Posts Tagged ‘Global Warming’

The Thinker

If you care about the environment, choose your realtor with care

The Koch Brothers have been much in the news lately, at least if you follow political news. The two brothers own Koch Industries, which itself is a holding company for a lot of other companies it owns. The brothers are Charles and David Koch, but Koch Industries was actually built up by their father Fred, who long ago went to his reward.

Aside from their obscene wealth, the Koch Brothers have been known for their extremely conservative views. Moreover, they have not been afraid to put their money where their mouths are. Their money helped elect Scott Walker as Wisconsin’s governor. Together their political action committee, KochPAC, spent huge amounts of money on the 2012 elections, to little effect. As an investment, it was an unwise one, but its magnitude was stunning: over $400M. Their PACs alone spent nearly three times more in the 2012 election than the top ten labor unions combined.

Koch Industries is into lots of industries, principally industrial in nature. Their profits depend on getting natural resources cheaply to market. It’s not surprising then that Charles and David are premier anti-environmentalists, who vehemently deny that global warming is a problem and are trying to keep their industries from being impacted by pesky and costly pollution laws. Koch Carbon has created a lot of petroleum coke as a byproduct from refining oil shipped from Canadian tar sands. The product, called petcoke, has been piled up many stories high along parts of the Great Lakes. A huge noxious cloud of dust from a petcoke pile was captured on video last year. Its presence doesn’t bother the Koch Brothers, who don’t have to breathe the stuff, but it was of great concern to residents of Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, who were on the receiving end of these polluted dust clouds.

While primarily into industrial activities, the Koch Brothers have influence in some surprising areas. One thing the Koch Brothers do well is create PACs and network related companies to contribute toward these PACs to achieve common goals. For the Koch Brothers, this is principally electing conservatives with an anti-environmental bent.

Many parts of the country are controlled by a handful of national realtor firms. Ever hear of Realogy? I hadn’t. There is a good chance you have heard some of these real estate firm names: Coldwell Banker, Century 21, Southbys, ERA and Better Homes and Gardens RE. It just so happens that Realogy gives heavily to Koch Brothers-related PACs. And Koch Brothers PACs give money principally to candidates that are anti-environmental, not to mention anti-union.

Real estate commissions are quite profitable, typically six percent of a house’s purchase price. A house selling for $250,000 actually costs $265,000, when you add in the typical real estate commissions. (It’s more than that, of course, when you add in all those other fees that come with buying a house.) Often the fee is split between two realtors: the seller’s agent and the buyer’s agent. If you consider how many houses are sold across the country annually, you can see that real estate commissions amount to a huge amount of money. Of course the individual agents keep a lot of it: it amounts to their salary. However, they also kick back a lot of it to their companies. Companies like Coldwell Banker ship their profits back to Realogy. Realogy’s in turn uses some of those profits to fund Koch-related PACs. It helps explain why the Koch Brothers-related PACs can find more than $400M to spend influencing elections in 2012 alone. For a company this big, $400M amounts to the change found under the family’s sofa cushions.

Curiously, most of the agents who work for these companies have no idea where these profits go. It’s likely that many of them are like me: environmentalists. They would probably be aghast to learn a substantial amount of this money is spent to help elect politicians who will be anti-environmentalist. I’m not a realtor, but I am a likely home seller and buyer in the next year or so. I would have known none of this had I not spoken to a realtor, who shall remain anonymous, with progressive leanings, who gave me the inside dope on all this.

What this means for us home sellers and purchasers is that unless we are very careful we are indirectly contributing to the destruction of our planet. If next year when I expect to put our house on the market I choose a realtor who works for a company controlled by Realogy, I could be indirectly contributing to PACs controlled by the Koch brothers, which will go principally to electing people who will further harm the planet.

I am so glad to get this insider information. If you are an environmentalist and in the housing market, then you should be glad to be reading this post too. In fact, I hope you will take a moment to “like” it or hit one of the share buttons for this post, and broadcast it to your friends. Perhaps, before listing your house, you should choose a realtor firm not associated with Realogy. Among the national firms not part of Realogy are ReMax and Keller Williams. Perhaps, before hiring a buyer agent, you should do the same. That does not necessarily mean that ReMax and Keller Williams may not be channeling some of their profits into these anti-environmentalist causes. But it seems less likely that they are.

Deciding who to hire as your realtor or buyer agent of course is a complex decision. Typically you are more interested in the agent than the company they are affiliated with, and his or her track record. If you are an environmentalist, you can look for good agents that simply aren’t associated with these firms. You can also choose small, local and independent realtor firms. These firms don’t have to send their profits to a national office. They can keep the money in their community instead. And that sounds environmentally friendly.

You can bet that before I sign a contract with a realtor, I’ll be assured that my money will not indirectly support any Koch Brothers PAC, or any anti-environmental cause. I hope you will do the same.

Updated 3/9/14 – I initially published this with some incorrect information. I had suggested that Realogy was owned by the Koch Empire. This is not true, however Realogy does give heavily to the Koch Brothers’ related and approved PACs. The full extent is hard to determine, since individuals working for Realogy can make contributions to any organization they choose under their own name. As for the official Realogy PAC, you can see how it spent its money here. As you can see, a lot of it went to the Madison PAC, whose Facebook page indicates its purpose is to get conservatives elected to Congress.

 
The Thinker

Cruising into denial

The good news is that our cruise was perfectly timed. We missed a second massive polar vortex by escaping to the Caribbean via a cruise ship. Moreover, we did not spend it vomiting by catching the Norovirus, unlike the unlucky passengers of the Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas and the Caribbean Princess. Despite these risks, I am definitely starting to see the appeal of being a snowbird. Winter is not bad and it can be pretty and invigorating. But when it goes on too long, or it gets too cold, or when there are no breaks of cold weather, and when you are sick of the sun slipping behind the horizon by five p.m., maybe it’s time to be in southern latitudes for a while. It worked for us. I am still red in the face, despite the sunscreen. With luck it will last for a while.

The bad news is when we came home on Monday we were back into the thick of the cold weather. We missed the worst of the recent cold and snow. But it was still in the mid 30s, and this was sure not Aruba. Our car, twelve days on the BWI long-term parking lot, anemically came back to life. We were greeted to the traditional slow traffic on the beltway and by a mixture of snow and frost covering the front lawn. We may need to deal with a massive snowfall next week too. In short, we’ve been vortexed. We should get above freezing tomorrow but for three mornings in a row it was 8, 9 and 6 degrees Fahrenheit in the morning. Temperatures in the 40s will feel like a heat wave.

Earlier on Monday morning, we grabbed a quick breakfast in the dining room of our cruise ship as we waited for our call to disembark. Unless you holler, you usually get paired up with some other couple. You know you have been on a cruise ship too long when you recognize people and some of their names because you had long conversations with them over dinner. I had a few passengers call me by name on the cruise ship. Most of these people are fine to dine with.

Occasionally you get a crank. We got a couple from southwest Florida on Monday morning in the Vista Dining room of the Noordam. After a long digression about the man’s stroke fifteen years earlier, we of course talked about the cold weather, although weather in Fort Lauderdale was already nearing eighty. Doubtlessly parroting Fox “News”, the gentleman we were with expressed the opinion that global warming and climate change were bunk. Look at that polar vortex freezing most of the United States. Case closed.

It’s quite a challenge for me to remain civil in these circumstances. Most people choose to see what they want to see, particularly viewers of Fox “News”, which is fair and balanced, as long as you don’t count the “fair” and “balanced” part. But when you are a white couple in your sixties like this couple, you live in a deeply red part of the state and you have been on 64 (yes, that’s what they said) cruises, you are obviously swimming in money and, when not on a cruise ship, probably living in a gated community somewhere where you can spout crap like this with conviction.

I gently pointed out news reports that temperatures in Rio de Janeiro recently reached a crushing 110 degrees. The southern hemisphere is in its summer, which also means out in Oz (Australia) temperatures are close to these stratospheric levels too. 106 degrees is forecast in Adelaide on Saturday, and there are the now usual brushfires to deal with, meaning there is a catastrophic fire rating in southeast Australia. Hopefully, these brush fires won’t destroy more Australian homes, but it’s becoming usual to have summers where hundreds of homes down under succumb to flames caused by fires created by these long and excessive heat waves. When we returned home and read the news, I learned that the temperature in Alaska reached 62 degrees in Port Alsworth. In general, the west coast is warmer and drier this winter than normal, due to the shifting jet stream, which is pumping the warmer air northward along the west coast, but otherwise is freezing the east coast. More than half of California is experiencing a severe drought. But of course, because the news is full of reports about negative degrees Fahrenheit across most of the northern states, it means to some that global warming must be bunk.

People wonder why scientists are overwhelmingly Democrats. It’s because they cannot deny the obvious, and they examine the totality of evidence before making assertions. For a Republican, if there is a polar vortex it means there is no climate change. If there is an excessive heat wave, it’s an aberration and evidence of nothing. Democrats though are looking at the earth as a system. And on average, in spite of the polar vortex, the earth is warm and getting warmer. It obviously doesn’t mean the world in general is cooling down.

I didn’t press my logic too far with this couple. I knew from experience it would engender some hostility. We simply had to finish a quick meal and the price was right, even if we had to sit with a couple that admired Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter. Keep pleasant. Keep positive. Keep civil. Smile, but don’t smirk.

It may be inconvenient, but neither Fox “News” nor Rush Limbaugh can change the laws of chemistry. When you keep adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, more heat is going to be retained from the sun, on average, than otherwise and that means it’s going to be hotter. Rent a chemistry lab and do the experiment for yourself. So things are going to get warmer until we stop pumping these gases causing global warming into the atmosphere. Maybe God can move mountains, but he never has, at least not unless you count over eons. God isn’t going to change the laws of chemistry and physics simply because it disagrees with our prejudices.

I hate to give up cruising. Fortunately, this couple was not typical of those we sat with. But I may need a special cruise next time: where only sane people are allowed to board. The stupid: sometimes it does not just burn; it flares.

 
The Thinker

Bitcoin is libertarian bit nonsense

Are you intrigued by Bitcoin? It’s a digital currency much in the news these days. It even got a hearing on Capitol Hill last month. Surprisingly the foundation overseeing Bitcoin came out relatively unscathed. Some places are accepting Bitcoins as payment for actual goods and services. They do so on the assumption the currency has value. Like any other currency it has value because some people assert it has value.

Which raises the question, what is its value? There are clearly things you can do with Bitcoin that are convenient. It’s a sort of digital cash for our electronic age. Only it’s not really cash. Real cash doesn’t leave fingerprints. You make a Bitcoin transaction and the transaction is recorded in the coin itself.

If there is value in Bitcoin, maybe it is from the faith we place in its math. There is not much we trust anymore, but you can still trust math, and Bitcoin depends on math, not to mention encryption algorithms, to assert its value. The number of Bitcoins has a finite limit because of the power of math and algorithms. Each attempt to mint a new bit coin requires lots of computers to spend lots of time and use lots of energy. For all its electronic novelty, it’s hardly an environmentally friendly currency. In fact, it’s bad for the environment.

You can’t say that about gold. Granted, the process of getting gold out of the ground is often bad for the environment, but once you have it, there it is, probably to sit in highly protected bank vaults and never to be actually moved or for that matter seen. A Bitcoin is entirely virtual but it depends on lots of computer hardware to mint and to assert its value. You won’t be creating one of these with a pad of paper and a slide rule. In fact, a Bitcoin is entirely dependent on computers and high speed networks. No wonder then that it was abruptly devalued last week when China blocked Bitcoin transactions. Keep it from being used in the world’s most populous country and it has lot less utility. Of course, it’s useless to anyone without a computer or some sort of digital device, not to mention some network so you can trade the currency. So it’s not even universal. You can’t say that about the U.S. dollar.

The larger question is whether a currency built on nothing but math really can have value. It does have value at the moment, as I can actually trade Bitcoins for U.S. dollars, which in my country is what everyone accepts as currency. In the long run though I think Bitcoins are going to be worthless. I don’t plan to own any of them and maybe I can make a case why you shouldn’t either.

First, there is whether counterfeit Bitcoins can be created. New ones can be minted if you have the computer horsepower and these are “legal”, but if they can be created for virtually no computer time then they would be counterfeit. Call me suspicious but I bet either the NSA has already figured out a way to hack it or will soon. In short, to trust a Bitcoin you must buy into its assumption that it can’t be hacked. Since the dawn of the computer age, hackers have demonstrated their ability to hack anything. They love the challenge. It’s reasonable to believe that Bitcoin is going to be hacked one of these days.

Second, there’s the question of what its value represents. I’ve discussed the value of money before. My conclusion is that money essentially represents faith that the country coining the currency will remain solvent and viable. I based this conclusion on the observation that currency value falls whenever these assumptions are shaken. Having a currency based on the gold standard doesn’t seem to make any difference, as the United States has been off the gold standard since the 1970s. Printing new currency doesn’t seem to be that big a deal either, providing the new currency is used to acquire assets of value. This is what the Federal Reserve has been doing since the Great Recession: creating money (none of it actually printed, apparently) and using it to buy long term securities like mortgage-backed securities. Curiously, just printing money is not inflationary when it is used to buy tangible goods. This is providing that the institution printing the money is trusted, and the Federal Reserve is trusted. In any event, investors can value or devalue a currency based on examining its monetary system and the country’s economy. With Bitcoins, you can’t do this. It is backed by no country, which is its appeal to its adherents.

What is Bitcoin really about then? It’s about a political idea; more specifically it’s about libertarianism. It’s trying to be a means by which libertarianism becomes institutionalized. If you are not familiar with libertarianism, it’s all about freedom, buyer beware and minimal (and ideally no) government. Libertarians (at least the committed ones) are vesting their wealth in Bitcoins because it’s how they show loyalty to the cause. They want money to be frictionless and outside governmental control. Arguably, Bitcoin does a good job with this, providing buyers and sellers will accept it as having value.

But libertarianism is an idea, not a thing. Libertarianism is really more of a verb than a noun. A currency though has to be based on something real. The U.S. dollar is essentially backed up by the collective wealth of all of us who possess dollars, or assets valued in dollars, or really any property within the United States. It’s based on something tangible. You buy a house in dollars instead of Bitcoins because everyone in the transaction has faith that those dollars mean something. This is because everyone else is trading in dollars too to buy real goods and services. If the U.S. dollar gets too low, there are things we can do about it. We can petition Congress or the White House to take action. There is no one to go to to complain about the sinking value of your Bitcoins. Assuming the currency cannot be counterfeited, its only value is its finiteness, enforced by math and increasingly expensive computational processes to make new coins. That’s it. As those libertarians say, caveat emptor (buyer beware). Bitcoin buyers, caveat emptor!

This tells me something important: Bitcoin is a bogus currency, at least in the long term. Yes, you can buy stuff with it now, but only from a very limited number of sellers: those who have faith in the idea of a libertarian currency. It’s obvious to me that libertarianism is just not doable as a sustainable way of governing. I have no faith it in whatsoever because its philosophical underpinnings do not actually work in the real world.

I would like to see it in Glenn Beck’s libertarian community, however, if it ever gets built. One thing is for sure, no one is going to build it for Bitcoins. They are going to demand U.S. dollars.

 
The Thinker

Not quite the end of the world as we know it

Sigh. Today was another day when the world was supposed to end, but here I am still alive and frankly feeling rather disappointed. Granted that most end of the world scenarios are bleak. Fire, brimstone, wailing and gnashing of teeth are all usually assumed at the end of the world. In some scenarios the elect (usually those who accept Jesus Christ as their Personal Lord and Savior ™) at least get raptured. In general, it’s not the end of the world unless huge numbers of people suffer violently and in blistering pain, then die noisily, painfully and traumatically. It all over in a few hours.

So why was I rooting for the end of the world? Well, at least it would be different. Instead, it’s same old, same old.

There was no brimstone falling this morning when I walked to my car. 7:30 AM found me at the chiropractor for another round of traction to make sure my painful sciatica does not come back. At 10 AM, I was getting my haircut by Basma, who had to reschedule for doomsday because she is flying home to Jerusalem on Monday, three days after the end of the world! Thence I tootled to Wells Fargo Bank, not because I am a customer, but because a check from my money market account won’t process electronically. Finally around 11 AM I made it into the office and I realized the day was a huge disappointment. Another day parking in the same parking lot. Another morning flashing my badge to the security guard as I entered the building. Another trip up the same quiet elevators to my fifth floor office. On my desk was the same peace plant in need of water. Lunch was the same too: salad with chicken pieces dropped on top, with the only variant being the soup de jour (vegetable beef).

It was all the same stuff on the news too. Fiscal cliff. Dysfunctional congress. A snowstorm was moving across the Midwest. The NRA was making the same tired noises, this time in response to the Newtown massacre a week ago. (Their “solution” is to put an armed guard in every school.) And of course there was the usual slow moving climate crisis: melting polar icecaps, loss of biodiversity and most Americans living happily in denial.

Sharon at least found her own exit. Sharon was a lady in our office who died of complications from heart surgery a week ago, at the premature age of 51. She was a sweet lady, a huge Redskins fan, always the first to help others and good at herding us cats: people like me who put our time into our payroll system. It was part of her job to manage us cats so we could actually get paid on time. She did a great job of it because our payroll system is a crappy web-based system seemingly put together by trolls. Her funeral was yesterday and most of us in her herd went to it. We pondered our appreciation for having her in our lives and offered sincere condolences to her grieving family. But during the service we also learned of a blessing from her premature passing: she was spending Christmas with Jesus this year.

That sounds pretty awesome. Rapid climate change and fiscal cliff diving are no longer issues she has to worry about, although I don’t recall her being worried in particular about any of these things. And Jesus sounds like a pretty neat dude. I can think of worse things than hanging around him for eternity, like, say, hanging around this world and watching with daily horror as we slowly kill it.

Ask a Mayan (as we did in January when we went to see Mayan ruins on the Yucatan Peninsula) and you learn that they never said the world was going to end today. Rather, their calendar starts afresh. Today is like January 1, 2000 was to the rest of us. It’s a day for celebration, and the Mayans have plenty to celebrate. They may have been about four feet tall when their calendar was invented (their height was limited due to limestone water they drank) but they were amazing in many ways: astronomers and mathematicians arguably more advanced than the ancient Egyptians were at the same time. No, as our Mayan tour guide told us, it’s us Westerners who chose to hear what we wanted to hear. So today became yet another day to proclaim the end of the world and sell a few more newspapers. I won’t hold the Mayans to blame, just shoddy journalists who can’t be bothered to do basic research.

If you were to pick a day when Armageddon actually started, today would probably do, although any day would meet the criteria. Here’s the thing: barring some sort of large asteroid hitting earth (something we would know about) Armageddon is not something that happens quickly. Rather, it happens very slowly. It’s like boiling a frog by putting it in a pan of water on the stove and slowly increasing the heat. Feeling a bit sweaty? I know I am. The end of a world with us humans in it it strikes me as an inevitable consequence of global climate change and our dogged determination to largely ignore it. It’s coming at us way faster than we can adapt to it. While it’s impossible to say any one particularly extreme event is a direct result of climate change, Hurricane Sandy sure felt like Mother Nature was giving us a wakeup call. So for me Armageddon began officially on October 30, 2012, the day when Sandy made landfall on the Eastern Seaboard.

The earth will survive, of course, but humans won’t. There are far too many of us to keep the Earth in something resembling a natural balance. We make it worse on ourselves by craving a first world lifestyle. It’s not hard at all to see how this ends, and it won’t be with a joint Kumbaya. Sandy should have been our wakeup call but we will rebuild along our coasts anyhow, only to see these areas get soon wacked again by the next Sandy. Eventually we will figure out we need to move further inland and build on higher elevations, but that of course doesn’t solve the problem, it just lessens our pain.

Our whole ecosystem is rapidly changing, and not for the better. Lowlands are surrendering to the sea. Storms are becoming larger and more destructive. Farmlands are becoming deserts. Crop yields are lessening because it is simply too hot or too parched during the summers for food to grow to maturity. In good years the Obamas of the world will try to inspire and lead us. We may cheer them a bit but mostly we will prefer to wallow in our own issues rather than wrestle with the macroscopic ones. In bad years the John Boehners of the world will tell us to plug cotton into our ears and pray about your concerns at church.

We already know what causes this real Armageddon that is unfolding: reliance on fossil fuels, cravings for first world lifestyles, humans breeding like bunnies and succumbing to greed. These actions make the world hotter and it makes people meaner. Climate change is killing us and the species we rely on to survive.

The fiscal cliff diving of the moment inadvertently reveals the real end of the world underway. There are too many of us and the world cannot increase in size just because we keep having too many babies. So we enter a resource competitive era and that means someone has to take it on the chin. No one will volunteer to be the first to reduce their standard of living, so we will duke it out instead, and most likely this means the poor will get more wretched and the rich will get richer. The last bloodied man standing can keep his SUV and iPhone but there will be no place to go and no one to call. Eventually he will die, Armageddon will end, but because we won’t be around to tip the balance perhaps the Earth will finally have a chance to restore a natural balance.

 
The Thinker

Unless

Winter never really arrived this year. Typically we don’t get much in the way of snowfall in a given winter, but the snowplows tend to come out at least a couple of times during the season. And they were out a couple of times this winter as well, but they were mostly sitting by the side of the road waiting for conditions to worsen, which they did not. Most of our snow this winter, to the extent we had it, was flurries. None of the snow that we received lasted a day or exceeded an inch. To the extent we saw snow, it was on the top of cars that had driven in from the Shenandoah Mountains or points further north and west.

Temperatures also were moderate. There was a cold day here and there. I only recall temperatures dipping into the teens once. I usually go through six to eight weeks of scraping the frost off my windshield most days. This year I performed the chore only a half dozen times. Technically it was winter, but in reality it was some new amorphous season for which we have no name. Neither fall nor spring but feeling not at all like winter, it was full of short days, with highs mostly in the fifties but sometimes in the seventies. March brought a couple of days with temperatures creeping into the low eighties. The grass in my yard started growing in early March. The wild onions were peaking up in January. The cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin bloomed over the weekend: a surreally early start to spring that was (and still is) winter.

Thanks to climate change, we are likely to have to come up for a new name for winter because it no longer fits. On the plus side, our heating bill was manageable. No need to worry about frozen pipes, or being stuck in a snow bank. Only twice did I put on the heavy winter coat. A light jacket and some gloves were all I needed.

My wife wants to move further north to some place like Boston where winter is still cruel and still bites, and where you spend most mornings relocating snow off your driveway and digging a path to your mailbox. I’m pretty sure Bostonians did a whole lot less of that this year as well. Ski resorts spent much of the winter hunting for snow and customers. They created ski slopes loosely packed with artificial snow, which mostly vanished shortly after application. Out west, the usual mountain snowfalls largely never appeared. Westerners are already anxious about the probable drought they will be facing this summer.

One year does not a trend make, but one trend that is unmistakable is the rise in average global temperatures. There is about a one in three chance that this summer will be the hottest on record, again. It clearly won’t be much longer before the last of the Arctic sea ice melts during the summer. Much of it will reappear in the winter, but its gradual disappearance will lead to the extinction of many species that depend on the ice, like the polar bear. It is likely that extinction driven by climate change is already very much with us but we are simply not looking for it. Like a horse running a race with blinders, most of us simply choose to ignore the evidence all around us. The planet is fundamentally and rapidly changing, and not for the better.

You would think conservatives of all people would be alarmed. You cannot go back to those mythical good old days when the climate is so radically different. Instead, they are the ones aiding and abetting climate change. They do it through well-practiced and obnoxious denial of indisputable facts. Science is irrelevant because if you can acquire power you can legislate the science you want, such as they are doing in Texas where teaching “creationism” and a six thousand year old earth to public school students is considered on par with teaching evolution. Facts simply get in the way with the way you want things to be. Ignoring facts gives you the opportunity to not only keep climate change going, but to make it worse. Gas prices are approaching record levels and naturally it’s all Obama’s fault. It has nothing to do with demand worldwide by a wealthier and overpopulated planet that is taking off, as predicted, exceeding available capacity. $2.50 a gallon gas if you elect me, promises Newt Gingrich. Yet doing more to stimulate demand simply raises prices higher.

Acknowledging what is happening at least lets you ponder what can be done about it. Natural gas is not a long-term solution, but it can be a bridge that can move us to a carbon free energy future. It is plentiful and cheap as well as clean, but with the exception of some city buses, it’s hard to find any motor vehicles using it. No automaker that I am aware of is working to create cars powered by natural gas. Why should they when it’s so hard to get a fill up? Presumably Republicans think the free market will solve the problem but no one in the free market seems to be stepping up to the plate. Those few Republicans that acknowledge the problem know what is really required: government regulation and the (horror!) spending that comes with it. We need to require carmakers to build cars powered by natural gas. We need natural gas filling stations along all our major interstates. In populated neighborhoods, there should be a requirement that you should not have to drive more than five miles to fill up your tank with natural gas. Require it and Americans will start to drive cars powered by natural gas. Why wouldn’t they when natural gas will cost half as much, or less, than gasoline? Moreover, there are few things we cherish more than our mobility. If we can reliably fill up our cars with natural gas, we’ll take to it like a duck to water. But to do so requires the hand of government, and that must be socialism or something.

We are saying in effect that we are okay with our extinction, in spite of our so-called reverence for human life. I’d say in retrospect we’d have to say we saw our extinction coming. However, there won’t be any of us left to ponder these preventable mistakes. One thing is for sure: we cannot change the future until we acknowledge the present and let the facts instead of uninformed prejudices drive our policy.

The good news for the planet is that our extinction is likely to come sooner rather than later. Then maybe the planet can recover. We seem to be incapable of being stewards of our planet. Indeed, we believe it is our job to rape it. It’s in the Book of Genesis, and we must let nothing like inconvenient facts contravene our sacred scripts.

Our sacred scripts are also destined to disappear into the dust with our extinction and will thus ultimately mean nothing, except that our species was a foolish accident of nature whose extinction, fortunately, we hastened. We will have painfully destroyed ourselves as well as much of the species we depend on. That which we claimed to conserve and cherish, we will ultimately squander on the altar of reckless human selfishness.

Unless, very improbably, we take to heart the lesson of The Lorax now in theaters. Unless. The hour is very, very late.

 
The Thinker

Weather we like it or not

It’s only May 27th, but only seven deaths stand between 2011 and matching the number of the most people killed by tornadoes in a year since 1953. Given that tornado season has hardly started, it seems that in 2011 we might break the all time national grisly record of 794 people killed by tornados set in 1925.

Most of the carnage was directed at the Midwest and South. 132 people died in Joplin, Missouri on May 22nd. The tornado injured 750 others. With 156 people unaccounted for in Joplin, it seems likely that this number will climb. April tornadoes that devastated much of Alabama and Mississippi were just practice for the massive cyclone that hit Joplin five days ago. Tornadoes killed 321 people between April 25 and April 28.

The National Weather Service estimates there were 875 tornadoes in April, most of them on April 25. On April 26, around 11:30 p.m. a relatively weak tornado with eighty miles an hour winds struck nearby Reston, Virginia. It came within a hundred feet or so of hitting the Unitarian Universalist church I attend. Our minister was burning some midnight oil in her office when it hit but fortunately was unhurt. Our spanking brand new building addition that we just dedicated a couple months earlier might have been leveled. Fortunately it passed between our church and a local senior citizens housing complex a couple hundred feet away. It sheared a number of trees, including one that fell on our playground.

What’s to blame? Meteorology is not yet an exact science, but a phenomenon called La Niña is likely at least partially at fault. Tornadoes get their energy from the juxtaposition of hot and cold air. It’s hard for me not to attribute at least some of the magnitude and large numbers of these tornadoes to climate change, and its global warming aspect in particular. Of course, fatalities are likely to rise when tornadoes hit populated areas. With a hundred million more of us in the United States than there were just forty years ago, today’s tornadoes are likelier to inflict more damage and death.

I never really considered myself living in tornado country before. It is true that here in Northern Virginia we do get occasional tornado watches and warnings. They used to be an occasional thing: once a month or so during tornado season. In thirty years of living in this area, I can count on one hand the number of times a real tornado came within ten miles of my house. Now I feel sort of spooked. Lately there have been tornado watches a couple of times a week, and the one tornado that did strike near us nearly hit a building I attend regularly. Is all this random chance or am I witnessing the beginning of new and more dangerous weather patterns? If I were Spiderman, my spidey senses would be tingling. In fact, my senses are tingling all over, and I don’t think it’s due to electrostatic charges in the atmosphere.

Perhaps I would be less alarmed if I did not have a brother who is a meteorologist and a wife whose idea of fun is spending nights on the computer watching TornadoVideos.Net tracking severe storms. She seems to get happier the closer they get to us. I feel panicky. I want to run and hide in our basement bathroom. I used to tune out thunder. Now hearing thunder pumps the adrenaline. I now especially don’t like thunderstorms at night. At least during the day you can see them and maybe have some warning. At night tornados could catch me unaware.

I knew it was bothering me when the other day I found myself signing up on The Weather Channel’s web site for severe weather email alerts. So far though these emails only add to my sense of fear. I have localized weather alerts to my zip code, but most weeks I can count on getting severe weather alerts at least a couple of times during the week. Often it is nothing (“Coastal flood advisory”– when am I near a body of water?), more often it is flash flood warnings, but about ten percent of the time it is a TORNADO WATCH or even worse a TORNADO WARNING. That is when the adrenaline really starts pumping. Like now, for example. Within the last fifteen minutes I got three warnings, the latest that says:

..A TORNADO WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL 715 PM EDT FOR FAIRFAX…PRINCE WILLIAM AND STAFFORD COUNTIES…

AT 654 PM EDT…NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE DOPPLER RADAR CONTINUED TO INDICATE A SEVERE THUNDERSTORM CAPABLE OF PRODUCING A TORNADO. THIS TORNADO WAS LOCATED NEAR STAFFORD…MOVING NORTHEAST AT 50 MPH.

Be prepared, is the Boy Scout motto. That was one of the few lessons I retained from my Boy Scout years. Forewarned is forearmed. What else can I reasonably do? The thought has occurred to me that I might not be near a computer when one of these tornado warnings arrives. Maybe what I need is a weather radio, one with a backup battery and a hand crank. This way if at 2 AM there is a tornado warning I will at least be aware of it, unless the Weather Radio tower was blown down by a tornado. I will also be something of an adrenaline-filled zombie as well, and unlikely to sleep the rest of the night.

TAKE COVER NOW. MOVE TO AN INTERIOR ROOM ON THE LOWEST FLOOR OF A STURDY BUILDING AND AVOID WINDOWS. IF OUTDOORS OR IN A MOBILE HOME OR VEHICLE…MOVE TO THE CLOSEST SUBSTANTIAL SHELTER AND PROTECT YOURSELF FROM FLYING DEBRIS.

Maybe it is too much. Maybe instead of email alerts and weather radios, I need to revel in ignorance again. Maybe what I really need in a fatalistic attitude and an emergency supply of Valium. My suspicion is unless I retire to an area far away from a tornado zone, I will be living on edge for the rest of my life, at least during tornado season.

The Rapture did not happen on May 21st, but the weather is getting freakier, and seemingly freakier every day.

I think I need that Valium. And maybe a Bible.

 
The Thinker

Enjoying the rapture

I woke up this morning, expecting to go to Hell because I had not accepted Jesus Christ as my Personal Lord and Savior (PL&S) ™ only to discover, as I feared, that no rapture was underway. Instead, we have a picture postcard perfect day here in Northern Virginia: blue skies, emerald green grass, birds chirping, with the ground still damp from recent rains. The temperature is 67 degrees Fahrenheit and there are gentle breezes from the West Northwest.

I expected to have forgotten that today was the start of Armageddon, except, surprisingly, a bored press corps took notice of Harold Camping and his followers. So many other End of the World events have come and gone you would think that the press corps would have simply overlooked this latest one. The good news for Apocalypse fans is that in 2012 there is another opportunity, so you can now look forward to that. How do we know? The ancient Mayans said so, so mark your calendar now for December 21, 2012. On this date according to the Mesoamerican Long Calendar, we will have completed a cycle of 144,000 days since the earth’s mythical creation date. My guess is that this end of the world applies only to the Western Hemisphere, so I would definitely move to Europe before then. (Be careful to reside east of Greenwich.)

As a non-Christian, getting my mind around this rapture stuff is hard. This comes from being too left-brained, I suppose. I cannot believe in the personal God that so many people believe in. But if that God exists, then I cannot imagine it being a vindictive God. It seems you have to believe in a vindictive God to accept the rapture. Perhaps the hardest part for me is coming to grips with the idea that so many otherwise sensible people believe this nonsense. These are the same people who will buckle their seat belts because they acknowledge the possibility that some non-deterministic event could cause them to be killed in an automobile, so they best mitigate the risk. And yet they will throw caution to the wind when it comes to something like the end of the world, and orient much of their lives around something that simply will not happen for billions of years.

I also find it curious that so many of those predicting an imminent rapture know that they will be saved. How do they know? Merely through a profession of faith by saying they decree that Jesus in their PL&S? How do they know that their intolerance, bigotry and homophobia won’t keep them out of heaven? Their answer, probably, is that it is simply a matter of faith. Nonetheless, their behavior can be disturbing, particularly when they tell their children that they will not be ascending into heaven with them. Why is it these children are not in foster care? It’s hard to imagine a clearer case of parental emotional abuse.

It looks like I will neither ascend into heaven nor descend into hell today, and neither will those hoping to be raptured. I was sort of hoping those who were yearning for rapture would get their wish. This is because frankly I find most of these people insufferable to begin with, so the world would probably be a better place if they were teleported to a new reality. I’m guessing there is a ninety percent correlation between Harold Camping followers and climate change deniers. If they mysteriously disappeared, perhaps we could take long overdue actions to seriously address climate change. The overwhelming evidence seems to have no effect persuading these people anyhow. Those of us “left behind” have to make the best of the ecosystem that we have, so we might as well earnestly start living in congruence with our natural environment. This can be hard to do when so many people in power are so convinced that the end of the world is imminent that they see no value in protecting our environment.

Meanwhile, I will enjoy the rapture of a wonderful day. Mankind makes its own hells, but Mother Nature provides us with a natural Eden. All we have to do is choose to enjoy it. Today in particular seems to be a day to be outside and surrounded by nature. So that’s where I plan to spend a good part of my day, on my knees pulling weeds. I will be mindful of the nature and wildlife, whose song will ring in my ears, whose earthy smells will invade my nostrils and whose glory is all around me. For me this is the rapture and it is available most days for free and without the need to find it through a holy book. We just have to choose to open our senses and let nature fill us with its wonder.

 
The Thinker

Recipe for extinction

Last winter, during our record snowstorms here in the East, various Republicans and climate skeptics took advantage of the extreme weather to tout that global warming was not happening. After all, what could be more convincing that a couple double-digit snowfalls? They had a good time with it and the media shamefully went along. Politicians in general seem anxious to deny the reality of global warming. The Senate seems unable to do anything to move legislation to reduce greenhouse gases, meaning instead being a leader on the global warming issue, the United States prefers the role of laggard. At this point, I would be happy if we could just be laggards. Instead, we prefer to just stick our heads in the sand and ignore the issue altogether.

To complement the near record snowfalls last winter, the East Coast (where I live) has been suffering through record high temperatures. It is not our imaginations. No less than NOAA has formally declared that the March through June of this year has been the hottest months on record. Doubtless these records will be easily broken, likely next year. As much as we would prefer to ignore global warming, chemistry is what chemistry is. Keep dumping more carbon into the atmosphere and average temperatures are going to increase.

Storm events on average are also getting more severe. We here in the mid-Atlantic witnessed this again this weekend when a powerful cell of thunderstorms raced through our area, taking out power to hundreds of thousands of customers and causing three deaths. The thunderstorms came with seventy mile an hour winds that toppled trees like matchsticks and killing a boy in nearby Sterling, Virginia.

It just so happened that about an hour after the thunderstorms blew through, my wife and I had a party to attend in Montgomery County, Maryland. We ended up on roads blocked by trees. We encountered downed power lines stretching across the road. Needless to say, we turned around and tried other routes. At least half of the traffic lights were out as well. The lights were also out at the house where our party was held, but daylight and cooler temperatures from the storms made the party endurable. Most likely the house is still without power, as is much of the more rural parts of Montgomery County. Power crews from as far away as Ohio are coming to help restore power. One thing is clear: with record heat, there was plenty of energy driving these massive thunderstorms.

July in the Washington region is always a time you sweat your way through. Triple digits are not uncommon, nor are Code Red, Orange, Yellow and Purple days when the air quality is poor. The air quality doesn’t have to be this bad but, of course, we refuse to look toward renewable forms of energy. Instead, Midwestern power plants along with power plants hidden in the Appalachian Mountains grind out the energy our air conditioners need, almost entirely using coal. The greenhouse gases of course go into the atmosphere, turn our local atmosphere toxic soup and make the already dangerous triple digit heat even more dangerous.

I thought I had seen everything global warming had to offer at this point until on Sunday when I took a shower. In sweltering ninety degree plus heat and humidity I found I had to replace a post with our mailbox on it. I tried to minimize my misery by doing it during the mid morning, but it was still a sweaty and exhausting job. I looked forward to a tepid shower when I finally finished the job, knowing that a cold shower was out of the question.

The last thing I wanted though was a hot shower, so I kept dialing back the hot water until nothing was coming from our water heater at all. Instead of tepid water, though I was getting warm water. If I was hoping to cool down from a shower, I had hoped in vain. Our land was so hot and so cooked that our water pipes, buried more than a foot underground, now carried only warm water.

This was new. Eighteen sweltering summers in my house but only now in 2010 have I had no choice but to endure a warm shower.

Nothing will convince climate skeptics, but if I were looking for proof this warm shower experience would be very alarming. But not for long. Soon, I will expect to take warm showers during the summers. As for climate skeptics, if they acknowledge it at all, they will probably say it’s entirely natural. It’s part of God’s plan or something, when all it really is is us humans thoughtlessly and recklessly throwing trillions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere. All this global warming is entirely preventable. All we have to do is choose to act.

Instead, we seem to be embracing our extinction. Climate skeptics tend to be pro-life, so to me the irony of their position is inescapable. Let’s just hope that on our way to extinguishing our own species a few other species can cling on. Perhaps they can find a way to live in balance with nature. We sure haven’t. Nor do we seem inclined to do anything meaningful that would at least halt our extinction.

Unlike the millions of species that went extinct due to natural selection, at least we can’t say we didn’t see it coming.

Future generations trying to survive in an overpopulated and overheated world will rue us for our current thoughtlessness. We won’t care. We will be dead but oh, the memories we will take to our graves: driving big and dirty cars, eating greasy artery clogging food and comfortable summers spent indoors in air-conditioned houses. These climate skeptics might as well give our children and grandchildren the finger, because it’s obvious they don’t really care about them or their children. All they care about is living selfishly and recklessly and letting others in the future pay the consequences.

 
The Thinker

The age of limits

The motto for the University of Central Florida (where I got my bachelor’s degree) is “Reach for the stars”. For a university less than an hour’s drive to Cape Canaveral it is an appropriate motto. While UCF will continue reaching for the stars, the world in general and America in particular is realizing that reaching for the stars is unaffordable.

I am not speaking specifically about the space program although we are “reaching for the stars” a lot less than we used to. For example, the Obama administration is trying (wisely, I think) to retire the space shuttle. It also has the novel idea that in the future, the private sector should provide the government with a service to get astronauts into earth orbit and back. High unemployment and exploding deficits seem to be generating a bipartisan consensus that we now have more government than we can afford.  Believe it or not, I agree.

It is my opinion that given our modern world we probably need more government, at least for select programs. However, I don’t see how to pay for these programs without cutting others. Granted, the government can be staggeringly inefficient. While certain agencies are very efficient and indeed innovative, others are hugely wasteful. This week’s Washington Post investigation into the proliferating and apparently overlapping authorities working in the murky and high-classified world of counterterrorism shows good intentions gone seriously awry. There appears to be no central authority managing all this. We do have a Director of National Intelligence but in reality, the DNI is more of a coordinator than a director, as he does not have budget authority. This explains the high turnover among DNIs. Even if he did have the authority, it would prove a Herculean task to align our counterterrorism priorities with this kudzu of agencies and contractors and their proliferating and overlapping missions.

The main reason the United States is not reaching for the stars is that a lot of genuinely needed government is squeezed by the steadily increasing costs of entitlements. These entitlements are principally Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, although the list could also be expanded to include items like federal pensions. Arguably, we could actually get both health insurance costs under control, push it out on the private sector, pay a whole lot less and cover all Americans if we adopted the Japanese health care model. Perhaps we will get there someday but right now, we prefer to dither around the edges. The recently enacted health care legislation is a step in the right direction, but only a step.

Efficiencies in government programs are fine, but ultimately all government must be paid for with taxes. However, you can only pay taxes in relation to your income. With less income, less discretionary money to spend, and with more of it allocated toward health care, the consumer can no longer prop up the economy, which reduces economic growth. Moreover, if economic growth slows or halts, tax revenues must slow as well.

As Joe Bageant depressingly points out, future economic growth also assumes that nature will keep providing us with its bounty in endless supply. It assumes that we be able to find new affordable sources of mineral wealth and endless new tracts of land for agriculture and housing needed for a burgeoning population. Unfortunately, it appears that most of the easily available minerals have been extracted, which means the cost of living is going up. If our income does not keep pace then our standard of living is likely to be lower. Moreover, land is also finite. We cannot continue to grow forever by developing unspoiled land. Survival itself is predicated on the existence of nature. In short, growth is becoming more expensive. The more we grow, the more it costs to grow, and the less benefit there is to growth.

Thinking Americans seem to understand that we have reached a nebulous growth limit. If we can grow our way out of our economic problems, it will be at an unacceptable cost. We saw what the cost was recently with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Moving to an energy economy based on renewable energy is certainly more desirable than our current hydrocarbon-based economy, which among other things made June 2010 the hottest June on record. Our structural problems though are far larger than creating a clean energy future.

The real problem is we have reached a critical mass of people. Since 1970, the United States increased its population roughly by half: another hundred million people. From now on, population growth is going to introduce disproportionately negative effects. Unfortunately, at least in the short term, population growth is unstoppable. This means that the cost of living is going to increase, as more of us compete for fewer and more expensive resources.

The effects are being borne out not just at the federal government, but at state and local governments as well. As costs eat away at income, there is less revenue available for governments. Inevitably, this means fewer services. However, right now it seems impossible to come to consensus on how to address the problem. If government must be cut, what should be cut first? Since we essentially have government by corporation, it is likely that corporate interests will triumph over the needs of citizens.

Inevitably, something must give. In fact, that something is already giving. All sides seem to acknowledge our problems are structural, but parties are unwilling to move from ideology toward pragmatic solutions. Republicans will block any tax increases if they can, even if, as in the case of repealing tax cuts for the rich, there is plenty of ability to pay. Democrats seem loathe to admit that any part of the welfare state needs to be trimmed back. Most think that with the right mixture of pixie dust we can maintain the welfare state without raising taxes on the middle class. Right now Democrats are content with the delusion that health care reform will change the dynamics of runaway spending, when it will not. Even President Obama understands this. He has stated that it will only slow the growth of health care spending.

It won’t help in November if voters respond to their frustrations and visceral fears by electing more ideologues to Congress. This merely extends our national dysfunction, adding to the final bill. Perhaps Tea Partiers secretly hope that if elected they can effectively bring about the collapse of the federal government, thus allowing government to be reconstituted under a smaller federal model. Newt Gingrich tried it in 1995. Maybe it will work in 2011.

Even if they succeed, reducing the scope of the federal government will not really address the central issue. Reducing the scope of the federal government merely pushes costs back on state and local governments. For example, states already pay hefty shares of Medicaid services. If the federal government were simply to stop contributing to Medicaid, states would either need to pick up the slack, drastically cut Medicaid services or end Medicaid altogether. Unfortunately, ending Medicaid altogether does not solve the problem of treating poor people’s medical problems. It would simply extend lines at emergency rooms and push up already high health care premiums, which would make more people lose health care coverage. To “solve” this problem would mean to not solve it at all: simply not treat those who cannot afford to pay. Let ‘em eat cake, I guess.

Unless things are fundamentally realigned in a workable way, many of these sorts of horrible choices are in our future. If we acted united rather than divided, we could manage these problems with much less pain. Social security, for example, is not in much financial trouble and extending the retirement age can make it solvent with no increase in taxes. The real problems are in wasteful and hugely overpriced health care programs, which are exacerbated by our unwillingness to eat right and exercise, perhaps because lower income Americans simply cannot afford healthy food. Our choices here are stark: either do away with health insurance except for the increasingly smaller proportion of people moneyed enough to afford it, or institute the sort of “socialized” medicine anathema to so many on the right, whose effect might well be the rationing they fear. (We already have rationing based on ability to pay. What terrifies the right is that a physician might be required to put someone with less money but a more chronic condition ahead of their ability to get care.)

In an age of limits, other sacrosanct programs must now become touchable. Even Secretary of Defense Robert Gates understands that in a weak economy runaway military spending cannot be sustained indefinitely. Consensus seems to be forming that our War on Terror, or at least in Afghanistan and Iraq, are no longer affordable nor are they buying us national security.

There is plenty of general government bloat that could be removed if we could summon the nerve; it’s not just where a lot of politicians think it is. Bloat includes the excessive and overlapping national security programs The Washington Post documented, huge and wasteful agricultural subsidies, corporate welfare in general, Medicare and Medicaid payment reform, and even our manned spaceflight program. We should not be cutting those services that are vitally needed to run our complex and increasingly interconnected world. Some of these agencies arguably need more money. These include the FDA, FAA, FCC, NIH, TSA and the SEC, to name a few. These agencies in reality spend only pocket change yet provide invaluable and absolutely necessary services.

The glass half-full news is that we are hardly alone. Even China at some point will have to scale back its growth and limit its services. Countries like China less leveraged by debt will have more breathing room, but the dynamics of population growth and resource limitations are inescapable for all nations. The more we resist these dynamics, the harder things are going to be.

Nature is trying to tell us to live simpler. We need to start listening.

 
The Thinker

Global warming morons

Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) lampooned, “It’s going to keep snowing in D.C. until Al Gore cries ‘uncle’.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), observing the record snowfall in the Washington D.C. area wonders where Al Gore was to defend his thesis on global warming against this outrageous assault by winter. Global climate warming skeptic Jim Inhofe (R-OK) had his kids build an igloo for Al Gore on Capitol Hill and posted photos of it in Facebook.

Meanwhile, over at the Fox “News” network, Fox used the occasion of the record snowfall to also castigate Gore and those scientists documenting the unfolding global warming disaster. Naturally, some of the news that Fox “News” did not choose to air was the unnatural lack of snow in Vancouver where the Winter Olympics are underway and where the snow and refrigeration is largely manmade. Nor did they cover the lack of seasonal snow in places like Vermont, which is usually hip deep in the stuff this time of the year but has settled for ice. Nor are they devoting much airtime to the rains and subsequent mudslides in Southern California, which are exceptionally strong this year.

Back when I was studying communications in college, I learned about the phenomenon of selective perception. Most of us go through life with blinders on, perceiving what we choose to perceive and ignoring or dismissing evidence that doesn’t match our view of the world. This seems to be a reflexive human trait. Sometimes selective perception can get in our way. George Washington, our first president, essentially bled to death at the hands of his physician. At the time, bleeding someone who was ill was considered good medicine. No one was studying whether this practice was stupid or smart, but it was the conventional wisdom, such as it was. Eventually enough research was done and the practice was stopped when it was deemed counterproductive.

In the real world, we hire scientists and researchers to tell us fact from fiction because we need to infer knowledge based on evidence, not fantasy. Unfortunately, to be elected to Congress you do not have to have accreditation as a scientist or researcher, although a law degree helps. An educated American would look at the Jim Inhofes and Glenn Becks of the world and know their opinions on these matters are ill informed. Instead, particularly when it came to topics like global warming, we should be listening to people like Jane Lubchenco. You probably have no idea who Jane Lubchenco is, which is a shame. She is the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as well as a professional scientist with sterling credentials. Prior to her nomination by President Obama, she had an illustrious career and received a number of notable awards including the 8th Heinz Award in the environment in 2002. Lubchenco has not abandoned her position on the reality of global warming because of one snowstorm in the D.C. area. She would be a moron to do so.

Could it be possible that Fox News is just a wee bit biased on the whole global warming question? Could it possibly be that they are far more interested in returning Republicans to political power at any cost than they are in learning the true about global warming as a result of human activity? As if I needed more proof, this reality was driven home to me yesterday at the health club where I happened to watch Bill O’Reilly on Fox “News” redefine the term socialism. Before, it has always meant that the government controlled the means of production. In O’Reilly’s weird world, socialism is anything the government does to shift wealth from one class of Americans to another class of Americans. Clearly, O’Reilly was asleep during the lectures on socialism when he was in school. Communism attempts to make everyone live at the same socioeconomic level, not socialism. Such ignorance is appalling, particularly when the whole point of government is to redistribute wealth. If it didn’t redistribute wealth, there would be no roads, no public schools, no bridges, no military, no regulated airwaves, no assurance that our drugs would be reasonably safe, ad nauseum. If it didn’t redistribute wealth, there would be no food stamp program, which due to the bad economy now feeds one in eight Americans. These fellow Americans would be starving, but that apparently is okay in O’Reilly’s world. (O’Reilly does seem to be okay with redistributing wealth from the poor to the rich, which has been underway for years.)

In short, the people who are spouting such opinions are either delusional, have an agenda or both. If they really believe that thirty something inches of snowfall on the Washington region means there is no global warming, then they are really morons who cannot see two inches beyond their own nose. Rather than taking them seriously, the media should be laughing them off for being such fools. Meanwhile, glaciers keep melting, the Arctic sea ice recedes to lowest levels ever, mountains of evidence shows winter snow melts beginning earlier every year, tiny Pacific countries are in imminent danger of disappearing due to rising sea levels, and devastating droughts are happening both here in the United States and elsewhere. Climatologists have overwhelming evidence that these are a direct result of shifting climate patterns due to global warming.

The last time I had the flu back in 2005, I remember regularly monitoring my temperature. For much of it I had a temperature in the 102 to 103 degree range. There were other times that I took my temperature and it was normal. Then it would go back up again. The moment it reached 98.6 did I no longer have the flu? My experience suggested this was the wrong inference to draw. The same is true with large snowstorms. One large snowstorm does nothing to disprove global warming. Scientists record temperatures across the globe, look at available evidence, measure carbon emissions and carbon levels in the atmosphere and draw inferences.

In fact, our snowstorms if anything give more credence to global warming, not less because they are more extreme. What makes a snowstorm bigger? It is the amount of water vapor in the air. How to you put more water vapor in the air? Well, if the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic is warmer than it was, the atmosphere above it is capable of holding more water vapor. This is why we get hurricanes during the warm part of the year and not in the middle of the winter. If you move that body of water vapor over a part of the country that is still cold enough in the winter to generate snow, not only do you get snow but a whole lot more snow. Looking for evidence? Look at the length of the Gulf Stream this year, which extends further north than usual. Why? Well, I am not a climate scientist but it seems likely to be that if you have a warmer body of water it has more energy so it can push further north. These changes are likely causing the unusual snowfalls experienced in Great Britain and elsewhere in Northern Europe this year, where it is still cold enough to turn rain into snow, but where there is also more water vapor to turn into snow.

If you “get” global warming, I think you have a duty to get the facts out. We must vigorously challenge these global warming Luddites. If these people succeed in their agenda, not only will the planet rapidly warm up but also we will also likely be dooming ourselves as a species on this planet. Climate change will also drive human migration and competition for resources, increasing the probability of war, conflict and endangering our national security. Speak up! Do not let the sirens of ignorance get away with these outrageous claims.

 

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