Browsing the archives for the science category.


AFP: Avarice on Steroids

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disasters, natural and unnatural, environment, science, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

The Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity is warning Congress against spending money on Hurricane Sandy relief efforts.

Earlier this week, AFP, which is chaired by [David] Koch and believed to be financed by several other plutocrats from the New York City region, released a letter warning members of Congress not to vote for the proposed federal aid package for victims of the storm that swept New Jersey, New York City and much of the surrounding area in October. An announcement on the group’s website says that the vote next week for the Sandy aid package will be a “key vote”—meaning senators who support sending money for reconstruction could face an avalanche of attack ads in their next election. Already, opposition to the bill is growing, although it passed one procedural hurdle last night. …

… Koch’s top deputy in New Jersey, a surly gentleman named Steve Lonegan, who heads the local AFP state chapter, called the aid package a “disgrace.” “This is not a federal government responsibility,” Lonegan told reporters. “We need to suck it up and be responsible for taking care of ourselves.”

As was asked in a famous joke — Who do you mean by “we,” Kemo Sabe? This is especially rich considering all the Koch Brothers/oil industry money that has gone into discrediting climate science. The AFP website, btw, is screaming about the looming “fiscal cliff” tax increase that would, if Dems get their way, only affect the upper 2 percent.

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The Limits of “Conscience”

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Health Care, Religion, science

The wingnuts are screeching that we must allow Catholic bishops to dictate the nation’s health insurance policies, because otherwise we are violating their religious conscience. As one non-Catholic explained,

As Americans–Catholics and Baptists alike–we are in absolute agreement on the inviolable freedom of conscience, a right recognized and guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution to every American citizen.

“Religious exemptions” are being granted to pharmacists who don’t want to fill birth control prescriptions. As Mistermix wrote,

Tebow and his only begotten son Bieber help us if this keeps up, because we’re going to have a medical profession full of delicate conscientious objectors whose heartfelt beliefs keep them from doing their goddam job. Where does this idiocy end? If you’re a Jehovah’s Witness, whose religion forbids blood transfusions, and you want to become a trauma surgeon, will some federal judge support your right to let your patients bleed to death?

We may be closer to that than you realize. Charles Pierce points to the measles epidemic in Indiana and notes a connection to religion:

The state health authorities in Indiana have released a list of possible places where the victims of the outbreak may have contracted the disease. Several of them, including the College Park Church in Indianapolis and a basketball tournament for homeschooled children, are intriguing because of the cross-pollination between fundamentalist Christianity and the anti-vaccination movement. In 2005, a young Indiana woman came home from a mission trip to Romania and kicked off another measles outbreak within the congregation of her church. …

…In 1985, across the border in Illinois, there was a measles outbreak at Principia College, a Christian Science institution. There were 112 confirmed cases and three deaths associated with that outbreak. Between that episode and 1994, there were four large-scale measles outbreaks at Christian Science institutions around St. Louis. By the way, Principia College still maintains a religious exemption from the requirements of Illinois law mandating proof of vaccination.Instead, Principia students can present an “accommodation form” stating their religious objections to vaccination.

And, never fear, a number of states are considering bills that would exempt school children from vaccinations if their parents object for “philosophical” reasons.

I don’t know if anyone has died in the current Indiana outbreak, but all but two of the cases reported have occurred in anti-vaccination families.

A lot of us geezers caught measles when we were kids, and recovered in a few days. But it tends to be harder for adults, and the disease can be fatal. And then there’s German measles, which causes horrific birth defects when a pregnant woman is infected. Are the whackjobs going to start that up again?

I believe a lot of states have allowed Christian Scientists to slide on the vaccination thing, but since there are so few of them it didn’t cause that much of a problem. I’m reading that now about 10 percent of families with small children are refusing or delaying at least some vaccinations, if not all of them, believing the shots are dangerous. Like the diseases they prevent aren’t?

I believe most states hold parents responsible if a child dies from a curable disease and the parents refused to seek medical help on religious grounds. So there’s a limit to “conscience.” You can refuse medical care for yourself, but not for your minor child. But the vaccination issue points to how interdependent we really are, and how a decision made for oneself could impact a lot of other people. And, IMO, where lives are on the line, your “conscience” has to take a back seat to reality.

This is getting ridiculous. So I’m pushing back on the notion that “religious conscience” trumps all other considerations. My modest proposal is that at the very least, anyone who has not received all recommended vaccinations must be required to wear some kind of ID badge or bracelet, so the rest of us know to keep our distance from them. I suspect a lot of folks will quickly decide that maybe vaccines aren’t so bad after all.

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Affirmative Action for Righties

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science, Social Issues

An article in the New York Times about the dearth of conservatives in the field of social psychology has triggered the usual self-pitying whining from the usual suspects. More proof, they complain, that they are discriminated against by the evil liberal elite!

But the article itself is frustrating. It doesn’t define “conservative,” for one thing. There are, or there used to be, self-defined conservatives who are intelligent and rational people who might make fine social psychologists. However, such conservatives are rare specimens who must keep their heads down and their opinions to themselves among conservatives and liberals alike.

To liberals, especially the young folks, “rational conservative” is an oxymoron. Yet, children, there used to be such people. And I suspect there are a few such people out there. But rational conservatives are an entirely different species from contemporary conservatives, of all stripes — social, neo-, and paleo- — and contemporary conservatism has pretty effectively hunted them all down and driven them out of their company.

Considering that much contemporary conservatism is hostile to science — especially the humanities, biology and earth science — well, OK, any science except engineering, although they sometimes try to fake being economists — it makes sense that the dearth of conservatives in social psychology is the result of self-selection, not discrimination.

This is not to say that social psychologists don’t have sacred cows that get in the way of objectivity, particularly where race and gender issues are concerned. But you don’t eliminate bias by artificially insisting that other biases must be equally valid. Only the science itself should matter.

This is amusing:

Can social scientists open up to outsiders’ ideas? Dr. Haidt was optimistic enough to title his speech “The Bright Future of Post-Partisan Social Psychology,” urging his colleagues to focus on shared science rather than shared moral values. To overcome taboos, he advised them to subscribe to National Review and to read Thomas Sowell’s “A Conflict of Visions.”

Well, yes, I suppose reading Sowell could teach them that African American men can be pig-headed bigots, too.

Anyway — the Society for Personality and Social Psychology is considering adding conservatives to the category of underrepresented groups, along with racial minorities, the disabled, and lesbians/gays and the bisexual and transgendered. Students who fit into these categories can get subsidies to help them travel to the annual meeting. Yes, amusing.

Update: Paul Krugman

It’s particularly troubling to apply some test of equal representation when you’re looking at academics who do research on the very subjects that define the political divide. Biologists, physicists, and chemists are all predominantly liberal; does this reflect discrimination, or the tendency of people who actually know science to reject a political tendency that denies climate change and is broadly hostile to the theory of evolution?

Again, it seems obvious to me that any group of people who would choose to become social psychologists would be predominately liberal, not because of academic bias but because social psychology is inherently something that would appeal to liberals more than conservatives. It’s self-selection, not bias.

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There Is No Climategate

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environment, science, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

As you know, when it comes to facts righties operate with the mother of all double standards. A rightie can pull completely fabricated “facts” out of his (and her) ass with impunity, but if anyone they don’t like is even a tad imprecise, the Right flames it into a scandal that never dies.

So it is with “Climategate.” As you probably have heard, a few days ago more than 3,000 private emails and other documents from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit (CRU) were published on the Internet, allegedly by hackers. (I read an argument yesterday that CRU wasn’t necessarily hacked, but in any event emails that were meant to be private were made public.)

By misconstruing scientific colloquialisms — for example, the use of the word “trick” — and seizing upon peer-review type criticism of a few research papers, the Right has managed to misinterpret the emails into “proof” that global climate change is not just a mistaken idea, but a deliberate hoax — a conspiracy so immense it includes most of the world’s earth scientists, including 97 percent of climatologists. Amazing.

The reason this non-scandal will not go away anytime soon is revealed in a Wall Street Journal headline: “Cap and Trade Is Dead.” In other words, vested interests are involved. Vested interests trump truth every day of the week and twice on Tuesday.

A blogger at RealClimate grumbles,

More interesting is what is not contained in the emails. There is no evidence of any worldwide conspiracy, no mention of George Soros nefariously funding climate research, no grand plan to ‘get rid of the MWP’, no admission that global warming is a hoax, no evidence of the falsifying of data, and no ‘marching orders’ from our socialist/communist/vegetarian overlords. The truly paranoid will put this down to the hackers also being in on the plot though.

At The Guardian, George Monbiot calls on scientists to stop waiting for the screeching righties to shut up and move on to the next non-issue. Monbiot has been on the front lines battling climate-change deniers and knows how crazy — and how obsessed — they are. But, he says, it is true that a few sloppily researched papers were published that should not have been published, a point that was the topic of many of the emails. The fact that this happened is genuinely damaging. The deniers have lied with impunity for years, Monbiot says, but that is all the more reason for science to be much more careful.

Of course, in Rightieworld Monbiot’s article was interpreted to be an admission that climate change might be a hoax. Never forget that these people have the reading comprehension level of turnips.

I know it can be exhausting to deal with righties; while you are correcting one lie, they’ve thought of ten more. There is no more point in “debating” issues with them than in explaining physics to an anthill. But I think it is important to get facts out for the public record, if only because the world is full of lazy hack journalists who don’t bother to check facts, either, unless you do it for them and then rub their noses in the facts so they notice.

I also think Monbiot is right in that care must be taken not to give whackjobs any molehills they can turn into a mountain. For example, one of the several reasons I stopped giving money to the National Abortion Rights Action League several years ago, in spite of my being adamantly pro-choice, is that sometime in the mid-1990s I observed NARAL spokespeople stupidly and unnecessarily handing ammunition to the troglodytes.

This was in the 1990s, when the fetus people seized upon so-called “partial birth” abortions (more accurately called a “D&X” procedure) as an issue to crusade against. NARAL released some figures on the number of such procedures done in the U.S. each year. Unfortunately, the NARAL numbers were only of third-trimester procedures, and the spokespeople didn’t make that clear. Since D&X was mostly performed in the second trimester, the actual number of D&X procedures in total was at least three times higher (the total was between 1,500 and 3,000, depending on who you asked, so it still was a small number). Further, NARAL spokespeople said the D&X was only performed when medically necessary, which was true of third trimester procedures but not always of second-trimester procedures.

I realize the NARAL people probably were taken in by the Right’s incessant yapping about “late-term abortion” and conflation of “late-term abortion” and “partial birth abortion” to be the same thing. To most sane people, a second-trimester abortion is not late term. Still, there is no excuse for being sloppy when presenting data.

Not surprisingly, the abortion criminializers seized upon this discrepancy, and for several months after the opinion section of nearly every newspaper in America was given over to denouncements of the lies of NARAL. And it became an article of faith among “pundits” that pro-rights activists were just as likely to lie as anti-rights activists, never mind that the criminalizers couldn’t string together two truthful statements in a row if they tried. Not that they ever try. From “rapes don’t cause pregnancies” to “abortions cause breast cancer” (they don’t, btw) it would take encyclopedias to catalog all of the misinformation that has come out of the Right on abortion. But NARAL trips up just once, and we never hear the end of it.

So it is with “climategate”; we’ll never hear the end of it. Unfortunately, this will likely slow our response — already too slow — to global climate change.

Update: Talk about a tool — this guy goes on and on about the glory of truth and the wonders of science, then sides with the liars. Amazing. But to really plum the depths of this guy’s critical thinking skills, check this out:

The concept of honor comes from the base of truth and is why it is so prominent in the military and also explains why the vast majority of people in the military come from Judeo/Christian backgrounds.

Yes, in nations in which the vast majority of people are either Christian or Jewish to one degree or another, it’s a safe bet that most people in the military come from Judeo-Christian backgrounds. Hysterical. And the idea that the concept of “honor” is unique to the Abrahamic religions reveals a grotesque ignorance of other religions and cultures. (See, for example, the Code of Bushido).

The phony climategate non-scandal does reveal a divide, but it’s not so much a cultural divide as a social-psychological divide. But we’ve had this discussion before, so I’ll stop now.

Update: The Economist has a good backgrounder on the “Climategate” mess.

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Alerts

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blogging, conservatism, Obama Administration, Republican Party, science

First, I anticipate that sometime today the site will be down while the theme template is being changed. This should not take hours and hours, I don’t think.

Second, today is the 200th birthday of both Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin. Gallup did a poll showing that only 4 in 10 Americans believed in evolution. I personally think “believing in” evolution is irrelevant. The relevant question is, do you understand it? If you understand it, then you see how it works and how the process of evolution makes life on this planet possible. It’s not a matter of belief.

Third, demonstrating all the understanding and compassion of rabid wolverines, the Fetus People are going after a Planned Parenthood clinic for counseling an 11-year-old who was raped by her boyfriend. The 11-year-old said the clinic counselors helped her cope. But the Fetus People are outraged because the clinic didn’t notify the police. Of course, if the girl had asked them not to, because she wasn’t able to deal with the police, and the clinic had betrayed her wishes, the rape victim would have been put through more emotional anguish and trauma. But who cares about the rape victim? All that’s important is to attack and destroy Planned Parenthood.

Fourth, the usual mouth breathers continue to deride Barack Obama for his lack of leadership abilities. Fine; let them continue to look ridiculous. They’re only fooling themselves.

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There’s Water on Mars

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science

I’m no scientist, but I believe this is huge.

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Amazing

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science

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Faith-Based Skepticism

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environment, Europe, science

According to an article in TCS Daily, “climate skepticism” is growing in Europe. Whether that’s true I can’t say, but the article itself is unintentionally, um, revealing.

Climate scepticism has now gained a firm foothold in various European countries.

In Denmark Bjørn Lomborg stands out as the single most important sceptical environmental­ist, defying the political correctness which is such a characteristic feature of his home country, as well as other Nordic countries. But wait! Bjørn Lomborg is not a genuine climate sceptic. Real climate sceptics admire his courage, his scientific rigour and debating skills, but beg to disagree with him on the fundamentals of climate science. Lomborg acknowledges that there is such a thing as man-made global warming, which is quite in line with the mantra of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). He ‘only’ challenges the cost benefit relationships of the policy meas­ures, which have been proposed to do something about it. Massive expenditures (often euphemistically called ‘investments’) in exchange for undetectable returns.

In other words, the foremost “skeptical” scientist is not a skeptic.

Real climate sceptics do not accept the man-made global warming hypothesis. They are of the opinion that the human contribution to global warming over the last century or so is at most insignificant.

Real climate skeptics are not skeptical about global climate change. They just plain don’t believe it, Bjørn Lomborg’s “scientific rigour” notwithstanding.

But, of course, they are happy with the arguments advanced by Bjørn Lomborg to bolster their case against climate hysteria.

Of course.

But the AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming) belief is still overwhelming in Germany. In newspapers and on TV, Stefan Rahmstorf, the German climate Torquemada, — comparable to Al Gore in the US, George Monbiot in the UK and David Suzuki in Canada — are constantly attacking critics of the AGW hypothesis. Contrary to good scientific practice, he lavishly lards his interventions with ad hominem attacks and insinuations that his opponents lack qualifications and/or are being paid by industry.

Comparing Al Gore, George Monbiot and David Suzuki to Torquemada doesn’t qualify as an ad hominem attack?

The author is upset that no one on the Nobel Peace Prize committee is a scientist. But then he says,

Britannia rules the waves. Stewart Dimmock, a Kent lorry driver and school governor, took the government to court for sending copies of Gore’s film to schools. He was backed by a group of campaigners, including Viscount Monckton, a former adviser to Mrs Thatcher. They won a legal victory against ‘An Inconvenient Truth’. Mr Justice Burton ruled that the movie contained at least nine scientific errors and said ministers must send new guidance to teachers before it was screened. ‘That ruling was a fantastic victory,’ said Monckton. ‘What we want to do now is send schools material reflecting an alternative point of view so that pupils can make their own minds up.’ Monckton has also won support from the maker of ‘The Great Global Warming Swindle’. Martin Durkin, managing director of WAG TV, which produced the documentary, said he would be delighted for his film to go to schools. I have become a proselytiser against the so-called consensus on climate change … people can decide for themselves,’ he said.

Notice none of these people are scientists. Double standard, much?

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Don’t Pity the Fool

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environment, science

The notion that global warming is merely a hoax — or, at least, is not being caused by humans — is firmly entrenched among righties. Countless megabytes have been devoted to “exposing” the hoax. Most of their arguments, such as this one, reveal that they understand global climate change about as well as I understand quantum mechanics. Which is pretty much not at all.

Some of the “it’s a hoax” sites are hoaxes themselves, even spoofs. Recently our pal Rush mistook a site spoofing climate change deniers for a serious anti-climate change argument.

Breaking news: “proof” that global warming is entirely a natural event published in a definitive looking (okay, at first glance) site with The Journal of Geoclimatic Studies. (The links are down. Great Beyond has links to the cache material.) According to a ‘research paper’ published on the website, rising levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are coming from CO2 emissions from “saprotrophic eubacteria living in the sediments of the continental shelves fringing the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.” In other words, humanity had no role. Well, this paper began to run the lines of the Climate Denier branch of the Flat Earth Society.

Well, add Rush to the list of Flat Earthers caught, well, caught flat-footed. Yes, “America’s Truth Detector” has such a good nose for fraud that we can expect that Brooklyn Bridge salesmen have had a good time with him.DeSmogBlog has a run of some of those who chose to run with this fantasy. Well, for these Flat Earthers, one problem: none of the authors existed.

The author of the site said in an interview –

Its purpose was to expose the credulity and scientific illiteracy of many of the people who call themselves climate sceptics. While dismissive of the work of the great majority of climate scientists, they will believe almost anything if it lends support to their position. Their approach to climate science is the opposite of scepticism.

Are you surprised at the pick up your coverage has generated?

Not really. Equally ridiculous claims – like those in the paper attached to the “Oregon Petition” or David Bellamy’s dodgy glacier figures – have been widely circulated and taken up by the ‘sceptic’ community. But you can explain this until you are blue in the face. To get people to sit up and listen, you have to demonstrate it. This is what I set out to do.

How quickly did you expect people to realise that your paper was fake?

In the Age of Google, hoaxes can’t last for very long. But it hooked quite a few prominent sceptics before it was exposed. According to the various exposes now circulating online, among others, Rush Limbaugh broadcast it on his programme, James Inhofe’s office posted it on his site [Editor's note: Sen. Inhofe's office says it was never posted on his website], Benny Peiser sent it to 2000 people and Ron Bailey wrote it up in glowing terms.

This rightie “it’s a hoax” site also says Michael Savage was taken in.

It gets worse. Last week Rush blasted an Eskimo teenager for speaking out about global warming. Erika Bolstad writes for McClatchy Newspapers:

Charlee Lockwood has never heard of Rush Limbaugh or listened to his radio program, and perhaps it’s just as well.

On Monday, the talk radio king told listeners that Democrats were exploiting the 18-year-old Yupik Eskimo, and that her emotional testimony that day in front of a U.S. House committee on global warming made him “really want to puke. I just want to throw up.”

“It’s the Democrats exploiting a young child, ladies and gentlemen, for the advancement of a political issue that will grow the size of government and increase their control over everyone,” Limbaugh told listeners of the 600 stations nationwide that carry his show.

Lockwood didn’t let Limbaugh’s comments faze her. Her upbringing in the community of St. Michael included learning “about respect and treating people the way you want to be treated,” Lockwood said, during a brief interview just before she got on a plane to return to her village on Alaska’s west coast.

And she had plenty of people willing to defend her.

“For Rush Limbaugh to make fun of young people coming in and trying to be a part of the political process, it really shows a disdain for political discourse and for the role of young people in that political discourse,” said Eben Burnham-Snyder, a spokesman for the chairman of the committee, Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass.

Limbaugh’s attack on the teenager was “outrageous and grotesque,” said Deborah Williams, an Anchorage environmentalist who accompanied Lockwood on the teen’s first trip to the nation’s capital in 2005. It’s one thing to take aim at a public figure, Williams said, but it’s quite another to attack someone young and eager to participate in the democratic process.

You think Limbaugh gives a bleep for the democratic process?

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Cabbages in Greenland

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environment, science, weather

Greenland Thaws is a series of 13 photos by John McConnico on the NYT website, that will give you pause. I photoshopped a few of them, including captions:

Greeland Farmers

Greenlandic farmers are experimenting with vegetables that have never been grown commercially in the country. Kenneth Hoeg, the region’s chief agriculture adviser, says he does not see why southern Greenland cannot eventually be full of vegetable farms and viable forests.

Greeland Sheep Are Fatter

Ewes are having fatter lambs, and more of them every season. The growing season, such as it is, now lasts roughly from mid-May through mid-September, about three weeks longer than a decade ago.

Greenland Decorative Cabbage

People come from all over to gape at the plants, like these decorative cabbage, growing at [agricultural research station] Upernaviarsuk.

Local Produce

A Greenlandic supermarket is stocking locally grown cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage this year for the first time.

Back in the early 1960s, when global warming was only a theory, scientists predicted that the effects would be most dramatic in the polar regions. This is borne out by the dramatic lengthening of the growing season in Greenland, versus lower latitudes.

This posting is kind of a Rorshach test. Those from a limited perspective may see this single data point as evidence of human ingenuity and adaptability in the face of change, a triumph of free market economics, and conclude that global warming is not as serious as some make it to be. Those from a larger, planetary perspective, will likely be alarmed, for they understand that the earth’s climate is a large and complex system, with many feedback loops and interdependencies, and that a change at one point can trigger dramatic, and less benign changes elsewhere. The world’s leading scientists have articulated many of them.

I’m not a climate scientist, but I am a student of chaos mathematics and physics. I wish I could tell you where I first heard this, but a useful analogy is to envision the earth’s climate as a beach ball at rest between a particular set of sand dunes. It has mostly been in this stable state – resting between a particular set of dunes – since the last ice age. A few breezes may have rocked the ball from time to time, creating mini ice ages for example, but the earth’s atmospheric and oceanic currents have remained in the same configuration since the end of the last ice age.

Global warming represents a large enough energy input that could cause this ball to move, potentially kicking it into the air, where it would ultimately come down and find a new equilibrium, a new resting spot, possibly between a new set of sand dunes. As the beach ball moves to a new resting point, the ocean and atmospheric currents are reconfigured, dramatically altering worldwide weather and habitat.

The ice ages, and the intervening, opposite periods of relative warmth – are similar reconfigurations from the past, times when the beach ball was kicked into a new region on the beach. Transition periods – when the climate is seeking a new equilibrium – when the old pattern is dissolving and the new has yet to emerge – analgous to times when the beach ball is in motion – is the disaster scenario that disrupts everything, not just the lives of farmers in Greenland.

No one knows whether the climate has reached this particular tipping point – whether the ball is airborn and seeking a new equilibrium, invoking this disaster scenario – but it’s significant that the system has feedback loops, amplifying the inputs which push it toward this point of no return.

Al Gore is more optimistic than I, regarding our ability to deal with global warming. It would be one thing if we had a functioning, forward thinking government that could lead the world’s richest, most able nation – as well as the rest of the planet – into something approaching ecotopia, but we’re presently cursed with the most backward, unconscious leaders this country has ever seen, and lots of inertia and brokenness after they leave. This doesn’t even consider Lord Cheney’s demonic lust for a massively bigger conflagration in the Middle East by attacking Iran.

Despite the Democrats’ likely sweep in 2008, and despite the relative sanity of the leading Democratic candidates, my fear about 2008 is that it may be too little, too late – all the moreso if a triangulator like Hillary wins. I hope I’m wrong. I’d be more optimistic if the leading candidates were serious about getting out of Iraq, which is a proxy for admitting and coming to terms with America’s oil addiction, a root cause of global warming. I’d be even more optimistic if the leading candidates were serious about atoning for our country’s shameful acts overseas – necessary to move past war, and to get to cooperation, and to begin to make real progress on living in harmony on the earth. It can be done, if we want it. If the leaders are unwilling, we individual citizens will have to find ways to do this from the grass roots.

If we don’t change course in time, I foresee a period of resource wars – Iraq is the opening battle – which will ultimately be trumphed by the accelerating effects of climate change. It will spread well beyond farmers blessed with cabbages in Greenland. Erratic weather, disease and starvation – the horsemen of the apocalypse – will trumph and finally put an end to war, as people will be too busy simply trying to survive. The Hopi call it the time of Purification, which will either be achieved peacefully, or by force, until we humans get the message. And evolve.

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