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Climate Correspondent Cites Choice City Carbon Challenges

2015 March 30

Fort Collins, Colo., led by a Republican mayor, approves targets to reduce emissions and become carbon neutral by 2050, but hurdles remain.

Fort Collins, Colo. has approved carbon reduction goals that put the city at the forefront of communities worldwide in trying to address climate change. Credit: Old town Fort Collins/Paul L. Dineen, flickr

Fort Collins, Colo. has approved carbon reduction goals that put the city at the forefront of communities worldwide in trying to address climate change. Credit: Old town Fort Collins/Paul L. Dineen, flickr

Copenhagen and Melbourne have committed to the most aggressive carbon reduction goals on the planet.

Now those two cities—homes to 4.5 million people—have been joined by a perhaps unlikely companion on the fast track to carbon neutrality: the Colorado college town of Fort Collins, home to 150,000.

Article published March 27, 2015 by Inside Climate News. Written by Naveena Sadasivam, for InsideClimate News.

Earlier this month, the city approved new targets to reduce emissions 80 percent by 2030 and become carbon neutral by 2050. Those goals place Fort Collins among a handful of cities playing a prominent role on the world stage in combating climate change.

“In terms of their level of ambition, they’re among the leading cities trying to tackle climate change,” said Paula Kirk, an associate in the energy consulting group at Arup, a firm that routinely advises business and government on sustainability issues.

At least 228 cities have voluntarily set goals to reduce emissions, according to the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, an organization that encourages cities to confront climate change. These cities vary widely in the targets that they’ve set—from a 10 percent reduction over five years to carbon neutrality over 35 years.

Fort Collins’ six city council members, who are chosen in nonpartisan elections, voted unanimously to approve the revised goals. Although the council members don’t have an official party affiliation, at least two of them identify as Republicans. The city’s mayor, Karen Weitkunat, is also Republican.

“It’s very positive that the council determined it’s appropriate to strive for this. It will get us farther than we otherwise would,” said Lucinda Smith, the city’s sustainability director.

Smith, who is in charge of proposing and carrying out a plan to reach the emission goals, said wildfires and floods that caused catastrophic damage in recent years pushed climate change into the public consciousness. In 2013, floodwaters along the Big Thompson River carried away homes and roads, causing over $2 billion in damages. The same year, the Black Forest Fire, the most destructive in Colorado’s history, raged for nine days, destroying over 500 homes and killing two people.

She also said Mayor Weitkunat played an “important role” in raising the issue of climate change to the public.

Weitkunat, who has been mayor since 2011, served on the 26-member President’s Climate Preparedness and Resilience Task Force to assess how the federal government can support communities in preparing for the worst effects of climate change.

“Overall, it’s a progressive city,” said Scott Denning, a professor of atmospheric science at Colorado State University. “But, to be a little more cynical, several of the council members who might have been inclined to say ‘no’ didn’t, because all they were committing to was a goal.”

Another reason the proposal sailed through with few objections is that Fort Collins is primarily a college town. Colorado State is the city’s largest employer, with a payroll of about 6,725. The fossil fuel industry, which typically objects to carbon cuts, does not have a stake in the city’s economy.

The city has had strategies to reduce carbon emissions in place since 1999. In 2008, Fort Collins adopted a 20 percent emission reduction by 2030, and 80 percent reduction by 2050.

In 2012, the Rocky Mountain Institute, one of the city’s partners on sustainability initiatives, studied the costs and benefits of raising emission goals and recommended accelerating them. This led the city to put the new goals to a vote and formally adopt them.

Getting it Done

Over half of the city’s emissions come from power production. The Platte River Power Authority, which powers Fort Collins, relies on coal for almost 75 percent of the electricity it produces.

However, the city is in the unusual position of owning the Platte River Power Authority with three nearby cities, Estes Park, Longmont and Loveland. As a result, the utility is free from financial obligations to shareholders and is beholden only to the four cities that own it.

“In the states, that’s rare and that’s a great thing to have,” said Adam Friedburg, an associate sustainability consultant at Arup. “If you have that control, you can do a lot that aligns with the city’s goals as opposed to the utility’s goals.”

Vehicles are responsible for another 25 percent of emissions. Burning natural gas to heat homes and buildings, and its use in industries, account for an additional 20 percent.

Before the new goals were put to a vote, city staff presented the council with a broad-strokes plan to decrease emissions 80 percent by 2030. The plan includes a number of strategies: retrofitting buildings and homes to make them energy efficient; investing in renewable sources such as solar and wind energy; and promoting public transportation.

Smith, the city’s sustainability director, said her staff plans to submit a complete implementation plan to the city council early next year.

Constant Vigilance

Smith and the city’s staff have many hurdles to overcome if they are to hit their targets.

One significant challenge will be to convince the three other cities with a stake in Platte River Power Authority that switching to a cleaner energy portfolio will work for all. So far, the utility has modeled scenarios to transition to renewable energy but has not made any commitments.

“The plan is wonderful, but the real challenge is implementing it,” said Denning, who represented CSU on a citizen advisory committee that worked on updating the city’s climate action plan. “It will require constant vigilance.”

Another major obstacle will be to find a way to finance investments in cleaner technology and infrastructure upgrades, most of which are expensive. For instance, the city is considering a plan to upgrade homes to make them more energy efficient at no upfront cost to the owners. The costs would be paid back through electricity bills over time.

“How it’s going to be financed is the first big hurdle,” said Kevin Cross, a member of the Fort Collins Sustainability Group, a community organization that for years has been pushing the city to take more aggressive action on climate change.

The city estimates that it will need to spend $600 million by 2020 and between $3.4 billion and $4.6 billion by 2050. In the first few years, the city does not expect any significant savings. But, by 2050, the city estimates energy and fuel savings of $5 to $10.8 billion, a figure that far exceeds the costs.

Cross also said that he hopes that in spite of the challenges, the city will meet the goals and provide a model for other communities.

“We’re a tiny piece of the world puzzle,” he said. “What we also need to consider is that if small communities and cities can show the path forward, then we have a chance of addressing the global problem.”

 

Posted by Gypsy Chief


Children as Chattel – The Common Root of Religious Child Abuse and the Pro-Life Movement

2015 March 28
by chief

Written by Valerie Tarico. Published March 24 on her blog.

On the surface, valuing embryonic life and abusing children are at odds, but with a biblical view of childhood, these positions can go hand in hand.

pro-life-abuse

Why do the same people who fight against abortion argue that parents should have the right to beat their children and deny them medical care or education, as some conservative Republicans have done recently? How can someone oppose family planning because a pill or IUD might have the rare and unintended consequence of interfering with implantation, and then endorse beating a child, which might have the rare and unintended consequence of battering her to death?

These two positions fit together seamlessly only when we understand the Iron Age view of the child imbedded throughout the Bible, and how that view has shaped the priorities and behavior of biblical literalists.

Extreme Biblical Parenting

In 2014, Pentecostal parents Herbert and Catherine Schaible went to jail after a second of their nine children died from easily treatable bacterial pneumonia. The Schaibles belong to a sect that relies on prayer for physical as well as spiritual healing. In a police statement, Herbert Schiable explained that medicine “is against our religious beliefs.” Sects like their point to the New Testament books of Matthew and Mark, which both say that devout believers can pray for anything in faith and God will grant their request (Mark 11:24 and Matthew 21:22). All that is required, according to the writer of Matthew, is faith the size of a tiny mustard seed. The Schaible’s pastor blamed the deaths of the two children on a “spiritual lack” in the parents.

Most devout Bible believers turn to science when their children can’t breathe, but 38 US states have now passed laws to protect parents who don’t—along with parents who beat their children in accordance with biblical advice, or deny them education on religious grounds.

The Schaible case is a chilling example of how these laws work. In 2009, the Schaible’s two year old son, Kent, died of pneumonia after having his illness treated by prayer alone. Under Pennsylvania’s faith-healing exemption both parents were allowed to plead guilty to lesser charges. The result was a sentence of probation; and after agreeing to seek medical care for their children in future, the Schaibles were allowed to keep custody of their other kids. But In 2014 the Grim Reaper struck again. This time, the couple was jailed after 8 month old Brandon died of another untreated infection. The parents went to prison, not for killing a child, but for violating the terms of their earlier probation.

Republicans Double Down on Parent Rights over Child Wellbeing

In spite of similar tragedies around the country, legislators in multiple states are looking to expand laws that exempt parents like the Schaibles from criminal charges. Georgia recently introduced legislation that appears to offer legal cover to parents who beat their children (and men who beat their wives) for religious reasons. In Idaho, despite more than a dozen child deaths linked to one small sect called the Followers of Christ, Republican state legislators introduced a bill in February granting parents broader leeway to harm children—as long as their motives are religious. The bill secures faith healing exemptions from medical neglect laws; reduces the court’s power to protect abused children; discourages doctors and teachers from reporting suspected abuse; and excuses religious parents from education requirements that otherwise apply to Idaho residents. On March 23, 2015, it passed the Idaho Senate 27-7, along straight party lines.

In 2011, after a series of child deaths from medical neglect, Oregon’s governor took the opposite tack, stripping faith-healing parents of legal protection from criminal charges. Oregon children stopped dying, but some extreme families moved to Idaho. In the words of law professor Marci Hamilton,

“Idaho has become a haven for parents who martyr their children for their faith.”

Emboldened by Hobby Lobby

Since the Supreme Court’s 2014 Hobby Lobby decision, conservative Christians in the U.S. are testing “religious freedom” claims as a means to opt out of a wide array of rules and responsibilities that otherwise apply to all Americans. Much of the focus has been on exemption from reproductive healthcare, queer equality rights, and finances (what churches give and get when it comes to public funds and services.) But exemption from child rights and protections should be thought of as a fourth leg of the “religious freedom” agenda.

Devout Bible believers regularly oppose child protective services, insisting that the right of religious adults to do as they choose trumps the right of children to be free from harm. Evangelical Christian leaders fought the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, making the U.S. one of two countries (along with Somalia) that failed to endorse it. In some U.S. locales, like the State of Virginia, they have sought and won the right to deny children basic education, including the ability to read and write.

The Embryo Anomaly

But while conservative Bible believers look bent on depriving born children of any and all human rights, they simultaneously claim that every fertilized egg merits protection. Ignoring the fact that most fertilized eggs, when left alone, simply die before implanting or else self-abort, believers oppose stem cell research, abortion and even contraception that might harm embryonic human life.

The Religious Right’s extreme devotion to embryonic life was on display in a recent bill aimed at protecting women and children from sex trafficking. Conservative Republicans inserted language that would deny abortion care funding to young girls who got pregnant after being coerced into sexual slavery, forcing them instead to carry pregnancies and give birth.

To a person imbued with modern secular ethics, such priorities may be immoral; but in the Iron Age worldview of the Bible writers and fundamentalist believers, they actually make sense.

A Modern View of Childhood

Modern secularists think of children as persons with rights based on their capacity to suffer and feel pleasure, to love and be loved, to be aware and self-aware, to have preferences and intentions that are expressed via decisions and actions, and to have dreams and goals that place a value on their own future. These capacities, which make human life uniquely precious, emerge gradually during childhood, which is why children can’t take care of themselves. Parents are thought of as custodians, who have both rights and responsibilities that change over time, based on the ways in which a child’s own capacities are limited.

In this view, as children become more capable, their rights increase within developmentally appropriate limits, while parental rights and responsibilities decrease. If a five year old prefers vanilla ice cream over strawberry, most people believe that, all else being equal, he or she should be allowed to choose. A seven year old has little say in a custody agreement, but a fourteen year old who prefers to be with one or the other parent can get a hearing from a judge. Similarly, the capacity for sexual consent emerges gradually during adolescence. Young teens may be capable of consenting with each other, but their vulnerability to manipulation and exploitation means they are protected legally by the concept of statutory rape.

In 1923, Kahlil Gibran published his much loved book, The Prophet, which contains his poem “On Children.” Gibran’s poem, though deeply spiritual, reflects a modern view of childhood:

Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

Gibran’s 20th Century view would have been completely alien to most of the Bible writers.

A Biblical View of Childhood

In the Iron Age mindset of the Bible writers, children are not individual persons who have their own thoughts, with corresponding rights. Rather, like livestock and slaves, they are possessions of the male head of household, and the biblical framework governing treatment of children is property law, not individual rights law.

The legal term chattel refers to moveable personal property, economic assets that are not real estate. In the Bible, children, like slaves and livestock, are chattel. Male children grow up to become persons, while females remain chattel throughout their lives, first as assets of their fathers, then as assets of their husbands.

The texts bound together in the Bible were written over the course of hundreds of years, and they reflect the evolution of social and ethical norms within Hebrew culture during that time span. Some express a more compassionate and dignifying perspective toward children than others. But fundamentalists and other Bible-believers treat these texts as a package, a set of perfect and complete revelations essentially dictated by God to the authors, which is why they all too often end up pitting themselves against ethical, compassionate treatment of children. Taken as a whole, the biblical formula for parenthood is based on several core assumptions:

  • Children are property of their fathers. This is why God can allow Satan to kill Job’s children during a wager over Job’s loyalty—and then simply replace them. It is why a man who injures a woman causing her to miscarry must pay her husband for the loss.
  • Children are born bad. This mentality derives from idea of original sin, which posits that all humans are basically evil because Eve defied God and ate from the Tree of Knowledge. It is one reason that early Christians believed that Jesus, as the perfect “lamb without blemish” could not have a human father and so added the virgin birth story to the Gospels at the end of the 1st Century.
  • Children must be beaten to keep them from going astray. In the Gospel stories, Christ’s only teaching on the subject of physical punishment was “whoever is without blame, cast the first stone.” many Christians
    prefer King Solomon’s “spare the rod, spoil the child” admonitions from the book of Proverbs.
  • A father’s right of ownership extends even to killing his child. This is why it makes sense for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac or Jephthah to sacrifice his daughter, or even God to give his “only begotten son” as a human sacrifice. In the Torah, a man can send his child into battle or sell his child into slavery. The Torah advises that a rebellious son should be put to death.
  • The primary value of adult females is to produce valuable children, meaning in particular male children of known origin. Hence, a female’s virginity is a core part of her economic value. This is why a rapist can be forced to marry the damaged goods in the Torah as is sometimes the case in conservative Islam today, or a female can be stoned for pre-marital sex. In the Hebrew Torah, the wives of the patriarchs send their slave girls to get pregnant by their husbands to up the baby count. In modern America, Evangelical girls attend purity balls and receive promise rings by which they pledge their sexual purity to their fathers until they can be “given in marriage.”

gothard-chain-of-command

In this context, the seemingly bizarre and hypocritical stance of defending embryonic life while simultaneously defending child abuse makes sense. A man has a right to offspring. Woman was made to bear them. (As both Bible writers and Church leaders through the ages have reminded us over and over, that is her purpose and her salvation, the way she makes up for Eve’s act of defiance, even if it kills her.) Within the hierarchy of the family, a woman has authority only over the children and only by proxy: she acts as an administrator of God’s will and that of her husband. A child is not a person with intrinsic rights but a man’s possession, to bring up according to his own values and beliefs, and paternal rights have few limits.

By Way of Analogy

For a modern reader, the concept of chattel is simplest and easiest to understand when applied to livestock: A rancher owns cows for the purpose of breeding them, and he guards their fertility carefully to manage the kind of calves he wants. A young, fertile cow is worth more than an older less fertile cow. A bred cow is worth more than an open cow. A cow has no right to avoid pregnancy, however unpleasant or risky, and no-one but her owner can decide when she has given birth to enough calves. Someone who deliberately caused a cow to miscarry would be stealing from the owner. Once calves are born, they belong to the owner, who has the right to poke or prod or hit or kick (or castrate) them to get the kind of behavior he wants.

At one point in American history, this was how many Christians thought of slaves, and they cited the Bible to back up this view. Today most Christians find human slavery appalling, and the last remaining kind of legal living chattel is non-human animals. But because the Bible and Koran bind believers to the Iron Age, echoes of the Iron Age chattel structure can be found in the views and values of devout believers.

Female Birth Control Violates Biblical Property Rights

In this worldview there is little room for abortion or even pregnancy prevention, or for that matter any form of reproductive agency on the part of a woman. God is in charge, and every baby is a blessing, an arrow for the man’s quiver, one of his economic and spiritual assets. “Let go and let God,” women are told. A female is defined by her sexuality and childbearing—as a virgin, mother or whore—and contraception turns the first two of these into the third.

Modern Catholicism’s Madonna-whore dichotomy and anti-contraceptive theology may have evolved as a competitive breeding strategy designed to serve the religion itself. But Catholic antipathy to female contraception has more ancient and primitive roots in the Iron Age culture of the Bible writers, and perhaps—beneath that—in the biological instinct that nudges individual males to control female fertility and engage in competitive breeding of their own.

Coerced pregnancy is one means to this end, and freely given prior consent is “not a thing” in either the Hebrew Torah or the Christian New Testament: Eve is created for Adam when none of the other animals are found to be suitable companions for him. Women are given in marriage as transactions between men throughout the Torah. Sexual slavery abounds, with God providing instructions on how to purify virgin war captives before they are bedded. (See Captive Virgins, Polygamy, Sex Slaves: What Marriage Would Look Like if We Actually Followed the Bible.) In the gospel story of the virgin birth, Mary is told (not asked) by a powerful being that the Holy Spirit will come upon her and she will get pregnant. Of course she is thrilled—if a woman’s role is to bear children, what greater honor than to bear the child of a god?—but the bottom line is that intentional, volitional decision making by females about childbearing is simply beyond the consciousness of the Bible writers.

Abortion—a woman’s decision to end an ill-conceived pregnancy—violates the biblical worldview in yet another way. In the Bible, bearing and ending life are roles that clearly split along gender lines. Females may have the power to bear life, but only males can end it. Man holds the right of life and death over his own chattel, just as God holds the right of life and death over humans, his sheep. The Bible says a man can beat his slave to death, and as long as the slave survives for a day or two afterwards, the owner is within his rights. In fact, the Bible endorses men terminating life for many reasons: eating or sacrificing animals, vengeance, territorial dispute, eradicating witchcraft or paganism, punishment, displays of power, and religious rituals, to name a few. However, it never endorses ending a life for reasons of compassion, mercy, or prudence—the reasons women often seek abortion.

A Degraded Concept of Personhood

What about the Religious Right’s Personhood movement, which seeks person-rights for embryonic humans? Doesn’t it contradict this framework? No. The anti-abortion Personhood movement, which attempts to equate personhood with human DNA, is part and parcel of this same worldview. In the Personhood movement, the qualities normally associated with personhood (sentience, feelings, thoughts, preferences, intentions, self-awareness, etc.), the qualities that create the basis for independence and rights, are irrelevant.

The Personhood movement allows Religious Right leaders to co-opt centuries of human rights law and political philosophy while simultaneously undermining any concept of personhood that grants rights or autonomy based on the lived experience of another being. Consider, for example, the Alabama law which assigns “personhood” to a fetus—and then hands all associated rights to a (usually white male Christian) attorney. Fetal Personhood laws which equate personhood with DNA secure the Iron Age hierarchy of God and man over woman and child (and, tangentially, man over other chattel like non-human animals and artificial intelligences).

Beyond the Bible

In sum, it is much easier to extrapolate from the biblical worldview to the idea that a parent has the right to beat his child or withhold medical care, or that a teenage sex slave should be forced to bear a child, than to derive the idea that we have a responsibility to bring children into the world under the best of circumstances and to acknowledge their rights as individuals once they arrive. These are fundamentally post-biblical ideas, as is the notion that empowering women to delay or limit childbearing is a positive social good.

For those who are not bound to the priorities of the Iron Age, fetishizing fetal life while hurting and disempowering women or children is morally incoherent. Thanks to science and scholarship, we know much more than our ancestors did about embryonic development—a reproductive funnel that requires many fertilized eggs to produce a few healthy babies. We also have learned much about child development, the gradual process by which a child takes on the unique psychological capacities of the adult human. And we know more than ever about the lived experience of sentient beings—including women and children. None of this knowledge supports the moral priorities of the Iron Age.

Instead, it supports a worldview in which thoughtful, intentional childbearing empowered by the full spectrum of family planning care goes hand in hand with a value on thriving women and children. A woman is an independent person and so are her children, and it is her right and responsibility to plan her family so as to live her life to the fullest and stack the odds in favor of her children having rich, full lives of their own.

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org. Her articles about religion, reproductive health, and the role of women in society have been featured at sites including AlterNet, Salon, the Huffington Post, Grist, and Jezebel. Subscribe at ValerieTarico.com.

 

Posted by Gypsy Chief


Beijing officials take dramatic step to combat extreme pollution | Daily Kos

2015 March 28

China World Trade Centre Tower III, one of the tallest buildings in the city, is pictured amid heavy haze in Beijing's central business district

Published March 24, 2015 in Daily Kos. Written by Jen Hayden.

China World Trade Centre Tower III (C), one of the tallest buildings in the city at 330m (1083ft), is pictured amid heavy haze in Beijing’s central business district, December 24, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Lee

Time to clear the air in Beijing.

Government officials in Beijing are finally taking pollution (and climate change) seriously. In an effort to clear the air in Beijing, they’ve announced they will permanently close their four remaining coal-powered plants:

The closures are part of a broader trend in China, which is the world’s biggest carbon emitter. Facing pressure at home and abroad, policy makers are racing to address the environmental damage seen as a byproduct of breakneck economic growth. Beijing plans to cut annual coal consumption by 13 million metric tons by 2017 from the 2012 level in a bid to slash the concentration of pollutants.

Shutting all the major coal power plants in the city, equivalent to reducing annual coal use by 9.2 million metric tons, is estimated to cut carbon emissions of about 30 million tons, said Tian Miao, a Beijing-based analyst at North Square Blue Oak Ltd., a London-based research company with a focus on China.

They are making the move to combat the obviously serious pollution issues, and not a moment too soon:

Air pollution has attracted more public attention in the past few years as heavy smog envelops swathes of the nation including Beijing and Shanghai. About 90 percent of the 161 cities whose air quality was monitored in 2014 failed to meet official standards, according to a report by China’s National Bureau of Statistics earlier this month.

They may have waited longer than we’d like, but credit where credit is due. We’ll all be breathing easier if China clears the air.

 

Posted by Gypsy Chief


Why I’m Saying Goodby to Apple, Google and Microsoft and Putting More Trust in Communities than Corporations

2015 March 26
by chief

Written by Dan Gilmour. Published in Backchannel

I’m done sending my money and data to corporations I don’t trust…

When I became a technology columnist in the mid-1990s, the public Internet was just beginning its first big surge. Back then, I advised my readers to avoid the semi-political, even religious battles that advocates of this or that technology platform seemed to enjoy. Appreciate technology, I urged, for what it is — a tool — and use what works best.

Gypsy Chief note:
I recall Windows vs OS/2 flame wars, WordPerfect vs WordStar, even flame wars about which text editor to choose.

So why am I typing this on a laptop running GNU/Linux, the free software operating system, not an Apple or Windows machine? And why are my phones and tablets running a privacy-enhanced offshoot of Android called Cyanogenmod, not Apple’s iOS or standard Android?

Because, first of all, I can get my work done fine. I can play games. I can surf endlessly. The platform alternatives have reached a stage where they’re capable of handling just about everything I need.

More important, I’ve moved to these alternative platforms because I’ve changed my mind about the politics of technology. I now believe it’s essential to embed my instincts and values, to a greater and greater extent, in the technology I use.

Those values start with a basic notion: We are losing control over the tools that once promised equal opportunity in speech and innovation—and this has to stop.

Control is moving back to the center, where powerful companies and governments are creating choke points. They are using those choke points to destroy our privacy, limit our freedom of expression, and lock down culture and commerce. Too often, we give them our permission—trading liberty for convenience—but a lot of this is being done without our knowledge, much less permission.

The tools I use now are, to the extent possible, based on community values, not corporate ones.

I’m not acting on some paranoid fantasies here. I’m emulating, in the tech sphere, some of the principles that have led so many people to adopt “slow food” or vegetarian lifestyles, or to minimize their carbon footprint, or to do business only with socially responsible companies.

Nor do I intend to preach. But if I can persuade even a few of you to join me, even in some small ways, I’ll be thrilled.

I’m the first to recognize, meanwhile, that I’m still a long way from achieving true tech liberty. Maybe it’s impossible, or close to it, in the near and medium terms. But this is a journey—a continuing journey—worth taking. And if enough of us embark on it, we can make a difference.

Part of my conversion stems from an abiding distaste for corporate and government control-freakery. If we believe in liberty, we have to realize that we take risks to be more free. If we believe in competition, we sometimes have to intervene as a society to ensure that it’s fair.

One way we try to ensure fair competition is enforcement of laws designed to promote it, notably antitrust rules that seek to prevent dominant companies from abusing their dominance. A classic example emerged in the 1990s: Microsoft, a company that had outsmarted and/or outsleazed IBM and everyone else in its rise to pure dominance in the operating system and office “productivity” software markets.

WindowsDesktop_old

Microsoft’s software wasn’t the best in many cases, but it was more than good enough—and the company’s business tactics ranged from brilliant to ugly, often both at the same time. The Clinton administration, weak-kneed earlier in the decade, finally realized it needed to prevent Microsoft from unfairly leveraging its Windows/Office dominance to rule the next generation of computing and communications, and the late-1990s antitrust suit helped give innovators such as Google a chance to emerge.

My column regularly took Microsoft to task for its various transgressions.
Around the turn of the century, my distaste for the company’s
business practices boiled over.

I made a personal “declaration of independence” from the software company, at least to the extent possible at the time. I moved (back) to an Apple Macintosh—which by then had adopted a serious, modern operating system running on great hardware—and apart from using Microsoft Office from time to time I largely liberated myself from sending money to a company I didn’t respect. Apple made it easy to stick with my switch, because the MacOS and Mac hardware became best-of-class during that period—and lots of people discovered, as I had, that the Windows ecosystem was giving them more trouble than it was worth.

At Silicon Valley press events in the early- to mid-2000s, I’d often be one of two journalists with Mac laptops (the other was the New York Times’ John Markoff, who’d adopted the Mac early on and stayed with it). A decade later, just about everyone in the tech press has switched to the Mac. Apple has done an absolutely spectacular job of creating technology in the past 15-plus years. I used to say that while Windows tended to get in my way, the Mac OS tended to get out of my way. For years I recommended it to anyone who’d listen.

Yet now when I attend tech events, I’m one of the few people not using a Mac or an iPad. What happened?

Three things: the expanding power of Apple and a new generation of tech giants; a reassertion of my own social-justice geekery; and solid alternatives.

In Steve Jobs’s eras as CEO, Apple reflected his character and qualities. That was thrilling in most ways, because he demanded something close to perfection. But then the underdog revolutionized mobile computing and became the winner—one day we all realized it was one of the planet’s most powerful, profitable and valuable companies. Apple became the kind of company I prefer not to support: control-freakish to a fault with customers, software developers and the press; and, I came to believe, even dangerous to the future of open networks and user-controlled technology.

SteveJobs

At the same time, Google and Facebook, among others, were emerging as powers of a different kind: centralized entities that use surveillance as a business model, stripping away our privacy in return for the great convenience they provide. Our mobile devices—and even our PCs, the key tools for tech liberty in earlier decades—increasingly came with restrictions on how we could use them.

I’d periodically played with Linux and other alternatives on my PC over the years, but always found the exercise tedious and, in the end, unworkable. But I never stopped paying attention to what brilliant people like Richard Stallman and Cory Doctorow and others were saying, namely that we were leading, and being led, down a dangerous path. In a conversation with Cory one day, I asked him about his use of Linux as his main PC operating system. He said it was important to do what he believed in—and, by the way, it worked fine.

Could I do less, especially given that I’d been public in my worries about the trends?

So about three years ago, I installed the Ubuntu variant — among the most popular and well-supported — on a Lenovo ThinkPad laptop, and began using it as my main system. For a month or so, I was at sea, making keystroke errors and missing a few Mac applications on which I’d come to rely. But I found Linux software that worked at least well enough, and sometimes better than its Mac and Windows counterparts.

And one day I realized that my fingers and brain had fully adjusted to the new system. Now, when I used a Mac, I was a bit confused.

I’ve owned several more ThinkPads. My current model is a T440s, which strikes me as the best combination of size, weight, upgradability, customer service, and price. Ubuntu supports lots of hardware, but has been especially friendly to ThinkPads over the years. It’s also possible to buy computers preloaded with Linux, including several laptops from Dell, to avoid a lot of the hassle. (After Lenovo’s stunningly incompetent violation of its Windows customers’ security in a recent debacle, I’m glad that I a) don’t use Windows, and b) have hardware alternatives.)

Just about every kind of software I need is available for Linux, even if it often isn’t as slick as the Windows or Mac products it replaces. LibreOffice is an adequate Microsoft Office substitute for the things I do. Mozilla’s Thunderbird handles my email fine. Most major browsers come in Linux versions; I use Mozilla Firefox most of the time.

Some tasks I can’t do as well with Linux, such as complex screencasting – recording what the screen is doing, adding a voice-over track and perhaps a video inset, and zooming in to highlight specific items. I’d gladly pay for something like this in Linux, but it’s simply not available, as far as I can find. So I switch back to Windows, the operating system that came with the ThinkPad, and run a program called Camtasia.

As mobile computing has become more dominant, I’ve had to rethink everything on that platform, too. I still consider the iPhone the best combination of software and hardware any company has offered, but Apple’s control-freakery made it a nonstarter. I settled on Android, which was much more open and readily modified.

But Google’s power and influence worry me, too, even though I still trust it more than many other tech companies. Google’s own Android is excellent, but the company has made surveillance utterly integral to the use of its software. And app developers take disgusting liberties, collecting data by the petabyte and doing god-knows-what with it. (Security experts I trust say the iPhone is more secure by design than most Android devices.) How could I walk my talk in the mobile age?

A third-party community movement has emerged around Android, taking the basic software and making it better. One of the most important modifications is giving users much more control over the privacy settings than Google permits with standard Android.

One of the best established of these projects is Cyanogenmod. It was preloaded on one of my phones, a new model called the OnePlus One, and I installed it on an older Google-branded phone. Not only do I make use of the enhanced “Privacy Guard” settings, but messaging is encrypted by default—something every phone and carrier should emulate (Apple does, but the Android providers are slow on this).

Cyanogenmod has become more than a collection of volunteers. Some of its creators have spun off a for-profit company, which has raised money from Silicon Valley investors. Like many others in the alternate Android world, I’m worried that this will lead Cyanogen toward bad behavior and away from its user-in-control roots. If that happens, I can try lots of other community-created versions of Android. (This concern also applies to OnePlus, which after a dispute with Cyanogenmod, is moving toward a proprietary operating system.)

My inner nerd – I learned a programming language in high school and have had computers since the late 1970s – finds all of this fun, at least when it’s not annoying. I love exploring the tech I use. For others who just want stuff to work, I wish all this was drop-dead simple. It is getting better: easier, more reliable and certainly good enough. But regaining some control still takes work, especially on the mobile side.

NewTabletOS

And, after all I’ve done to become more independent, a confession: I’m still using some Microsoft and Google software — making me at least a partial hypocrite. Google Maps is one of the few indispensable features of my smartphone (Open Street Map is a fantastic project but not wonderful enough), and as I mentioned above, I still have an occasional need for Windows. The journey to tech liberty has endless detours, because all of this is endlessly nuanced.

So I keep looking for ways to further reduce my dependence on the central powers. One of my devices, an older tablet running Cyanogenmod, is a test bed for an even more Google-free existence.

It’s good enough for use at home, and getting better as I find more free software — most of it via the “F-Droid” download library — that handles what I need. I’ve even installed a version of Ubuntu’s new tablet OS, but it’s not ready, as the cliche goes, for prime time. Maybe the Firefox OS will be a player.

But I’ve given up the idea that free software and open hardware will become the norm for consumers anytime soon, if ever—even though free and open-source software is at the heart of the Internet’s back end.

If too few people are willing to try, though, the default will win. And
the defaults are Apple, Google and Microsoft.

Our economic system is adapting to community-based solutions, slowly but surely. But let’s face it: we collectively seem to prefer convenience to control, at least for the moment. I’m convinced more and more people are learning about the drawbacks of the bargain we’ve made, wittingly or not, and someday we may collectively call it Faustian.

I keep hoping more hardware vendors will see the benefit of helping their customers free themselves of proprietary control. This is why I was so glad to see Dell, a company once joined at the hip with Microsoft, offer a Linux laptop. If the smaller players in the industry don’t themselves enjoy being pawns of software companies and mobile carriers, they have options, too. They can help us make better choices.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep encouraging as many people as possible to find ways to take control for themselves. Liberty takes some work, but it’s worth the effort. I hope you’ll consider embarking on this journey with me.

 

Posted by Gypsy Chief


The Trickle Down Economics of Credit Unions

2015 March 13
by chief

credit_union_blocks

As the U.S. continues to recover from the financial crisis started over seven years ago, the prospect of “too big to fail” banks still lingers because no real reforms have been made in the financial sector.

But what if that change started at the grassroots level? What if average citizens took their money out of Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Citibank and put it in local credit unions?

Well, this is already happening. Last year saw the largest increase in credit union membership in 25 years. Why? Because unlike big banks, credit unions are not-for-profit, cooperative, tax exempt organizations that are owned by their depositors. They exist to serve their depositor-owners, not shareholders as in the case of big banks. This enables them to offer lower fees and higher interest rates than big banks all while offering the same services.

This makes credit unions the one place where trickle down economics actuallly work. In addition to the better deal they can give depositors, credit unions also loan money to local people and businesses sometimes with a specific focus on supporting low-income communities. Bottom line, credit unions are better for people and local economies than big banks.

Yes, credit unions lack the brand awareness of big banks, but together they’re a mighty force. There are over 6,000 credit unions serving 43% of the economically active population in the U.S. Most credit unions belong to the CO-OP ATM network, which has nearly 30,000 surcharge-free ATMs and 5,000+ shared branches across the country to serve your banking needs.



Source: Shareable.

 

Posted by Gypsy Chief


If Solar Has Gotten So Cheap Why Isn’t There More of It?

2015 March 8
Why don’t more homes have this sign? Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr.

Why don’t more homes have this sign? Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr.

Published February 27, 2015 in Transition Voice. Written by Erik Curren.

Some people who worry about peak oil like to point out that renewable energy won’t save us. That is, given the amount of fossil fuels that the world uses today, it would take an unrealistically large increase in the amount of renewables available now to make up the difference as oil, natural gas and coal start to deplete.

So we might as well resign ourselves now to a future of shivering in the dark.

Those same peak oil doomers share what they seem to think is news to the rest of us — namely, that solar panels require oil. Petroleum-based plastics and chemicals go into solar panel components. And of course energy, mostly fossil fuels, is required to make, ship and even install solar panels.

This is somehow supposed to mean that solar power is bogus and that photovoltaics are, in essence, merely a feel-good offshoot of fossil fuels.

“Solar panels are just a way to store oil,” a well known peak oiler once told me. “And if you’re going to store oil, I’d rather just keep a tanker ship filled with crude anchored off the coast.”

Too cheap to meter?

Graphic: Solar Energy Industries Association.

Graphic: Solar Energy Industries Association.

Clever quips from doomers aside, the peak-ocalypse hasn’t come yet. Of course, doomers would remind us that who’s to say an oil shock and economic collapse won’t come next week?

Yet, somehow, worrying about the futility of avoiding peak oil doom hasn’t stopped solar companies from installing new solar at a breakneck pace. Today in America, a new solar array goes up once every three minutes, according to Bloomberg News. By next year, it could be one every minute.

And while solar may still provide a puny percentage of today’s power generation (in 2014 it was still less than one percent), solar panels are getting cheaper so quickly that, barring a doomerish collapse of the global economy, we can expect solar to just keep going down in cost. At some point, lower cost will help solar start to meet a serious amount of the world’s power demand.

During the last five years, says Bloomberg, the cost for solar panels has dropped more than 65% in the last five years, to 70 cents a watt today. Fully installed costs are higher, but they’ve been dropping too.

What’s stopping solar

The main challenge to solar growth may surprise you. It’s not peak oil, of course. It’s not even cheap oil, which has depressed solar company stocks but has done nothing to effect the fundamentals of the solar market — cheaper panels and rising demand.

And while nasty politics may slow solar down in some states, the main barrier to solar growth is not the Koch Brothers lobbying to kill clean energy subsidies through a propaganda campaign whose most outrageous claim must be that solar hurts the poor — which, by the way, it totally doesn’t.

The real problem is not even big electric utilities who continue to drag their feet on installing the big solar arrays it would take to replace their aging coal and nuclear plants.

Because unlike a coal or nuclear plant, a solar plant doesn’t have to be huge and centralized. A 400 megawatt solar farm operated by an electric utility in the Mohave Desert is no more efficient per panel than a 2 kilowatt system on the roof of a bungalow in Las Vegas. Indeed, because solar can fit in lots of small spaces all over the place, you don’t even need a plant at all. That means you don’t have to wait for utilities to get on board. This is the beauty of distributed energy — you can just go around the electric company and become your own DIY utility by putting panels on your roof.

The real barrier to solar’s growth in America today is far less sinister than entrenched energy monopolies, political opponents or cheap fossil fuels: it turns out to be a simple lack of financing.

Solar may cheaper than it was a couple years ago — in some cases, half as much — but putting an array on your home or business roof is still a big-ticket purchase. For most of us, it’s too big to pay for in cash upfront and even too big to put on your credit card.

Show me the easy payment terms

Solar will spread once homeowners and businesses can get financing. Photo: Portland General Electric/Flickr.

Solar will spread once homeowners and businesses can get financing. Photo: Portland General Electric/Flickr.

The American consumer economy was built on credit.

Imagine, for example, if you had to pay full price to buy a new car?

Few drivers can afford to hand over a check for $25,000 to a Toyota salesman in order to drive off in a 2015 Camry. But three-to-five year financing at a low interest rate available right at the dealership makes the car affordable. As with cars, so with major purchases for the home: buyers don’t need to pull out a wad of bills to take delivery on a new sofa or refrigerator but can instead take advantage of low- or no-interest monthly payments over six or twelve months.

Today, solar is just starting to get the same kind of easy payment terms.

In the past, if you wanted a solar array on your home rooftop, you pretty much had to hand over that $25,000 in cash that you didn’t need to pay for the dealer-financed Camry. Or, you could go through the effort of applying at your bank for a home equity loan. Even if you qualified, filling out the paperwork for a bank loan was a much bigger hassle than signing up for 90-days-same-as-cash to get a new Whirlpool dishwasher at Lowe’s with same-day delivery.

Now, residential solar installers have begun to offer their own financing on attractive three- or five-year terms with no money down. In some U.S. states, homeowners can even get solar installed on their roof for free by a company which retains ownership of the equipment and sells the power to the homeowner every month, usually for less than what they’d pay to their local electric utility.

Financing is also coming for commercial-scale solar, putting arrays of 200 kilowatts or more on rooftops of warehouses, apartment complexes or local government buildings.

Once solar companies can work with lenders to offer better financing, solar is sure to spread much more quickly. At least, that is, until the complete collapse of industrial civilization.

In the meantime, let’s hope the rest of us can get no-money-down photovoltaic or solar thermal systems installed on our rooftops sooner rather than later. Even if renewables will make up for only a small fraction of all the fossil fuels we’ll eventually lose, when the next energy crisis hits, people who have solar will be much happier than those don’t.

Related: Colorado Solar Rebates information.

 

Posted by Gypsy Chief


Meet the Press thinks Climate Change is Funny

2015 March 4
MTP screen shot

MTP screen shot

Published March 2, 2015 by Daily Kos. Written by Jen Hayden.

Climate change denier Sen. James Inhofe, who also happens to chair the Committee on Environment and Public Works, got a lot of attention last week after he pulled a moronic stunt on the Senate floor by throwing a snowball to somehow disprove climate change.

While discussing the stunt on Meet the Press, Chuck Todd and guests had a good laugh (seen here around the 48 min mark of the show) about Inhofe’s stunt. Watching a key member of the Senate, who has absolutely no understanding of climate science, make a mockery of the serious issue of climate change is oh-so-funny! Well, LA Times columnist Michael Hiltzik took note and let loose on Chuck Todd:

“Meet the Press” likes to swank around as though it’s our premier network public affairs program. Yet somehow its producers and host think it’s all right to treat a manifestly ignorant statement about climate change as “a fun moment” involving a “fun little prop” — and to pander to American anti-intellectualism by implying that the global warming debate is just too serious and boring to waste time on, like high school kids grousing about having to go to math class. One can almost hear the producers of “Meet the Press” going, “What, climate change again? Cue up the escaping llamas.”

How low can the news departments of our major networks sink? We’ve already reported on the decline of journalistic standards at CBS’ “60 Minutes,” in the context of its flawed and credulous reporting on disability and the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. And now “Meet the Press,” by endorsing a display of pure ignorance about an urgent issue of public policy as a “fun” prank, cedes the last shred of its credibility.

It’s true that there’s room for levity in reporting on politics, but this effort was spectacularly tone-deaf. Ridiculing or minimizing climate change as a topic only wonks care about — or conniving with our least-informed political leaders to do so — is an abandonment of every principle “Meet the Press” should stand for.

That’s gonna leave a mark. Let’s hope Chuck Todd and his producers get the message. Climate change is not a joke. There is no debate in the scientific community. It’s time for pundits to quit treating it lightly and stop pandering to the most scientifically illiterate viewers. It’s no wonder Meet the Press is seeing the lowest ratings in the history of the show.

 

Posted by Gypsy Chief


CO House Members Split on DHS Funding

2015 March 3

dhs

Colorado house members split on a clean funding bill for Department of Homeland Security for the balance of this fiscal year ending September 30, 2015. Final roll call vote is here.

— Bitterly admitting defeat, House Republicans on Tuesday abandoned their attempts to use the Homeland Security Department’s spending bill to force concessions from President Barack Obama on immigration, and sent him legislation to fund the agency through the end of the budget year with no strings attached.

Support of House Democrats was vital to the success of the previously passed Senate bill. Colorado Democrats Dianna DeGette, Jared Polis and Ed Perlmutter voted Aye. They were joined by Republican Mike Coffman. Ken Buck, Doug Lamborn and Scott Tipton voted Nay.

In the end, the House contingent that opposed Boehner had little to do but bemoan what had become a foregone conclusion. As the drama neared its conclusion Tuesday they offered a few final procedural moves — forcing the reading clerk to read part of the bill out loud, and offering a motion to table — but they had no hope of prevailing.

 

Posted by Gypsy Chief


Extinct, Extincter, Extinctest

2015 February 21

dodo-bird_350

From Dmitry Orlov. Published February 17, 2015.

This blog is dedicated to the idea of presenting the big picture—the biggest possible—of what is going on in the world. The abiding areas of interest that make up the big picture have included the following:

1. The terminal decay and eventual collapse of industrial civilization as the fossil fuels that power it become more and more expensive to produce in the needed quantities, of lower and lower resource quality and net energy and, eventually, in ever-shorter supply.

The first guess by Hubbert that the all-time peak of oil production in the US would be back in the 1970s was accurate, but later prediction of a global peak, followed by a swift collapse, around the year 2000 was rather off, because here we are 15 years later and global oil production has never been higher. Oil prices, which were high for a time, have temporarily moderated. However, zooming in on the oil picture just a little bit, we see that conventional oil production peaked in 2005—just 5 years late—and has been declining ever since, and the shortfall has been made up by oil that is difficult and expensive to get at (deep offshore, fracking) and by things that aren’t exactly oil (tar sands).

The current low prices are not high enough to sustain this new, expensive production for much longer, and the current glut is starting to look like a feast to be followed by famine. The direct cause of this famine will not be energy but debt, but it can still be traced back to energy: a successful, growing industrial economy requires cheap energy; expensive energy causes it to stop growing and to become mired in debt that can never be repaid. Once the debt bubble pops, there isn’t enough capital to invest in another round of expensive energy production, and terminal decay sets in.

2. The very interesting process of the USA becoming its own nemesis: the USSR 2.0, or, as some are calling, the USSA.

The USA is best characterized as a decomposing corpse of a nation lorded over by a tiny clique of oligarchs who control the herd by wielding Orwellian methods of mind control. So far gone is the populace that most of them think that things are just peachy—there is an economic recovery, don’t you know—but a few of them do realize that they all have lots of personal issues with things like violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and gluttony. But don’t call them a nation of violent, drug-abusing gluttons, because that would be insulting. In any case, you can’t call them anything, because they aren’t listening, for they are too busy fiddling with their electronic life support units to which they have become addicted. Thanks to Facebook and the like they are now so far inside Plato’s cave that even the shadows they see aren’t real: they are computer simulations of shadows of other computer simulations.

The signs of this advanced state of decomposition are now unmistakable everywhere you look, be it education, medicine, culture or the general state of American society, where now fully half the working-age men is impaired in their ability to earn a decent living. But it is now particularly obvious in the endless compounding of errors that is the essence of American foreign policy. Some have started calling it “the empire of chaos,” neglecting to mention the fact that an empire of chaos is by definition ungovernable.

A particularly compelling example of failure is the Islamic Caliphate, which now rules large parts of Syria and Iraq. It was initially organized with American help to topple the Syrian government, but now threatens the stability of Saudi Arabia instead. This problem was made much worse by alienating Russia, which, with its long Central Asian border, is the one major nation that is interested in fighting Islamic extremism. The best the Americans have been able to do against the Caliphate is an expensive and ineffectual bombing campaign. Previous ineffectual and expensive bombing campaigns, such as the one in Cambodia, have produced unintended consequences such as the genocidal regime of Pol Pot, but why bother learning from mistakes when you can endlessly compound them?

Another example is the militarized mayhem and full-blown economic collapse that has engulfed the Ukraine in the wake of American-organized violent overthrow of its last-ever constitutional government a year ago. The destruction of the Ukraine was motivated by Zbigniew Brzezinski’s simplistic calculus that turning the Ukraine into an anti-Russian NATO-occupied zone would effectively thwart Russian imperial ambitions. A major problem with this calculus is that Russia has no imperial ambitions: Russia has all the territory it could ever want, but to develop it it needs peace and free trade. Another slight problem with Zbiggy’s “chessboard” is that Russia does have an overriding concern with protecting the interests of Russians wherever they may live and, for internal political reasons, will always act to protect them, even if such actions are illegal and carry the risk of a larger military conflict. Thus, the American destabilization of the Ukraine has accomplished nothing positive, but did increase the odds of nuclear self-annihilation. But if the USA manages to disappear from the world’s political map without triggering a nuclear holocaust, we will still have a problem, which is that…

3. The climate of Earth, our home planet, is, to put it as politely as possible, completely fucked. Now, there are quite a few people who think that radically altering the planet’s atmospheric and ocean chemistry and physics by burning just over half the fossilized hydrocarbons that could possibly be dug up using industrial methods means nothing, and that what we are observing is just natural climate variability. These people are morons. I will delete every single one of the comments they submit in response to this post, but in spite of my promise to do so, I assure you that they will still submit them… because they are morons. [Update: Yes indeed they have, QED.]

What we are looking at is a human-triggered extinction episode that will certainly be beyond anything in human experience, and which may rival the great Permian-Triassic extinction event of 252 million years ago. There is even the possibility of Earth becoming completely sterilized, with an atmosphere as overheated and toxic as that of Venus. That these changes are happening does not require prediction, just observation. The only parameters that remain to be determined are these:

1. How far will this process run?

Will there still be a habitat where humans can survive? Humans cannot survive without plenty of fresh water and sources of carbohydrates, proteins and fats, all of which require functioning ecosystems. Humans can survive on almost any kind of diet—even tree bark and insects—but if all vegetation is dead, then so are we. Also, we cannot survive in an environment where the wet bulb temperature (which takes into account our ability to cool ourselves by sweating) exceeds our body temperature: whenever that happens, we die of heat stroke. Lastly, we need air that we can actually breathe: if the atmosphere becomes too low in oxygen (because the vegetation has died out) and too high in carbon dioxide and methane (because the dead vegetation has burned off, the permafrost has melted, and the methane currently trapped in oceanic clathrates has been released) then we all die.

We already know that the increase in average global temperature has exceeded 1C since pre-industrial times, and, based on the altered atmospheric chemistry, is predicted to eventually exceed 2C. We also know that industrial activity, thanks to the aerosols it puts into the atmosphere, produces an effect known as global dimming. Once it’s gone, the average temperature will jump by at least another 1.1C. This would put us within striking range of 3.5C, and no humans have ever been alive with Earth more than 3.5C above baseline. But, you know, there is a first time for everything. Maybe we can invent some gizmo… Maybe if we all put on air-conditioned sombreros or something… (Design contest, anyone?)

2. How fast will this process happen?

The thermal mass of the planet is such that there is a 40-year lag between when atmospheric chemistry is changed and its effects on average temperature are felt. So far we have been shielded from some of the effects by two things: the melting of Arctic and Antarctic ice and permafrost, and the ocean’s ability to absorb heat. Your iced drink remains pleasant until the last ice cube is gone, but then it becomes tepid and distasteful rather quickly. Some scientists say that, on the outside, it will take 5000 years for us to run out of ice cubes, causing the party to end, but then the dynamics of the huge glaciers that supply the ice cubes are not understood all that well, and there have been constant surprises in terms of how quickly they can slough off icebergs, which then drift into warmer waters and melt quickly.

But the biggest surprise of the last few years has been the rate of arctic methane release. Perhaps you haven’t, but I’ve found it impossible to ignore all the scientists who have been ringing alarm bells on Arctic methane release. What they are calling the clathrate gun—which can release some 50 gigatons of methane in as little as a couple of decades—appears to have been fired in 2007 and now, just a few years later, the trend line in Arctic methane concentrations has become alarming. But we will need to wait for at least another two years to get an authoritative answer. Overall, the methane held in the clathrates is enough to exceed the global warming potential of all fossil fuels burned to date by a factor of between 4 and 40. The upper end of that range does seem to put us quite far towards a Venus-type atmosphere, and the surviving species may be limited to exotic thermophilic bacteria, if that, and certainly will not include any of the species we like to eat, nor any of us.

Looking at such numbers has caused quite a few researchers to propose the possibility of near-term human extinction. Estimates vary, but, in general, if the clathrate gun has indeed gone off, then most of us shouldn’t be planning to be around beyond mid-century. But the funny thing is (humor is never in poor taste, no matter how dire the situation) that most of us shouldn’t be planning on sticking around beyond mid-century in any case. The current oversized human population is a product of fossil fuel-burning, and once that’s over, human population will crash. This is called a die-off, and it’s something that happens all the time: a population (say, of yeast in a vat of sugary liquid) consumes its food, and then dies off. A few hardy individuals linger on, and if you throw in a lump of sugar, they spring to life, start reproducing and the process takes off again.

Another funny aspect of near-term human extinction is that it can never be observable, because no scientist will ever be around to observe it, and therefore it is a non-scientific concept. Since it cannot be used to do science, the scientists who throw it around must be aiming for an emotional effect. This is quite uncharacteristic of scientists, who generally pride themselves on being cool-headed and prefer to deal in the observable and the measurable. So, why would scientists go for emotional effect? Clearly, it is because they feel that something must be done. And to feel that something must be done, they must also feel that something can be done. But, if so, what is it?

Always first on the list is the effort to lobby governments to limit carbon emissions. This has not been a success; as to one of the many reasons why, consider point 2 above: the USA is one of the biggest offenders when it comes to carbon emissions, but the rotting corpse of America’s political system is incapable of any constructive action. It is too busy destroying countries: Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ukraine…

Second on the list is something called geoengineering. If you don’t know what it is, don’t worry; it’s largely a synonym for mental masturbation. The idea is that you fix things you don’t understand by using technologies that don’t exist. But given many humans’ irrational belief that every problem must have a technological solution, there is always some fool willing to throw money at it. Previous efforts along these lines involved the idea of seeding the oceans with iron to promote plankton growth, or putting bits of tin foil in orbit to reflect some of the sunlight, or painting the Sahara white. These are all fun projects to think about. How about using nuclear weapons to put dust into the atmosphere, to block out some of the sunlight? Or how about nuking a few big volcanos, for the same effect? If that’s politically difficult, how about something politically easy: a limited nuclear exchange? That will darken the skies, bringing on a mini nuclar winter, and also reduce the population, which will cut down on industrial activity. There are enough nuclear weapons to keep the planet cool for as long as it takes us all to die of radiation poisoning. This geoengineering solution, along with all the others, is in line with the popular dictum “If you can’t solve a problem, enlarge it.”

And so it seems to me that all the talk about near-term human extinction is just so much emotional hand-flapping designed to motivate people to try things that won’t work. Still, I believe the topic is worth pondering, for a simple reason: what if you don’t want to go extinct? We’ve already established that human extinction (whenever it might be said to occur) will never be observable, because no human will be around to observe it. We also know that population die-offs happen all the time, but they don’t always result in extinction. So, who will be most likely to die, and who might actually make it?

First on the list are the invisible victims of war. By now lots of people have seen photographs of piles of dead Ukrainian soldiers left to rot after another failed attack, or videos of residents of Donetsk expiring on the sidewalk after being hit by a government-lobbed artillery shell or mortar. But we don’t know how many children and women are dying in childbirth because the government has bombed maternity clinics and hospitals: such casualties of war are invisible. Nor will we be shown footage of all of the Ukrainian retirees expiring prematurely because they can no longer afford food, medicine or heat, but we can be sure that many of them won’t be around a year hence. When it comes to war, there are just two viable survival strategies: refuse to take part; and flee. Indeed, the million or so Ukrainians that are now in Russia, or the million or so Syrians who are no longer in Syria, are the smart ones. The Ukrainians who are volunteering to fight are the idiots; the ones who are fleeing to Russia to sit out the war are the smart ones. (However, the Russians, who are volunteering to protect their land and their families from what amounts to an American invasion, are clearly not idiots. They are also winning.) In this sense, war is a Darwinian process, delivering extinction to the foolish.

Next on the list of extinction episodes to avoid happens in major cities during a heat wave. It’s happened across Europe in 2003, and resulted in 70,000 casualties. In 2010, a heat wave in the Moscow region (which is quite far north) resulted in over 14,000 deaths in Moscow alone. The urban heat island effect, which is caused by sunlight soaked up by pavement and buildings, produces much higher local temperatures, driving them over the threshold for heat stroke. While the fossil fuel economy continues to operate, cities remain survivable because of the availability of air conditioning; once it shuts down, urban heat wave extinction episodes will become widespread. Since 50% of the population lives in cities, half of the human population is at risk of extinction from heat stroke. Therefore, if you don’t want to go extinct, don’t spend your summers in a city.

The list of places you don’t want to be if you wish to avoid extinction gets rather long. You wouldn’t want to live in California, for example, or in the arid southwestern states, because there won’t be any water there. You wouldn’t want to live along the coasts, because they are likely to be flooded by the rising oceans (they will eventually rise over 100 meters, putting all coastal cities underwater). You wouldn’t want to live in the eastern half of North America, because, paradoxically, a dramatically warmer Arctic region causes the jet stream to meander, producing increasingly fierce winters, which, minus fossil fuels, will cause widespread deaths from exposure. Even now, a bit of extra snow, which is likely to become the new normal, has caused the entire transportation infrastructure of New England (where, luckily, I am not) to roll over and play dead. Nor would you want to live in any of the places where the water source comes from glacial melt, because the glaciers will soon be gone. This includes much of Pakistan, large parts of India, Bangladesh, Thailand, Vietnam and so on. The list of places where you wouldn’t want to be if you don’t want to go extinct for this or that reason gets to be rather long.

But the entire northern half of Eurasia looks quite nice for the foreseeable future, so if you don’t want to go extinct, you better start teaching your kids Russian.

 

Posted by Gypsy Chief


Anti-Fracking March Brings 8,000 Activists

2015 February 9
by chief

From Daily Kos.

So a bunch of concerned citizens of all stripes came out to Oakland yesterday to talk some fracking sense.

2015-climate-leadership-march_54

More specifically, according to 350.org‘s count, over 8,000 of us marched…

2015-climate-leadership-march_81

and gathered to call for a ban on fracking in California. To me, it seemed like a sea of people.

2015-climate-leadership-march_94

The message was, specifically, for Governor Jerry Brown to put the kibosh on fracking…

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but more broadly, to use his smarts when it comes to California’s energy policy.

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The good thing is that we know Governor Brown is a smart and caring guy who just called for expansive new environmental regulations and ambitious cuts to carbon emissions in his recent inaugural speech. We also know that Jerry knows something about We the People.

The problem is that in the frack-of-war between The Oil Barons and The People, Jerry is currently being pulled dangerously close to the barrel.

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photo by kimoconnor

The oil industry seems to have planted enough $eed$ in Governor Brown’s head to make him believe in the fairy tale that hydraulic fracturing for natural gas is a climate-friendly alternative to coal and oil. However, when you pull the curtain on all the flowery clean-gas talk and do an honest accounting, you quickly realize that the combined effects of toxicity and greenhouse gas emissions from fracking are no better if not worse than coal and oil.

The People have done the math and spelled out the simple equation for the Governor.

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An equation whose effects rings way beyond California…

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and whose messengers are intimately familiar with how this planet works…

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It’s time for Governor Brown to use his noggin and start whacking the oil demon…

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put together the pieces of the puzzle…

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so we can roll up our sleeves…

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and get serious about real solutions.

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Since I’ve organized a couple of bicycle actions before, I seem to be the go-to guy when it comes to gathering cyclists for these events. This one was pretty casual, as the idea was for cyclists to just show up, pick a sign, and ride along the march rather than scout out our own route.

The REAL work had already taken place last week at an Art Build organized by creative rebel rouser extraordinaire, David Solnit, who had gotten a bunch of folks together to screen print all the banners, signs, and flags.

Art Build for March for real Climate Leadership
All I had to do was create an events page, invite a bunch of bike people in the Bay Area, and bring some zip ties and duct tape to the party. When I got to Oscar Grant Plaza at 10am, I picked up ten flags from David and headed over to the old oak tree, where the cyclists where supposed to meet. It was a pretty musical tree, serenaded by protest songs.

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As people weren’t really supposed to show up till 11, I walked around to get a feel for the early birds. Or should I say bees?

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I took in the last rehearsal for the climate butterfly parachute…

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and David’s oily rendition of the California flag…

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when I heard beautiful voices sounding from 15th Street. The Pacific Islander contingent was practicing the songs they would sing throughout the march, with goose bump-inducing harmonies.

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Nearby, Penny Opal Plant and the Idle No More tribe were getting ready to lead the march.

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Pretty soon, some cyclists were showing up, and my buddy John and I were getting them equipped with flags.

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Hey look! Someone else showed up! Kossacks kimoconnor, dsb, remembrance, and TheLittleOne, who took cover behind her mom as soon as I slung my camera…

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That meant that Glen The Plumber couldn’t be far, but of course he was off checking out the onesies…

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Then the march got going, up Broadway.

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past the Paramount…

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and onto 23rd Street…

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The cool thing about being on a bike was that we were able to cruise up and down the march, taking in the different perspectives and adding another moving part to the scene…

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Speaking of moving parts, when we got to the Northern end of Lake Merritt, the flotilla was in full swing…

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As I was waiting for the march to turn onto Harrison, I caught some good glimpses of the heart and soul of this procession.

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On and on it went…

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At the Southern end of the lake, things got so tight…

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that we had to walk our bikes…

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photo: kimoconnor

As if on cue, the moment we arrived at our final destination, it started to rain. Seeing that we didn’t have a drop of rain the entire month of January, there were lots of smiles emanating from under the umbrellas. Certainly not without symbolism, considering the effects of fracking on water

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The sky was quite beautiful…

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as a backdrop to a number of passionate pleas to the Governor to get with it, and more amazing art works that seemed to be popping up everywhere.

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Down at the stage, pedalers were powering the Rock the Bike stage, once again showing that biking isn’t just a transport solution.

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As we left the festivities on our way over to BART, we ran into this guy, whose sign pretty much summarizes the larger choice that not only Governor Brown but all of us, as citizens, communities, and nations, are needing to make.

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Are we going to stay on the highway to fossil-spewing climate disaster, or are we getting off at the very next exit?

 

Posted by Gypsy Chief