Saturday, June 02, 2007

Seal Shaman Mask by Edward Tocktoo
at Stonington Gallery.
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Politics v. Science in Fight for the Future

I am not particularly pious about objective science--it's flawed like any human enterprise. Nor do I believe that politics is automatically ignoble--although it's in eye of the needle territory. But when it comes to information bearing on the Climate Crisis, it's important to notice the difference.

For example, President Bush got headlines for proposing an international conference to set carbon emission limitation goals, something he's resisted in the past. Some have applauded this move, including political leaders in and beyond the U.S. But others see it as a calculated political diversion, meant to postpone action that many countries are ready to take, notably as a result of the European Union proposals that the U.S. rejected. In this view, Bush's proposals are a p.r. smokescreen to deflect criticism at the upcoming international conference Bush will attend in Germany. And as has happened so often, U.S. media fell for it, hook, line and sinker, though European media did not.

The climate crisis debate, which must appear to be predicated on science, is often dominated by politics, which in turn serves the interests of the rich companies that finance political campaigns and careers, and otherwise buy influence with ideologically-driven or just plain fearful constituencies.

Political interference with climate science has been well documented in the Bush administration. But sometimes it is more subtle, like the latest Bush move, which deflects attention rather than squashes information. Something similiar may have happened last week after NASA scientists, led by Dr. James Hansen, issued a sobering report on the Climate Crisis, indicating that the world has no more than a decade to address it with measures that substantially lessen climate crisis pollution.

As ABC News put it: Even "moderate additional" greenhouse emissions are likely to push Earth past "critical tipping points" with "dangerous consequences for the planet," according to research conducted by NASA and the Columbia University Earth Institute. With just 10 more years of "business as usual" emissions from the burning of coal, oil and gas, says the NASA/Columbia paper, "it becomes impractical" to avoid "disastrous effects."

These are scientists, not politicians, telling us that our planet as we know it is in grave danger, and of course they are not the first or only ones to have done so in the past year, or five, or ten. These are the people we educate and pay to study these subjects, and to give us just such a warning.

But instead of spurring debate and action with urgency befitting such a warning, our media got suddenly deflected by another story that by some strange coincidence also had the NASA label affixed to it--a statement by the head administrator of NASA that it's arrogant to assume that global heating requires action--after all, who's to say what climate is best?

NASA chief Michael Griffin isn't a climate scientist. His background is in engineering. But his comments got talked around, angrily opposed, debated point by point with reason and evidence and---well, that was the point. To get everybody talking about this outrageous nonsense, and not about scientific findings.

Now, like clockwork, India has reportedly announced that it won't abide by any binding restrictions on fossil fuel emissions that might emerge from the G8 international summit, because they would limit its economic growth. Besides being the country where your customer service representative likely lives, India is also the nation with the Bush's biggest sweetheart deal on nuclear weapons and nuclear power in general. What a coincidence. Otherwise known as politics.

Griffin got some traction on his possibly poll-tested remarks because a lot of people think scientists are arrogant, and some doubtlessly are. On the other hand, when it works right, science is self-correcting. So when a new study contradicts accepted climate models--suggesting a global heated future may be considerably wetter than suggested--scientists take note. And they get going on doing more science to get it right.


Recollection of the classic 1962 film, To Kill A Mockingbird at Boomer Hall of Fame.

And even more about Harper Lee's novel, and the play as well as movie based on it, at Stage Matters.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Paul Klee: Cosmic Composition.
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When Will We Ever Learn?

Once again, we had no phony Memorial Day around here. All the false and misguided pieties can't obscure the conviction that a people that truly cares about fallen soldiers would be intent on making sure needless war never takes another. We're very far from that these days.

The reflex to call such sentiments pacificism and ask the sophomoric question about standing by while your grandmother gets attacked is so bitterly out of place these days, in view of the kind of war we're sending soldiers to die in. And dying they are, at record speed. All you need to know about the disposition of this war now is in this report on what soldiers in Iraq told a blind warhawk senator and his response. That this war is so obviously wrongheaded that even soldiers are speaking out, and that this war was founded on lies from the start--the most recently one to be exposed being that the "intelligence" was faulty.

The soldier defending the homeland from attack is so seldom the actual cause of war--and hasn't been in the wars America has fought since at least World War II, not counting at least the intent of military action in Afghanistan. The cynicism of those in power who speak piously of patriotism and supporting the troops for political and monetary advantage and nothing else is disgusting. The awful truth is that many if not most warfare is to make the rich richer, and for that, the non-rich will die and be maimed, and their families and the rest of the non-rich are tricked and manipulated into believing it's all for a noble cause.

The noble cause is developing, acquiring and using the skills of peace. It is facing the real threat to our people, like the climate crisis. It is facing the future together, rather than repeating the terrible patterns of the past that benefit the undeserving few.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The plight of desert pulpfish in Death Valley was instrumental
in creating the Endangered Species Act. There are but 42 of them left,
apparently on the brink of extinction. SF Chronicle photo.
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The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"I hate pathos. It's soft and weak. But tragedy has fight."

Dame Sybil Thorndike

Monday, May 28, 2007

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Mother Earth

"Only within the moment of time represented by the present century has one species -- man -- acquired significant power to alter the nature of his world."

So wrote Rachel Carson in Silent Spring in 1962. She wrote about the unthinking threats to nature and to our own lives from the indiscriminate and large-scale pollutions humanity was imposing on the stuff of life--the air, water and earth, the plants and animals and the cells of our own bodies. She wrote:

"For the first time in the history of the world, every human being is now subjected to contact with dangerous chemicals, from the moment of conception until death."

Though her book helped lead to banning DDT and some other chemicals, and though she is justifiably known as the mother of the environmental movement, her clarion call still needs to be heard. Chemicals in vast numbers and combinations continue to enter our lives, these days with little attention or question. My generation was the first to be subjected to many of these chemicals, and early evidence suggests we may be paying the price in more sickness and earlier death as we enter our last decades.

But her words ring true especially for the future. The climate crisis caused by fossil fuel pollution is another extension of the basic problem she identified.

Rachel Carson died of cancer just a few years after this book was published. Her 100th birthday was celebrated Sunday, in (among other places) Pittsburgh, which claims her as a native, and where she attended college. These two quotations from her book are also, appropriately, from a fine article in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette by Scott Shalaway that is well worth reading for a summary of her legacy.


Reflections on the psychedelic 60s prompted by a new exhibit in New York at 60's Now.
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