Zombie Lies ~ Discredited Distortions of Truth that Refuse to Die

Even if we do end up having to pay a little bit more for our energy in the short-run, this is the price that we must pay for energy independence in the long-run, which translates into improved national security and a stronger economy for future generations.

Brian Young, writing for Truth Fights Back dot Com, has sent out an appeal for help combating viral disinformation and misguided statements from Republicans like Rep. Joe Barton and their powerful corporate allies. His message was titled, “Zombie Lies.” That’s what Economics Professor and New York Times’ editorialist, Dr. Paul Krugman, calls discredited distortions that live on, repeated over and over again long after they’ve been proven false. Well, this week, the Undead Talking Points run wild all over the debate on how to limit carbon pollution and break our addiction to oil, most of which that we use being imported and much of that from countries whose people don’t like us very much. These talking points all share the same two phrases: “job killing” and “tax.”

If you have the time, I’d like to share his message with you.

First of all, he said, we have an industry front group running ads in DC using the “job killing” zombie about the American Power Act. Never mind that this group – the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity – was once busted for sending forged letters to Congress, letters claiming to be from minority groups that never sent them. That should tell you all you need to know about the veracity of this group’s claims.

The truth is that the American Power Act has been studied thoroughly by legitimate non-partisan groups such as the Peterson Institute for International Economics, and all major studies show that it will create millions of jobs. The only jobs that the act will kill will be those of the PR flacks pushing these discredited attacks.

Second, two Republican Senators released a “report” this weeks that’s so stale and discredited that they didn’t even bother to update the pictures from the last time they trotted out the same talking points to attack an entirely different piece of legislation. This “report” claims that billions in new taxes are included in the American Power Act, but there’s not a single dollar in taxes in the entire bill. Republicans just like to label anything government does to change the status quo for business as a tax because much of increased costs of production for businesses are typically passed on to consumers. However, according to the Peterson Institute study, the American Power Act could end up actually saving Americans on their energy costs.

Yes, by pricing carbon, the American Power Act will raise the price of fossil fuels for both businesses and consumers. Households will see an average increase of 3% in electricity rates and 5% increase in gasoline prices between 2011 and 2030, according to the Peterson Institute study. But energy efficiency improvements will largely offset these energy price increases. Accordingly, house- holds will see somewhere between a $136 increase and a $35 decrease in average annual energy expenditures – this depending on future improvements in vehicle efficiency. But, even if we do end up having to pay a little bit more for our energy in the short-run, this is the price that we must pay for energy independence in the long-run, which translates into improved national security and a stronger economy for future generations. But unlike a tax, this small increase in the cost of energy is a cost that individuals and businesses can chose to pay or not pay by moderating wasteful energy consumption habits.

By supporting the American Power Act, we can guarantee our children a cleaner, greener future and break our addiction to fossil-based energy and our dependence on petroleum imports. But to achieve this, we can’t let the debate get sidetracked by the politics of greed and fear. Oil is washing up on our shores, the climates is growing dangerously more unpredictable, and all the other side manages to do is to apologize to the big oil polluters and repeat the same ole, glassy-eyed attacks on science and main-stream economics.

Enough is enough! Let’s stand up for the truth and let the obstructionists know that we really do want change, that we are willing to sacrifice a little “skin” for a healthier, safer tomorrow. Make a donation, as I have done, to publish ads that communicate the truth about this legislation, ads that will combat the lies and distortions. You can do so through the TruthFightsBack website.

 Please feel free to post a comment, whether pro or con.

Published in: on June 24, 2010 at 11:56 am  Comments (1)  

Resisting Progress ~ More Lies and Distortions About Pending Energy Legislation

Like the health care and financial reform efforts, energy and climate change legislation will be another Big F _ _ _ ing deal. Accordingly, the political gamesmanship in Washington continues with the mid-term elections right around the corner.

The Senate’s version of the Waxman-Hartley Clean Energy bill in the House is called the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act (S.1713). The bill provides for the establish- ment of a cap-and-trade system for green- house gas emission allowances and sets goals for reducing these emissions by 20 percent by 2020 and by 83 percent by 2050. It’s been pending debate in the Senate for more than a year now with legislators’ efforts committed first to the health care issue and most recently to financial reform (seems like the wheels of progress in Washington can only travel down one major road at a time).

Like the health care and financial reform efforts, energy and climate change legislation will be another Big F _ _ _ ing deal. Accordingly, the political gamesmanship in Washington continues with the mid-term elections right around the corner. Whether this or the immigration issue will be tackled next is anyone’s guess, however.

Following last week’s pronouncements by the bill’s sponsor, John Kerry and likely co-sponsor, Joe Lieberman, the distortions from the right started flowing faster than oil from BP’s on-going disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. One came in the form of an email from Newt Gingrich’s 527 political action committee (PAC), American Solutions For Winning the Future. The email sums up the main distortions from those fighting reform in a single word: tax.  Big Oil lobbyists and their politician spokespersons use that word repeatedly. In fact, in a single sentence of Newt’s email, he uses some form of the word five times. But repeating something over and over again doesn’t make it true. The truth is that there is no energy tax in the bill at all.

Newt’s a master politician. He knows what he’s doing. He knows that his constituents are fearful of new taxes and he knows that if he harps on the subject enough, more and more Americans will begin to believe it. But he also knows that taxes are not part of this legislation so he’s confusing taxes (the levy of financial charges by government upon an individual or a legal entity such that failure to pay is punishable by law) with the specter of rising energy costs. But energy costs for both businesses and consumers, according to a new study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a private, non-partisan, non-profit think tank, could actually go down, offset by improvements in energy efficiency over the long-haul. The study counters another claim that Gingrich’s PAC hints at too, warnings of harm to our economy. The truth is that the American Power Act would add over 200,000 new clean energy jobs every year to the American economy. But maybe most important, the Peterson study concludes that the American Power Act would lower our imports of foreign oil by 40%, thus putting America back in charge of our own energy, curbing our addiction to oil, stemming the flow of American dollars to countries that don’t like us, and reducing our trade deficit which dimishes the rate at which our economy can grow. What we pay for foreign oil accounts for half or more of our annual trade deficit.

Less oil, reduced risk to the environment and to other sectors of our economy, more jobs, and lower total energy costs in the long-run. That’s the truth about the American Power Act, not the misleading claims of Newt Gingrich’s PAC and others lobbying on behalf of the unsustainable status-quo and big profits for coal and oil companies. But you don’t have to take my word for it, read the Peterson Institute’s study for yourself.

 Please feel free to post a comment whether you agree that we need a comprehensive energy plan or not.

Published in: on May 22, 2010 at 2:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

Jumbo Calamari ~ More Evidence of Climate Change?

Could their sudden reappearance after decades in the Pacific Ocean off our west coast be more evidence of climate change and a harbinger of strange things yet to come as the earth adapts to humans’ activities?

opaPerhaps you saw the report on Good Morning America (GMA) this morning, July 17th 2009, about the Humbolt squid coming to the surface in great numbers off the west coast of North America. Fascinating! They’re offering fishermen a bonanza in a marketable game fish (not fish at all but rather an edible mollusca) but they are also depleting the catch of other, more traditional seafood and scaring people out of the surf and off the beaches in California. Could their sudden reappearance after decades be more evidence of climate change and a harbinger of strange things yet to come as the earth adapts to humans’ activities?

Watch the following video produced by KQED, a public television station for Northern California, then you decide. Bon appatit!

According to an article on TreeHugger.com, Rui Rosa at the University of Lisbon (calamari is a favorite dish/appetizer in Portugal) said that more acidic waters will also constrict the habitat of the Humboldt squid by making them less able to hunt for food at depth, or in surface waters, which could have serious knock-on effects for the wider marine ecosystem.

“These squid,” she said, “will probably have to migrate to find more suitable waters, and since they are the main prey for sperm whales. This could significantly alter the marine foodweb.”

Shish! What next, jaguars in British Colombia?

There are larger squid species, the Giant and the Colossal squids which are among the largest living animals today, some say measuring as much as 60 feet long. Let’s hope they stay where they belong, thousands of feet below sea level.

Please feel free to post a comment.

Published in: on July 17, 2009 at 8:23 am  Leave a Comment  

CO2 as Plant Food ~ The Latest Global Warming Deniers’ Crock

Pour enough salt in the beans and even the starving will turn away from them.

opaA perfectly reasonable gentleman engaging me in debate over the issue of global warming (See Fomenting Doubt ~ The Tactics and Motivations of Global Warming Deniers plus the post’s comment thread) has suggested that increased levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere is actually good for the plant kingdom. This idea, the latest “crock” thrown out by global warming deniers to confuse us on the issue, asserts that, since CO2 is food for plants, more of it accelerates the growth of trees and food crops, thus absorbing more carbon fuel emissions through photosynthesis and providing more food for the world’s hungry. If this idea sounds perfectly reasonable to you, as it did to the gentleman sharing it with me, take a moment to watch the following video:

Global warming deniers are increasingly throwing out “viral disinformation” like this.  It’s not about questioning the science of climate change, not really. This is about partisan politics as usual — fear and doubt. Pour enough salt in the beans and even the starving will turn away from them. But fear and doubt are not what our nation needs just now, fear and doubt are not what the world needs. We need to have renewed confidence in the preponderance of scientists warning us that our actions have consequences. We need to have renewed confidence in the preponderance of economists telling us to give the latest round of economic stimulus spending a chance to work. We need to have renewed confidence in our democracy and communicate regularly with our elected representatives. Mostly, we need to stop being distracted by the vocal minority of special interest groups advocating tried and failed policies and start thinking for ourselves.

Please feel free to post a comment, pro or con.

Published in: on July 12, 2009 at 2:28 pm  Comments (32)  

Fomenting Doubt ~ The Tactics and Motivations of Global Warming Deniers

Fomenting doubt about the need to transition to a cleaner, greener environment and to reduce our dependency on foreign oil, whether for political and/or business reasons, is wrong.

opaNews junkie that I am, I was dismayed Friday (June 26th 2009) by all the media attention Michael Jackson’s untimely death the day before was getting. What with all that was and continues to be happening in the world — reaction to the election results in Iran, the saber-rattling of North Korea’s Kim Jung Il, world economic struggles and Congressional actions on important issues like healthcare reform, passage of a $680 billion defense spending bill for next year ignoring specific war fighting requests presented by the Secretary of Defense and endorsed by the White House, and House passage of the Waxman/Markey climate and energy bill by a narrow margin, news agencies were, or so it seemed, taking a holiday.

At ABC’s news website I read where John Stossel’s take on the healthcare debate, scheduled for Friday night’s 20/20 program, would be preempted by a special on Michael Jackson. As John himself might have said, I muttered under my breath, “Give me a break!” then I went to John’s blog to express my opinion about the media playing to the ratings rather than doing the job we need them to do,  keeping citizens informed. Oh for the good old days of Public Broadcasting prior to the age of “infotainment.”

At John’s blog, after posting my condolences, I found a thread of comments to a piece he had written about the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) referring to those not yet accepting of the majority view of scientists as “deniers.” John, a well-know skeptic of global warming theory, had attracted some interesting comments containing what I like to call, “disinformation.” I started reading and started responding, doing what I could to counter the attacks on reason. You can read the entire thread if you wish at http://blogs.abcnews.com/johnstossel/2009/06/global-warming.html#comments.

The first comment I responded to was posted by someone named, Ordean Pierce. Mr. Pierce posted:

WHERE WAS AL GORE WHEN THE LAST ICE AGE ENDED, AND THE WORLD WARMED UP? THAT MELTING OF THE ICE MADE OUR LAKES IN MINNESOTA AND THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER. I KNOW WHERE HE WAS, HE WAS INVENTING THE INTERNET.

My response was:  Mr. Pierce, we all know that Al Gore misspoke when he claimed more than justified credit for “inventing” the Internet. He has admitted as much. But this fact negates neither the work of “real” climate scientists nor the important work Mr. Gore has done to heighten world concern about the dangers we face because of climate change. Your comment is a crude appeal to ridicule. This fallacy or faulty logic is when mockery is substituted for evidence in an “argument.” Shame on you.

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The second comment I responded to was made by Monty. Monty posted:

Congress proposes to spend m(b)illions to reduce the man-made CO2 in greenhouse gases.

But 95% of greenhouse gases is water vapor. 4.85% is CO2, but 97% of that comes from trees and vegetation, oceans, and land surfaces. 3% of 4.85% is 0.15%. It is that small component of greenhouse gases that Congress will spend money on.

I responded with: You are correct, Monty, according to Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenhouse_gas, water vapor is the most significant greenhouse gas, but it is not as significant as you claim. When ranked by their contributions to the greenhouse effect, the most important gases are:

Water vapor, which contributes 36–72%
Carbon dioxide, which contributes 9–26%
Methane, which contributes 4–9%
Ozone, which contributes 3–7%

The variances are attributable to the significance of these gases’ contributions to the greenhouse effect in different locations of the earth. Obviously, water vapor is not as prevalent in desert areas as it is in tropical areas. I can’t imagine from where you came up with the 95% contribution for water vapor — a little distortion of the real numbers, perhaps. Maybe you can provide us with a reference…

By the way, it is water vapor that comes from the oceans, lakes and rivers, trees and land surfaces, not carbon dioxide. I suggest too that you check your math again.

Atmospheric water vapor, as well as other greenhouse gases, has been shown to be increasing in recent years. However, the increase in water vapor is not the cause of atmospheric temperature increases. This increase is incidental to raising temperatures rather causal.

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Another comment I responded to was by someone identifying himself as, dimsdale. He listed a dozen or more, what he claimed were facts, but without referencing sources to back up any of them. At the end of his comment, he left a single URL hyperlink and signed off as “a proud anti-climatic infidel.” Curious, I clicked on his hyperlink, did a little research, then posted the following comment of my own.

Please, Mr. Dimsdale, admit that the “facts” you present are unsubstantiated and, at best, outdated. The URL you have given us leads to an undated letter from Christopher Monckton, 3rd Viscount of Brenchley, to an unidentified editorialist named Ms. Goodman. Readers should know that “Lord” Monckton is no scientist, although he has indeed waxed loudly and eloquently against those who are. Lord Monckton was a British politician, having run unsuccessfully for a seat in the House of Lords and serving as an advisor to Margaret Thatcher. Prior to this, and subsequently, he was a journalist. His greatest claim to fame has been to champion arguments against “main stream” scientists on what was once a climate change issue. Readers can learn more about him at

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Monckton,_3rd_Viscount_Monckton_of_Brenchley

Thank you, sir, but I prefer scientific arguments/discourse made by “real” scientists.

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While I was still reading and responding to disinformation comments posted at this site, Mr. Dimsdale responded to my comment with another of his own. His comment contained segments of publications by eight different professors and scientists in everything from atmospheric chemistry and botany to geophysics and mathematical physics, claiming that he himself had a PhD in neuroscience with minors in oceanography and paleogeology.

My response was: Okay “Dr.” Dimsdale, clearly you were well prepared to respond to my comment with material citing various individual “real” scientists’ claims that the majority view on climate change is wrong. Obviously I walked into a trap. But when I read recent articles published by NASA and NOAA on accelerating levels of carbon dioxide and methane (both greenhouse gases generated by or a consequence of human activities on earth), the IPCC’s climate conclusions seem reasonable and resonate loudly within me.

According to NOAA’s site at http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2009/20090421_carbon.html, “Researchers measured an additional 16.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), a byproduct of fossil fuel burning — and 12.2 million tons of methane in the atmosphere in the year ending December 2008. This increase and the rate of increase are real and alarming despite the global economic downturn, with its decrease in a wide range of activities that depend on fossil fuel use.” This tells me, even though I am not a scientist myself, that we are at or near a dangerous tipping point.

Whom should we believe, sir, the few scientists who are skeptical about the human causes of climate change, which is measurable and has been measured, or the majority of scientists who say that we should be concerned, that we are the cause, and that we should be taking actions to minimize consequences? I choose to trust the majority.

According to Pieter Tans, a scientist with NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, CO, “Only by reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and increasing energy production from renewable resources will we start to see improvements and begin to lessen the effects of climate change,” said scientist. “At NOAA we have monitored carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouses gases for decades and will continue to do so to help assess the situation and advise decision makers.”

I know not why you, sir, are such a vocal critic of the IPCC’s findings and recommendations. Perhaps you fear short run economic consequences of actions necessary to reduce carbon emissions. These consequences are of concern to us all. But fomenting doubt about the need to transition to a cleaner, greener environment and to reduce our dependency on foreign oil for a stronger economy in the long run, whether for political and/or business reasons, if these are what motivate you, is wrong. If even modest predictions about sea level rise are correct, and the icepacks feeding the major rivers of the world do disappear over the next few decades, this might well be mankind’s eleventh hour.

Gee, I hope I wasn’t too harsh.

I invite your comments whether you agree with my persuasions or not.

P.S. Yahoo Answers recently came up with the following “best” answer to the question: Why is it that AGW proponents reference NOAA, NASSA, NAS… and AGW skeptic/deniers reference Michael Savage? http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20090605122216AAp1S62. For me, it explains a lot about global warming deniers’ movivations.

Published in: on June 28, 2009 at 3:01 pm  Comments (25)  

A Comprehensive Energy Plan ~ Thinking Out of the Box

We must tighten our belts – we must evolve both socially and economically if we are going to survive.

One of the most serious limitations of economics, as every teacher of the subject is aware, is that the study defaults to using money as its bottom-line measure and storehouse of value. We can’t easily factor-in quality-of-life, happiness, or the environment and other so-called subjective considerations. It’s not that we can’t. It’s just that we find it easier to stick with dollars, pesos, renminbi, euros and yen. For these we have exchange rates, and it is for these that investors clamber. But how many Chinese renminbi is the life of a single child worth having succumbed to arsenism, fluorosis, or any number of respiratory illnesses that result from the combustion of low-grade coal? Who will compen- sate the family for this loss?

These questions are almost like asking how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. We may not be able to know, but we must be able to decide if the world as we know it will long survive.

All Presidents since Richard Nixon and the oil crisis of the 1970s have included energy considerations in administration policies. Nixon gave us the National Maximum Speed Limitof 55 mph. Carter deregulated domestic oil production and gave us the Federal Department of Energy, then pushed Congress to increase Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ) standards. In 1978, the United States Strategic Petroleum Reserve was created and the National Energy Act was introduced. Ronald Regan, in 1983, pushing for more nuclear energy, attempted to get government out of the energy business by merging the Department of Energy with the Commerce Department, which Congress refused to go along with. He was, however, able to get Congress to approve initial steps in building the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Storage Facility on Federal lands in Nevada. George H. W. Bush put together an impressive international force to drive Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait in 1990 – 91 and his son, George W. Bush, took us back to Iraq in 2003. Now, while one will still get some argument over this, most Americans are convinced today, as are the Iraqis, that Operations Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom had/have more to do with the oil found in Kuwait and Iraq than they did with the freedom of Kuwaitis or with Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). What did Bill Clinton do for us? Overruling Treasury Department Antitrust concerns, his administration approved the merger of Exxon and Mobile oil companies, making it the single largest private corporation in the world at that time.

Why has so much of our energy policy emphasis been on oil? It’s because the United States gets approximately 80% of its energy from fossil fuels, and 17% of this is from oil, two-thirds of which is imported. In coal and natural gas, we are self-sufficient, but it’s not economically feasible to fuel cars, trucks and airplanes with coal and natural gas. That’s why most of the oil we use is consumed by the transportation sector.

Americans, who constitute less than 5% of the world’s population, consume 26% of the world’s energy. We account for about 25% of the world’s petroleum consumption, while producing only 6% of the world’s annual supply. So… increase U.S. oil production, right? Wrong, we have only 3% of the world’s known reserves. Even with ANWR and other coastal areas opened to drilling, we would still be dependent on foreign sources to sustain our current life styles.

A new, comprehensive energy policy is needed, one that has two goals:  1) the reduction/elimination of dependency on foreign sources of oil, especially sources other than North American, and; 2) avoidance of environmental calamity owing to Global Warming, a calamity the vast preponderance of climate scientists in the world are predicting. You’ve heard enough about this already and you’re either convinced this threat is real or you’re not. But I am convinced, and I am very much afraid for the future of mankind.  According to Dr. James Hansen, head of the NASAA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the father of climate change research at that agency, we must reduce our atmospheric concen- tration of CO2 from its current 385 ppm (particles per million) to 350 ppm or less to avert disaster in our lifetimes. That means cutting way back on our consumption of fossil fuels, especially dirty coal and petroleum.

If we do not change our consumption habits, world demand for energy from all current sources will only increase as our populations grow and emerging economies become more affluent from free trade. Therefore, a comprehensive national policy will not be enough to address the second goal, that of avoiding a global warming catastrophe, which, in the long run, truly is the bigger problem. Accordingly, our new comprehensive energy policy must be coordinated with the rest of the world. This means returning to the negotiating table – revisiting the Kyoto Accords, which we could never satisfy now, or hammering out a more demanding protocol as part of a successor accord. For the U.S., this might mean committing to a 40% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2020 and an 80% reduction by 2050 as our “fair” share of the contri- bution. Can we afford to do this? Can we afford not to do this?

Pay me now or pay me later.

How do we get there? Well, I’m sorry folks – but policies aimed at bringing down the price of gasoline and other fuels so that we can continue on the same path we’ve been on since the end of WWII address neither goal of a “comprehensive” energy policy. They won’t make us any safer and they sure won’t make us any healthier. We must tighten our belts – we must evolve both socially and economically if we are going to survive.

Not indifference to Senator McCain’s thoughts on energy policy announced last week, here are my recommendation for the next administration to pursue with the American people through their representatives in Congress. First, convene a bipartisan panel for “long-term” energy policy that includes energy, environmental and economic experts who are not representatives of energy industries’ profit interests. Energy policy this time around should be motivated by the moral equivalency of survival rather than profit. Second, leave nothing off the table for consideration… nothing, not new nuclear power plants, not carbon cap ‘n trade regulations, not conservation or moratoriums on new coal-fired electric plants, not the drilling in ANWR and new coastal areas, and not even nationalization of energy production or considerations of eminent domain. Too much is at stake here: national survival — nay, even the survival of our civilization.

This new energy panel might consider the following: 

1. new tax subsidies for urban area mass transit systems and the expansion of interstate, rapid rail transportation systems;

2. Federally-funded alternative energy research with a national goal such as that established by President Kennedy in 1961 to put a man on the moon (industry seems to be more interested in exploiting current geo-political circumstances and lobbying Congress so that they can produce more oil for profit than in seriously considering alternatives);

3. backing-off subsidies for bio-fuels until technologies are available at a sufficient scale to make the production of ethanol and other bio-fuels from non-food sources practical;

4. the regulation or nationalization of energy and transpor- tation industries seeking cost containment and efficiencies (I know, I know, this smacks of socialism, but these things are working for other, mostly-market economies like our European and industrialized Asian friends);

5. tax incentives to help people transition from gas-guzzlers to hybrid and electric cars as they become more widely available, and the acceleration/expansion of CAFÉ requirements for new vehicles to discourage both production and demand for energy- wasting vehicles (certainly, pickup trucks and SUVs should not be excused from the same mileage and environmental standards as sedans);

6. “New Deal” style government work programs and tax incentives to insulate older homes, replace outdated, energy-hog appliances, and install decentralized, renewable energy sources such as wind generators and solar panels.

It is my personal belief that nothing short of an “all-court” press is going to salvage the energy situation that we find ourselves in today. This means that we’re all going to have to get on the same team, because the opposition is not China or OPEC. The opposition isn’t even al Qaeda. The opposition is inertia (resistance to change) and greed.

I invite your comments, pro or con, and would be very much interested in hearing of any ideas to expand my list for the next administration to consider (I don’t have all the answers; nobody does).

Published in: on June 30, 2008 at 12:00 pm  Comments (3)  

Like Taking Candy from Babies ~ The International Food Crisis

Has the time not come for us to accept the sovereignty of every nation, not only political sovereignty, but economic sovereignty as well?

A good friend of mine has referred me to an article that was posted on the Internet yester- day, Food Riots Erupt Worldwide.  The article can be found on AlterNet, which is an independent on-line news service that amplifies other inde- pendent news services’ articles with the goal of inspiring citizen action and advocacy on envi- ronment, human rights, civil liberties, social justice, media, and health care issues.  I guess this makes AlterNet part of the “liberal” media, so some may be tempted to dismiss this news all together.  But Alternet’s goal is near and dear to my heart, so the article really got my attention.  Accordingly, I decided to do some research myself and pass the story on with some amplification of my own.

I’m like Will Rogers who said, “All I know is what I read in the papers.” So I don’t have any first-hand knowledge of food riots, nor do I have access to primary sources of information about it.  But when I google “food riots,” I get dozens of returns on news stories posted in recent months by various news agencies about food riots in places like Mexico, Haiti, Afghanistan, Syria.  I found one story too about how Canada anticipates that we who live north of the Rio Grande may be closer to food riots ourselves than we think.  This article, UN Food Agency Needs Hundreds of Millions for Hungry, posted also yesterday by the Associated Press, confirms for me that the Third World is in fact experiencing a growing food shortage.  This has been the subject of reports and discussions on National Public Radio in recent weeks.  But the situation, to my knowledge, has not made it past the “so-what” cut to be featured prominently on evening network news programs.  How come? Are we not an enlightened, generous nation?

World food prices, according to the AlterNet article, have increased by a whopping 39 percent over the past year with rice prices increasing to a 19-year high. Fifty percent of this price increase occurred over a single two-week period. Commodity traders are making money “hand-over-fist.” So, while we here in the United States have been distracted by the political bickering between Senators Clinton and Obama and our own rising fuel and food cost problems, half of the world’s people, the half that must live on the equivalent of $2 a day or less, are facing starvation.  Why? 

Have I got your attention yet?

Analysts the AlterNet article cites have identified some obvious causes for the food shortages: increased demand from China and India, whose economies are booming now, thanks to free trade; rising fuel and fertilizer costs driven by steeper demand for oil owing to China’s and India’s booming economies, thanks to free trade; increased demand for bio-fuels in this country to reduce our dependency on foreign oil and trade deficits, and; climate change (much of the land in coastal rice-growing regions of Asia have experienced more frequent and more severe tropical storms in recent years with accompanying storm surges that have left the soil less fertile owing to sea water flooding).  But there’s more behind this problem than just the obvious reasons… much more.

For several decades now, the United States, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund have used their leverage to impose policies that have had a devastating effect on developing countries, policies that some recognize as the New Colonialism (neocolonialism).

According to a Hoover Institution essay, World Bank and IMF financing programs rarely prescribe appropriate economic policies or sufficient institutional reforms; they are at best ineffective and at worst imprudent investment and public policy decisions.  They reduce economic growth and encourage long-term IMF dependency.  By requiring countries to open up their agriculture markets to giant multinational companies, by insisting that countries dismantle their marketing boards that served to keep commodities in a rolling stock to be released in the event of bad harvests, thus protecting both producers and consumers against sharp rises or drops in prices, the First World has put the “screws” to the Third World.  Countries that were once self-sufficient in food crops are now compelled by market forces to grow exportable cash crops instead such as tea, coffee, cocoa, cotton and even flowers.  So the rich get richer… The poorest countries of the world have been forced into economic servitude, unable to repay massive loans.  Is it any wonder that so much of the rest of the world hates us now?

So, what should we do about it?

To begin with, we should stop fooling ourselves.  We may be the most generous people on earth giving 1.67 percent of our gross domestic product (GDP) to charity.  But the lion’s share of our giving goes to local and national charities like churches, the Salvation Army, and the American Red Cross.  Most of our foreign aid, a tiny fraction of our GDP, goes to Israel.  Along with this, we need to realize that free trade and market forces alone do not serve humanitarian purposes.  Free trade, as opposed to “fair” trade, simply makes it possible for money interests to exploit other’s resources.  So, it is essential that we should not stand in the way of developing-world governments reinstituting safety nets and public distribution systems for food.  Additionally, donor nations must do more, and do so immediately, to support govern- ment efforts in poor countries to avert wide-scale starvation.  But most Americans are already feeling the effects of recession, stretching family budgets and doing without to make monthly ends meet.  So, those of us who can really do need to pitch-in; the UN food program desperately needs contributions.  Warren, Bill, Oprah, and all the rest of you who so richly benefited from the Bush tax cuts over the past eight years, are you hearing this?

In the long-run, the world’s financial powers need to back off, accepting the fact that what works so well in U.S. and Canadian agricultural sectors doesn’t necessarily work in Third World countries.  With large numbers of their citizens still engaged in agriculture as a way of life, these countries cannot be left to depend so heavily on food imports to feed their people.  They need substantial production and consumption of locally grown crops from small, sustainable farms rather than large, commercial farms growing cash crops for western markets.  It may be time to reconsider whether even the IMF has a legitimate reason to exist. 

Has the time not come for us to accept and respect the sovereignty of every nation, not only political sovereignty, but economic sovereignty as well?  Then the time has come for us as well to to stop worshipping the golden calf of free markets.  Paraphrasing the words of the AlterNet article’s author, Anuradha Mittal, every country and every people have a right to affordable food.  When the free market deprives them of this, it is the market that must give back.

Please feel free to post a comment, pro or con, in response.

Published in: on April 26, 2008 at 10:47 am  Comments (6)  

The President’s Climate Change Strategy ~ A Good Plan or a Bad Joke

The President finally gets it – the American people are not buying industry’s pseudoscience anymore.  But he apparently hasn’t figured out yet that the longer we put off efforts to reverse the growing trend, the more it will eventually cost.

Just in time for the celebration of Earth Day in the Northern Hemisphere this year, President Bush, without actually saying so, has finally admitted to being wrong about something, i.e., climate change.  On Wednesday of this week, according to an Associated Press news story, he acknowledged the need to head off “serious” climate change — as if what has already occurred isn’t yet serious (rapidly melting sea and land ice in high latitudes and altitudes, and shifting weather patterns to include more and more severe tropical storms).

Until now, this president, along with most Republican lawmakers, has done everything in his power to cooperate with the petro- chemical, forestry, energy and other lobbies’ efforts to distort legitimate science studying climate change so as to stave off the inevitable — economic impact.  Here’s a worthwhile article on this, The Junk Science of George Bush, published by The Nation magazine, if you have the time and interest to read it.

Speaking from the White House Rose Garden, the President set a specific target date for U.S. climate pollution reductions.  He also said that he is ready to commit to a binding international agree- ment on long-term greenhouse gas reductions, but only if other countries such as China do the same.

“There is a wrong way and a right way to approach reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” Bush said, making clear that he opposes a Senate measure that would impose mandatory limits on greenhouse gases beginning in five years, followed by annual reductions.  “Bad legislation would impose tremendous costs on our economy and American families,” the President said, “without accomplishing the important climate change goals we share.”  

So, the President finally gets it – the American people are not buying industry’s pseudoscience anymore.  But he apparently hasn’t figured out yet that the longer we put off efforts to reverse the growing trend, the more it will eventually cost.

For the real scoop on climate change, visit RealClimate.org, a web site containing testimony and other scientific articles published by real climatologists (those who are not working under contract with industry or profit-oriented special interest groups).

In his address, the President said he envisions a “comprehensive blend of market incentives and regulations” that would encourage clean and efficient energy technologies. And he singled out the electric utility industry, saying power plants need to stabilize carbon dioxide pollution within 15 years and reduce them after that.  But his plan came under fire immediately from environ- mentalists and from congressional Democrats who favor manda- tory emission cuts, which is a position supported by all three presidential contenders. 

The nightmare is almost over!

Please feel free to comment, pro or con, on this posting.

 

Published in: on April 19, 2008 at 3:09 pm  Comments (2)  

Don’t Let Them Get Away With It!

“So-called ‘global warming’ is just a secret ploy by wacko tree-huggers to make America energy independent, clean our air and water, improve the fuel efficiency of our vehicles, kick-start 21st-century industries, and make our cities safe and more livable. Don’t let them get away with it!”

Chip Giller, founder of Grist.org

So-called Global WarmingI’ve been meeting with some like-thinking friends at a local coffee house Saturday mornings for the last several weeks.  The group is open to discuss most any subject, but the war in Iraq, energy, socioeconomics, and the environment seem to be everyone’s top four concerns lately.  Sure, we talk about politics too, sometimes, but not so much.  With no viable Independent running this time around, most of us will vote for whomever our party of choice nominates anyway.  Further, assuming that voting in key states won’t be rigged next year, we’re guessing that our next President will either be the first woman or first African-American to occupy the Oval Office.  Sorry Rudi.  So, with world petroleum prices quickly approaching $100 a barrel, we talked mostly last time about what we can do as a community and as individuals to survive the next round of escalating fuel prices.  Hey, this is a  big problem — at all levels, from the personal to the international!  Watch the MSNBC video about French turning by the thousands to rented bicycles to get around Paris.

After unleaded regular hits $4.00 a gallon this summer and, assuming that there’s no new major supply of petroleum forth- coming anytime soon, I’m giving two-to-one odds that it will, I figure that it’s going to start costing me close to $20.00 a day to commute to and from my job.  Now, while I’m not sure that we can believe anything Washington tells us anymore, you may see the government’s “official” projection of supplies and prices by clicking HERE.

Pondering this problem last Saturday, I noticed the quote at the top of this post on the coffee cup one of our group’s other men had brought with him.  It gave me a chuckle.  Funny, isn’t it, how so many things that are humorous aren’t really funny at all?  Asking where he got it, I discovered Grist.org — where environmentally-friendly people gather on-line.  Check it out if you have some time.  There’s a link on the homepage to candidate interviews and fact sheets on how all who are vying for their party’s nomination this year rate on energy and environmental issues.  There are some real eye-openers at Grist.org for the open-minded.   Hmmm…

If I downsize to a more fuel-efficient car now I’ll lose thousands on my trade-in.  Geeez, what a Bummer!  Anybody out there in the market for a good, low-mileage 2005 Magnum?  Hmmm — maybe I can find others with whom to carpool.  Wow!  What a great idea.  Too bad there aren’t HOV lanes planned for I35 improvements south of Dallas at the US67 spur.

Hmmm… I wonder if there are any aftermarket entrepreneurs out there thinking about offering E85 conversions for gas-guzzelers like mine that loose their trade-in value in the future used car market.  We really do need to get out ahead of reactionary responses to economic circumstances that can be so easily anticipated.  Students, are you hearing me?

I invite your comments, supportive or un.

Published in: on October 28, 2007 at 2:49 pm  Leave a Comment  

While Everybody Complains About It

 Earlier this week, a local TV station news program reported on a story about a poor Dallas area widow who collapsed from heat exhaustion while standing in-line to receive a free fan.  She had to be taken to a hospital emergency room.  She survived only because others were near to render aid.

Although tropical storm Erin has brought a temporary respite from the heat that we’ve been feeling here in north-central Texas recently, most of the people in “temperate” zones around the world are still suffering.  People are dying from the heat, even in Europe where the climate has been historically cool and moist for hundreds of years.

No one that I know thinks that it has not been unusually hot — drier in some regions and wetter in others.  But some are still debating the reason for the recent trend.  Is it just a natural cycle of climate ups and downs, or are human activities on earth con- tributing to an ever-worsening problem.  Will the trend reverse itself next year or in ten years regardless of how people choose to live, or could these temperatures be a fortaste of even hotter conditions to come?

Well, while everyone complains about it and many are still arguing whether and what to do about it, enjoy this delightful little cartoon I found on YouTube today in the comfort of your air-conditioned home or office.  As you do, try not to think about those who can’t even afford to own a fan.

Click the play button once to load and a second time to play.

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Published in: on August 17, 2007 at 1:59 pm  Leave a Comment  

In the Eye of the Beholder

 To paraphrase Francis Bacon, my aim is not to inform ad tedium, but to stimulate the mind briefy yet fruitfully.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, well, here’s a couple for you to ponder.

Some folks say that wind power generators spoil the natural beauty of the landscape.

wind_turbines.jpg

Click the “more” tag below to consider the alternative.

(more…)

Published in: on June 15, 2007 at 11:25 am  Comments (2)  

Thinking Globally

This video has made a big impression on me.  Check it out (click the play button twice).

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Published in: on June 13, 2007 at 3:00 pm  Comments (2)  

Now Who’s the Flip-Flopper?

With time running out as President of the United States, surely Mr. Bush realizes that he has lost all credibility with the vast majority of the American people, to say nothing about the rest of the world. 

These are just a few of the reasons I can think of for the presi- dent’s approval rating to have hit an all-time low of just 34 percent this week:  his refusal to admit and back away from the mistakes he has made in the War on Terrorism; his failed plan to “rescue” Social Security; his No Child Left Behind program; his tax cuts that favor the political donor class over the majority; his confusing MEDICARE plan that benefits industry at the expense of the elderly; his lame excuse for not allowing Americans to buy less-expensive pharmaceuticals from Canada; his plan to give a Dubai-owned company operational control over six major U.S. ports, and; his conspiracy to undermine international scientific consensus on global warming. 

Despite his record of denial and attempts to confuse the facts regarding human-caused climate change, Mr. Bush called for global cooperation to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions last week.  Sig- nificantly, this apparent policy reversal came just days before he will attend the annual meeting of the Group of Eight leading economic nations of the world, where climate change tops the agenda.  But then today, Mr. Bush reportedly dismissed a report from his own Environmental Protection Agency that sided with the world’s environmental scientists (read all about it in the CBS News report).  So… which is it Mr. President?  Do we have a problem or don’t we?  Who’s the flip-flopper now?

Before we let Mr. Bush re-write history in the last few minutes of his eleventh-hour by attempting to turn this ecological disaster into an economic argument for “nonbinding” cooperation between ourselves and the world’s other major polluters, we all deserve to have a good belly laugh about it, don’t you think?  So, enjoy the following video brought to you by YouTube (click the “play” button twice).

To post a comment, click on the tiny COMENTS word below.

Published in: on June 4, 2007 at 1:42 pm  Comments (3)  

Methane: A Growing Factor in Global Warming

According to the National Energy Technology Laboratory, methane is 23  times more effective than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, and as the Arctic warms and permafrost melts, vast amounts of this gas are being released into the atmosphere. 

So Al Gore’s dire projections in his Inconvenient Truth book and movie, based as they are primarily on atmospheric increases of carbon dioxide alone, may actually be conservative.  What! Al Gore conservative?

Sitting in a waiting room recently, I leafed through the latest copy of  Mechanics Illustrated.  I don’t know why I don’t subscribe to this magazine, I’m always fascinated by the articles it contains.  This edition contained a story about how the attention of environ- mental scientists is turning to the thousands of shallow lakes formed by seasonal melting of permafrost areas in Siberia and Canada.  According to the article, the lakes in Siberia appear to be “boiling” over with huge bubbles of methane gas rising to the surface.  This is being caused by decomposing organic matter below the surface of these lakes.  The article peaked my interest, so I decided to do a little on-line research today.  I found the following National Geographic article:  Study, Siberian Bogs Big Player in Greenhouse Gases.  Here’s a quote from the article, which you might want to visit: 

“Since we focus so much today on manmade sources of greenhouse gases, it’s easy to forget that global climate changes also occur naturally.  But we’re in uncharted territory when it comes to combining manmade sources with natural sources.  If the Siberian peatlands, with 11,500 years’ worth of organic matter stored in them, start to rot away, we could be in for a big shock.”

Evidently, this has already started to happen, big time.  So, get ready for the big shock.

As a teacher of geography and an armchair activist myself, I have little doubt that our environmental canoe is precariously tilted.  It may in fact already be too late for us to stop it from completely rolling over in our own lifetimes.  And what will happen when it does?  Island nations, such as the Maldives in the Indian ocean and the Marshalls in the Pacific, will cease to exist.  There will be wholesale extinctions of many species;.  Many of the world’s great rivers, rivers that support food production for billions, will dry up and disappear along with the glaciers now found in the Alps and the Himalayans.  Tropical diseases and insect pests will migrate farther north and south into temperate zones.  And finally, our great coastal cities will experience massive flooding.  Just think what will happen to Amsterdam, Shanghai, Tokyo, Sydney, and New Orleans when sea levels are twenty or more feet higher than today. 

Accordingly, I believe the 110th Congress really needs to move on this issue, bringing it to the top of their legislative agenda, and acting on it agressively.  In the meantime, you ask, what should we be doing as individual citizens?

I invite you to consider joining with me and the other 602,350-plus members of the Global Warming Virtual March in com- municating our concerns to Washington.  Join the march, then send individual messages to your representatives via Environmental Defense.  Finally, work toward becoming “carbon neutral” yourself.  You can do this by taking a big step — sign-up for clean, renewable electricity for your homes.  If you live in Texas or other states that are serviced by Green Mountain Energy, check them out for wind-generated and hydroelectric alternatives to coal, gas, and nuclear power.  The cost to you, here in Texas anyway, is the same either way.  So what are you waiting for?  Doing this will send an economic message to energy producing companies.  You will also be sending a political message to your states’ governments.  For example, Governor Rick Perry of Texas is a big supporter of TXU’s near term, profit-minded plans to build more coal-fired energy plants over more environmentally friendly, long-term alternatives. 

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Published in: on January 20, 2007 at 5:37 pm  Comments (5)  

Reaching for the Highest Rung

I encourage all of my students to stay in school and to reach for the highest rung on the economic ladder, and to do so not just for their own sakes.

Having spent many weeks learning about physical geography this school year, my students and I have just completed a series of lessons on human geography.   This includes the studies of culture, population, government, urbanization, and economics.  I wish that we had had more time for this — we just barely skimmed the surface.  But alas, we had to move on so that we can cover our full curriculum this year.  Now we have begun to explore the world, region-by-region, beginning with the United States and Canada.  Oh, how I love my job…

One of the more difficult concepts in human geography for my students to grasp seemed to be the various levels of economic activity that take place in a market economy such as ours.  These levels are: primary, the basic harvesting of resources, which includes farming, ranching, fishing and such; secondary, the making of things from the harvested resources to include the processing of food; tertiary, the services that are necessary to enable and sustain the other levels, and; quaternary, information management and research.  I tried to impress upon my students how important will be the tertiary activities in their futures, that most of them will in fact be employed providing services of various kinds to individuals and businesses.  I also tried to impress upon them the fact that the fourth level, quaternary, is where real prosperity is to be found for themselves and for all of us. 

Innovation — that’s where the real payoff is going to be.  If we’re going to stay economically ahead of our competition in this increasingly competitive world of ours, we’re going to have to stay ahead literally with new ideas and new technologies.  And this will require a whole new generation of highly-educated, highly-motivated young people. 

With all our ongoing challenges, the war on terror, global warming, illegal immigration, deficit spending, an aging population, ethics scandals, and lawmakers who spend more time and effort getting re-elected than making tough choices, America’s going to have to be even more creative and forward thinking than ever before.  If we’re going to survive as a people, we’re going to have to start pulling together.  Lo, some would say that we’re going to have to start pulling together as a world, not just as separate nations, if we’re going to survive as a species.  So, I encourage all my students to stay in school and to reach for the highest rung on the economic ladder, and not just for their own sakes.

Somehow our textbook publisher failed to include the word, altruism, in the many lists of Places and Terms to know about in the study of human geography.  I’ll have to remember to correct that oversight.

My Libertarian son will probably disagree with this, but I also think that, if we’re going to survive and thrive in the competition presented by this growing global economy of ours, we’re going to have to start worrying about more than just the bottom-line.  Corporations are going to have to start thinking globally (not just internationally), long-term and “out-of-the-box.”  I think too that we are excessively rewarding CEOs and others in high manage- ment positions in this country based on quarterly profits and stock values.  We put stockholders’ interests ahead of our employees, and this motivates the kind of behavior that results in Worldcom and Enron debacles.  And, as my other, more liberal-minded son might say, when the private sector fails to make the better choices for the greater good, government needs to be willing and able to step-in with incentives of various kinds.  It cannot do this, however, when it is joined at the hip with industry.

Case in-point, there’s been lots of talk here in Texas recently about TXU’s proposal to build eleven new coal-fired electricity plants in the near future and how the state’s local and regional leadership are all united in opposition owing to the increased pollution that will ensue.  Governor Perry, siding with the energy industry, is all for it saying that Texas can’t afford to be without the energy that these plants will produce in the future to sustain our economic growth.  His Democratic challenger, Chris Bell, and all the big-city mayors in the state are saying that we can afford even less to build these plants without using the latest technology, coal gasification.  Of course, what they’re talking about is avoiding costs associated with increased damage to the environment and the respiratory health of our state’s citizens.  TXU and the governor, while seemingly thinking long-term, are really more worried about the near-term, the bottom-line, and profitability.  That’s why TXU’s management is claiming that coal gasification is an unproven technology despite the success of Tampa Florida’s Polk Station and the Wabash River plant in Indiana, plants that have been in successful operation for over a decade.  Click here to see what the U.S. Department of Energy has to say about these plants

In an October 23d TIME magazine article, “The Future is Bright,” I read where a German company, CONERGY, bought-out the New Mexico-based Dankoff Solar Products last year.  “If the U.S. market had started in 1996, maybe a U.S. company would have bought us,” said CONERGY’s CEO in this article.  This is just one example of how our competition is pulling ahead, preparing for a future wherein energy dependence will no-longer be just strategic- ally naive, but economically disastrous as well.  All the coal we have, and we do have lots of it, won’t solve the problem.  In fact, using it increasingly without applying the latest technology to spare the environment, could well mean the end of times as we’ve come to know them.

Parents, your generation, mine before yours, and my parents generation, have left a real mess for our kids to have to clean up.  So let’s stop borrowing against their tomorrows and give them an honest shot at getting it done.

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Published in: on October 21, 2006 at 10:02 pm  Comments (1)