Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Wolf Bites

The DC CW is that the sequester is here to stay, the Dems lost the issue, etc.  But meanwhile, the pain spreads.

Thousands of furloughs and now pink slips as people lose their jobs.

What keeps us safe?  Our food, water, workplaces?  Jobs that are being cut, work that is not being done.  For instance, threatening mine safety and lives.

But who cares about that?  Or those people?  But the sequestration cuts are also being felt in two important places: airports (with major airport delays likely to increase by summer) and in Republican congressional districts.  GOPers are complaining!  Their solution?  Cut somebody else's district instead.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Basis of Hope

For years now--ever since I read that article by Mark Hertsgaard in the San Francisco Chronicle and followed up with my own research--I've emphasized two related features of the Climate Crisis: that there is a time lag between cause (greenhouse gases spewed into the air) and effect (climate disruption and change), and because of this time lag (at least 25 years), we will feel the effects no matter what we do now to stop the cause.  (I go into this in my review of Hertsgaard's new book, HOT.  In a recent email to me he said he'd forgotten how early in 2005 he'd written that Chronicle piece.)

At times I've felt like a broken record crying out in the desert. Now new research by MIT's Sloan School of Management kind of proves me right in insisting on this (assuming anyone is listening.)  Their study of why the American public generally believes that climate change is real and is caused by greenhouse gas pollution, but doesn't see a lot of urgent need to deal with it, concludes that it's basically because people still believe this is something that can be fixed at the last minute, that once it's really obvious and destructive, we can bite the bullet, end carbon pollution and end or even reverse climate change.

That won't happen, and if people don't understand what will happen, then there's another crisis which opportunistic politicians are very likely to seize on: we cut emissions at great cost and it didn't work!  Or--we can't afford this cutting emissions, we have to spend all our resources on dealing with the effects--the sea level rise, the floods, droughts, etc.

 We can--and we must--slow down climate catastrophe in the farther future by curtailing and ending greenhouse gas pollution now and soon, and hope that we do it in time to prevent runaway climate change that nothing but possibly eons of time can fix (eons devoid of a lot of current lifeforms including ours.)  

Through some misguided political instinct based on not scaring people I suppose, Al Gore went around for years talking about how to "solve the climate crisis."  Besides being indecent English (you solve a problem, you confront or address a crisis), it was deceptive.  The climate crisis cannot be "solved," that is, ended.  Not in the sense that everything will stay "normal" as it was in say 1999.  Or even as normal as it is now.  The climate is going to change and keep changing for at least a quarter century, and once changed, it's unlikely to go back for centuries.

But even worse, there is this belief that climate change can be "reversed."  That is, not just the claim that we can stay normal, but that we can return to normal.

I'd like to believe that's possible.  Given human ignorance on the complexities of existence, maybe it is possible.  But the current science--meaning not only the data but the basic theories (the laws of physics, etc.)--says it's not.

What are scientists saying?  Justin Gillis, who wrote a series on climate change for the New York Times, told NPR: " When I look at the scientific majority, the scientific mainstream," Gillis says, "I would say that as a group, they fear this is going to be pretty bad. They don't know exactly how bad it's going to get, and they don't know how fast it's going to get that [bad], which might be the ultimate question."

All that being said, the fact that it's going to be bad is old news.  (If I see yet one more headline about yet one more "wake-up call" I'll scream.)  I'd like emphasis on what to do about dealing with the effects and with the causes.  What is being done, what sounds promising, what in fact we all can do.

Some places or elements can possibly be changed for the better, even as global heating itself continues. But for that to make sense, people have to accept this basic feature of this crisis.  We have to deal with the effects because they are inevitable now, and for the foreseeable future.  And at the same time we have to deal with the causes, or the human race is toast in the long run.  But deal with those causes while knowing that they aren't going to "solve" or "reverse" what's coming for the next decades.  Those positive efforts may well make our lives better than they otherwise would be.  They certainly will make our lives more useful, more meaningful.  That to me is the basis of hope, of dreaming up daily. 

Historic and Heartening: Obama in the Middle East

Update: Support for my point of view on the speech, with other substantive arguments, comes from Gershom Gurenberg in "Don't Be Naive.  That Speech Was a Revolution." 

President Obama's trip to the Middle East was historic and heartening.  On a day he visited with both Palestinian and Israeli young people, he made a speech to a mostly young audience in Jerusalem that reaffirmed the moral solidarity of the U.S. with Israel, but also spoke of the humanity of the Palestinian peoples.

"So peace is necessary. But peace is also just... Put yourself in their shoes. Look at the world through their eyes. It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of their own. (Applause.) Living their entire lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements not just of those young people but their parents, their grandparents, every single day. It’s not just when settler violence against Palestinians goes unpunished. (Applause.) It’s not right to prevent Palestinians from farming their lands; or restricting a student’s ability to move around the West Bank; or displace Palestinian families from their homes. (Applause.) Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer. (Applause.) Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land. (Applause.)" 

President Obama's support of Israeli was gratefully acknowledged by Israeli's prime minister, he was given the country's highest honor which no other U.S. President has received, and he crucially brokered a thaw in tense relations between Israel and Turkey.  But his real accomplishment in this trip, and in that speech, probably won't be fully understood for years.

What everyone in the Middle East saw was an American President talking about the just aspirations and human rights of both Israelis and in great detail Palestinians--to an audience in Israel, to the applause of that audience.  This is a real moment.

The current leaders of Israel and the Arab countries saw and heard what that young audience felt and believed.  They want peace, democracy and a two state solution.

This does not even suggest that a two state solution is imminent, even though everyone has wearily known for decades that it is the only solution.  It does suggest that if the region and the world doesn't fall apart first, the two state solution is coming.

Or as Gorenberg concludes: "Yet to continue to repeat all the reasons that a process can't work because it hasn't worked before is to take the naïve, pessimistic view that change never happens, that new methods never work, that people are trapped by history and can't resolve conflicts. If that naïve attitude were true, Barack Obama would never have had the opportunity to speak as the president of the United States.
One speech doesn't make a peace process. But as the beginning of a process, this speech was a revolution."