Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
August 16, 2010

You Don’t Need a Weatherman...
The 1965 Bob Dylan song, Subterranean Homesick Blues, contained the line, “you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” Well, we don’t need a weatherperson to tell us that climate change has begun--but in fact some of them are saying so.

Years ago the U.S. Weather Bureau was merged in to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). One of its projects is the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina. “The climate is changing,” Jay Lawrimore, the Center’s chief of climate analysis, told the New York Times. “Extreme events are occurring with greater frequency, and in many cases with greater intensity.”

Over the period of this January through July, average global temperatures were the warmest on record according to a NOAA report last Friday.

This is certainly the most brutal summer I’ve experienced in Kansas City. In the first two weeks of August daytime temperature highs ranged from 90 to 103F. Worse yet, dewpoints never dropped below 70F and twice exceeded 80–unheard of even where hot humid summers have been the norm.

Friends of ours in Ames, Iowa, home of Iowa State University, have not only suffered similar heat. Torrential rains dumping several inches an hour have led to mass flooding throughout Iowa and contaminated the drinking water supply of Ames.

But our discomfort in the Midwest hardly compares to the death and misery taking place across the planet.

Last time we wrote about the wild fires that hit Russia. The same conditions that led to those firestorms also claimed thousands of lives due to heat and millions of acres of wheat have been lost. Russian President Medvedev told the Russian Security Council, “Unfortunately, what is happening now in our central regions is evidence of this global climate change, because we have never in our history faced such weather conditions in the past.”

It is good that Medvedev acknowledges climate change. But he ignores a part of history about the peat deposits ignited by current forest fires. In 1918, when the fledgling Soviet Union was invaded and blockaded by several countries--including the USA–fighting cut off much of the oil and coal supplies needed for industry. Soviet engineers were able to drain swamps that covered vast deposits of peat and that was used to fuel regional power plants. The peat worked surprisingly well and was used until the 1950s when pipelines from enormous natural gas reserves in Siberia displaced them.

When the peat was no longer used as fuel the engineers of the day strongly recommended flooding the bogs to eliminate fire danger. But the bureaucrats then in charge saw this as a wasteful diversion from their planned quotas and only lightly covered the area with felled trees and brush. Today’s bureaucrats-- who have renounced the Communist Party that first lifted them to power, and are busily completing a counter-revolution to restore capitalism--now face the challenge of out of control peat fires.

Record setting rains, combined with deforestation and development in flood plains, have led to disastrous floods in Pakistan along with dramatic, deadly mud slides in China.

Rice is the most important crop in Asia. A few years ago, research station studies indicated that rice yields fall off substantially with increases in night time temperatures. Scientists have now confirmed these findings in studies of working, fully-irrigated farms that grow “green revolution” crops, and span the rice-growing lands of Asia from India to China. The reduction of locally produced food in areas already suffering from hunger has begun–and will accelerate.

Remember that 100 square mile iceberg that broke off from Greenland we mentioned last week? Richard Alley, a geosciences professor at Pennsylvania State University, told a congressional committee last week,

“Sometime in the next decade we may pass that tipping point which would put us warmer than temperatures that Greenland can survive....What is going on in the Arctic now is the biggest and fastest thing that nature has ever done.”

If Greenland’s entire ice sheet totally melts sea levels will rise 23 feet.

The most ambitious response so far taken by governments to deal with global warming was the Kyoto Accords. The USA has never ratified the treaty and, unless a new agreement is reached, the accord will expire in two years.

Kyoto set a modest goal for major industrialized countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about five percent 1990-2012. One country that should have had a leg up on meeting this target is France. 85 percent of French electricity is produced by nuclear power–an approach much favored by sections of the U.S. establishment. But, it turns out that from 1990-2007 (the latest figures available) even French emissions have actually increased by a million tons of CO2.

The ConLib government in Britain is putting pollution standards “on hold” in order to grant a reprieve to the dirtiest coal-fired power plants.

But the worst record among the Kyoto signers belongs to our neighbor Canada–primarily because of the disastrous tar sands still expanding in Alberta. The process of converting bitumen in to synthetic oil requires the expenditure of four times the amount of energy used in extracting and refining crude oil. It also generates much more toxic pollution. A Globe & Mail article says,

“In the past four years, the volume of arsenic and lead produced and deposited in tailings ponds by the country’s bitumen mines – run by Syncrude Canada Ltd., Suncor Energy Inc., Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. and Royal Dutch Shell PLC– has increased by 26 per cent. Quantities of some other substances have increased at even faster rates.”

Some of you may be asking, “why does he go on and on every week about the same old/same old?” Actually all of the examples I’ve cited are based on news stories over the past couple of weeks. Some of these disasters have received much publicity–along with fresh fund appeals from vultures such as the Red Cross. Others pray for relief. But these are not “acts of God” either in theological or legal definition. Evidence stronger than fingerprints or DNA points to human culpability. The culprits’ M.O. is global capitalism.

I go on and on because whatever we accomplish on other important issues won’t matter much if the oceans rise 23 feet, if there’s not enough rice to feed the people of Asia. Nobody likes to be nagged. But, as my mother taught me, the best way to stop nagging is to do what we’re supposed to do in a timely manner.

Most environmentally savvy unionists dread being seen as nags. They try a more positive approach, such as emphasizing the “win/win” benefit of “green jobs.” But the Dale Carnegie style has yet to win them many friends or influence many people.

I’ve always thought transit jobs are green–and they are being eliminated by the tens of thousands across the country. But here’s another example of what’s happening to more trendy greens, where there is only one win, as reported in the Detroit Free Press,

“Energy Conversion Devices said Wednesday that it plans to lay off 140 employees at one of its solar panel plants in Auburn Hills. The layoffs are likely to occur in October when the Rochester Hills-based company plans to move some final assembly work to one of its underutilized plants in Tijuana, Mexico.”

ECD had been granted a 48-million dollar federal tax credit in January for “creating jobs.”

You don’t need an accountant to know which way the money is flowing.

In Brief...
¶ Some stats released last week: Personal income in the United States fell 1.8 percent last year. The most recent total of Americans receiving food stamps is 40,801,392. The food stamp numbers will go down–but not because of people getting back to work The White House and congressional Democrats agreed to take money from the hungry to help finance legislation to save teaching and law enforcement jobs.
¶ A dip of the banner is in order on the passing of Jimmy Reid. Reid was the remarkable leader of the innovative 1971 UCS Work-In which forced a Tory government to abandon plans to close the Scottish ship building industry. The workers took over the yards but it wasn’t a sit-down strike. They continued work--without the bosses. It was a frightening image to the Establishment and they quickly backed down before others got similar ideas. Reid later broke with the Labor Party after its transformation under Tony Blair and was an active supporter of the Scottish National Party in his final years. The Guardian did a
decent obit.
¶ For reasons not yet made public, the UAW has announced they will not force UAW Local 23 to vote once again on a proposal to cut wages by half at a GM plant in Indianapolis. The first vote was a sound rejection.
¶ September 13 is the date set for an NLRB election showdown between the National Union of Healthcare Workers and SEIU over representation of 43,500 Kaiser Permanente workers in California.
¶ On August 10 the Kansas City, MO school district notified 175 teachers their services will not be needed when the school year begins–August 30.

I managed to satisfy my jury duty without serving on a jury and we returned this morning to our regular schedule of updating the Daily Labor News Digest.

That’s all for this week.

Alliance for Class & Climate Justice

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