to the lobbying efforts of the fossil fuel interests and will consider their case primarily on its legal merits. Dr. Hansen and a group of young Americans will be seeking redress against those who are most responsible for the relentless advance of global warming. A result such as this would, of course, strongly affect future actions and non-actions in this area.

The problem of finding advocates for strong action on climate change is even much greater than that caused by the absence of such people in our legislative bodies. Because of the long financial reach of the fossil fuel industries, it is difficult for the likes of Dr. Hansen to find sufficient support even in the leadership of the academic institutions of our country – out of which has come the bulk of our understanding of climate change. On this website, I have provided an excellent example of this phenomenon in several posts dealing with the leadership of my own alma mater, St. Olaf College of Northfield, Minnesota. Their actions, if not words, have been difficult to distinguish from those who deny the reality of climate change. Thus, it appears that even our institutions of higher learning need help from our judicial branch in order to tell right from wrong.

Thus, I encourage you all to keep your eyes on the efforts of Dr. Hanson and his youthful group of plaintiffs as they seek to bring badly needed long-term environmental reason and intergenerational justice to our country.  Hopefully, by this mechanism they will not be defeated by the deep pockets and scientific misrepresentations of the defendants.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | November 13, 2017

Annual carbon emissions reach 10 gigatons!

While we had recently hoped that annual global emissions of carbon had leveled in the last few years, that turns out not to be true. We now estimate that the emissions for 2017 will reach a new all-time high of 10 gigatons of carbon (equivalent to 37 gigatons of carbon dioxide). For more details of this news, see

The all-important figure showing the growth of annual emissions since 1990 is shown below.

Co2 emits

The annual emissions of CO2 by various sectors of the world is shown in the second figure below.  The sectors are China, USA, Europe, India and Rest of the World (ROW)



To put all of this into perspective, climate scientists estimate that the world can afford to emit no more than about 600 billion more tons of carbon dioxide if we are to have a chance of keeping warming below 2 degrees Celsius.  If we continue to emit about 40 billion tons of CO2 each year, we will reach that point in just 15 more years. Since only gradual cutbacks can be realistically accomplished, its is sobering to see that we have not yet even begun such cut-backs.

So what can we citizens of the USA do in order to help address this worldwide challenge? A good idea would be to set a good example for the rest of the world by drastically cutting our own emissions. A very poor idea would be to send our citizens to the four corners of the Earth by carbon intensive aircraft in order to teach other countries how to reduce their carbon footprints.  “In teaching, example is not the most important thing, it is the only thing” – Albert Schweitzer.


Posted by: ericgrimsrud | November 10, 2017

More silliness (not) coming out of science?

“According to former U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres, we have only three years left in which to “bend the emissions curve downward” and forestall a terrifying cascade of climate-related catastrophes, much worse than what we’re already experiencing. Realistically, is there anything that you or I can do as individuals to make a significant difference in the short time remaining?

The answer is yes, and the good news is it won’t cost us a penny. It will actually save us money, and we won’t have to leave home to do it. Staying home, in fact, is the essence of making a big difference in a big hurry. That’s because nothing that we do pumps carbon dioxide into the atmosphere faster than air travel. “

The above is the introductory statement in a recent Jack Miles editorial in the Washington Post entitled “For the love of Earth, stop traveling”.  See it at

I can already hear the laughter. This guy, Jack Miles, must to be nuts, right? His suggestion is completely ridiculous and impossible to implement, right? Doesn’t he know that most of us have places to go and people to see, as well as well earned vacations to take? And in the case of St. Olaf College, for example, they cannot pull the plug on their Studies Abroad Program, can they? After all, that program has been in place for 50 years and is now enjoyed by most of their students and many of their alumni. And think of all the good that Studies Abroad program does for its participants.  Come on, Jack, get real!  Don’t you know the difference between ethical CO2 and harmful CO2?

The question then arises – who is driving these silly recommendations for such drastic changes in our modern lifestyle?  Don’t blame me – the major driving forces are not the likes of Jack Miles, me, or even the USA’s top climate scientists, such as James Hansen or Michael Mann. The primary culprit here is simply Mother Nature or, if you prefer, Science itself.  It is mainly Science that tells us about the horrible downsides of our business-as-usual lifestyles and preferences.

I suspect that most of us, just like St. Olaf College, will not listen to Mr. Mile’s advice and will continue to bet against science by enjoying the short-term benefits of going with the flow of business-as-usual.  After all, its only the single field of Science that tells us that our children are in danger of inheriting a dreadful +4 to +6 degree C  warmer world.  The numerous other basic disciplines of mankind, such as the history of human civilization, economics, theology and the arts tell us nothing of the sort.  So, why not just do what we have previously always done on this issue – don’t take Science too seriously and live in any Pretend World that is more to our liking.  Many of us are also comforted by the notion that if and when the shit really does hit the fan, that “something will come up”.  And then there is always the possibility that St. Olaf College knows more about the “Lord’s almighty hand” than we scientists do.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | October 31, 2017

With friends like these, who needs ………

For several years now, I have observed that the issue of climate change is not the top concern of those who consider themselves to be social liberals or progressives. Instead, this issue typically rises to no higher than about 3rd or 4th place on their list of priorities – usually behind those related to civil rights, economic inequality, health care, racism, sexism, war, or our nation’s economy.

I believe that this is not as it should be. The issue of global warming is hands down the most important one on the table today.  All of the others, including those listed above, will quickly worsen beyond repair if the warming of our planet continues to progress as it has in recent decades.  If we don’t happen to solve some of those other important, but secondary problems, we will still have the opportunity and time to do that on another day.  Only the climate change problem needs to be addressed with FULL FORCE, RIGHT NOW.  If we don’t, there will be no point in addressing the others.

To make my point clearer I could go on (and on, and on, and on) but will not at this time because I just noted an article by Jeremy Hance, who feels exactly as I do and makes our case exceedingly well. Please have a look at it at

As I hopefully made clear in my previous two posts concerning St. Olaf College, those of us who consider global warming to be the greatest of all problems facing humanity today need to change appearent friends into real friends.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | October 28, 2017

The leadership of St. Olaf College needs to be changed

In order to appreciate where my comments here are coming from, it would be helpful to also inspect my previous posts on this website that involved my alma mater, St. Olaf College of Northfield, MN. These posts can be found in the May of 2015, April, September, November of 2016 and February and October of 2017 archives of this blog. I should also point out at the onset, what has been happening at St. Olaf College has also been happening at many and perhaps most other colleges and universities in the USA. That is, over the last ten years our colleges have provided more lip service than real action against the relentless advance of global warming and, as a result, have not provided appropriate leadership for their students and alumnus.

With all due respect to the specific example of President David Anderson of St. Olaf College (StO), I believe that he should be moved to some other position at that college – one that suits his keen interest and accomplishments in the humanities – but one that does not require so much knowledge of and interest in the sciences and the physical world in which we are now so desperately challenged to preserve.

The present state of affairs at St. Olaf College is as ironic as it is sad. Last week, I received that beautiful publication from StO labelled its “Global Issue” that was discussed in my previous post in which our “Pretend World” was described. While relating many wonderful stories concerning the personal experiences of StO students who have recently taken advantage of their Studies Abroad programs, there was no mention at all of the extremely high carbon footprint of such programs and how they could be reduced. Therefore, this particular international studies program seeks to understand the challenges of the world while it simultaneously adds to one of its greatest.

If President Anderson had been able to follow the scientific news on that subject over his 10 years at StO, he would realize by now that the entire world, including StO, must stop using all fossil-driven technologies as soon as possible. This would include, of course, high carbon footprint transport by aircraft for which non-polluting sources of energy are not yet readily available. In StO’s “Global Issue,“ there should have at least been some discussion of how StO students could get to and from these far off places without adding to the already overpowering greenhouse gasses of our atmosphere. The fact that this question is not easy to answer does not mean it should be ignored.

In his recent messages to the StO community, President Anderson has embraced the slogan “Oles can and Oles will”. The emerging problem at St. Olaf College, however, in taking appropriate and courageous action against global warming is that “their President won’t”. He has failed to give the greatest problem before all of mankind the attention, actions, and leadership it requires. It is relatively easy today to replace outdated methods of electrical power production on one’s campus with the renewables and to divest one’s resources from the non-competive coal industries. This is because both of those actions are financially advisable. To go the rest of the way towards a fossil fuel free world, however, takes both wisdom and more courage than St. Olaf College has shown.

Therefore, at this point, I think President Anderson should be thanked for his decade of service at St. Olaf College and replaced by a leader who better understands the primary importance of both the humanities and sciences in the retention of and improvement in the human condition on this planet, including that of future generations. Hopefully, other colleges and universities will follow suit.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | October 16, 2017

The “Pretend World” in which so many now live

I was reminded recently of the existence of this Pretend World by the arrival of a publication from my alma mater, St. Olaf College of Northfield, Minnesota. This beautiful publication was labelled the college’s “Global Issue” and related many wonderful stories concerning the personal experiences of StO students who have recently taken advantage of StO’s Studies Abroad programs. These interesting stories and illustrations left little doubt of the programs’ value – they are, indeed, first class and very educational. Also made clear in this publication is that one of StO’s President David Anderson’s greatest interests is in enlisting as many more StO students, faculty, alumni, and friends as he can into these programs. President Anderson, who actually leads some of these educational adventures himself for StO alumni, claims that StO has the most extensive Studies Abroad program of any institution its size.

All of that sounds great and would, in fact, be great if it were not for that proverbial 800-lb gorilla that resides in the back of every room today – that is, very high carbon footprint programs such as these add significantly to the greatest problem now facing all people and places of the world. Our continuously increasing levels of greenhouse gases simply must be curtailed before we lose all control over future conditions on our planet. While there is no question that great personal benefit can be derived from carbon intensive activities, they must now be avoided if they simultaneously harm our overextended planet.

If either President Anderson or any of his scientific acquaintances at StO College had been an atmospheric scientist (as I happen to be) and had followed the latest research on that subject, they would have realized by now that the entire world, including StO, must do its best to stop using all fossil-driven technologies, including those of transport. This would especially include transport by aircraft for which non-polluting sources of energy are not yet readily available. In spite of this, there is not a word in StO’s “Global Issue” addressing this most profound of all global problems.  A question they should have included in that publication is “how can our StO students get to and from these far off places without adding to the already overpowering greenhouse effect of our atmosphere?” And even if the answer to that question is, “there is no way at this time”, that fact should be acknowledged and seriously discussed – rather than ignoring it and pretending it does not exist.

In view of this, President Anderson’s unconditional and unrestrained promotion of StO’s exceedingly high carbon footprint Studies Abroad Programs – along with his refusal to divest the considerable financial resources of StO College from fossil-fuel-intensive industries sends a distinctly inappropriate message to the students and alumni of StO who need to modify their own lifestyles just like all other people of the world.

For these reasons, I have done my best to explain to President Anderson and the entire science faculty of StO that their college does not have a free pass from participation in this enormous battle against the relentless advance of global warming (see previous posts in this website’s archives of May 2015, April, September and November 2016, and February 2017). Is it not apparent that there is no such thing as “good” or “ethical” carbon emissions? The emissions of StO’s travel programs cause just as much damage to the planet as do all other carbon emissions. And, the bill for the environmental damage caused by such travel programs is not being paid for by their present users (by the use of more expensive biodiesel fuels, for example). Instead, they are being deferred to future generations who will have to deal with the problems caused by the extra carbon now being added to our biosphere. Thus, the global warming problem is no longer so much a scientific issue as it is a moral one.  And, the fact that many other colleges and universities are also developing similar “Studies Abroad” programs makes the shining example of StO’s apparent success in this area additionally problematic with respect to future emissions.

Please be aware of the fact that I do know all about the recent efforts at StO Collge to make their campus more fossil-fuel free by the use of wind and solar power. They now provide all of their electrical needs (not heating) by these renewable sources. Please also note, however, that while these changes are to be commended for environmental reasons, they were also driven by financial considerations (the “payback time” for the initial costs of wind and solar facilities is now typically down to less than a decade). Also note that reductions in the carbon footprints in one aspect of our lives does not earn us “free passes” for increased footprints in others. If we are to have a chance of maintaining conditions on this planet that are amenable to its future residents, we must bring ALL emissions of carbon dioxide down to near zero within the next couple decades. This exceedingly difficult task has been thrust upon us by the world’s lack of effective action in the past and is now being made worse by those who choose to remain in a “Pretend World” such as that so beautifully portrayed in the recent “Global Issue” of the St. Olaf College Magazine. Our institutions of higher learning should not be a part of deceptions that hide the new realities of the 21st Century – no matter how very unpleasant the needed adjustments to those realities might be.

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

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?

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