Wednesday, July 04, 2012

What Global Heating Looks--and Feels-- Like

Still don’t believe in climate change? Then you’re either deep in denial or delirious from the heat," wrote Pulitzer Prize columnist Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post on Tuesday. "As I write this, the nation’s capital and its suburbs are in post-apocalypse mode. About one-fourth of all households have no electricity, the legacy of an unprecedented assault by violent thunderstorms Friday night. Things are improving: At the height of the power outage, nearly half the region was dark. The line of storms, which killed at least 18 people as it raced from the Midwest to the sea, culminated a punishing day when the official temperature here reached 104 degrees, a record for June."  And so on, adding stats from climatologists, and noting that if GOPers weren't such foes of solar power, they might well have had air conditioning today from rooftop solar collectors.

I happened to learn of this column from a flash through the new MSNBC show, "The Cycle," which features four cohosts, including a resident winger, a young woman in scholarly glasses, who said she was not terribly impressed with what a political columnist had to say about climate--she'd preferred a real climatologist.

Like nearly all of them haven't been heard on the subject.  Well, okay--how about this, also from Tuesday?

"But since at least 1988, climate scientists have warned that climate change would bring, in general, increased heat waves, more droughts, more sudden downpours, more widespread wildfires and worsening storms. In the United States, those extremes are happening here and now.

So far this year, more than 2.1 million acres have burned in wildfires, more than 113 million people in the U.S. were in areas under extreme heat advisories last Friday, two-thirds of the country is experiencing drought, and earlier in June, deluges flooded Minnesota and Florida.

"This is what global warming looks like at the regional or personal level," said Jonathan Overpeck, professor of geosciences and atmospheric sciences at the University of Arizona. "The extra heat increases the odds of worse heat waves, droughts, storms and wildfire. This is certainly what I and many other climate scientists have been warning about."

Kevin Trenberth, head of climate analysis at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in fire-charred Colorado, said these are the very record-breaking conditions he has said would happen, but many people wouldn't listen. So it's I told-you-so time, he said.

As recently as March, a special report an extreme events and disasters by the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned of "unprecedented extreme weather and climate events." Its lead author, Chris Field of the Carnegie Institution and Stanford University, said Monday, "It's really dramatic how many of the patterns that we've talked about as the expression of the extremes are hitting the U.S. right now."

"What we're seeing really is a window into what global warming really looks like," said Princeton University geosciences and international affairs professor Michael Oppenheimer. "It looks like heat. It looks like fires. It looks like this kind of environmental disasters."

(Photo: one in a series of the Washington storms by Joel Holland.)

I learned from someone in the DC area a bit more about what "post-apocalyptic mode" looks like as well.  It's children and old people trapped in houses with no air conditioning or even refrigeration, or by now, even much food, since the contents of refrigerators in areas still without power have long since spoiled.  It's seniors and the disabled totally dependent on the Meals on Wheels deliverers huffing up 14 floors of stairs because of no power for the elevator.

 All of this in triple digit heat that gets down to 90 at night.  23 known deaths so far are attributed to the heat and storms in the DC area.  Thanks in part to denialists, preparation and response was in many cases valiant, but inadequate--and that's likely true across the country.

And this heat is widespread across the East Coast, Mid-Atlantic, South, Midwest and far West.  And the patterns look like they will continue through the month and well into next.

I remember that summer of 1988 when I got an inkling of what global heating would feel like.  But nearly a quarter century later we are still hearing well-paid, mediagenic and otherwise respectable deniers acting as if the scientific evidence isn't overwhelming, and the human costs of denial aren't obvious outside the studio door.  We're firmly in the political clutches of the paid and paid-off deniers with political and economic power, who are trying to increase and solidify that power for the foreseeable future, which, if they continue in this and even increase their stranglehold, may not actually be very long.

In a recent interview Kim Stanley Robinson, author of the vivid Science in the Capital trilogy, allows that people are tired of reading about the Climate Crisis, including him.  Because so far nothing changes.  At best, it's the moment before smoking "suddenly" slipped into being really unacceptable, and one municipality after another banned it from public places, which was actually after decades of battle and well-paid denial.  

What is supposed to overwhelm the denial and cauterize the denialists is feeling the reality of the Climate Crisis.  In the U.S. this summer may well test that theory, but a lot of innocent people will pay the price for those well-paid and paid off in our political and media capitals.

Independence Day?  Not yet.  And make no mistake: the science news of the day has nothing to do with God particles.  It's what the real world is doing to us thanks to what we have done, and it's about what we're not doing about it.       

Baseball Very Very Good

They gave a taste of this last year: the Pittsburgh Pirates went on an exciting winning streak just before the All-Star break, when they were above .500 for the first time in years, but collapsed after the teams returned.  This year they are again in first place at July 4th, with another impressive winning streak, but somehow this feels like it may be different.

It seems less freakish, for one thing.  There is solid pitching and pretty dependable hitters, especially Andrew McCutchen (pictured) who leads the National League in batting with a .360 average.  In any case, the Pirates have been rocking the excellent Pittsburgh ballpark.

The San Francisco Giants are also suddenly in first place, after a series in which they shut out the LA Dodgers completely, and won a home series with the Pirates' main division rival, the Cinncy Reds.  But they're now on a torturous road trip, in which Tim Lincecum wilted in the DC heat.  Earlier in the week, first place Washington's best pitcher had to leave the game with dehydration.  Baseball is not the only sport affected, though with temperatures this dangerously high, more events should have been cancelled.  It's another adjustment to global heating that will be eventually made, though probably after the danger becomes all too obvious.

Apart from that, baseball is a ritualized refuge from current madness, and with my teams doing this well, it's fun again.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Of Roberts' Ruling and the New Order

Two things happened last week that bode well for the U.S. economy and the chances for the less than wealthy to make a little economic progress.  First was the Supreme Court upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.  Had it been wounded or destroyed, the economic turmoil would have been immediate, injecting uncertainty (especially in the healthcare sector) into a fragile recovery.  Keeping it on track will benefit the economy--not to mention most Americans-- in the long run in a variety of ways.  The second event (in time) was the European Union deal that makes major economic turmoil in Europe less likely, at least in the short term.  Such turmoil would have immediately stifled U.S. growth and could have nudged the economy back into official recession.

There's been a lot of noise in Washington about the ACA ruling.  Predictably much of it is scandalously inaccurate, both in terms of the ruling and the facts of the law.  Predictably much of it is nervous and inflated political guessing.  A number of polls taken since the ruling on Thursday have concluded various things, but perhaps the most salient number is that almost half of respondents in one poll hadn't even heard of the ruling at all.

And all too predictably, some of the noise was scary.  The ruling upheld the law by a final 5-4 vote, with Chief Justice Roberts casting the deciding vote for the majority.  This fact sent the Rabid Right into fits, and Roberts--an erstwhile reliable ally--was castigated in the usual extreme terms as a traitor to the cause.

Then a CBS report, summarized here, made news first of all because it broke the Supreme's usual leakproof silence, indicating that high level clerks or actual Justices did the leaking (my money is on a "conservative" Justice or two, or at least a clerk acting on direct instructions from a Justice.)  It also made news for its assertion that Roberts initially sided with the conservatives in nullifying the law, but made a late switch.

The initial reaction to the article was divided between those expressing skepticism on this point, and general agreement with the implications: that the "conservatives" on this Court are indeed political before they are constitutional judges.  So this decision, as beneficial as it is, may well be the exception that proves the rule.

Though one of the CBS report's points has been questioned in terms of the sequence of the various opinions being written, it suggests that Anthony Kennedy (previously believed to be a swing vote) is strongly ideological, and that he and the other "conservatives" were so upset with Roberts' decision that they ignored his legal points in their opinions--that they essentially dissed him.  In other words, they acted exactly as the ideological Rabid Right are acting now. 

Congressional Republicans are busily misinterpreting the basis for Roberts' decision, and then lying about it.  All of this is further evidence that as the GOP becomes the apparatus of the Rabid Right, it is ceasing to be a political party in the American sense, and more like the Communist Party in the Soviet bloc--striving for one party rule in the Soviet sense: insisting on ideological purity internally, and seeking to dominate and deny rights and legitimacy to any external group.  The pattern of the GOP moving in that direction is pretty clear.  

So it isn't just that the Court is engaged in partisan politics over interpretation of the law, which is already a failing.  And it isn't even that they are ideological, which further distorts their judgments and renders the R5 injudicious and dangerous.  It is that their ideology is as dogmatic as if revealed by their God, in aid of a political party bent on as totalitarian a New Order as the U.S. has ever seen.   If indeed the ACA ruling was the exception that proves the rule (which recent history as well as a lot of evidence from within the opinions convinces me is likely) maybe even because there are a few shreds of integrity left, or if Roberts' example injects some sobriety about the Court's real responsibilities, will be known only by future decisions.  Meanwhile, this election becomes in part a referendum on the future of American democracy. 

Campaign Rhythms

Presidential politics continues: Romney, whose reputation as a liar grows internationally (Michael Cohen writes in the Guardian: "But Romney is doing something very different and far more pernicious. Quite simply, the United States has never been witness to a presidential candidate, in modern American history, who lies as frequently, as flagrantly and as brazenly as Mitt Romney,")
is caught in a pretty serious lie about his past--with implications that have something damning for everybody, left, center and far right.  Meanwhile the Obama campaign braces itself for the upcoming unemployment report and also the figures on political contributions for June, which may show the Romney campaign raking in a bunch more.

But except for the swing states where political messaging is already unavoidable, many if not most people aren't paying a lot of attention to the day to day (not to mention the hour to hour, minute to minute, tweet to tweet.)  A lot of people already know who they are voting for in November, and so they can save a lot of time by ignoring the campaign (which is why polls that measure interest in the campaign tell very little.)

President Obama is enjoying an unpredicted bump in the polls, especially in some swing states.  But the really big anti-Obama advertising effort in those states has not yet begun.  We'll see how effective the endlessly repeated Big Lies can be.

Meanwhile many won't be paying much attention until the real show starts at the conventions later in the summer and then in the debates in the fall.  It's probably true that campaigns can be won and lost in the spring, if a candidate is defined.  But that's learnable only after the votes are in.  As is everything else.  Bill Clinton went from unloved third place to a contender at his convention, and then to favorite in the debates.  On the other hand, John Kerry had a good convention and won all three debates against G.W. Bush, but didn't win the large majority required if a Democrat is permitted to win.  So nobody really knows.  But one thing is certain: it's barely July.