Global Warming and Human Politics

April 8, 2014

I just got back from Chicago where I attended a national meeting of political scientists.  One of them described at length the local, national and international barriers to doing anything about climate change.  His basic point was that those whose livelihood seemed to depend on activities that are bringing on climate change  are strategically placed to prevent the rest of us from doing anything.  His point is that to make anything happen  it would be necessary to make people come to think about what they are doing as wrong  in the teeth of evidence that it is good for them in their own lifetimes.  That also makes them totally resistant to the idea that climate change is happening,  that human activity is a substantial cause of the change, that it will do any damage  and that it is worth dealing with.  Ouch for the rest of us.

Then I attended a meeting where the speaker described the change of ideas.  He regarded those changes as inexplicable.  For most of human history war had been considered noble, a good thing, that made people stronger and better.  Then just before World War I, that started to change.  After that war, no one makes claims about the generic benefit of war  – war has become an occasionally necessary evil, but not a good thing.  And for most of human history, people had slaves.  Those that could would.  Slaves and slavery were valued.  It made you a big shot, and made your life easier.  Then suddenly in the eighteenth century it changed dramatically in Europe.  England began to block the slave trade  and shortly it was banned in Latin America, the serfs were freed in Russia,  and only the U.S. clung to slavery of the modern nation states.

In the speaker’s description, both ideas turned in reaction  to novels that separately described war and slavery as disgusting, as indeed they are.  In regard to war,  the novel described the scene of rotting and dismembered corpses on a battlefield.  In the case of slavery,  another novel described the brutality of the way slaves were treated.  Both of course were accurate.  The facts, however, were not new.  What was new was disgust.

I’m no novelist but global warming is disgusting.  Global warming is an extinction of ourselves.  We and our children and children’s children  will be strewn on nature’s battlefield  gasping for water and air,  our bellies distended for lack of food,  our homes lost to the elements,  our skin alternately burned and frozen,  unable to protect our children, wives, husbands or parents,  indeed some will become too desperate to care.  Global warming will take everything from us that makes us human.  It has been doing that piecemeal in the aftermath of storms that have left people totally destitute in parts of the world.  It will exceed our capacity to put people back on their feet as the oceans take back the coasts.  It will poison us, as a warming climate spreads diseases for which we have no defenses,  leaving us to rot from diseases few of us have seen  and none of us care to see except as the noblest of doctors and nurses.  It will extinguish our food supplies  and it is attacking the supply of the air we breathe.

Global warming is disgusting. Pass it on.

— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, April 8, 2014.

 


Environmental Degradation as Murder

February 18, 2014

I don’t think of myself as a motivational speaker. I try to explain, and hope my commentaries provide helpful explanations. But this time, I want to challenge and motivate everyone to take strong action on the environmental catastrophe facing us.

We know burning gas, oil, coal and wood release carbon and help produce global warming. Some of that carbon acidifies the oceans when it’s absorbed. Air and water contamination destroy our food supplies, by destroying habitat and causing draught, among other ways. That destroys us. Global warming and ocean acidification threaten the oxygen we breathe. They threaten to sicken us with new diseases. The science is now well known.

Law generally defines murder as an intentional killing. And we infer that people intend the natural and probable consequences of their actions. And we know. Aren’t those of us who stand by guilty of mass murder-suicide, intending the natural and probable consequence of our use of carbon fuels, the death of many, perhaps billions, of human beings. Isn’t it reckless indifference to human life to fire global warming into this crowded planet. Read the rest of this entry »


Carbon Certificates and Global warming

February 11, 2014

I was proud and delighted during the fund drive to find Joe Donahue and this station helping to prevent 600 tons of carbon emissions by offering carbon certificates so that the big power companies could not get the permissions those certificates represented to pollute our atmosphere.

The carbon certificates we all pledged for, or the solar panels we installed or the Prius we drive will not save the atmosphere by themselves. But they matter.

They matter because we are doing our part. But more than that, they matter because industries will not save our planet out of the goodness of their hearts. If they make environmentally sound products that we don’t buy, or sell them at prices we won’t pay, they will either have to make the same things and make them the same cheap but destructive ways that their competitors do, or they will go bankrupt and leave the field to others less honorable. Business is the crucial link. But they can’t do their part unless we do ours.

There are three ways. We can show by our buying habits that we have built a market and they must change or we’ll all switch to the first businesses that give us the chance to be environmentally conscious with our dollars. That takes time to build but it ultimately makes a difference. So keep up the pressure, retiring carbon certificates through WAMC, buying wind and solar power wherever we can and other environmentally sound products and practices. Keep up the pressure.

Another way is regulatory. We can get our elected representatives to “Just say no.” Of course we all know who’s on the other side and how much money they give to the politicians and how many lobbyists they throw at the legislators. But then some of us enjoy the battle.

And the third way is a carbon tax, or a BTU tax which is more comprehensive. Sure that’s a tax. It will make some things more expensive. But John F. Kennedy is still right when he told us not to ask what our country can do for us but what we can do for our country. This is about what we can do for our own future, our children’s and grandchildren’s future, and our country’s future. The consequences of global warming are enormous but we can and must deal with it. Our job as citizens is to support the steps that need to happen to curb the use of carbon based fuel. We need not to allow ourselves to be bamboozled by empty and ignorant shouts about government and regulation. This is a task that we can accomplish only with the help of government. It is the kind of thing that government is for – to organize our energies to protect our country, our future, our children and grandchildren. And answering President Kennedy’s call, supporting that effort is something we can do for our country.

We will want to use the tariff system to impose the equivalent of a BTU tax on imports from countries that don’t have one. This is a big international problem. The solution is one that only America can lead. Let’s get going.

— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, Feb. 11, 2014.

 


The Chemical Contamination in West Virginia

January 28, 2014

Before moving to Albany thirty-five years ago, we lived in Morgantown, West Virginia – a university town and a mining town. We knew people in both worlds. Our daughter was only seven, but after we moved she got letters from a little friend there who was the son of a miner. Miners lived all around.

Morgantown was very special, but the chemical leak and contamination in Charlestown reveals the naiveté of many in West Virginia and elsewhere in the U.S., who believe that whatever is good for the companies is good for us, that the companies are looking out for our welfare. Read the rest of this entry »


Other Civilizations Disappeared But What of Ours?

November 19, 2013

At Persepolis, stone carvings bear witness to tribute paid to Persian kings by other great rulers and former empires. Iran was once a great breadbasket of the world. But the Greeks stopped their advance and much of Iran is now a desert. But not America.

The great civilization of Greece disintegrated. Alexander the Great conquered much of the then known world, burning Persepolis along the way. His empire fell apart. But not the world’s only superpower.

Rome ruled from the Mediterranean to the Indus Valley. Its armies over-extended, it was conquered by barbarians. But America can keep the world at bay.

The Anasazi or Ancestral Puebloans in the American southwest suddenly deserted their cliff houses and their civilization disappeared. Unfavorable climate change contributed to the loss of their homelands. Not long before a similar fate befell the Maya who ruled much of central America, and boasted sophisticated mathematics, writing, and science. They too largely disappeared, to reemerge, perhaps, as the underlings in new nations conquered by Europeans.

The same fate befell once powerful civilizations across the great Silk Road, the Indus Valley and China, in Africa and the Americas, as they weakened themselves with war and could not control the environment which decreed that it was the turn of some other people to enjoy the right proportions of sun and rain.

But it couldn’t happen to us. Read the rest of this entry »


Environment Needs A Moral Revolution

October 29, 2013

I commented last week about the need to deal with global warming, population growth and protecting the lands and forests that produce the oxygen we depend on. Those problems are interrelated, and if the rising seas aren’t bad enough, the loss of atmospheric oxygen will suffocate us all. I confess that puts a different perspective on other issues. Can we improve people’s health and job prospects if we have to hold down the impact on the environment? Well yes, but the question is whether we are willing to share in the sandbox we call earth?  Read the rest of this entry »


To Fight Brush Fires or the Whole Enchilada

October 22, 2013

Should we fight against the brush fires or tackle the whole enchilada? I’ve often wondered about that. People find it easier to tackle the little pieces. I’ve heard that Napoleon, retreating in Russia, broke the retreat into a series of small objectives to keep up his men’s confidence. But then we know the man in charge had his eyes on the big picture – getting out of Russia before he lost his entire army.

There is no guy in charge of the whole world. Americans like to brag that we’re the greatest. And many of them think we can accomplish anything and, if we don’t, the president’s to blame. I don’t share that misconception. Even in the U.S. no one is really in charge. Politics, democracy, is about conflict and compromise. And no one is in charge.

So how do we deal with environmental problems before it’s too late? Read the rest of this entry »


Our Common Stake in Affirmative Action

October 15, 2013

The Court just heard argument in another affirmative action case. It is often put as if it is all about them and the rest of us are just losers as the result of any affirmative action for African-Americans. But do we have a stake in affirmative action, or whether African-Americans remain a permanent underclass? Read the rest of this entry »


The Earth has its own ways of cooling down

June 18, 2013

Let me begin by congratulating the station on a successful fund drive. These guys are terrific, the work they do is important.

For me it’s been three weeks since we’ve last talked, and I’m glad to be back. I’ve spent time thinking about what’s really important. A lot of what I try to do is to put things in a perspective that I hope you can use. For many of you, I’m preaching to the choir, but collectively, there is a mountain we have to move.

Some people don’t like to think about global warming, either because it’s too big a topic, or because thinking about it doesn’t make them happy. But not to think about it is to help to bring it on, to be part of the failure to force our politicians to make stopping the greenhouse effect a top priority.

Let’s understand how the earth can rebalance itself. It’s really very simple. The earth can flood, boil, infect, dehydrate and starve us to death. Have you seen people starving to death, or people dying of thirst? It’s not a pretty sight, even when it’s someone else. But an angry earth won’t spare us. Some of the changes are happening faster than predicted. And it’s not clear to me whether the changes will be gradual or catastrophic. Some of our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren will be in the sights of disaster. Once the earth gets rid of most of us, the greenhouse gasses will slowly decline in the atmosphere. And then, maybe, if the hot earth doesn’t boil the atmosphere itself away, maybe the earth can begin to rebalance and cool down. Read the rest of this entry »


The Can-do Attitude Meets a Changing World

May 28, 2013

Too many Americans oppose and prevent serious efforts to head off problems until they become a crisis. They think we can postpone dealing with global warming, abuses in criminal trials, predictable shortages of fuel, food or water, threats to our health, and the backlash from our military adventures in the Middle East, among others.

It could be called denial. Or maybe it’s just a part of a can-do attitude, the attitude that built America. Read the rest of this entry »


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