Monthly Archives: November 2012

The last word on climate denial–in one pie-chart

I’m not going to waste any more time showing why climate change deniers are wrong; I believe we should ignore them and put all our efforts into pressuring President Obama and Congress to take the lead on climate change, which means beginning to reverse the flow of carbon that is warming the planet and causing the oceans to acidify. This post on ought to be  the final word on denialism; after reading it, no one should believe there is serious disagreement in the scientific community about the reality of human-caused global warming. Post author James Powell writes, “If there is disagreement among scientists, based not on opinion but on hard evidence, it will be found in the peer-reviewed literature.” And so he surveyed the scientific literature over a 20-year period,  distilling his results in “Why Climate Deniers Have No Scientific Credibility – In One Pie Chart.” The proof is in the pie chart: of nearly 14,000 peer-reviewed articles on climate in science journals in the two decades since 1991, only 24 reject global warming and they are rarely cited. Powell writes, “Of one thing we can be certain: had any of these articles presented the magic bullet that falsifies human-caused global warming, that article would be on its way to becoming one of the most-cited in the history of science.”

Of course deniers won’t be convinced by this evidence; but it ought to persuade those snowed by the blizzard of propaganda–including some mainstream journalists–that they need not give deniers equal time. As Powell says, “Only one conclusion is possible: Within science, global warming denial has virtually no influence. Its influence is instead on a misguided media, politicians all-too-willing to deny science for their own gain, and a gullible public.” If you find yourself in conversation with a gullible member of that public–a doubter rather than a full-blown denier–send her or him this article to read. Or go to the Skeptical Science site, which rebuts in a very organized way the many pseudoscientific claims made by deniers and compiles the many articles providing evidence that humans are causing global warming. Try out some of the rebuttals; make them your own.  There are even smart-phone apps that lay out rebuttals to all the skeptic arguments to have in your hand when needed! Links here.

The Hidden Tsunami of Debris

This is the title of a September Honolulu Weekly article by Stuart Coleman about the plastic plaguing Hawai‘i’s coasts, only some of which is from the Japan tsunami of  2011, including a large concrete dock that appeared north of Molokai. Coleman writes that most of what is left to float here is plastic, because the construction and housing debris was wood and metal and has deteriorated and sunk.

Coleman profiles Dr. Marcus Eriksen, who, since seeing the Pacific Garbage Patch with Captain Charles Moore in 2005, has made the debris that is accumulating in five different gyres in the world’s oceans his cause. He and his wife Anna Cummins formed an environmental nonprofit called the 5 Gyres Institute to try to find solutions to the problem, which threatens our health as well as the environment. Why our health? Coleman explains, “Most plastics are made with chemical additives like bisphenol-A (BPA) and phthalates, known endocrine-disruptors that can lead to obesity, infertility, cancer and other health problems. Micro-plastics also absorb the toxic chemicals from pesticides, flame-retardants and polluted runoff. When fish and marine creatures mistake these toxic micro-plastics for food, the poison travels up to the food chain to foods we eat.”

The problem is daunting, but one solution being proposed is Extended Producer Responsibility. Explains Coleman, this policy is designed to “make companies more responsible for the life cycle of their products, from design and distribution to recapture and recycling. Eriksen argues that by promoting EPR, companies will design better, safer and less wasteful products.”

Read the full article here. And see earlier posts on marine debris by clicking on that category, or click on these links.

The chance on climate change that Obama’s re-election gives us

Bill McKibben tweeted the gist of what we have to do: “What if grassroots activists joined with green D.C. insiders, got the president to kill the Keystone pipeline, and made putting a price on carbon into a national priority?”

Read Bill’s post on Grist to see why he’s optimistic, and look for ways to get involved with or other group. You can also write to President Obama, call the White House, post the story to your networks, and emphasize the positive in Obama’s press conference this week. About half of the news accounts of what he said were positive and half negative on the chances for real leadership from the White House on climate change; we may have to make him a follower of us and our grass-roots action. Let’s be ready!

Why Urgency about Climate Change Was Slow to Arrive

From David Remnick’s post on about how to overcome the  “magical thinking” that so far has prevented the action required:

Inaction on climate change has an insidious ally: time. As the writer and activist Bill McKibben writes in The New York Review of Books, “Global warming happens just slowly enough that political systems have been able to ignore it. The distress signal is emitted at a frequency that scientists can hear quite clearly, but is seemingly just beyond the reach of most politicians.” When the financial system collapsed, the effects were swift and dramatic. People could debate how best to fix the problem, but they could not doubt that there was a problem and it had to be fixed. Yet, as Nicholas Stern, a former chief economist of the World Bank, who studied the costs of climate change for the British government, has observed, the risks are vastly greater than those posed by the collapse of the Western financial system.

The big question: will the politicians hear the distress signal this time? It’s up to the people, to you and me, to make sure it persists at an annoying level. As Remnick says, in the words of that old hymn, “Here cometh the hard part.”

It will be a colossal task, enlisting science, engineering, technology, regulation, legislation, and persuasion. We have seen the storms, the droughts, the costs, and the chaos; we know what lies in store if we fail to take action. The effort should begin with a sustained Presidential address to the country, perhaps from the Capitol, on Inauguration Day. It was there that John Kennedy initiated a race to the moon—meagre stakes compared with the health of the planet we inhabit.

Why don’t we all call the White House and suggest it?


Why the “Do the Math” Tour Just Might Work

Bill McKibben kicked off the 22-city tour the day after Obama was re-elected; it’s getting a lot of attention because he’s leading a frontal assault on the fossil-fuel corporations, the most profitable industry in the history of the world, urging a global stock-divestment scheme similar to the one that brought down the apartheid regime in South Africa. (I’ll be posting about it regularly.) For an account of the stirring kickoff lecture, read this in Yes!McKibben Spearheads Plans to Hit Dirty Energy Where It Hurts.

For the nuts and bolts of how the lecture tour encourages grass-roots action in the cities it visits, see the Huffington Post article by Matthew Fleischer of TakePart on McKibben’s talk at UCLA.

[O]rganizers are turning what would otherwise be a lecture circuit into a political machine. Before rolling into town, Do the Math smartly organizes with local environmental groups. Prior to McKibben’s lecture, these groups are allowed to take the stage and talk about local initiatives that need fighting. Contact information is gathered to keep the audience updated on those efforts. Instead of simply listening to McKibben, as they perhaps intended, the audience has suddenly become part of their local environmental movement.

Despite the sensational headline,”‘Do The Math’ Tour Points to 2028 as the Year of Catastrophic Climate Change,” Fleischer says that McKibben is actually quite optimistic about our ability to forestall catastrophe:

Between renewable energy and more efficient engineering, the technology already exists to stave off catastrophic global warming. Though its application is lagging in the United States, it is being employed on a mass scale in other countries. In socially-stratified China, with its billion-plus population and tremendous wealth inequalities, 25 percent of the country still manages to use solar arrays to heat its water. Germany—Europe’s economic powerhouse—in less than a decade, has managed to get upwards of half of its energy from sustainable sources.

The problem is getting the political will to force the oil companies to accept lower profits from leaving reserves in the ground, unexploited.  Fleischer writes, “McKibben says the key to realizing that goal is to battle the lifeblood of the fossil fuel industry—its bottom line.” Thus the push for divestment.

Climate Change Is Hot Topic at Last

All it took was a $50 billion “super storm” and hundreds of blog posts, articles, and columns–and, let’s face it, a presidential election with the right outcome. Already on November 7, calls for Obama to put climate change high up on his agenda abounded. One that struck me: In a letter to the New York Times editor  Peter Kalmus of Altadena, CA, called for the President to make climate change his legacy: “A Green New Deal would be America’s ticket to jobs, security, economic recovery and renewing our position of global leadership. . . . Here’s hoping that Mr. Obama finally finds the courage to stand firm against the oil and coal barons and lead us, our children and future generations away from the brink of climate disaster.”

What an excellent idea: a new New Deal for the environment, with climate change as the focus. I planned to post links to many other calls for the President to make slowing global warming a priority,  by celebrities, columnists, and politicians, even some conservative ones, But Grist beat me to it by listing and quoting the highlights of the most important bandwagon-riders in a post by Lisa Hymas on November 12 titled “Climate should be Obama’s No. 1 priority, say lots of people who aren’t tree-hugging enviros.” Those quoted and/or cited include The New Yorker‘s editor, David Remnick; Republican and former EPA head Christine Todd Whitman; former Obama official Cass Sunstein; and NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Hymas ends by asking, “Might climate change break out of the environmental ghetto for good this time?” We can help to keep it front and center.

A positive sign is that even conservatives are discussing the idea of a tax on carbon. See the AP story entitled “Global Warming Talk Heats Up, Revisits Carbon Tax,” which includes this news: “On Tuesday, a conservative think tank held discussions about it while a more liberal think tank released a paper on it. And the Congressional Budget Office issued a 19-page report on the different ways to make a carbon tax less burdensome on lower income people.” Stay tuned. And do what you can to keep the pressure on Obama–insist that he reject the Keystone Pipeline for starters.

“Weighing the Prospects of the Keystone XL Pipeline” on NPR

You may have heard this story on Morning Edition Monday; if so, you heard the expert say Obama will probably approve the pipeline, but many activists are trying to make sure he doesn’t. The story is very conservative, giving the viewpoint primarily of the oil companies who want to extract the tar sands oil and ship it to Texas refineries; so much for NPR’s liberal bias. It doesn’t give the many good reasons this hard-to-extract oil must stay in the ground, nor note that the oil is destined for Asia, not for the U.S. And it won’t lower gas prices at the pump, either. For all these reasons to be opposed to the pipeline, go to the story at NPR’s website and read the comments at the bottom. There are dozens, nearly all opposed to building the pipeline, and giving the reasons. Neal Jones, an early poster, summed it up this way: “It doesn’t bring jobs, it doesn’t bring oil security, it will increase gas price, and is more polluting than the traditional ‘sweet’ crude from Nigeria, the North Sea and Permian Basin.”

You can also go to two of my posts from last summer on why the tar sands oil must stay in the ground. If you’re convinced, and I hope you are, please go to the site and take the pledge to stop the pipeline.

Sandy brings the reality of climate change home

Hurricane Sandy and its $50 billion price tag and the election of President Obama made the pre-election criticism about the silence of both Romney and Obama on one of the most important issues of our time, perhaps the most challenging, seemingly irrelevant. But it’s worth looking at why the two candidates avoided the issue. On October 25 the Times offered a detailed explanation, which might be summed up as, “In times of economic dire straits, calling for action that will inevitably result in higher energy prices is political suicide.” The Times explained:

Any serious effort to address climate change will require a transformation of the nation’s system for producing and consuming energy and will, at least in the medium term, mean higher prices for fuel and electricity. Powerful incumbent industries — coal, oil, utilities — are threatened by such changes and have mounted a well-financed long-term campaign to sow doubt about climate change. The Koch brothers and others in the oil industry have underwritten advertising campaigns and grass-roots efforts to support like-minded candidates.

Now that Obama has won and many of the Kochs’ “like-minded candidates” lost (though not enough in the House and in many state races) and never has to win re-election again, he can and must campaign to win our support for this transformation of our energy system. The predictions are simply too dire to ignore, and it’s almost too late to prevent the warming by getting carbon out of the atmosphere and keeping most fossil fuels in the ground. It will be expensive–but much more expensive not to act now. (Soon, a post on cost-benefit analysis that proves we cannot postpone action any longer.) The good news: several grass-roots movements are underway to put pressure on the administration and Congress to begin the change; upcoming posts will summarize them and guide you to the sites where you can join the actions (e.g.,’s Do the Math campaign) and be inspired by wonderful coverage of the movement (Grist, Think Progress, Yes!).