Sunday, April 16, 2017

Climate Disorder = Global Upheaval

Recently, the Trump administration made it clear that the U.S. does not intend to live up to its commitment made as part of the Paris Agreement to slow climate change.  As the second major source of climate change pollution (after China), this is significant.  This retrenchment has been met with howls from environmental organizations and the international community, but the U.S. public has been mostly silent.

This post seeks to examine this issue and the U.S. public’s apparent assumption that the impact, on us at least, will be slight and that technology can be depended upon to allow us to adapt to any changes.

Our Earth is undergoing changes.  We have been having a conversation about this using the phrases “global warming” and “climate change.”  Given the facts I will present in this post as to what is already happening and the predictions, I think the terms “climate disorder” which results in “global upheaval” are more accurate and appropriate.

The result of these conversations has not been significant.  Yes, there is a global commitment now (all countries, even China, are still committed despite the U.S. pullback), but it is at such a low level that while it may slow the process, it will not stop it.  Indeed, there is serious question whether we have passed the tipping point and there is nothing that could be done to stop it.

There are several reasons why our response has been so weak.  One reason is the persistence of those who deny that these changes, these disruptions, are man-made … they're just part of the natural cycle that the Earth has experienced over the ages.  This has found a receptive audience in many people owing to their habit of being in denial of inconvenient truths.

There are many ways to challenge that position.  But assuming for the moment that the deniers are right, wouldn’t it still be advisable to take whatever action we can to minimize the changes?  The problem with that question is that the changes have been presented as so non-threatening to us if not most of mankind that the answer is, “no.”

The next reason is that any action we could take to significantly reduce CO2 emissions (and thus slow or halt these changes) would involve such an alteration both to our lifestyle and to the operation of our industrial base that it has minimal support from either the public or industry.  From a cost/benefit analysis, the benefit just doesn’t seem to be sufficient to warrant the cost.

Which brings me to the last and most important reason:  the presentation of the issue - the facts marshaled and its packaging - have been woefully understated and ineffective.  Even the more dire predictions, even slick media presentations like Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, seem almost irrelevant to most people.  The common reaction is, “So what?  So some people will be displaced by rising oceans and we’ll have to adapt to warmer temperatures.  No big deal.”  The general feeling is that the change will not be significant, and what change there is can be dealt with through adaptive technology.  Bottom line, no disruption. 

What we must therefore attempt is to accurately ... there is no need to exaggerate or embellish ... and clearly present the facts and predictions in a way which makes them relevant to people in the U.S. and around the world.

1.  What is happening already?

The enormous weight of the Greenland ice sheet impacts the axis of the Earth’s rotation and the location of the poles. As the Greenland ice sheet melts, as it is doing with increasing speed … each year the sheet is loosing 287 billion tons of ice … the axis and the location of the poles will change.  How much no one knows, but the loss of just a fragment of the Greenland ice sheet, as well as Antarctic and North Pole ice, is already having an impact with the North Pole moving ever so slowly towards the UK.  This will without question impact worldwide weather and climate, but in ways unknown.

The seas have risen 2.6 inches since 1993 and are rising at an increasing rate. In low-lying places around the world, from Miami Beach to islands in the South Pacific, the water at high tide is routinely covering land that was only flooded during serious storms in the past.

Large areas of Asia and Africa have experienced terrible drought; desertification is increasing.  California has experienced a severe multiple year drought.  Yes, they’ve recently had lots of rain and snow, but that does not signal the end of the drought; just a brief respite.

Due to flooding and drought and other natural disasters, areas of the world have been made uninhabitable and so there have already been masses of climate change refugees.  In 2014 more than 19 million people from 100 countries were forced to flee their homes (how many of these were just temporary evacuations is not available).

Warmer winter temperatures have already extended the range of a variety of pests with devastating impact on pine and other forests.  Moose in Maine are dying because ticks are not being killed by winter cold.  Alfalfa crops in areas of California have encountered a new disease due to climate change.  This is just a sampling.

2.  What are the current predictions?

Sea levels could increase anywhere from a conservative 3 feet up to nearly 10 feet by 2100, depending on CO2 concentrations in the air and the speed at which polar ice melts.  Even a 3’ increase will mean huge areas will become uninhabitable.  In the United States, almost 40 percent of the population lives in relatively high-population-density coastal areas, where rising sea levels will play a major role in the extent of flooding, shoreline erosion, and hazards from storms. Globally, eight of the world's 10 largest cities are near a coast, according to the U.N. Atlas of the Oceans.

In the US, the south-west and the Great Plains will likely face decade-long droughts far worse than any experienced in recorded memory, including recent droughts.  The risk of drought from 2050-2099 rises to 96% in both areas compared to only 45% in the plains and 62% in the south-west from 1950-2000.  The will mean the end of U.S. food production as we’ve come to depend on it.  One quarter of all US food production occurs in the central valley of California; the great plains is the bread basket of the country.   Food production in those areas would suffer a major decrease.  

As for the rest of the world, most of Europe, the Middle East, large parts of Africa and parts of South America are at high risk for extreme drought.  The most serious impact for most people will again be on food production and water, which will be significant.

It is impossible to predict how many climate change refugees the combination of drought, increasing desertification, floods, and other natural disasters will bring in the future.  The estimates range anywhere from a low of 25 million to a high of 800 million.  But whatever the figure, the resettlement of these refugees will pose huge stresses on countries as so much of the world will be suffering.

There are no predictions on the change in insect infestations and plant diseases as a result of climate change.  But there is no question that the impact will be significant, given what we see happening already at the beginning of this century.

Then there are the national security questions.  In recent Congressional testimony, Defense Secretary James Mattis called climate change a national security threat, impacting stability in areas of the world where U.S. troops are operating.  Nations under stress from climate disorder will be subject to internal unrest and conflicts may erupt between nations to gain control of diminishing resources.  It also presents logistical problems for the military.  The extent of these problems are unknowable, but they will certainly occur.

Note that, to date, all the best scientific predictions have been significantly off in that greater change has occurred within a shorter period of time.  Whether it’s the loss of ice at the poles and Greenland, or the bleaching death of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, scientists keep saying we didn’t think this would happen for another 20-30 years.  So it would be wise to take these predictions as low.

Why is it so hard to make accurate forecasts even with sophisticated computer modeling?  All elements of nature … the water we drink, plants growing, weather patterns … are dependent on a multitude of interacting factors.  The water we drink is the product of a complex interaction of meteorological, geologic, and chemical forces.  Plants are dependent on so many things - light, water, nutrients - which are in turn dependent on a variety of natural forces.  Weather patterns are again dependent on a complex interaction of meteorological and geologic forces.

The answer to the above question is that even the most accomplished scientists have an incomplete understanding of the interaction of the forces of nature that impact the changes we have already seen and will control what happens in the future.  Since the value of computer output is based on the value of the inputs given the computer, the computer cannot produce accurate results.

Clearly, this issue should be a big deal for everyone.  These are not things that one can just adapt to through improved technology.  The human dislocation will be massive.  Our food production system, which has developed over the past century, will be devastated; we will have to make changes, start over again in new places and perhaps in new ways.  And this at a time when the world’s burgeoning population needs a constant increase in food production to prevent disaster.   Pests of various types will appear in areas where they never have and wreak havoc on the native vegetation and animal life. 

The more accurate phrase to describe what is happening and what will happen in the future is not “global warming” or “climate change,” but “climate disorder” resulting in “global upheaval.”  We must do whatever we can, at whatever cost to both convenience and finances, to slow down this process so that our children and their children don’t inherit a hell on earth.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

How Democrats Should Talk About Abortion

As Democrats engage in special elections and prepare for the 2018 midterms, it is vital that they change the way they address the abortion issue.  This post is not about changing Democrats’ unwavering support of Roe v Wade and a woman’s right to choose.  What this post is about is how Democrats discuss this controversial issue with the public.  In 2016 we lost the votes of many Catholics who traditionally vote Democratic because our message on this issue was too strident and unnuanced.

First, it must be absolutely clear that Democrats are not pro-abortion.  It is a sad event for probably most, if not all, women because it is either emotionally or morally a wrenching moment for them, regardless how necessary they view it.  Ideally, no woman, other than for health reasons, would ever be in a position where they felt it was necessary to abort their fetus.

That brings up the second point: the Democratic focus needs to be on government, organizations, and people doing more to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies.  The fewer unwanted pregnancies, the fewer abortions.  One statistic:  Among unmarried, young (20-29) women who became pregnant between 2001 and 2008, 69% were unintended pregnancies!  A large percentage of those were probably unwanted as well.

How to reduce unwanted pregnancies? Two of the means are well known and straight-forward: improved sex education of young adults and easy access to contraception, both condoms and the pill.  

But both are controversial for some Americans for moral/religious reasons.  These are concerns we have to respect, but there is no question that teaching abstinence doesn’t work; so that is not the answer.  It certainly is appropriate, however, to teach youth to question requests for or desires for sex:  to ask “Is this something I really want to do?”, to think about what the role of sex should be and what the consequences might be.

Even with all these safeguards in place, there will still be unwanted pregnancies.  And in those cases, abortion needs to be a legal option from both a societal and a moral perspective.  

The world is full of neglected or unloved children whose psyches are negatively impacted by their experience.  There are few things more destructive for a child’s well-being and emotional health than to feel unloved or be neglected.  This has negative social consequences because of the life choices such children are more likely to make.  And morally, it is not right to place children, who after all have no say in whether they are born or who their parents are, in such a damaging situation.

When Democrats speak to this issue, this is how it should be addressed.  Yes, the bottom line is support for Roe v Wade and a woman’s right to choose.  But the issue is much more complex than that.  And nothing that I’ve suggested takes away from those principles.  It won’t win back all lost Catholic votes, but it will make a difference.

Monday, April 3, 2017

So They Want Class Warfare? Let's Have It Then.

Major corporations and financial institutions, and the 1% behind them, have been waging class warfare against the average person for years.  They act in total disregard for the common good and have perverted our democracy into government of industry, by industry, and for industry.  President Eisenhower’s prescient warning against the power of the military/industrial complex has come true.  It is now past time to fight back.

What do you think is the major problem facing the United States today?  If you think it’s unresponsive government, government gridlock, the Democrats, or the Republicans, you are not getting at the underlying problem.  If you think it’s discrimination and bigotry, that’s certainly a big one, but that’s not it either.  

The major problem we face is the control that corporations and financial institutions have over government and our lives.  Whether you are a small farmer, an under-employed former middle class factory worker, a consumer with a huge credit card debt, a person of color living in the ghetto whose children go to schools that aren’t schools, a resident of rural or urban America who sees your life getting worse, not better … the underlying problem is the same.

The problem is that because of the control of corporations and financial institutions, the focus of government is on their needs and interests, not the needs of the people.  They are not the same.  We long ago gave the lie to the saying, “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country.”  Government thus is not meeting its purpose, as stated in the Declaration of Independence, of securing the peoples’ right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Class warfare is a dirty word in the United States.  Whenever someone makes an argument against the power of corporations or the moneyed class, they are stuck with that critical label.  This was certainly the case with Bernie Sanders.  The implication is that class warfare is un-American.  It reeks of Communism or Socialism.

No type of internal warfare, whether with arms or merely verbal, is desirable in a civilized society.  But we have come to the point in the United States where class warfare is necessary if we are to survive as a democracy dedicated to government of the people, by the people, and for the people. There is no other way to reverse the control corporations have amassed.

The United States in 2017 is a land where all real power rests with major corporations and financial institutions.  Through their lobbying and vast donations to campaigns, corporations have taken control of Congress and their interests prevail.

Yes, we the people still vote and elect our representatives and the president.  But even that has been corrupted because corporate-funded political advertising, thanks to Citizens United, now exerts a huge influence on how we vote.  We are bombarded with deceitful messages in support of those who protect corporate interests, and so people have been fooled into voting against their best interests.  As Lincoln is credited as saying, “You can fool some of the people all the time, and all of the people some of the time.”

And so big money has gained effective control of Congress and is now moving on the regulatory process.  This isn’t just a criticism of Republicans.  As I’ve stated in previous posts, while Democrats certainly fight for the interests of the average person and protect the environment, they too are beholden to big money interests.  And so while their legislative agenda is liberal and primarily centered around doing things that benefit the average person, the general good, everything they do is circumscribed by their need to not disturb big money donors too much.  That affected Dodd-Frank, it affected Obamacare, it affected the people President Obama brought in to run the Treasury Department … it affects everything.

Why is it so harmful for big money interests to control Congress?  Why is it that we can’t allow our country’s welfare to rest in the hands of the top 1%?  Many Americans think that powerful, rich people clearly know what they’re doing and so they are the logical people to entrust our welfare to.

The problem is that while they certainly know what they’re doing, it’s all about furthering their own interests.  If that’s at the expense of the interests of the average person, the consumer, the greater good … too bad.  Such is life!

Corporations exist for one reason and one reason only … to make and constantly increase profit for the benefit of shareholders and management.  Today that bottom line focus is worse than ever given the pressure of the stock market’s expectations.  

As for the top 1%, who are usually part of this corporate/financial establishment, they have concern only for themselves.  They are the ultimate poster child of the “me” generation.  

Corporations and people with that kind of money have become so separated from the average person that they just don’t connect anymore.  They have no concern for the needs of the average person or the greater good.  The fact that so many are now multi-national and as a result their prosperity is not tied to the United States economy makes their separation even more pronounced.

And so, as I’ve argued previously, we need to have a soft revolution in the United States.  The people need to rise up and truly take back government.  Not by electing a Donald Trump who has no intention of giving government back to the people … talk about putting a fox in charge of the hen house! … but by electing representatives who are honestly dedicated to protecting the interests of the average person by restoring and improving the balance that the United States built during its progressive period … roughly the presidency of Teddy Roosevelt through Jimmy Carter, 1901 - 1980.

The United States came to its full maturity and strength (economically and militarily) during the 20th century because it harnessed the potential of both the American people and its corporations.  It did this by creating a balance between private rights, the public good, and government.

Because it’s about restoring this historic American balance, the soft revolution proposed is not about emasculating corporations, about removing the profit incentive, or removing them from positions of influence.  It is not about becoming a Socialist country.  Corporations are very important to the well-being of our country and its citizens, and so they not only deserve a seat at the table, they need to be at the table.  

But this revolution is about limiting their power, reducing the greed that currently drives corporate actions and causes them to disregard even the interests of their consumers, let alone the general public.  Even during our progressive period, there is no shortage of examples of corporations acting against the interests of their consumers and the general public.  The decision-making process in corporations needs to be transformed.  

But it should not be the role of government to micro-manage corporations.  We should not have to resort to regulations.  That is not healthy and it is not efficient.  What we need is the creation of an evolved corporate persona and decision-making process that is not at odds with the interests of their consumers, the greater good, and the environment. 

This will not happen without the aroused involvement of voters across traditional party lines in favor of Congressmen who will truly protect and further their interests, who see it as their prime responsibility to secure the right of all Americans to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Who will work with corporations and financial institutions but insure a balance between private rights, the public good, and government.

Hopefully we will prove the truth of the final part of Lincoln’s remark noted above … “But you can’t fool all the people all the time.”  Rise up America.