The ugly truth about climate denial

May 18, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Little should surprise us in a world where intolerable injustices are widely ignored, from preventable hunger, poverty and disease to irreversible environmental destruction to the global oppression of girls and women; where wealth disparities are at record levels and wealthy bankers are bailed out by the people they’ve bankrupted; where huge corporations pay no taxes and get subsidized by the public; where a war based on lies and deceptions that resulted in unimaginable carnage is heralded as a success; where the assault on basic rights and liberties is greeted with a yawn — if not a cheer; where sports games arouse more passion and emotion than a million babies dying; where a minor celebrity infraction receives more attention than an epidemic of sexual violence in which young girls have their insides shredded with broken bottles and sticks of wood.

In this atmosphere of denial and self-destruction, few things capture the zeitgeist better than the American right’s reckless dismissal of climate change:

Late last week, the nation’s pre-eminent scientific advisory group, the National Research Council arm of the National Academy of Sciences, issued a report called “America’s Climate Choices.” As scientific reports go, its key findings were straightforward and unequivocal: “Climate change is occurring, is very likely caused primarily by human activities, and poses significant risks to humans and the environment.” Among those risks in the USA: more intense and frequent heat waves, threats to coastal communities from rising sea levels, and greater drying of the arid Southwest.

Coincidentally, USA TODAY’s Dan Vergano reported Monday, a statistics journal retracted a federally funded study that had become a touchstone among climate-change deniers. The retraction followed complaints of plagiarism and use of unreliable sources, such as Wikipedia. Taken together, these developments ought to leave the deniers in the same position as the “birthers,” who continue to challenge President Obama’s American citizenship — a vocal minority that refuses to accept overwhelming evidence.

Here are the facts:

The more carbon that gets released into the atmosphere, the higher the average temperature rises. That’s a scientific fact. Human activities, such as driving, flying, building and even turning on the lights, are the biggest contributor to the release of carbon. That too, is a fact.

Yet millions of Americans, including most Republican officials, are in absolute denial.

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A Gulf where the only things able to survive are jellyfish and bacteria

September 17, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

As soon as the White House and Democratic leaders conducted polls and focus groups and determined that a continued focus on the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe would harm their electoral prospects, the fate of the spill was sealed. With the help of BP’s massive spin operation, it was shoved down the memory hole so fast that the epic event and surrounding issues didn’t even warrant a mention at President Obama’s recent press conference.

The cornerstone of the effort to obliterate the story was a hastily released government report that claimed most of the oil had vanished. That report has now sprung more leaks than the original rig, with numerous indications that the damage to the Gulf is profound and lasting.

On September 10th, NPR published this story:

Scientists on a research vessel in the Gulf of Mexico are finding a substantial layer of oily sediment stretching for dozens of miles in all directions. Their discovery suggests that a lot of oil from the Deepwater Horizon didn’t simply evaporate or dissipate into the water — it has settled to the seafloor.

The Research Vessel Oceanus sailed on Aug. 21 on a mission to figure out what happened to the more than 4 million barrels of oil that gushed into the water. Onboard, Samantha Joye, a professor in the Department of Marine Sciences at the University of Georgia, says she suddenly has a pretty good idea about where a lot of it ended up. It’s showing up in samples of the seafloor, between the well site and the coast.

“I’ve collected literally hundreds of sediment cores from the Gulf of Mexico, including around this area. And I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said in an interview via satellite phone from the boat.

Joye describes seeing layers of oily material — in some places more than 2 inches thick — covering the bottom of the seafloor.

This past week, at a University of Florida panel discussion, scientists warned about a grave threat to the Gulf’s resources:

Oil-soaked birds may be the iconic image of the BP spill, but marine biologist Edith Widder said equally tragic events occurred offshore out of sight of the public. The spill’s impact extends to aquatic species already on the brink of devastation, she said, such as Atlantic bluefin tuna that spawn in the area affected by the oil.

“It isn’t just water. This is part of our living ecosystem,” she said. “And what we have to recognize is this is the life-support system for our planet.”

Widder, senior scientist and CEO at the Ocean Research and Conservation Association, compared the spill to pushing on a light switch. If the switch flips, she said, the rich diversity of species in the Gulf will be replaced by a system in which the only things able to survive are jellyfish and bacteria.

In our Orwellian political environment, it’s no wonder that a historic spill could be spiked so easily. Sadly, making the story disappear won’t make the damage disappear.

Instant icon: a photo of Biblical power that defines a generation

September 14, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

We live in an age of denial, willfully suffocating the life out of our planet, our only home, while pretending everything will turn out just fine. It is irresponsibility and selfishness on a cosmic scale. The following photo, distributed by Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser is instantly iconic. It depicts a river of dead sea life and it will haunt you after a single glance:

Here’s a close-up:

Here’s context:

What you see above isn’t a rural gravel road. It’s a Louisiana waterway, its surface completely covered with dead sea life — a mishmash of species of fish, crabs, stingray and eel. New Orleans CBS affiliate WWL-TV reports that even a whale was found dead in the area.

Fish kills are fairly common along the Gulf Coast, particularly during the summer in the area near the mouth of the Mississippi, the site of this kill. The area is rife with dead zones — stretches where sudden oxygen depletion can cause widespread death. But those kills tend to be limited to a single species of fish, rather than the broad sort of die-off involved in this kill.

And therein lies the concern of Gulf residents, who suspect this may be yet another side effect of the catastrophic BP oil spill.

Ignore this story: scientists discover thick layer of oil on Gulf seafloor [Update: BP walks back its role]

September 12, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

I’ve written extensively about gulf denialism, the corollary to climate denialism:

Exxon was a prominent member of the now-defunct Global Climate Coalition, one of the first industry groups established in 1989 to refute findings of the then-newly formed UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Since Exxon’s 1998 merger with Mobil, the oil giant has spent $23 million on stoking opposition to climate action, Greenpeace said. It continues to fund 28 groups that run denial campaigns, according to the report, though the oil giant is hardly alone in betting against climate change.

The report said that the think tanks at the forefront of challenging the science of warming — such as the Heartland Institute, the Cato Institute and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) — receive a majority of their climate-related funds from a raft of utility, coal, oil and car interests.

…I can think of few things more irresponsible and reprehensible than gambling with humanity’s future by pretending that our actions have no consequences. This is about the world my daughter will inhabit, so it’s as personal as it gets for me. And it is truly disturbing that rather than use the Gulf calamity as an inflection point and an opportunity to wake the country out of its environmental stupor, a Democratic administration would aid and abet oil companies in ‘disappearing’ the BP spill.

It’s obvious why the White House and Democratic leaders don’t want to discuss the dangers and damaging effects of the spill: it’s bad for their electoral prospects in November.

In that context, you can see why this explosive story will go absolutely nowhere:

Scientists on a research vessel in the Gulf of Mexico are finding a substantial layer of oily sediment stretching for dozens of miles in all directions. Their discovery suggests that a lot of oil from the Deepwater Horizon didn’t simply evaporate or dissipate into the water — it has settled to the seafloor.

The Research Vessel Oceanus sailed on Aug. 21 on a mission to figure out what happened to the more than 4 million barrels of oil that gushed into the water. Onboard, Samantha Joye, a professor in the Department of Marine Sciences at the University of Georgia, says she suddenly has a pretty good idea about where a lot of it ended up. It’s showing up in samples of the seafloor, between the well site and the coast.

“I’ve collected literally hundreds of sediment cores from the Gulf of Mexico, including around this area. And I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said in an interview via satellite phone from the boat.

Joye describes seeing layers of oily material — in some places more than 2 inches thick — covering the bottom of the seafloor.

“It’s very fluffy and porous. And there are little tar balls in there you can see that look like microscopic cauliflower heads,” she says.

It’s very clearly a fresh layer. Right below it she finds much more typical seafloor mud. And in that layer, she finds recently dead shrimp, worms and other invertebrates.

So far, the research vessel has traveled in a large “X” across the Gulf within a few dozen miles of the well. Scientists have taken eight sets of samples, and Joye says they all contain this layer. It’s thin in some places, inches thick in others. Eventually, scientists hope to collect enough samples to figure out how much oil is now settling to the seafloor.

“It’s starting to sound like a tremendous amount of oil. And we haven’t even sampled close to the wellhead yet,” she says.

UPDATE: MSNBC has more on the ‘Slime highway’ of BP oil:

Samples taken from the seafloor near BP’s blown-out wellhead indicate miles of murky, oily residue sitting atop hard sediment. Moreover, inside that residue are dead shrimp, zooplankton, worms and other invertebrates.

“I expected to find oil on the sea floor,” Samantha Joye, a University of Georgia marine sciences professor, said Monday morning in a ship-to-shore telephone interview. “I did not expect to find this much. I didn’t expect to find layers two inches thick.”

If it is BP oil, it could undermine the federal government’s estimate that 75 percent of the spill either evaporated, was cleaned up or was consumed by natural microbes.

What the scientists do already know is that the oil is not coming naturally from below the surface.

“What we found today is not a natural seep,” Joye wrote in her blog on Sept. 5 when the first surprise sediment was found.

Kate Sheppard comments:

Joye is not the first to report finding oil on the Gulf floor; researchers from the University of South Florida reported last month that oil has been collecting below.

This of course makes it even more clear that the government’s claim last month that the “vast majority” of the oil was gone in the Gulf is simply not true. By all indications, our understanding of where the oil went is still far from complete.

UPDATE II: This jaw-dropping piece from Fortune, BP walks back its role in the gulf oil spill, should have all Americans steaming mad:

As the last tar balls settle on the bottom of the Gulf, it looks like BP may have some extra cash on hand.

The company might not have to pay all of the $20 billion in claims, incoming BP (BP) CEO Bob Dudley told analysts on Monday. This is the latest move in BP’s ongoing effort to back out of the spotlight since the spill.

Another Gulf rig explodes – Vermilion Oil Rig 380

September 2, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Apparently the effort to bury the BP disaster hasn’t stopped reality from intervening:

An oil rig has exploded 80 miles off the coast of Louisiana, with 12 people overboard… U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Bill Colclough tells CNN that all 13 workers involved in the rig explosion are accounted for, but one person is injured.

Further details:

The platform is owned by Mariner Energy. Many of the crews that responded to the blast are those in the area for the cleanup of the BP oil spill, which followed the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig on April 20. According to Mariner Energy’s website, the company engages in deepwater drilling in the gulf, including “higher-risk, high-impact projects that have the potential to create substantial value for our stockholders.”

Despite the best efforts to pretend the Deepwater Horizon spill simply vanished, it’s just a matter of time before we face another such calamity. We’re getting one warning sign after another, from Pakistan floods to Russia fires to the Gulf spill to record temperatures, but heeding none of them. If anything, denialism is stronger than ever. What will it take for us to wake up?

UPDATE: And here we go

The Coast Guard is saying that a mile-long oil sheen is spreading from the site off an offshore petroleum platform that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico off Louisiana.

UPDATE II: Interesting data from Lindsay Beyerstein:

Another oil rig has blown up in the Gulf of Mexico. The Vermilion 380 is owned by Mariner Energy which was recently purchased by by Apache Energy, according to Think Progress. Together, these two companies have paid $745,000 in fines to the Minerals Management Service in 2010 alone, according to my review of public records.

UPDATE III: More disappearing oil:

The Coast Guard is backing off its earlier report that an oil sheen about a mile long was spreading following a platform explosion in the Gulf of Mexico.

The demise of the left and the new (un)reality: a center-right America

September 1, 2010 by · 4 Comments 

Let’s face it, these are dark days for the left. As we barrel toward the November elections and an almost certain triumph for the GOP, we are losing the national debate and making giant strides backward on key issues.

It’s the new (un)reality:

  • George W. Bush is steadily and surely being rehabilitated and now the question is how much gratitude we owe him.
  • Sarah Palin can move the public discourse with a single tweet, promoting a worldview consisting of unreflective, nationalistic soundbites.
  • Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Fox are dominating the national conversation, feeding a steady stream of propaganda packaged as moral platitudes to tens of millions of true believers.
  • In the face of overwhelming evidence, climate deniers are choking the life out of the environmental movement and willfully condemning humanity to a calamitous future.
  • From ACORN to Van Jones, liberal scalps are being taken with impunity.
  • Feminism is being redefined and repossessed by anti-feminists.
  • Women are facing an all-out assault on choice.
  • Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy is being co-opted by a radio jock.
  • Schoolbooks are being rewritten to reflect the radical right’s anti-science views.
  • The rich-poor divide grows by the minute and teachers and nurses struggle to get by while bankers get massive bonuses.
  • We mark the end of a war based on lies with congratulations to all, and we escalate another war with scarce resources that could save countless lives.
  • An oil spill that should have been a historic inflection point gets excised from public awareness by our own government and disappears down the memory hole (until the next disaster).
  • Guns abound and the far right’s interpretation of the second amendment (the only one that seems to matter) is now inviolate.
  • Bigotry and discrimination against immigrants, against Muslims, against gays and lesbians is mainstream and rampant.
  • The frightening unconstitutional excesses of the Bush administration have been enshrined and reinforced by a Democratic White House, ensuring that they will become precedent and practice.
  • Girls and women across the planet continue to get beaten, raped, ravaged, mutilated, and murdered while sports games induce a more passionate response.

All this a meager eighteen months after a wave of hope swept the nation and gave heart to progressives who had battled for sanity and rationality during the dark days of Bush. Well, these days are much darker. Already the national discourse is conducted on the right’s terms.  The marginalization of liberal thought under Bush-Cheney has only accelerated under Obama, and we must accept that indeed, America is — or is becoming — a center-right nation.

Why is this? My thoughts:

There is a simple formula for rightwing dominance of our national debate, even when Democrats are in charge: move the conversation as extreme right as possible, then compromise toward the far right.

This is something Republicans are willing to do while Democrats are not. The media plays along, so the net effect is for rightwing framing to prevail. And prevail it has. The consequence is that public opinion is shifting to the right.

The only question is how far right it can go before there’s a correction. I’m not optimistic.

UPDATE: Let me just add that by no means is this about quitting, but about being realistic. I’d never advocate giving up the progressive fight and I relish taking on those who want to take America “back” instead of taking it forward. With all the setbacks — and we’re facing a major one now — I have faith in the inexorable march of progress. Ultimately, humans will civilize themselves. Let’s hope we don’t bake our species out of existence before that happens.