Thursday, April 09, 2015

Finding a Serious Approach to Global Warming

I've been reading about global warming since the early 1970s. I started taking it seriously in the late 1970s but I assumed there was still plenty of time. By the late 1980s, I began to realize we needed to take it much more seriously. It is now 2015 and the hour is getting late. I am proud that I voted for President Barack Obama and I am glad that he takes global warming seriously. But he will be in office only two more years and today's Republicans prefer to live in an alternate universe. These are not the pragmatic Republicans of my parents' generation or my grandparents' generation who believed in science and took on the serious problems of their age.

Now I happen to be a liberal Democrat but I occasionally come across Republicans who take global warming seriously. You can find them in business, in the military, in science and other places, but you won't find them often in today's politics, though some of these rational Republicans I just mentioned were once in politics in a more sane era.

Today's politics are saturated with money from conservatives in the fossil fuel industries. These conservatives are dangerous and put all of us in danger. The funny thing is, I happen to believe in free enterprise and economic competition. But I also believe in a strong role for government. For me, one of the roles of government is to make sure capitalists play fair and don't try to rig the game to the point of endangering the populations they supposedly serve. Today fossil fuel corporations are endangering every person on Earth. I still believe a balance of government and business is the best way to move forward but we have drifted far from that formula. Now I happen to be sympathetic to environmentalists as well as those who talk about sustainability, but I'm not certain they have the best solutions either, though they are often sources of important ideas and information. I'm a pragmatist and a liberal. I want solutions that mesh with the real world in real time.

Tonight I read an article published by The Guardian that is close to my own position and that I strongly recommend. It is called: Can the World Survive Without Fossil Fuels by Larry Elliott, the economics editor for The Guardian.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Melting Glaciers: The Reality of Global Warming

There are many ways to measure global warming. One way to remind yourself that global warming is real is to drive in California on 395 from Mono Lake to Lone Pine. For much of the way, you can look west and see the backside of the Sierras and many of the highest peaks. On the east side of the mountains are the glaciers that have been there for ages, at least until recently. There are still glaciers, but they're considerably smaller than they used to be and large patches of bare rock are now exposed. Many long-time Californians remember what the east side of the Sierras were like in the 1960s.

Another way to measure global warming is to drive by Mount Shasta from time to time on Interstate 5 on your way to Oregon. The last time I went by, a year ago, in early May, there was barely any snow and the permanent ice is a shadow of what it once was. Mount Shasta used to be called the ghost of the North because of its year long coat of white.

In today's world, California is one battlefield among many, and global warming is winning. But there are other places where the battles are not only fierce but majestic on a scale that was once hard to imagine. That's one of the problems of global warming. It's hard to conceive. That's something most people don't understand: warming the planet Earth just one degree takes a hellish amount of energy. The sun pours a huge amount of heat into the Earth. Most of that heat is reflected back into space. The growing overcoat of CO2 and other greenhouse gases prevents a large amount of the sun's heat to escape back into space and reflects that heat right back into the ground.

In North America, the far north is sometimes 30 degrees above normal for days at a time. This is happening even when daylight in winter is very brief. Things are happening that ought not to be ignored. Some of these things are happening faraway and are seen by few people.

The Daily Kos has a video that shows a large glacier collapse. The video also shows the power of unchecked global warming.

President Obama takes global warming seriously but he needs help. Let your representatives and senators know that the debate is over. It's time to take serious action on global warming.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Murdoch's "News" Empire Continues Losing Credibility

Rupie Murdoch of Fox News and the silly New York Post is trying hard to bring down Hillary's ratings. But Murdoch, the self appointed king of the universe has no credibility left. Too many years of clowns like Sarah Palin and Bill O'Reilly on the air can kind of damage the truthiness of right wing hysteria.

The problem with Murdoch is that he is among those wealthy Republicans who have put idiots into the Senate and the House. But he neglects to notice that Republican Senators and Representatives actually take his news empire seriously. The consequence? The idiots can't govern.

As extraordinary as it may sound, Murdoch actually has trouble understanding that if you feed nonsense to your senators and representatives, they won't actually have the skills to know what they're doing beyond the usual campaign and propaganda nonsense. Real news is actually valuable when dealing with the news of the day. For example, if global warming is having a damaging effect on agriculture and there are things that can be done about it so food can continue to be put on America's dinner tables, wouldn't you want your senator and representatives to be informed?

Ah, but Murdoch is not a farmer, nor even much of a news man.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Update on the Arctic — Record Maximum Low?

We all know that Republican politicians who are well-funded by very rich right wing conservatives have found it convenient to deny the reality of global warming. That denial is loaded with enormous risk.

The Arctic ice in 2015 is not exactly robust. The area of the ice is about 2 million square kilometers below what it was in 1979. And in 1979, the Arctic ice was already considerably smaller than what it was in the 19th century. The Arctic is shrinking and this fact is having consequences. One of the consequences appears to be that the jet stream is much more unpredictable and variable than it was even twenty years ago. The other consequence is that the general warming of the world is becoming more evident and the consequences are getting much harder to ignore.

Now no one knows exactly what the ice is going to do in the next few months. But this is the time of the year when the Arctic reaches its maximum size in area. As of now, the Arctic appears to be reaching its Lowest Maximum since we have been keeping any kind of records. After a long dark winter, this is the time of year when the Arctic reaches its maximum. Most of the time, the Arctic reaches its maximum between now and the end of March. In 2010 and 1999, the maximum ice area occurred in early April but at a much greater area than we are now measuring. See:


Right now, the Arctic is the smallest it's been since we started measuring the MAXIMUM deep winter size in area. The Arctic is a volatile region. It varies from year to year. Of course, it reaches its smallest area in late August or September. And it reaches its maximum area in March or early April.  But clearly, the Arctic has been dramatically losing area since 1979. The simple reality is that on short time scales of days and weeks, the area of the Arctic is often difficult to predict. The Spring is particularly unpredictable from year to year until the melting is well underway.

Nevertheless, given that the weather in the Arctic for the next week will be warmer than usual, and also volatile, it is highly probably the lowest maximum will be reached.

Of course, this begs a question: Will the record for the lowest minimum area occur this year? We don't know. But multiyear ice seems to be disappearing. More fragmented ice that is almost slush-like is becoming more evident. More ice in the Arctic Sea is impregnated with salt. It is highly probable the next lowest minimum will occur in the next ten years. The Arctic is becoming increasingly unstable and there is no way to reverse what is happening on any kind of reasonable time scale.

It has been evident for some time that we need to do what we can to avoid things getting even worse.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Bill O'Reillly Thinks He's Better Than Brian Williams

I didn't watch Brian Williams very much. But NBC News has been better than Fox News though negligent like other news shows when it comes to the news Americans need to hear. At least I could watch Brian Williams without rolling my eyes. But Bill O'Reilly engages in so much fiction in his news stories that he's difficult to watch.

Obviously Brian Williams should not have fictionalized his war experiences. However, unlike Bill O'Reilly, Williams has actually been in war zones reporting for NBC News.

Bill O'Reilly wants to pretend he was in the Falkland War in the 1980s, but he was hundreds of miles from the action. For some unfathomable reason, O'Reilly has decided to call watching a political demonstration equivalent to being in war. It's a ridiculous claim by a ridiculous man.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Arctic — Global Warming Is Happening Now

(The top map shows surface temperatures, such as the cold purple areas in the Arctic and far north. The bottom map show temperature anomalies, such as the above average temperatures in Alaska and the abnormally low temperatures in Eastern Canada.)

This is the cold, dark part of the year and close to the time when the Arctic ice reaches its maximum size for the next twelve months. By middle to late March, the Arctic will definitely be shrinking as it always does around that time.

For years now, the Arctic has been shrinking. Records going back over a hundred years makes it clear that the Arctic has been in a long period of declining size, in both area and volume. The National Snow & Ice Data Center has been keeping quality satellite records and posts the numbers daily for area, going back to 1979.

Most people who understand global warming know that it's measured by decades rather by years. There are a number of smaller cycles and year to year variations that mean the measures we see are rarely in a straight line. That is to say, there are variations.

One way to see the variations is to go to the interactive visual called the "Charctic Interactive Sea Ice Graph." The easy to use graph allows you to see the variations by year since 1979. If you use the chart, and start back in 1979 and go one year at at time, you can see how the melting and the freezing of the Arctic varies year by year. And you can easily see that on average, decade by decade, the Arctic in the late summer is getting smaller and smaller. And you can also notice that year by year, the Arctic in late winter, when it reaches its largest extent, is slowly, on average, reaching a smaller and smaller maximum.

Right now, in the last few days, the Arctic is very close to the four smallest maximums on record. Only 2014, 2011, 2006 and 2005 have been as small or smaller. No one knows for sure what will happen in the next three weeks. Right now, the Arctic is still growing but losing ground day by day compared to other years. If the trend continues, always a big if, the lowest maximum record will be set.

In the meantime, the cold air of the Arctic continues to spill out of the Arctic and large patches of warmer than normal surface temperatures are being recorded. The dynamics are not well understood. In the last few years, Alaska and sometimes the Yukon have frequently experienced much higher than normal temperatures in the winter. And eastern Canada and the Eastern United States have been experiencing unusual winter time lows. Somewhat unpredictably, the Arctic at times has patches of higher than normal temperatures that sometime rise as high as 30 degrees Fahrenheit above normal.

 It's not clear yet whether new seasonal patterns in the far north are developing. Probably not. For one thing, Siberia also has cold air that spills out of the Arctic but the cold air spills out in a wider range of locations. Another issue is that the jet stream in the winter is far more erratic and variable than it was ten to twenty years ago. For now, scientists are studying the changes and it will probably take time to understand. But one thing is not changing: the temperatures are rising, more energy is pouring into the systems of the Earth, and many changes are taking place.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Bob Dylan Connection

It took awhile for me to get Bob Dylan. My middle brother discovered him before I did back in the 1960s. He tried to show me what Dylan was about but all I heard the first couple of times was a guy who couldn't sing, though I did sort of liked the songs he wrote. I was hard-of-hearing and the thing I didn't understand for years is that it would take longer than usual for me to "get" a wide range of things. I was lucky. I kept meeting people who gave me second, third and fourth chances to figure out the world. Of course, no one ever really figures it out. In time, in fact, what you figure out is that you have to help keep it going.

Keeping the music going is one part of what some of us do.

Three years after my brother introduced me to Bob Dylan's music, an English teacher started off the senior year of high school giving us the words to Dylan all typed out. The words....they made all the difference in the world. And the feeling, which came by way of the music of that voice I finally understood.

And I spent some time writing my own words.

A blog called Talking Points Memo found a transcript of Bob Dylan's recent talk. He must have talked close to a half hour, giving a free seminar on his view of music, and his reminder of the last fifty years. Here's the link:

There are times when I think music descends into hype, but it can always be found around somewhere. The music is there. And it's worth looking for.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Czeslaw Milosz and the Case of Brognart

Born in 1911, Milosz lived to his early 90s and his life covered the span of the 20th Century. He's a poet and writer who has never been not relevant, but given the direction of many events happening around the world, he remains essential reading in the 21st Century.

Much of what I like about Milosz, even when I'm not sure I agree with him on some point, is the way he thinks and follows through on specific issues. There's a clarity to his writing I don't often see, though I am at times left with many questions, but there is hunger in those questions, a need for more.

In his book, To Begin Where I Am, he writes about a young man named Gilbert Brognart, a Frenchman swept up by the events of WWII while vacationing in Poland with a friend at the outbreak of the war. Brognart was eighteen and had just finished technical school and was entering a mining college in the fall.

I'm not entirely sure why Milosz chose to write about Brognart. But Milosz had been a government official in Poland in the late forties and he either had something to do with Brognart's case or heard about it from others. The problem is that Brognart managed to avoid the German army as it invaded Poland but couldn't find a route of escape back to France. At one point, he crossed the border to Russia, realized that too was a mistake and then decided to try his luck in Lithuania. But, unknown to him, Lithuania had fallen under the control of Soviet Russia.

When the German Nazis came in 1941 with their own deadly intent, Brognart was pulled deeper into the Soviet system. Despite initially being neutral as far as France was concerned, the Soviets were mindlessly rounding up people and Brognart eventually ended up in indefinite detention and eventually prison. He became one of the millions who were lost in one way or another during the war for no crime or action the Soviets could ever justify. He was simply a random person who wasn't vouched for. But detention camps and prisons in Russia were never good for one's health and Brognart died in prison in 1951.

Brognart was one of those people who write on the walls of his cell. He said who he was, where he was from, and asked that people carry the message however possible back to France. Eventually, word got through and machinery began to move. But it moved slowly and years passed. From 1939 on, he was trapped by the machinery of war and the mindlessness of a rigid system.

After Brognart's death, Milosz eventually went to the man's hometown in France. There's a kind of 19th century sensibility to this, the fact that Milosz would go to such trouble. Milosz talks about this aspect of himself in other places. I've seen this aspect, this need to follow a story to its end. I knew a man once named Gilbert King. He was largely 20th Century in his sensibility but his roots were very much in the 19th century (curious that Brognart and King had the same first name; being someone I knew, I'll use the name Gilbert.)

Born in 1895, Gilbert was the child of an American banker and an American missionary who lived in China. I believe Gilbert was still somewhat religious to the end of his days. But his life took many odd turns, and despite being born to modest wealth, and having made two modest fortunes for himself, he was poor at the end of his life. His adopted children would have gladly helped him out, but in most years he said no to their help, though he visited them more often as he aged. In his early 90s, I lost touch with him and was reluctant to inquire. Gilbert was not a poet like Milosz but he had a similar philosophical temperament and although he was a businessman in China in the first part of his adult life (primarily in Peking — yes, old spelling, to maintain the flavor), he volunteered to travel extensively, sometimes with his wife and sometimes alone to various places in Asia on related banking business. But his interest was talking to Europeans to some degree while he had a greater interest in seeking out local people from Hong Kong to Tokyo and talking about who they were and what they believed. He had a way of returning to old conversations and continuing them, and asking for more explanation of points he had thought about. He also wanted to know how things turned out. And he was a good storyteller (he reminded me a little of Joseph Conrad's Marlowe, though he had the skill to talk to just about anybody with ease. It never took him long to get a person's story.

His habit of revisiting things included a trip to China in the late 1970s when he was in his early 80s. He was still fluent in Chinese and while visiting places he knew, people were intrigued by this elderly American who seemed to know more than the average tourist. They did double takes when they realized how fluent he was.

This business of revisiting things is common in Milosz's work. It's a 19th Century sensibility to some extent, when magazines and books had a slower pace. I'm not sure what Milosz's position was on religion, maybe agnostic like myself, but not particularly cynical about it. Revisiting things, looking deeper into an issue, could also be called the peeling back of further layers, something that Samuel Beckett was good at, particularly in his books. One doesn't see much peeling back on TV, the Internet, or in newspapers these days. One is even embarrassed by reporters who seem to give some background and it's largely irrelevant, hardly to the point. What we often get these days, not always just from the right, is propaganda, or sometimes just the drill sergeant screaming in our faces (Fox News engages in both.)

Peeling back, seeing our flaws, our mistakes is the missing ingredient in American culture in this era, particularly on the right, but no group is exempt. When we jump from abbreviated stories to the even the more ridiculous twitter blurbs — that is, from farce to farce in terms of commentary — what do we learn?

 I still think the United States is the one essential country. Why? Because there is no other. These days, particularly after the fiasco of the George W. years, that concept is challenged. I know that. The right wingers have lost their way and the politicians and operators simply line up for their share of the booty. It's a shame because many people were at one time able to look a little deeper, to stop and reconsider, to recognize their neighbors as not all that different from themselves, to recognize that we often have a similar fate when those who fail us lead us down a mistaken road.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Hey Google: We Need Balanced News

The story on Cuba is being covered by just about every news outlet in the United States. But why is it that Fox News and The Wall Street Journal are so often the first in line at the top of the page of Google News? If I want a link to Fox News or the Journal, I'll create my own. Google News needs to stop genuflecting to Murdoch's news empire so much. There are other news outlets and many of them write better stories and more informative stories. Give us more variety on that first look at a international or national story.

Anyway, Fox News and The Wall Street Journal are vastly overrated (although in the case of The Wall Street Journal, it's been sliding backwards only since its takeover).