Greener Times

Promoting a sustainable society…one day at a time.

Archive for April, 2009

GT for April 27 – May 3

Posted by Trey Smith on April 26, 2009

Greener Times for the Week of April 27 – May 3

Volume 4 No. 2

an e-publication for Greens anywhere and everywhere

Trey Smith – Publisher/Editor

Tom Herring, Duff Badgley & Maryrose Asher – Columnists

In This Week’s Issue
* Industry Spin on Climate is Still Working on Media
* Rule of Law Vetoed by President Obama
* Thoughts By the Way: Spring Hits the Fan
* Our Climate Crisis: Obama’s Fateful EPA Decision
* Un-Spinning the Spin: No Column This Week
* This Week in History
* Letters to the Editor
* Pencil Shavings: Working Out the Math
* News You May Have Missed

Industry Spin on Climate is Still Working on Media
by Glenn Hurowitz, Grist Magazine

New York Times reporter Andy Revkin has a blockbuster story showing that the Global Climate Coalition, the main industry group that spent much of the 1990s seeking to sow doubt in journalists’ and politicians’ minds about the reality of climate change, knew all along that it was real and dangerous:

The role of greenhouse gases in climate change is not well understood,” the coalition said in a scientific “backgrounder” provided to lawmakers and journalists through the early 1990s, adding that “scientists differ” on the issue.

But a document filed in a federal lawsuit demonstrates that even as the coalition worked to sway opinion, its own scientific and technical experts were advising that the science backing the role of greenhouse gases in global warming could not be refuted.

The scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied,” the experts wrote in an internal report compiled for the coalition in 1995.

The amazing thing about this story is not that industry deceived journalists about the threat of climate change, but that journalists are still buying industry deceptions to this day – just different ones.

Having finally lost the battle about the reality of climate change, these same industries and their backers in Congress have come up with a different deception: that bold action on climate change would somehow negatively affect the economy.

In fact, there’s overwhelming evidence showing that climate change is causing hundreds of billions of dollars in drag on the U.S. and world economies as a result of drought, flood, sea level rise (Hurricane Katrina alone caused more than $100 billion in damage), and greater spending on hot-weather accouterments like air conditioning. NRDC estimates the damage from just four impacts at $2,000 per family every single year. And that number doesn’t even consider, for example, the $167 billion annual health care costs attributable to regular old cancer-and-asthma inducing coal fired power plants.

Nevertheless, many journalists, including even many at The New York Times repeat as received truth industry lobbyists’ latest myth that continuing to spew pollution is somehow good for the economy.

I’m sure the oil and coal industries have a memo somewhere that will come out in 15 years showing that, in fact, their economists knew the environmentalists were right all along: a clean energy economy will in fact boost GDP, create millions of new clean energy jobs, and save consumers money on their electricity bills.

But until that memo comes out, they’re going to continue peddling totally concocted junk economics about dirty energy to reporters – and impede the creation of the clean energy economy.

It’s time for journalists to learn from experience that no matter what your instincts or how slick and knowing the industry flacks seem, they cannot be trusted. They can’t be trusted when they say tobacco is safe, they can’t be trusted when they deny the need for seat belts, they can’t be trusted when they deny the dangers of climate change, and they most certainly can’t be trusted when it comes to the new green economy.

Rule of Law Vetoed by President Obama
By Joel S. Hirschhorn, for The Intelligence Daily

There are no headlines or pontificating pundits, but the real news that has become crystal clear to any but the most delusional and distracted Americans is that President Obama has no commitment to applying the rule of law where it counts. Certainly, not applying it to the large number of rich and powerful people that have violated our Constitution and plunged the nation into economic disaster.

Again and again we hear the flimsy argument from Obama and his top advisers that he wants to look forward and not backward. This is tortured logic when it comes to delivering justice in a nation supposedly cherishing the rule of law.

The fundamental logic of honoring and applying the rule of law fairly to absolutely everyone is that people who have broken the law in the past must be held accountable and placed into the justice system after they have misbehaved. In other words, there is no actionable rule of law other than by looking backward into past misdeeds. So how can rational and intelligent people follow the logic of Obama and still believe that he truly understands and honors the rule of law?

It is not believable when Obama says he will honor the rule of law in the future. Why should we trust his rhetoric when he refuses to enforce the rule of law for past actions by some of the most powerful people in America?

There is warranted and massive public disapproval of government as evidenced in the tea parties held across the nation last week. How can Americans respect government when it is so evident that the president stubbornly refuses to seek justice and punishment for those that have violated the public trust? Obama’s reluctance to seek justice for those that have damaged the nation undermines his credibility as an honest public servant.

All of this has taken on new importance as official documents from the Bush administration totally support the view that the US tortured prisoners in violation of international and domestic laws. President George W. Bush lied to us. And even before the latest events there were surely incredible amounts of evidence that high Bush administration officials savaged our Constitution. The constitutional balance of powers among the three branches of government has become a fiction.

What Americans have every right to see is a large number of former elected and appointed officials in the Bush administration as well as many in the financial sector being arrested, indicted and confronted with criminal trials. Americans want to see aggressive prosecution and punishment. They want and deserve revenge and retribution, considering the astounding pain and suffering the vast majority of Americans now experience.

We have every right to see in the public limelight what the world saw after World War II when Nazi criminals were tried and punished on the world stage.

This is not happening because Obama seems to have more allegiance to the plutocracy that brought him to the presidency than to the public that has seen thousands of Americans killed in the unjust war in Iraq and now see their families, friends and neighbors suffering loss of jobs, retirement nest eggs, financial security, personal health and homes. When any politician does not enforce the rule of law then I worry that he or she may fear having the rule of law applied to them.

We have witnessed crimes against humanity. We want President Obama to show complete commitment to the rule of law so that the many lying, corrupt and criminal Americans from both the public and private sectors that have caused so much harm are punished. That includes Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and many, many others in the Bush administration, including those that were supposed to regulate the financial sector.

Obama and his underlings seem to say that doing this would be a distraction and a waste of time. Nuts! It is exactly what the nation needs to rebuild confidence in government and the justice system. On the positive side, there are some in Congress showing interest in prosecuting many culprits. But the White House may be exerting pressure behind the scenes to limit their actions.

Applying the rule of law: If not now, then when? Yes, we can and should.

Thoughts By the Way: Spring Hits the Fan
Tom Herring is a Community Council member on Vashon Island. Catch more of Tom’s thoughts on his blog.

Spring 2009 has hit the fan and my friends are chasing the pieces. In Ballard, a friend is waging guerrilla war against a city mistakenly pushing biofuel. In Lake City, a friend makes a weekly assault on public misperception of Palestine. In the Central District, a friend besieges military recruiters and inconveniences herself for the homeless. Somewhere in Seattle, a friend daily gives the needle to criminal pomposity. In Jordan, a friend patches up families broken by US destruction of Iraq. And on Vashon, two friends who are doing more than the rest of us to hold our cold moral feet to the fire of decency have reached exasperation.

Nationally, Easter has fed the fan with a basket of rotten eggs. Hillary is off playing traffic cop at the ancient crossroads of oriental trade with bland indifference to the criminal role of US forces there. Obama is everywhere spreading unction and meanwhile, with his wife as cover, is selling the real US economy to Wall Street and sending US youth to the Pentagon. He keeps this up, he’s gonna segregate himself. Our campuses have been hoisted on a double petard: corporate and military monies have corrupted the curricula while, at the same time, AIPAC has cowed free expression. Mexico has followed the US into the gutter of callous oligarchy. And likely the clearest message on the wall left by impacts from the fan is this phrase: Made in China. That’s clearer, to me anyway, than the G-20 consensus that the dollar’s status as world reserve currency, c’est fini.

Why all this, why do I punish my faithful readers with wring,wring, wring of the hands? It’s so I can deliver this old song, that’s why:

They’re Rioting In Africa
(The Kingston Trio plays John Foster Dulles)

They’re rioting in Africa, they’re starving in Spain.
There’s hurricanes in Florida, and Texas needs rain.
The whole world is festering with unhappy souls.
The French hate the Germans, the Germans hate the Poles.
Italians hate Yugoslavs, South Africans hate the Dutch.
And I don’t like anybody very much!

But we can be tranquil, and thankful, and proud,
For mans’ been endowed with a mushroom-shaped cloud.
And we know for certain that some lovely day
Someone will set the spark off, and we will all be blown away.

They’re rioting in Africa, there’s strife in Iran.
What nature doesn’t do to us, will be done by our fellow man.

Our Climate Crisis: Obama’s Fateful EPA Decision
Duff Badgley is the leader of the One Earth Climate Action Group and was a candidate for Governor as a Green in 2008. He can be reached at 206-283-0621.

To EPA or not to EPA, this is the question now before Barack Obama. His decision will decide the fate of countless billions.

Obama is possibly considering using the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – not the mass-murdering scheme of carbon trading — as the main way we cope with our Climate Crisis.

Until now, Obama’s climate centerpiece has been cap-and-trade, condemning us to our worst possible climate fate. But his EPA has just issued a “finding of endangerment” clearing the way for possible direct government regulation of greenhouse gases (GHGs).

The EPA ruled that the six main GHGs constitute “a threat to current and future generations” and are subject to its regulation under the Clean Air Act of 1970. This older act has been a wonderfully effective program of direct government regulation. It was implemented before the neo-liberals insanely invented market-based carbon trading that mortally threatens every creature on Earth.

Direct EPA regulation of GHGs tantalizes. Could it be Obama is thinking of imposing dramatic top-down GHG reductions across all sectors America? The endangerment finding gives him the legal authority to do exactly that. Although the EPA ruling applied narrowly to tailpipe emissions, all sources of GHG emissions—motor vehicles, factories, power plants, maybe even agriculture—would likely be subject to regulation. This ruling could spark the structural revolution the Climate Crisis demands of us now. Or not.

At the same time the EPA made its ruling, Obama’s White house issued the expected blather about “preferring a market solution” to the climate crisis. Obama’s spokespeople also said they wanted Congress to take the climate lead by passing new laws that would make EPA regulations unnecessary. The dominant climate bill Congress is now considering, Waxman/Markey, is – you guessed it — cap-and-trade.

As America goes, so goes the world. China and India have made it clear they will do nothing effective about reining in GHG emissions unless, and until, the U.S. does so first. Europe will stay mired in its monstrously ineffective European Union Emissions Trading System until the U.S. shows it a non-market-based alternative that works.

So what will it be, Obama? EPA regs that hold out for the world the only real promise of mitigating and adapting to our rapidly worsening Climate Crisis. Or, more of the lethal, planet-murdering madness of carbon trading.

Un-Spinning the Spin: No Column This Week
Maryrose Asher is a former Chair of the Green Party of Washington State and a tireless activist of many causes.

Maryrose spent the past week north of the border. Will her visit impact next week’s column? Stay tuned.

This Week in History
This Week in History, published by Carl Bunin and edited by Al Frank, is a collection designed to help us appreciate the fact that we are part of a rich history advocating peace and social justice. While the entries often focus on large and dramatic events there are so many smaller things done everyday to promote peace and justice. Find more info at

April 28, 1987: Benjamin Linder, a volunteer engineer from Seattle, was murdered by the U.S.-sponsored contras (characterized by then Pres. Reagan as “the moral equivalent of our founding fathers”) while working on a hydroelectric project in rural Nicaragua.

April 29, 1992: Deadly rioting erupted in Los Angeles that claimed 54 lives, caused hundreds of injuries, cost $1 billion in damage, and resulted in 12,000 arrests. An all-white jury in Simi Valley had acquitted four Los Angeles police officers of almost all state charges in the videotaped beating of Rodney King that had been seen around the world. 17 officers who had watched the beating and had not intervened were never charged. The National Guard was called out to help restore civil order.

May 3, 1963: In Birmingham, Alabama, Public Safety Commissioner and recently failed mayoral candidate Theophilus Eugene “Bull” Connor used fire hoses and police dogs on children near the 16th Street Baptist Church to keep them from marching out of the “Negro section” of town. With no room left to jail them (after arresting nearly 1000 the day before), Connor brought firefighters out and ordered them to turn hoses on the children. Most ran away, but one group refused to budge. The firefighters turned more hoses on them, powerful enough to break bones. The force of the water rolled the protesters down the street. In addition, Connor had mobilized K-9 (police dog) forces who attacked protesters trying to re-enter the church. Pictures of the confrontation between the children and the police were televised across the nation.

Letters to the Editor
Got something you want to get off your chest? Did an article in a previous edition of Greener Times make you madder than a hornet or cause you to stand up to say, “Right on!”? Well, this space is reserved each week for your comments and opinions.

No letters received.

Pencil Shavings: Working Out the Math
Pencil Shavings appears in this space most weeks and solely represents the opinions of the publisher. If you’d like to read more of Trey’s ruminations, visit The Rambling Taoist.

The Washington Legislature will soon put the finishing touches on legislation that will pare about $4 billion from the state budget — another $4 billion in savings will come through other measures. With a deficit this large, almost every program in the state will be affected. It doesn’t matter what side of the aisle you hail from, some near and dear programs and services will feel the budget’s wrath.

I don’t know about you, but once we get beyond talking about hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars, my eyes begin to glaze over. What exactly does a billion of anything look like? A billion is so large and expansive that it’s really difficult for me to wrap my head around it.

So, I started doing some simple calculations to bring this gaudy number down to size. For example, if the legislature decided that you alone were responsible for the deficit and you were expected to pay the money back, how long would it take? If you earn $40,000 per year, it would only take a measly 100,000 years to pay every penny back! (Conversely, if you bring home $400,000, you could pare that number back to an easy 10,000 years!)

OK, I can already here your complaint, “Trey, I really hadn’t planned on working past 70.” Hey, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. If your future progeny earn about the same as you and they work for 50 years each, you can have the bill paid off in ONLY 2000 generations.

Of course, all this is factored on you being able to find and keep a $40K per year job and every penny you earn going to the state coffers. If you earn less or lose a job or spend any of your salary on silly things like food, shelter, education, transportation or going to the movie theater once every decade (don’t buy any popcorn), your indentured enslavement will increase accordingly!

If, on the other hand, your name happens to be Bill Gates or Paul Allen, you could probably pay the whole thing off by cracking open a piggy bank. 🙂

News You May Have Missed

Greenwashing Rampant in Consumer Marketing
A new report released last week by consulting firm TerraChoice Environmental Marketing found that just 2% of the self-proclaimed “green” products on shelves in big box stores across North America live up to their sustainable claims. The firm accuses the manufacturers of the other 98% of so-called “green” consumer items tested to be guilty of “greenwashing,” that is, misleading consumers about the environmental benefits of their products and/or practices…

Firms Infused With Rescue Cash Find Money to Fund Lobbying
Top recipients of federal bailout money spent more than $10 million on political lobbying in the first three months of this year, including aggressive efforts aimed at blocking executive pay limits and tougher financial regulations, according to newly filed disclosure records. The biggest spenders among major firms in the group included General Motors, which spent nearly $1 million a month on lobbying, and Citigroup and J.P. Morgan Chase, which together spent more than $2.5 million in their efforts to sway lawmakers and Obama administration officials on a wide range of financial issues. In all, major bailout recipients have spent more than $22 million on lobbying in the six months since the government began doling out rescue funds, Senate disclosure records show…

Killing Civilians: Questions to Ask in the Dead of Night
Almost like clockwork, the reports float up to us from thousands of miles away, as if from another universe. Every couple of days they seem to arrive from Afghan villages that few Americans will ever see without weapon in hand. Every few days, they appear from a world almost beyond our imagining, and always they concern death — so many lives snuffed out so regularly for more than seven years now. Unfortunately, those news stories are so unimportant in our world that they seldom make it onto, no less off of, the inside pages of our papers. They’re so repetitive that, once you’ve started reading them, you could write them in your sleep from thousands of miles away. Like obituaries, they follow a simple pattern…


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GT for April 20 – 26

Posted by Trey Smith on April 23, 2009

Greener Times for the Week of April 20 – 26

Volume 4 No. 1

an e-publication for Greens anywhere and everywhere

Trey Smith – Publisher/Editor

Tom Herring, Duff Badgley & Maryrose Asher – Columnists

In This Week’s Issue
* What’s Your New Beginning? – Rolling with Unprecedented Change
* Let’s Dump “Earth Day”
* Thoughts By the Way: Hummingbirds
* Our Climate Crisis: No Column This Week
* Un-Spinning the Spin: Air Travel & Its Impact on Climate Change
* This Week in History
* Letters to the Editor
* Pencil Shavings: Echoes of Bush
* News You May Have Missed

What’s Your New Beginning? – Rolling with Unprecedented Change
by Jan Lundberg of Culture Change

At this historic time of transformation both on the Earth and of Earth herself, we humans are playing roles active and passive. Our actions and effects are to date increasingly negative in the aggregate. But there are positive actions and effects as well, unprecedented and serendipitous. Many people even say the crash is good for us.

We cannot run from climate change — especially with diminished economic and financial capabilities. Millions more people every day are having to re-evaluate their survival strategies, thanks to sudden changes. This means people are questioning and jettisoning old assumptions. So we find the overwhelming force of change — that dominant law of the universe — knocking on our doors or kicking us in the teeth.

The mainstream corporate newspapers have begun to report on lifestyle change and to explore aspects of economic adjustment that are remarkably positive in tone, for the most part. [They’re catching up with Culture Change’s two decade-old message.] It is almost all anecdotal, necessary when the usual statistics only measure such notions of gross domestic product and unemployment — both measures being distortions of the real picture. But signs are unmistakable for a cultural shift beyond mere financial reactions:

• The surge in interest in food production on a more and more local basis. It’s clear from the White House’s new kitchen garden, as the highest profile example, stretching to the other coast in northern California where home gardening (food, not smokables) is probably the most popular pursuit happening — Arcata, my old home town. The reasons are many: health, economic, energy independence, and for climate protection.

• The huge drop off in new-car purchases means, as Peggy Noonan wrote a few days ago in the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. will become more like Cuba what with the island’s aging fleet of cars. Other consumer goods U.S. consumers purchase, such as clothing, are now being bought more in used form.

• One out of every nine homes in the U.S. has been foreclosed upon. The implications of the emptying of good houses have not been examined very openly. But we can anticipate more squatting and resistance against eviction. On a large enough scale, this trend would make irrelevant the attempts by the major-property class to direct law enforcement to the elite’s full satisfaction.

Despite these welcome developments — or, as some would say, making the best of tough times until economic growth resumes (we shall see!) — and despite trends that reflect painful adjustment to the financial collapse that hit last fall, we are collectively so far only scratching the surface of cultural change underway.

Therefore, when considering out-of-control influences on all our lives — the biggest ones being possible climate extinction and the peaking of global oil extraction — we must face that the pace of change in our personal lives can only accelerate. These are still easy days.

Time will tell who has fell and who’s been left behind – Bob Dylan

Those who have endured such upsets as job loss, moving from a comfortable home to a more modest and crowded abode (or onto the streets) and the end of consuming at will for gratification, are discovering two sides of the same coin:

(A) The rude awakening of money’s limitations and the disappearance of material security thought to be assured or at least predictable, and

(B) The liberating realization and sensation of simpler living that features less wage slavery and commuting, more time and access to family as folks have to come together to consolidate households, and cooking together rather than eating out or buying processed corporate food.

However, as petrocollapse, “natural” disasters and political unrest start to hit like tidal waves, it will have become necessary to urgently make proactive change in one’s life and community. The question, then, is “What is your new beginning?”

The answer can be either the involuntary convulsing of your life, or the deliberate, planned transformation. Some of the former are:

• Panic over becoming part of the burgeoning underclass, facing hunger, cold and the raw challenges of homelessness

• Being swept up by socioeconomic turmoil such as food riots or violent revolution

• Cutting your losses, such as jettisoning material things and cherished possessions, and becoming a road gypsy

Or, if carried out in anticipation of the above,

• Finding a real community, if you’re not living in one already

• Using skills that the last couple of generations of modern citizens have abandoned or never knew

• Expanding one’s consciousness and depth of feeling to experience natural forces and human connection, finding more love and peace of mind

• Turning around the ecological wave of extinctions and degradation of soil, water and air. Fulfilling the promise of unprecedented tree planting to sequester carbon and to obtain fruits and nuts

• Letting go of our religious faith in technology and our assumed path of “progress” that allows for an unrelenting “march of civilization.”

• An end to hypocrisy and empty talk, e.g., an SUV’s bumper sticker I saw today that crowed, “Global Warming Isn’t Cool.”

• Taking action with like-minded kindred spirits = living life to the fullest.

• Be a part of the new ethic to halt insane expansion of the infrastructure that assumes unlimited population growth

• Take part in restoration of the environment. You’ll be compensated by the community and treated as a hero. If you’re physically unable, perhaps you can sing a song or paint a picture to celebrate the vitality of your tribe.

Let’s Dump “Earth Day”
by Dr. Joseph Romm of Climate Progress

Last year, I wrote a piece for Salon, “Let’s dump ‘Earth’ Day.” It was supposed to be mostly humorous. Or mostly serious. Anyway, the subject of renaming Earth Day has been on my mind for a year now – and all the more so today because the NYT magazine just published an interview with our Nobel-prize winning Energy Secretary, Steven Chu, in which he says:

I would say that from here on in, every day has to be Earth Day.

Well, duh! Heck, we have a whole day just for the trees – and we haven’t finished them off … yet. So if every day is Earth Day, than April 22 definitely needs a new name. So I’m updating the column, with yet another idea at the end, at least for climate science advocates:

I don’t worry about the earth. I’m pretty certain the earth will survive the worst we can do to it. I’m very certain the earth doesn’t worry about us. I’m not alone. People got more riled up when scientists removed Pluto from the list of planets than they do when scientists warn that our greenhouse gas emissions are poised to turn the earth into a barely habitable planet.

Arguably, concern over the earth is elitist, something people can afford to spend their time on when every other need is met. But elitism is out these days. Only bitter environmentalists cling to Earth Day. We need a new way to make people care about the nasty things we’re doing with our cars and power plants. At the very least, we need a new name.

How about Nature Day or Environment Day? Personally, I am not an environmentalist. I don’t think I’m ever going to see the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. I wouldn’t drill for oil there. But that’s not out of concern for the caribou but for my daughter and the planet’s next several billion people, who will need to see oil use cut sharply to avoid the worst of climate change.

I used to worry about the polar bear. But then some naturalists told me that once human-caused global warming has completely eliminated their feeding habitat – the polar ice, probably by 2020, possibly sooner – polar bears will just go about the business of coming inland and attacking humans and eating our food and maybe even us. That seems only fair, no?

I am a cat lover, but you can’t really worry about them. Cats are survivors. Remember the movie “Alien”? For better or worse, cats have hitched their future to humans, and while we seem poised to wipe out half the species on the planet, cats will do just fine.

Apparently there are some plankton that thrive on an acidic environment, so it doesn’t look like we’re going to wipe out all life in the ocean, just most of it. Sure, losing Pacific salmon is going to be a bummer, but I eat Pacific salmon several times a week, so I don’t see how I’m in a position to march on the nation’s capital to protest their extinction. I won’t eat farm-raised salmon, though, since my doctor says I get enough antibiotics from the tap water.

If thousands of inedible species can’t adapt to our monomaniacal quest to return every last bit of fossil carbon back into the atmosphere, why should we care? Other species will do just fine, like kudzu, cactus, cockroaches, rats, scorpions, the bark beetle, Anopheles mosquitoes and the malaria parasites they harbor. Who are we to pick favorites?

I didn’t hear any complaining after the dinosaurs and many other species were wiped out when an asteroid hit the earth and made room for mammals and, eventually, us. If God hadn’t wanted us to dominate all living creatures on the earth, he wouldn’t have sent that asteroid in the first place, and he wouldn’t have turned the dead plants and animals into fossil carbon that could power our Industrial Revolution, destroy the climate, and ultimately kill more plants and animals.

And speaking of God, Creation Care is also woefully misnamed. If humans are special, invested with a soul by our Creator, along with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, then why should we sacrifice even a minute of that pursuit worrying about the inferior species? Sounds to me more like paganism than monotheism.

All of these phrases create the misleading perception that the cause so many of us are fighting for – sharp cuts in greenhouse gases – is based on the desire to preserve something inhuman or abstract or far away. But I have to say that all the environmentalists I know – and I tend to hang out with the climate crowd – care about stopping global warming because of its impact on humans, even if they aren’t so good at articulating that perspective. I’m with them.

The reason that many environmentalists fight to save the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or the polar bears is not because they are sure that losing those things would cause the universe to become unhinged, but because they realize that humanity isn’t smart enough to know which things are linchpins for the entire ecosystem and which are not. What is the straw that breaks the camel’s back? The 100th species we wipe out? The 1,000th? For many, the safest and wisest thing to do is to try to avoid the risks entirely.

This is where I part company with many environmentalists. With 6.5 billion people going to 9 billion, much of the environment is unsavable. But if we warm significantly more than 2°C from pre-industrial levels – and especially if we warm more than 4°C, as would be all but inevitable if we keep on our current emissions path for much longer – then the environment and climate that made modern human civilization possible will be ruined, probably for hundreds of years (see NOAA stunner: Climate change “largely irreversible for 1000 years,” with permanent Dust Bowls in Southwest and around the globe). And that means misery for many if not most of the next 10 to 20 billion people to walk the planet.

So I think the world should be more into conserving the stuff that we can’t live without. In that regard I am a conservative person. Unfortunately, Conservative Day would, I think, draw the wrong crowds.

The problem with Earth Day is it asks us to save too much ground. We need to focus. The two parts of the planet worth fighting to preserve are the soils and the glaciers.

Two years ago, Science magazine published research that “predicted a permanent drought by 2050 throughout the Southwest” – levels of soil aridity comparable to the 1930s Dust Bowl would stretch from Kansas and Oklahoma to California. The Hadley Center, the U.K.’s official center for climate change research, found that “areas affected by severe drought could see a five-fold increase from 8% to 40%.” On our current emissions path, most of the South and Southwest ultimately experience twice as much loss of soil moisture as was seen during the Dust Bowl.

Also, locked away in the frozen soil of the tundra or permafrost is more carbon than the atmosphere contains today (see Tundra, Part 1). On our current path, most of the top 10 feet of the permafrost will be lost this century – so much for being “perma” – and that amplifying carbon-cycle feedback will all but ensure that today’s worst-case scenarios for global warming become the best-case scenarios (see Tundra, Part 2: The point of no return). We must save the tundra. Perhaps it should be small “e” earth Day, which is to say, Soil Day. On the other hand, most of the public enthusiasm in the 1980s for saving the rain forests fizzled, and they are almost as important as the soil, so maybe not Soil Day.

As for glaciers, when they disappear, sea levels rise, perhaps as much as two inches a year by century’s end (see Nature sea level rise shocker: Coral fossils suggest “catastrophic increase of more than 5 centimetres per year over a 50-year stretch is possible.” Lead author warns, “This could happen again.”). If we warm even 3°C from pre-industrial levels, we will return the planet to a time when sea levels were ultimately 80 feet higher. The first five feet of sea level rise, which seems increasingly to occur this century on our current emissions path, would displace more than 100 million people. That would be the equivalent of 200 Katrinas. Since my brother lost his home in Katrina, I don’t consider this to be an abstract issue.

Equally important, the inland glaciers provide fresh water sources for more than a billion people. But on our current path, they will be gone by century’s end.

So where is everyone going to live? Hundreds of millions will flee the new deserts, but they can’t go to the coasts; indeed, hundreds of millions of other people will be moving inland. But many of the world’s great rivers will be drying up at the same time, forcing massive conflict among yet another group of hundreds of millions of people. The word rival, after all, comes from “people who share the same river.” Sure, desalination is possible, but that’s expensive and uses a lot of energy, which means we’ll need even more carbon-free power.

Perhaps Earth Day should be Water Day, since the worst global warming impacts are going to be about water – too much in some places, too little in other places, too acidified in the oceans for most life. But even soil and water are themselves only important because they sustain life. We could do Pro-Life Day, but that term is already taken, and again it would probably draw the wrong crowd.

We could call it Homo sapiens Day. Technically, we are the subspecies Homo sapiens sapiens. Isn’t it great being the only species that gets to name all the species, so we can call ourselves “wise” twice! But given how we have been destroying the planet’s livability, I think at the very least we should drop one of the sapiens. And, perhaps provisionally, we should put the other one in quotes, so we are Homo “sapiens,” at least until we see whether we are smart enough to save ourselves from self-destruction.

What the day – indeed, the whole year – should be about is not creating misery upon misery for our children and their children and their children, and on and on for generations (see “Is the global economy a Ponzi scheme?”). Ultimately, stopping climate change is not about preserving the earth or creation but about preserving ourselves. Yes, we can’t preserve ourselves if we don’t preserve a livable climate, and we can’t preserve a livable climate if we don’t preserve the earth. But the focus needs to stay on the health and well-being of billions of humans because, ultimately, humans are the ones who will experience the most prolonged suffering. And if enough people come to see it that way, we have a chance of avoiding the worst.

We have fiddled like Nero for far too long to save the whole earth or all of its species. Now we need a World War II scale effort just to cut our losses and save what matters most. So let’s call it Triage Day. And if worse comes to worst – yes, if worse comes to worst – at least future generations won’t have to change the name again.

As a final thought, I suspect that many environmentalists and climate science advocates will have their own, private name: “I told you so” Day. Not as a universal as “Triage Day,” I admit, but it has a Cassandra-like catchiness, no?

Thoughts By the Way: Hummingbirds
Tom Herring is a Community Council member on Vashon Island. Catch more of Tom’s thoughts on his blog.

Note: This should have appeared in this space LAST week, but the doofus editor made a grievous boo boo.

Outside our dining room window I saw a hummingbird pause at the feeder, and then it was gone. This was a miracle. I returned to my chore of clearing out the email box and made a list of stupid, greedy, and cruel human doings. This is an indictment:

* US sends drone bombers over Pakistan
* Obama blocks repeal of Bush wiretapping order
* Monsanto is taking over the food supply
* Israel confiscates Gaza fishing boats
* Iceland bankers sell their country
* The US should “leave us alone” says Pakistani H.Gauhar
* Exxon never paid, but the spilled oil persists
* Iraq vet Tyler Boudreau: we were killers
* Sri Lanka government pens its Tamils
* Seymour Hersh: Cheney operated an assassin squad
* Democrats pass carbon trade bill
* Flame retardants pollute ocean beaches
* Nestlé commandeers public aquifer
* Children’s culture suffers rampant commercialization
* Drone gunships ready for US domestic deployment
* Student who blocked illegal land auction gets 2 years jail term

So you don’t get e-mails, okay, how can you live in a country where club soda bottles are labeled with “Nutrition Facts”? Makes you reach for some perspective. Let’s see. Vision so acute an antelope can count the ammunition on a hunter’s belt while he has a telescopic sight on it, such vision by scientific consensus has evolved over a period of oh, about five hundred million years. The flight control system of the hummingbird arguably took less time. The human mind arguably took even less time to evolve, say ten million years. But the corporate mentality that has evolved a marketing strategy for selling packaged chemicals as food, the ubiquitous “Nutrition Facts” label, needed a mere fifty years. Evolution has sped up. In another fifty years, at this rate, we will be reproducing asexually in toxic mud.

For me, plants and animals used to be just visual images. Now, I treasure unincorporated life. Now, as I read about the drone gunships and Iceland melting, I want to get down on my knees at the hummingbird feeder and imagine a parallel universe in which expression of the hypocrisy gene is fatal.

Our Climate Crisis: No Column This Week
Duff Badgley is the leader of the One Earth Climate Action Group and was a candidate for Governor as a Green in 2008. He can be reached at 206-283-0621.

Duff is taking this week off to recharge his batteries.

Un-Spinning the Spin: Air Travel & Its Impact on Climate Change
Maryrose Asher is a former Chair of the Green Party of Washington State and a tireless activist of many causes.

Not one to shy away from debate, I have read the exchanges in Greener Times between cars vs. no cars and city living vs. rural living and would like to add my thoughts. By the way, nothing I say here is meant to diminish the wonderful work Duff and all One Earthers are doing to educate the public on the harm of biofuels.

Leaving that aside for the moment, I want to bring up one of those untouchable subjects, perhaps more so than asking folks to give up their cars, and that is to eliminate, or at least curtail, air travel.

I realize this goes against the grain as people want, or feel, they need to fly in order to visit family or friends, vacation overseas, or attend conferences or conventions. It is the most affordable and fastest mode of transportation, however there is no denying it is a major contributor to environmental pollution.

Research by Friends of the Earth found that carbon dioxide generated by a single, round-trip London to Miami flight was equal to one year of automobile driving by the average British motorist.

Commercial aircraft pump out 600 million tons of carbon dioxide every year. In addition, flying is more harmful to the atmosphere than driving since carbon dioxide, water vapor, and nitrogen oxide emitted by the aircraft directly enters the ozone layer. When these elements are released at ground level, water vapor and nitrogen largely evaporate.

We therefore need to find an alternative to air travel and an efficient railway system may be the answer.

Below is a statement from an Amtrak Position Paper (2002) that addresses this issue:

Society overlooked the potential advantages of a properly funded passenger rail system and the US bought “wholesale” into autos and airplanes as the preferred mode of passenger transportation. Congress began to subsidize these industries at the expense of the passenger rail industry. This was a mistake for many reasons. In our rush to “progress” we did not recognize that our virtual sole reliance on the auto and airline industry portended some serious consequences for the country such as oil shortages, high energy consumption, pollution, congestion, high highway and airport costs via public funds and many other ills.

Not only does the government subsidize the auto and airline industry at the expense of the passenger rail system, but the airline industry also receives less obvious benefits. For example, aviation fuel is not taxed on international flights. In 1944, in order to promote the new aviation industry, an agreement made aviation fuel tax-free on international travel. This agreement remains in force to the present.

The fact is the United States has not kept up with the rest of the world in developing a viable passenger rail system. A study by the International Railway Journal reveals that the US ranks between Bolivia and Turkey with only $1.65 per capita spent on rail travel. In comparison, Switzerland’s per capita rate is $228.29.

The information below addresses the question as to whether rail service could improve US carbon emissions.

More trains can help address the global warming problem. “Energy efficiency is a good proxy for emissions, and emissions per passenger-mile and ton-mile are lower for rail than for aviation, cars and trucks,” said Ross B. Capon, executive director of the National Association of Railroad Passengers.
* Amtrak in 2003 consumed 18% less energy per passenger-mile than commercial aviation; 17% less than automobiles,
* Commuter rail was 22% more energy efficient than automobiles, and
* Freight rail was 18% more fuel efficient per ton-mile than water carriers. And, comparing energy consumption per rail-car-mile and per mile traveled by heavy single-unit and combination trucks, the rail-car consumed 36% fewer British Thermal Units.
[Source for all modes: Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Transportation Energy Data Book: Edition 25, tables 2.11, 2.12 and 2.14]

Many may not realize that the Kyoto Protocol does not include cutting greenhouse gases produced by the airline industry due to the difficulty in allocating responsibility for aircraft emissions between countries. This means aircraft emissions are not calculated into its effects on climate change.

As to whether carbon-trading will fix the problem, the following is from an article in the Guardian, “What is the environmental cost of flying?”

EU aircraft emissions have risen by 87% since 1990, and by 2030 the government says a quarter of all UK carbon pollution will come from jet engines. The decision to increase the capacity of Heathrow and other airports mean that almost the entire government-projected carbon quota for 2050 will be bagged by aircraft. Airlines say they have made great strides in fuel efficiency – up 70% since the 1960s – but a rapid expansion in the number of flights will swamp future improvements. And there is no obvious technological fix.

So what is the solution? Yesterday, the EU took the first steps to snare airlines in its emissions-trading scheme, which requires companies to buy their way out of missed pollution targets. That the majority of airlines support the move speaks volumes.

According to Friends of the Earth member Richard Dyer: “Emissions trading is better than nothing, but it will have a tiny impact on aviation emissions. We need additional measures to curb aviation demand.”

There is a substantial increase in one’s carbon footprint, especially for someone who does not drive yet continues to fly. Each of us can calculate our carbon footprint by going to My Green Lifestyle First, do your calculations with the amount of flying you actually do and then as if you did not use air travel. It might surprise you to learn how substantial the impact of flying has on your carbon footprint.

In conclusion, and revealing my inability to stay above the fray, I would like to argue that those living in the country may need their cars, but many are telecommuters, artists, or retired and do not use their cars on a daily basis. They are closer to their food source by way of their own gardens and local farms, recycle, compost, use worm bins, and plant trees. Also, since bus service is limited, if even available, there are fewer buses which are carrying few or even no passengers polluting the environment as you have in the city.

As you can see, there are too many variables involved to judge one another simply on one or two lifestyle choices. I think it best to focus not on the other person but on how each of us can lower our own carbon footprint and give serious consideration to, if not eliminating, at least reducing your air travel.

But, we also cannot leave it there, as Duff has shown by his protests. We must also continue to educate ourselves and the public and take action to stop our government from subsidizing pollution and promote alternative forms of transportation. We are all passengers on this planet Earth and, as far as I know, it still remains the only spaceship we have. Let’s keep up the maintenance necessary to sustain this planet for ourselves and future generations.

Referenced articles:
Cheap air travel adding to global warming woes
What is the environmental cost of flying? – Environment – The Guardian
Amtrak Position Paper
U.S. Transportation Subsidies
NARP: National Association of Railroad Passengers

P.S. A secondary environmental impact is reported by Associated Press reporter Michael J. Snippen, “FAA wants info on bird strikes to be secret” (3/28/09). Snippen reports that the Federal Aviation Industry (FAA) wants to keep from the public where and how often commercial aircraft are damaged by hitting birds. They claim the public would “misinterpret” the information. After an incident involving the US Airways jet which had to land in the Hudson River, the AP requested the FAA database. So far, the FAA has failed to release the data and the request is “under review.” However, the FAA did admit that bird-strike incidents are increasing and said strikes increased from 1,759 in 1990 to 7,666 in 2007. Flying evidently not only has a major impact on climate change but has also made life dangerous for birds!

This Week in History
This Week in History, published by Carl Bunin and edited by Al Frank, is a collection designed to help us appreciate the fact that we are part of a rich history advocating peace and social justice. While the entries often focus on large and dramatic events there are so many smaller things done everyday to promote peace and justice. Find more info at

April 21, 1989: Six days after the death of Hu Yaobang, the deposed reform-minded leader of the Chinese Communist Party, some 100,000 students from more than 40 universities gathered at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to commemorate Hu prior to his funeral. They voiced their discontent with China’s authoritarian communist government, and called for greater democracy. Ignoring government warnings of violent suppression of any mass demonstration, the students were joined by workers, intellectuals, and civil servants.

April 22, 1970: On the first Earth Day observance, an estimated 20 million participated in peaceful demonstrations of concern for the environment across the U.S. An estimated 20 million people participated including ten thousand grade schools and high schools, two thousand colleges across one thousand communities.

April 24, 1915: The Ottoman Turkish government arrested 200 of the most prominent political and intellectual leaders of the Armenian community in the capital, Constantinople (now Istanbul). These men and hundreds more were then imprisoned from throughout Anatolia (present-day Turkey) and, shortly thereafter, most were summarily executed. This is the day on which the genocide of more than a million Armenians is commemorated: when the intention of the Turkish government to eliminate the Armenian people became clear. Already Armenian recruits in the Ottoman Turkish army had been disarmed and organized as laborers working under slave-like conditions.

Letters to the Editor
Got something you want to get off your chest? Did an article in a previous edition of Greener Times make you madder than a hornet or cause you to stand up to say, “Right on!”? Well, this space is reserved each week for your comments and opinions.

No letters received.

Pencil Shavings: Echoes of Bush
Pencil Shavings appears in this space most weeks and solely represents the opinions of the publisher. If you’d like to read more of Trey’s ruminations, visit The Rambling Taoist.

On Election Day 2008, progressives around the world hailed the election of Barack Obama. We were told again and again that THIS president would be different. Heck, Obama himself declared that this presidency would be different. There would be more transparency. The lobbyist revolving door between Corporate America and the capitol would be shut tight. The troops would begin coming home from Iraq by June 2009. Best of all, the excesses of the Bush administration would be tossed away.

As with almost every president before him, many have come to find out that the big O was blowing smoke! There has been little transparency. Senators and Congressman are being forced to vote on important legislation that is handed to them an hour or two beforehand (echoes of Bush). Obama’s cabinet is crammed full of lobbyists (echoes of Bush). The target date to begin bringing troops home from Iraq keeps getting pushed back; 6 months has become 2011 and beyond (echoes of Bush). Torture, wiretapping and illegal detainments have not been cast aside but embraced (echoes of Bush). And the transfer of public monies to rich campaign contributors has not been diminished BUT INCREASED (echoes of Bush).

The president who was supposed to make us forget about George W. Bush has become a more charismatic and erudite edition of the same character. While everyone lauds the new guy, he is sinking us (the lower and middle classes) into such a deep economic hole that we may never be able to escape it. What’s worse, this is not just about our money either; it’s about consolidating power too.

When will Americans recognize that presidents come and go, but the real powers — the moneyed interests — are calling the shots from behind the curtain?

If you haven’t seen The Obama Deception, I strongly urge you to check it out. This nearly 2 hour long documentary is an eye opener. I don’t agree with all the film’s suppositions, but I do think it is thought provoking.

News You May Have Missed

The Crisis That Could Bring Down Obama
Goldman Sachs reports better-than-expected profits this quarter. Wells Fargo cleared record profits last week. The President, understandably, points to signs of hope and encourages Americans to be optimistic about the economy. But when do we move from healthy confidence to a confidence game? The banks are reporting profits thanks to massive infusions of taxpayer bailout funds. It’s simply silly to be lulled by cheery-sounding reports when the institutions are actually insolvent. At some point we have to take a clear-eyed look at the massive failure of our financial system. Ignoring it won’t make it go away…

Don’t Fall for the Old Divide and Conquer Trick
The powers-that-be are trying to distract us from the looting of our wallets by the big banks by creating a left-versus-right, us-versus-them drama. You know, the old divide-and-conquer schtick. Americans from across the political spectrum are furious at the financial elite who have robbed us blind, and their enablers in government. While at the moment, conservatives are getting more press, those on the left are just as angry. For example, leading progressive Glenn Greenwald wrote an essay entitled “The virtues of public anger and the need for more” cheering the fact that Americans are starting to get in touch with their righteous anger at being ripped off…

Global Warming Study: Nations Need to Cut Emissions by 70 Percent
The threat of global warming can be significantly lessened if nations cut emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases by 70 percent this century, according to a new study. This would help reduce the most dangerous aspects of climate change, including massive losses of Arctic sea ice and permafrost and significant sea level rise, although global temperatures will still rise…

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