Friday, January 08, 2016

Winter Light

Just before sunset, light on the recently bared branches of the linden tree next door.  I took a series of photos in December; this is one. Click it to see the full photo.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

And El Nino Finally Came

Though it has been charged with extreme weather in the US Midwest and South as well as elsewhere in the world, until this week El Nino hadn't hit California.  But it sure has now.

Not up here in the far northern end, yet.  But El Nino has brought southern California, in quick succession and sometimes simultaneously, copious amounts of rain, hail, snow, flooding from rain, waterways and high tides, mudslides, high winds and even at least one tornado.

And though El Nino can't  necessarily be blamed for it, an earthquake.  Moderate and shallow, it was enough to shake loose some landslides on hills that El Nino rain had previously softened.

Up here we've had some rain mixed with sun, but on the whole pretty far.  It was predicted that southern California would feel El Nino rains first, but it's strong enough that we'll feel it here before much longer this winter.

So they cried El Nino... and El Nino finally came.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Common Ground, Common Sense in the Land of Guns

What was the significance of President Obama's executive actions on gun safety?  The actions themselves are described in this Washington Post story, and the President summarizes them in the speech embedded above.  But apart from the modest changes possible under current law, it was the speech itself, what it said and how the President said it, that was the most significant.

"Emotional" is the word used most in stories--at CNN, in the Post story, in a valuable WaPost annotated transcript of the speech, in John Cassidy's New Yorker piece.  It's emotion based on urgency and backed by overwhelming reason and evidence. The balancing of rights, the safety measures used for cell phones and aspirin bottles but forbidden for guns, so much of it simple social sanity.  It's so obvious that it's satiric, as in the Borowitz headline: Obama Continues to Stubbornly Link Gun Violence with Guns.

 Cassidy describes the rhythms of the speech, including the tears.  His last paragraphs make the salient point:

The denunciation of the N.R.A., which went unnamed in this part of the speech, seemed to rouse the President and get him back on track for the climax of his speech. The best way to defeat the gun lobby, he insisted, was at the polls. “And, yes, it will be hard and it won’t happen overnight,” he said. “It won’t happen during this Congress. It won’t happen during my Presidency. But a lot of things don’t happen overnight. A woman’s right to vote didn’t happen overnight. The liberation of African-Americans didn’t happen overnight. L.G.B.T. rights, that was decades’ worth of work. So, just because it’s hard, that’s no excuse not to try.”

Obama was only being realistic about the prospects for further progress. He was also serving notice for those who agree with him. In addition to shedding tears of despair, they will need to shed some tears of defiance."

President Obama seems intent on keeping this issue in public consciousness.  It's likely he'll continue this mission after he leaves office.  The politics of this is similar to climate crisis--follow the money.  The gun lobby--which has gotten more extreme over the years-- has bought the Republican party, and the extremism is self-reinforcing, back and forth.  (What would happen, I wonder, if the gun lobby and the fossil fuel billionaires were on different sides of an issue?  The GOP might implode.)

So politically it's up to 2016 candidates and those who follow.  It may be that incremental judgments at the polls encourage this issue to break into agreement at least on background checks (which are supported by 90% of Americans) or it may implode with other extreme positions when today's GOP implodes.  That could happen any time, soon or not soon at all.  But either way, we'll need to share and maintain that emotional defiance.

It is perhaps clearer on this issue than some others what the fundamental commitment of Barack Obama has always been: to make the case that summons agreement and common ground, but on fundamental matters of importance.  Again, the Borowitz satire makes the point.  In a list of barely imaginary quotes from Republican candidates accusing President Obama of being deluded in linking gun violence to guns: "The former Hewlett-Packard C.E.O. Carly Fiorina said that Obama’s persistent linking of gun violence with guns was “sad but not surprising, from a man who believes that people’s health can be improved by access to health care.”

 And like the Civil Rights movement that is his touchstone, addressing gun violence requires persistence and hope, which is not just an emotion of the moment but itself a commitment.  Maybe we can't get it done right away.  "So just because it's hard, that's no excuse not to try."  Because, eventually, yes--we can.

Monday, January 04, 2016

The Climate of 2016

As 2016 begins, has there been a change of climate on the climate crisis?  Scientific American makes a case that there has. "...several activists, scientists and environmental lawyers agree the world is shifting from one doused in denial to one that might take big steps in the right direction."

Increasingly irrefutable science on the subject backed by the obvious changes in weather--both extreme events and longer term heating--are probable reasons: "people are now seeing the impacts that likely arise from climate change in their own backyards. It is no longer a threat relegated to the future and faraway places."

A change in attitude is also prompted by increased confidence in ways of addressing the causes, especially through clean energy:"Not only is the public beginning to accept climate change as a real danger, they’re realizing that fighting it is a viable option.... Cleaner energy sources are surging so much that 2014 marked the first time in 40 years that global carbon dioxide emissions stalled, and even dropped during a time of economic growth. With the tie between economic growth and lower carbon emissions severed, the public has begun to see renewable energy as a viable alternative."

Viable alternatives also suggest that doubting the veracity of fossil fuel mega-corporations or even holding them responsible is not suicidal, and therefore unthinkable.  This article notes the increased support for legal means of holding these companies liable.

The public may also be ready to hear what some have said for decades, now being reported and quantified in more detail: these companies believed the climate crisis was happening, and while protecting themselves, they simultaneously financed most of the denialism that remade the Republican party into their servants.

An investigative report in the Los Angeles Times found:

"As many of the world’s major oil companies — including Exxon, Mobil and Shell — joined a multimillion-dollar industry effort to stave off new regulations to address climate change, they were quietly safeguarding billion-dollar infrastructure projects from rising sea levels, warming temperatures and increasing storm severity."

Funding denialism through coal industry initiated and oil industry supported campaign of lobbying, lies and financial support for politicians who repeated these lies and voted down any attempts to address the climate crisis, warped our political system as it wasted this planet:

"Two recent papers published in the journal Nature Climate Change and in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggest that the coalition effort helped polarize public discourse on climate change.

“The ramifications of this multiyear effort by these funders are immensely important,” said Justin Farrell, a sociologist at Yale University and author of the studies, which looked at how the industry’s messaging affected the public debate. Their influence explains, he added, why the issue went from being bipartisan to polarizing."

The evidence is now pretty strong that the tide has turned against denialists.  The SA piece cites the Pew survey of 40 nations that showed 78% support for efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions.  But global support was even more clearly shown by the unanimous declaration of the recent Paris climate summit.

Though congressional Republicans and presidential candidates did their best to scuttle U.S. leadership in Paris, Reuters reports that in a poll taken after the Paris accords: "A majority of U.S. Republicans who had heard of the international climate deal in Paris said they support working with other countries to curb global warming and were willing to take steps to do so...More than half, or 58 percent, of Republicans surveyed said they approved of U.S. efforts to work with other nations to limit global warming..."

But the historic Paris agreement is only a first step.  Sierra Club elder Carl Pope wrote an intriguing prescription for what the US needs to do next in 2016 to implement the intent of Paris, some of which President Obama can do himself or at least begin, in his last year in office.  Pope also agrees with the articles previously cited that holding the fossil fuel corps responsible and accelerating clean energy are important strategies for the coming year.

Addressing the causes of the climate crisis is half the agenda.  The other is addressing the effects.  It's been noted here that a leader in both accepting the realities of the climate crisis and adopting clean energy has been the US military.  Now the US Navy has taken the next step in a new ship, designed to respond to climate crisis-caused emergencies around the world:

 " A modified version of a commercial oil tanker, the base ship boasts vast storage capacity for hauling emergency supplies, a huge flight deck for launching and landing helicopters and other aircraft, and plenty of internal space for people and medical facilities."

The US military already has experience in large-scale disaster operations, and foresees greater need in the future.“As climate change affects the availability of food and water, human migration and competition for natural resources, the [Defense] Department’s unique capability to provide logistical, material and security assistance on a massive scale or in rapid fashion may be called upon with increasing frequency,” then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel wrote in a 2014 briefing.

This Reuters article concludes: "Despite politically motivated skepticism among many Americans regarding climate change, the military knows that the planet is getting warmer and more dangerous. It knows it will be spending more time and resources dealing with disasters that climate change has made more frequent and severe."

Laughs in Review

From the New Yorker selection of favorite cartoons of 2015.