Let’s face it: the filibuster is bad system design. Congress is a body built around the idea of compromise, and yet the filibuster allows any senator to block any bill for any reason with just a phone call. Many of us still imagine the filibuster as a noble thing, where a politician speaks for hours in passionate protest on an issue near and dear to their heart. In its infancy, the filibuster was used like this which made it an interesting artifact of American political theater. However, today’s reality is quite different. Senators no longer need to stand on their feet and talk for hours, as even the threat of a filibuster is enough stop legislation dead in its tracks. Because it’s so easy and there are almost no repercussions, senators end up filibustering any bill they don’t like and very little gets done. It’s a pretty slow bus ride if every passenger has their own brake pedal.
We’re wrecking the world to the point where we won’t be able to live on it anymore. Does no one see the numbers? Is everyone asleep? Who will stand up and be the adult in the room?
In the video below, Professor Kevin Anderson makes a good effort toward being that adult. He eviscerates the state of world climate policy using only consensus figures and basic arithmetic. His assault is relentless and damning, and you may find your mouth agape as you try to process the stark realities of our situation. His presentation is a much more technical and well-put-together version of the climate talk I do, where he crushes the audience with facts and then builds them back up with hope.
The video is long (23 minutes), but seems much shorter because Professor Anderson has that charming British accent we Americans love so much.
The UN Climate Change Conference (nicknamed COP18) starts tomorrow in Qatar…good luck to all participating countries and happy negotiating. The infographic below is a great primer, laying out the current states of climate politics and worldwide carbon emissions.
Climate deniers have cause to rejoice today: they were right, environmental advocates are way off in their calculations. The situation is actually much worse than previously thought.
There is precious little world governments can agree on right now with respect to climate change. Conferences come and go without serious action taking place. The only thing the world does agree on is that two degree warming above pre-industrial levels is the absolute highest level the Earth could withstand without ruin. Two degrees is essentially the point of no return. If we go past that, climate change becomes self-reinforcing and it doesn’t matter what humanity does, the globe will keep on heating up. Two degrees isn’t a safe target, it’s actually quite dangerous. It’s like driving the car at breakneck speed towards a cliff and slamming on the brakes at the last minute, dangerous as hell, but unfortunately it’s all we can agree on.
And so this little adventure has come to it’s first real challenge: the conversion of my father, the climate skeptic.
Dad is semi-retired now, but worked for many years as a well-respected hospital administrator. His specialty was turning around failing institutions: he’d would get hired as a hospital’s president, spend a few years righting the ship financially and then swoop off to his next venture. He’s been pretty conservative as long as I’ve known him, and since he’s moved to the South he admits his beliefs have only been reinforced. He does however take special delight in telling me how liberal he used to be…a little jab to say I’ll eventually come around to his way of thinking.
I spent Monday morning performing the most meaningful activity a person can engage in: arguing with strangers on the internet. The battlegrounds were the comment sections of news stories covering the Keystone XL Pipeline protests that happened in Washington D.C. this weekend. Bill McKibben, 350.org and 3000 of their closest friends encircled the White House to let Obama know that the pipeline was dangerous, that climate change is a serious problem, and that a powerful movement is forming to advance these issues.
Normally I don’t bother mixing it up with people in comment sections. I’d rather pursue something more rewarding, like running face first in to a brick wall. Today was different, though, because I saw an opportunity to present the case against Keystone XL and actually be heard. As of this morning, the comment sections for the various Keystone protest stories were almost entirely empty, most having fewer than a dozen entries, so into the high grass I waded. If you ever have the chance to be a top commenter on a major news article, you should probably take advantage of it. Continue reading A morning well spent→
Sarah and I were in attendance for 350.org’s Do The Math show at the Orpheum Theater last night. Great event! I didn’t know quite what to expect going in…how do you turn scientific lectures about global ecological collapse in to an entertaining stage performance? Overall I’d say they did a pretty good job, though they lost me a bit in the beginning with all of the smooth jazz. Not because the music bad, mind you, but because it mellowed me out when I wanted to get fired up.
I already knew most of the science that got thrown around last night, but I did learn a lot about targeted actions that are happening to advance the movement. The immediate push is to stop the Keystone XL pipeline, for which there will be a big protest at the White House this weekend. I wish I could go, but it’s Sarah’s birthday and we’re going away to celebrate. I will be sneaking off here and there to participate online though Twitter with hashtag #noKXL, and I’d encourage you to do the same.
Divestment is the other big thing going on right now, as McKibben and friends roam the country urging businesses and colleges to take their money out of fossil fuels. The moral argument is straightforward…if it’s wrong to pollute then it’s equally wrong to profit from it. Divestment also hits Big Oil where it hurts the most: the wallet. Most energy stocks aren’t owned by fat cat Wall Street types, they’re owned by regular people who have them in investment portfolios, pensions or mutual funds. Getting regular people to dump their stock will hopefully apply enough pressure to Big Oil’s bottom line that they’ll start making changes.
But in case moral and economic warfare aren’t enough, a national divestment campaign employs cultural warfare as well. The campaign seeks to tarnish Big Oil’s brand and openly stigmatize them as heartless corporate polluters making a buck off the suffering of others. If that rings any bells, you might remember a similar assault on Big Tobacco in the 80’s and 90’s that worked rather well. This kind of direct confrontation is now necessary, because we are so far behind the curve in fixing climate change that subtlety has gone out the window. More importantly, cultural warfare is the right approach because it unites people against a common foe. Every movement needs an enemy to help stoke passions and focus effort, and it’s a lot easier to get mad about the greed of corporate douchebags than it is about charts of atmospheric carbon content.
One of my Mom’s most endearing qualities is that she enjoys cutting out and collecting articles for me to read. Every time I visit her she’s got a stack ready to go with content ranging from global economics to the wedding announcements of people I went to high school with. Subjects evolve over time but are usually focused on whatever my life is caught up in at the moment. So when I worked in games, most of the articles were about that industry and when I was unemployed, most of the articles were about great new career options I should try out. Could you see me as a mail carrier, hairdresser, or used car salesman? She could.
As you might imagine, since I started this site her articles accumulation has focused on environmental issues. And in the age of the internet I no longer have to wait for a visit home to get my stack of articles…digital versions now find their way to my Inbox at any time of the day or night. I received an article from her this morning and, knowing her to be a mild climate change skeptic, I wasn’t surprised to read the following. (Big props for the old-school transfer method, as it’s clear to me she clipped the article and then scanned it).
With ~60% of the United States still under drought conditions, it’s time to start asking what this means and what this suggests. We know what it means agriculturally: the corn and soybean crops have been scorched, resulting in the lowest yields in nine years. Supply dropped below demand for the first time in 38 years and, as of mid-September, 52% of the country’s corn crop was rated poor to very poor in condition. Food prices have spiked as a result and are expected to push even higher in 2013 once the system fully absorbs the impact (beef up 4-5%, dairy up 3.5-4.5%, bakery products and cereals up 3-4%). Economically, we know the impact as well. At a local level, drought drives farmers into debt, cracks the foundations of homes and businesses, and causes water lines to burst. Nationally, the drought has put a dent in total output, reducing US GDP by ~1%. These are all measurable impacts of the drought and it leads to asking: what about the future?