Archive for June, 2008

Earth warms, Climate radicalizes

June 25, 2008

Record flooding is inexorably tied to global warming. Iowa and parts of Indiana not far from where I live have been hit with record flood levels. Entire towns are going under the Mississippi as I write this.

In complex systems like the weather, the action of one actor in it–say a bee–can lead to any number of unforeseen consequences. Say the bee drops a little honey on a tree leaf, which causes a drop of water condensation to gather and fall. As the water drips, it flows into a river then an ocean, where it can be picked up by the clouds.

The tiny drop of water might produce just enough additional condensation to create a slightly bigger cloud, which reaches a critical mass and density sufficient to become a storm cloud. Given energy in tropical seas, the once-small storm can become a hurricane, and go on to roar towards some distant coastline.

Linkage between cause and effect cannot be ignored if a hurricane can form from something as small as the flapping of a bee’s wing. Given the right conditions, the one tiny additional droplet could become something as large as a hurricane in a complex climate system such as ours.

With so many variables to choose from, we can’t attribute the later consequence to any single cause. Isolating the cause of the hurricane becomes a task of impossible proportions.

Likewise we can’t say that an increase of a degree or two can spawn a hurricane, or turn a small- to moderate-sized tornado into a killer. We can say however that higher temperature will lead to more extreme storms, and more extreme drought and floods, when they occur.

A tornado, or hurricane, might not be any more likely to form under the hotter temperatures, yet should it form, it will most assuredly be more intense or violent. Likewise, the chance of flooding may not change the least, yet the scale of flooding can be attributed to the hotter temperatures, which likely give the clouds more energy, making them able to produce more rainfall in a short span of time.

Another truism about environmental science is the fact that an average is only an average. Statistics can lie and often do. We’re always told how many hurricanes to expect in a given period, but prediction is simply a guess.

To say we’re experiencing record flood levels can also be a distortion, as the records only go back so far. Given eons of time about which we know next to nothing, extremes in weather can and have been quite common. The average over many years can stay the same, even if the periods of drought might be even drier–or the flooding worse–than was previously “typical.”

Which would you pick, heads or tails, in a coin toss if heads had come up ten times in a row? In Vegas, you see people watching the LED towers by the roulette wheel, judging what will come next by what has not “hit” yet. Or, others may be inclined to choose numbers or a color–red or black–based on how many times the color had hit, as if the randomness of chance would follow some preordered path. The chance of the eleventh coin coming up heads is no more or less than it always was: 50%, or one in two.

As humans, we’re predisposed to creating an orderly system to explain everything, even the inexplicable. Hurricanes have five levels, as do tornadoes. Weatherman always assign probabilities to the chance of future weather events. On a superficial level, we act surprised when the weather–or flooding–we face isn’t within pre-established patterns. It’s as if the deviance from the pattern dictates our emotional reactions.

Weather reports always includes an average temperature. When something is about average–whether in terms of rainfall, or temperature–we kid ourselves into believing that is how much rain we should be having, or how hot it should be.

As the modern human is not so far removed from a pre-industrial, agrarian period, we do tend to cling to superstitions related to the weather. Not too long ago in human history, our collective security depended on the weather, so naturally we’ve grown sensitive to the state of the weather, or how “crazy” it seems to be. The climate is in our hard-wiring–this is why we cringe at the sound of lightning, and the hairs on the nape of our necks rise in response to a strong gush of wind or sway of the walls. We are primed for action, ready to respond to whatever Nature throws at us.

We humans will adapt to the changes because we must. Climate radicalization is the new normal. The only thing predictable about the weather is the weather’s unpredictability.

To call the changes in our weather system “global warming” is a major disservice to the cause of truth and science. Yes, our atmosphere tends to warm with higher levels of CO2, but the rate of warming is completely unpredictable. We can no more trace the cause of the warming back to CO2 than we can trace the hurricane’s origin back to the flapping of a bee’s wing.

Under the new climate paragon, worldwide temperatures won’t move slowly and gradually up. The statistical average can mislead. If temperatures go up one degree on average, this doesn’t mean it’s gradually getting warmer everywhere. Instead, an increase in the average could be the result of a few areas getting much hotter, while most stay the same, while some get cooler. Through an average, the extremes in temperature cancel themselves out.

The public needs to grasp the magnitude of the problem. Noted environmental scientist Dr. James Hansen came out in the news on the twentieth anniversary of his June 23rd, 1988, testimony before a Congressional committee, where he predicted the phenomena known as global warming. HuffingtonPost offers Hansen’s own statement and the Toronto Star runs a good article on Hansen here.

Follow-up on Farm Bill

I’d found myself on the side of George Bush in opposing the Farm Bill. My opposition was based on the federal subsidies for the coal and nuclear industries. The pork-laden Farm Bill has gone on to passage.

Under Bush, the Bureau of Land Management has enabled massive degradation of our public lands through exercise inadequate regulatory authority, in what is clearly a conflict of interest and abuse of power in letting industries with close ties tot he administration pollute. The Clean Air and Clean Water Act, so important in preserving our environment–have been systematically neglected and redefined to exclude odious Big Coal practices like “in-filling,” filling the valley floor with tailings and rubble generated by the demolition of the mountains above.

To little outcry, a few years ago, lease terms which more or less gave away oil and natural gas drilling rights in the Gulf of Mexico were discovered. Under the guise that we need to drill for oil, Bush surrogate McCain is urging more giveaways, showing just how wedded he, like Bush, is married to the industries that profit from the low lease rates, companies sitting on 68 millions acres of leased land which they currently aren’t drilling on.

I’ve made it a point on my other, more political blog to point out how the President uses his office to benefit certain cronies. At the time of this writing, my post there titled “Drilling for profit in all the wrong places.” Cronyism and secrecy are masks behind which evil men do evil things. The power of the Executive office continues to be abused, democracy subverted, and accountability shunned. To reiterate: they will get away with as much as we, the American people, let them get away with.

I’ve made a stand against mountaintop removal, and urge any readers to help fight the permanent destruction of Appalachia by the Big Coal companies. Behind a multi-million dollar media campaign to sell “CleanCoal,” the coal companies have been literally blasting West Virginia to bits.
To his credit, Jim Cramer of CNBC’s MadMoney debunked the “Clean Coal” fiction. Cleaner coal, Cramer admonishes, is the best we can hope for in the foreseeable future and he picks some companies which offer scrubbers to reduce CO2 and other pollutants.

Cramer is also convinced drilling can be done safely off our coast. Put his entire net worth into a single oceanfront home–as many Floridians have–and Cramer might not have as much confidence in the safety of drilling.

The Supreme Court has ruled on punitive damages associated with the Exxon Valdez spill twenty years ago. As if to sound warning bells for any vulnerable coasts dependent on their tourist or fishing economies, the Supreme Court has slashed punitive damages, limiting them to the level compensatory damages only. A $2.5 billion award became one of $500 million. See a McClatchy article on the ruling here.

WARNING: If you live on a beach and some oil tanker captain has a few too many, prepare to wait twenty years to get any compensatory damages out of the court system. In the meantime, of course you won’t be able to sell your home, or rent it out as there will be oil there. Plus the entire tourist economy (on which you or your neighbors are probably dependent) will dry up.

Ask salmon fisherman in Prince Edwards Sounds, Alaska what kind of residual impact the Valdez spill has had on their checkbooks. As anyone who’s followed the scope of the damage up there knows, the $550 million in compensatory damages, even with twenty years of interest, can’t possibly replace the lost fishing revenue, not to mention the crushed hopes and dreams of the fishermen up there. Once the lawyers get their cut of perhaps 50%, the 36,000 or so plaintiffs might get about $15,000/each, probably less than what they could have made fishing salmon sustainably, each year for the past twenty, once denied their livelihoods and the use of their fishing grounds by Exxon.

I’m not sure if the SCOTUS has actually ordered Exxon to actually pay, twenty years later, just limited the damage. So the victims of the Valdez may have to wait even longer. The delayed serving of justice presents a crime of punitive proportions inflicted on the victims by the federal court system. Of course the attorneys make more that way. And victims are forced to be victimized all over again in the federal courts as they hope for closure, a check in the mail and, more importantly, some restoration of their dignity in the public admission that they were wronged and deserve just recompense. Tweaking damage awards is the opposite of a legal resolution, and hints at a court system run for the benefit of the investor class, and those with wealth and power, at the expense of those wronged.

Economic exploitation, cronyism aren’t new terms, while disaster capitalism might be new descrip7tion for a form of economic predation of the rich by the poor. These methods have existed for millennia, ever since the first person figured out a way to make for himself money on the backs of others, or from the tragedy or suffering of the weak and impoverished.

Global climate radicalization will offer “opportunities” for some, devastation for the most. Hurricane Katrina allowed for unprecedented urban redevelopment, by private, for-profit developers, on the ruins of public housing virtually unaffected by the flooding.

We see the effects of destroyed mountains in the wake of mountaintop removal; entire towns plagued by coal ash, water supplies polluted, over a thousand miles of streams forever altered. We see the effect of cronyism in the still-standing Mining Act of 1872, which forces the public to pay for mine clean-up.

The Act has resurfaced recently, according to an article by Chip Ward,the noted author of Canaries n the Rim: Living Downwind in the West .

The drilling being proposed is not confined to oil. “Exploratory” mining has already begun in the Wild Rush for “alternative” energies. How nuclear made its way to this list, I have no idea. Meanwhile, as I’ve said on my other blog, the sellout of public lands has commenced in the waning days of the anything-goes Bush administration. How much will they get away with? All that they can.

Even as more oil is drilled, it could take years to get to market, then create additional CO2. Still, as an energy source, oil might be preferable to nuclear. Rather than choose between the lesser of evils, we should try to reduce our energy consumption, so we don’t need as much. And surely we can do better than drilling off our beaches, or blasting mountains to bits for Dirty Coal.

Additional Articles
“As Uranium Firms Eye New Mexico, Navajos Are Wary” by Kari Lydersen from