Thursday, January 22, 2009

A new study shows that contrary to deniers, Antarctica is heating, and the massive Wilkins Ice Shelf is breaking apart. The Climate Crisis is here, deny it or not.

Antarctica Joins the Quiet Crisis

One of the few specific issues Barack Obama mentioned in his Inaugural Address was the Climate Crisis. That's important, because as a relatively quiet crisis--partly because we don't recognize many of its manifestations as being evidence of global heating--much louder problems always drown out concerns over what is the greatest crisis of all, because it's the biggest in scale, and the greatest threat to human civilization.

Yet there is news nearly every day that it is real, and even that it is getting worse faster than many scientists expected.

There were two very hot summers at the end of the 1980s in the eastern half of the U.S., and those also happened to be the years that a number of books and television documentaries as well as magazine and newspaper reports began to really sound the alarm about the reality and possible dimensions of what was then called the greenhouse effect or global warming.

Now temperature data for the past year of 2008 is complete, and without a lot of fanfare or anyone noticing it much, it was the eighth hottest year on record. But here's the statistic that got to me: all ten of the hottest years on record have occurred since 1997. That's even though the preceding decade also broke temperature records.

These government figures are supported by university studies which show that our seasons are starting earlier. Winters are warmer, and combined with earlier seasonal change, even small differences can have an impact on many species as well as the water supplies of vast human cities.

In their increasingly desperate attempts to justify their delusions, Climate Crisis deniers like to point to Antarctica, where evidence of heating was mixed. Now new data shows that all of Anarctica is warming. The massive Wilkins ice shelf is collapsing, hanging by less than a thread. The Climate Crisis is already affecting all seven continents, as well as the oceans.

Wilkins will be the tenth Antarctic ice shelf to vanish into the sea in half a century. Some had been in place for 10,000 years. Most climate scientists say the new Antarctic research is just the latest sign that global warming is happening more severely - and quickly - than many thought.

Human civilization as we know it is only about 10,000 years old--as long as these ice shelves have existed. Scientists know they are important to the climate we've had for those centuries. Their disappearance alone should tell us: this is a crisis. The test of our civilization will be whether we can attend to this crisis, even if louder and flashier ones appear and disappear to grab our attention. It's not a good time for a society to wallow in attention deficit disorder. It's time to be smart for a change.
click on this photo of the Wilkins ice shelf to get a better idea of its size. One piece that recently broke off was the size of Manhattan.

President Obama's First Day

YES to ethics and transparency.

NO to secrets prisons and Guantanamo.

NO to the Iraq War.

According to news briefs, President Obama's second day will focus on foreign affairs, particularly the Mideast. But other problems may be brewing, including what seems to be growing anxiety about Mexico, according to this AP report. The Senate confirmed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State on Wednesday.

On the Economy, while Congress begins discussions on the recovery plan, there are stories that banks and the financial system require more attention. This intriguing piece at TPM suggests how big the plans may be to deal with this. However, due in part to the fact that the Treasury Secretary has not yet been confirmed, proposals that some said would come as early as this week may not happen for a couple of weeks.

Of course there were lots of stories Wednesday about the Inauguration, and accounts of experiences in Washington and elsewhere. This one caught my eye for its link to what began with the JFK Inauguration (the one I went to Washington to see) through the Peace Corps and Harris Wofford, who I worked with on a project in Pennsylvania when he was PA Sec. of Labor in the late 80s--and heard some of these Peace Corps and JFK stories first hand. I'm happy to hear how well he's doing--and how well he's dancing!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The First Couple

An Inaugural Ball tonight; the Inaugural Parade today. NYTimes photos.

When Imagination is Joined

"Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions - who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage." Barack Obama January 20, 2009

The Day

Three images from the New York Times from Inauguration Day: Barack and Michelle Obama walking for part of the parade route; the Inaugural platform; a wide version of the oath. Hours after the many Inaugural balls end early Wednesday morning, President Obama will be at work. Already he has requested that all prosecutions of prisoners at Guantanamo be halted pending a review of the tribunal system, and there is likely to be big news before this time Wednesday night. It was a day that comes once in a generation, at most, and this one in some ways was the culmination of the entire history of the U.S. But things are going to start happening--big, and fast. You ain't seen nothing yet.

Elsewhere on Inauguration Day

This collage of photos from the New York Times shows Inauguration-related scenes far from Washington: a schoolgirl going to her grade school's Inaugural Ball, a senior couple at Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Atlanta, and watching the Inaugural: a crowd in Times Square, a high school, the Apollo Theatre in Harlem and a Chicago movie theatre. Click to enlarge.

The Teddy Scare

At the luncheon directly after the Inaugural ceremonies, Senator Ted Kennedy had what were reported as seizures, and was taken to a hospital in an ambulance. The mood suddenly turned somber, but then word came back that he was feeling better even as he was placed in the ambulance. Doctors later said the problem was fatigue, and Kennedy is expected to be discharged Wednesday. Others said that there had been some discussion of Kennedy not attending because of a cold, but he clearly wanted very much to be there: that's him in the center of the above picture of Obama taking the oath, in the fedora, with the broad smile. That's how important this day was to him and at least some other Kennedys.

The Inaugural Ceremony

"On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics. We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness." click to enlarge.

President Barack Obama

"Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task."

The Beginning Hour

Supported by an astounding 85% of Americans in a new CBS poll (while the outgoing Bush gets 22% and Cheney 13%), Barack Obama is just hours away from taking his oath of office as the 44th President of the United States. It promises to be an unforgettable day.

A Long and Winding Road

A reminder of an incredible campaign. Click to enlarge.

Monday, January 19, 2009

One Day to Change

According to reporting by Elizabeth Drew, Barack Obama's victory in the 2008 election was so large that he could have won without the vote of a single African American. Nevertheless, the Inauguration tomorrow of the first African American President reminds us on the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday that tomorrow is a victory for racial justice and of King's dream of a society in which people are judged not on their race but on the content of their character. It is clearly a significant source of hope for young people, but particularly for those of perceived minorities, and especially for African American children, like this one.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial (2)

"Despite the enormity of the task that lies ahead, I stand here today as hopeful as ever that the United States of America will endure — that it will prevail, that the dream of our founders will live on in our time."--Barack Obama at the Lincoln Memorial. AP story here. Click to enlarge. AP photos.

Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial

New York Times story on the event here. Click to enlarge. AP photos. The figures in the photos include Bruce Springstein, Pete Seger, Beyonce, will i. am, James Taylor, Stevie Wonder, Bono, Tiger Woods, Denzel Washington, Malia Obama. Garth Brooks (not pictured) led the crowd (estimated at 750,000 or more) in a rousing rendition of "Shout!"

Two Days to Change

It's close enough to feel it happening, but even though Americans have high hopes for what Barack Obama can do as President, a new poll shows they also have patience. They don't expect he will be able to solve our big problems right away. They know it will all take time. But they're ready to begin the adventure!