Week In Review March 26

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Mar 262016

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

A bit early this time—but expect future delays. (See below)

Can Scientists Also Be Activists?

Scientists Warn of Perilous Climate Shift Within Decades, Not Centuries was the headline of a “balanced” article in the New York Times. It began,

The nations of the world agreed years ago to try to limit global warming to a level they hoped would prove somewhat tolerable. But leading climate scientists warned on Tuesday that permitting a warming of that magnitude would actually be quite dangerous. The likely consequences would include killer storms stronger than any in modern times, the disintegration of large parts of the polar ice sheets and a rise of the sea sufficient to begin drowning the world’s coastal cities before the end of this century, the scientists declared.

Dr James E Hansen

‘We’re in danger of handing young people a situation that’s out of their control,’ said James E. Hansen, the retired NASA climate scientist who led the new research. The findings were released Tuesday morning by a European science journal, Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.”

A draft of their conclusions was widely circulated last year before the Paris Climate Summit. The Paris gathering made a symbolic gesture toward it when they said they should strive to cap warming at a global average of 1.5C above pre-industrial levels–while for sure going no more than the previous target of 2C. Since we are already at about 1.4, and Paris produced only hazy goals, not mandated quotas for each country, Hansen dismissed the treaty—yet to be ratified—as a fraud. Not many climate scientists are as outspoken as Hansen but most share his disappointment and apprehension.

While few scientists would risk an outright challenge to Hansen and his collaborators the Times piece devotes considerable ink/pixels to hesitations raised by some.

‘Some of the claims in this paper are indeed extraordinary,’ said Michael E. Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University. ‘They conflict with the mainstream understanding of climate change to the point where the standard of proof is quite high.’”

The “extraordinary claims” don’t break any totally new ground. The traditional narrative that global warming is driven primarily by burning fossil fuels is still valid. The new paper does upgrade the threat of methane—a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide—that is growing rapidly as a waste emission from fracking. And the study updates analysis and predictions about side-effects of fossil pollution–feed-back loops generated by warming itself.

As we noted in the last WIR, warming has affected the coldest regions the most, speeding up the melting of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, releasing still more methane from thawing PermaFrost, that along with expanding the volume of now warmer water affects sea level rise and weather patterns throughout the world. As some Australian climate scientist rappers put to music—feed-back is climate change on crack. We have even less time than once assumed to stop climate change short of irreversible catastrophe.

The “mainstream understanding” Mann refers to is actually the political compromises that have been demanded in publishing United Nations scientific reports. They have tended to be relatively conservative. Of course, there can never be too much proof. But the laboratory for verifying or rejecting climate hypotheses is our biosphere—and there’s no mulligan do-overs in the experiments. So far, the Hansen school scientists have been pretty much spot on in their predictions.

The Times finds another current of uneasiness among some scientists,

Among Dr. Hansen’s colleagues, some of the discomfiture about the new paper stems from his dual roles as a publishing climate scientist and, in recent years, as a political activist. He has been arrested at rallies, and he has joined with a group of young people who sued the federal government over what they said was its failure to limit global warming. Dr. Hansen argues that society is in such grave peril that he feels morally compelled to go beyond the normal role played by a scientist and to sound a clear warning. That stance has made him a hero to college students fighting climate change, but some fellow scientists fear he has opened himself to the charge that he is skewing his scientific research for political purposes.”

All climate scientists have been attacked by the deniers fronting for corporate climate wreckers for having a political agenda—or greed in getting lush grants. This includes all former and present candidates for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. It is no service to either science or society to timidly limit scientific discussion to an ivory tower. And Hansen is certainly not the first prominent scientist to take dire warnings to the public.

Linus Pauling won two Nobel Prizes—one for Chemistry, the other for Peace. He was a nuclear disarmament activist admired by many college students—some inspired to become scientists.

Barry Commoner was an eminent biologist, a winner of the prestigious Newcomb Cleveland Prize. But he was above all an activist scientist. To test his supposition that radioactive strontium 90 from nuclear weapon test fallout was being passed through grazing cows in to their milk—and in to children’s teeth and bones—he called for donations of baby teeth for testing. He got the cooperation of a union leader—Tony Mazzocchi of the Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers—and OCAW members sent in plenty of samples from their Tooth Fairy. This study had a major impact on nuclear powers agreeing to ban above ground tests. In 1970, Time magazine featured Commoner on their cover and described him as the “Paul Revere of Ecology.” His lay lingo works still deserve study.

I think we could use a lot more climate scientists like these two examples who used their science to determine their political agenda—the opposite of the deniers and the timid. Activist scientists who would bury or exaggerate scientific truth would be of no use to us. But neither would we benefit from confining discussion of the greatest challenge humanity has yet faced to an isolated elite.

The Times article closes,

Even scientists wary of the specific claims in the new paper point to Dr. Hansen’s history to argue that his ideas need to be taken seriously. ‘I think we ignore James Hansen at our peril,’ Dr. Mann said.”

He got that right. Unfortunately, there is a lot of perilous ignorance out there. It’s up to those of us who know better to try to turn that around—and I’m glad we have Jim Hansen on our side.

On to the City of Broad Shoulders

This Thursday, hopefully around 7:30AM, I will be aboard Amtrak’s Southwest Chief leaving Kansas City, headed to Chicago’s Union Station. I always enjoy a trip to the city where I lived in the early Sixties when it could still claim Second City status. It was where I joined the now defunct Young Socialist Alliance at about the same time as Bernie Sanders was in the just as defunct Chicago Young People’s Socialist League. I don’t recall ever meeting Bernie who was enrolled at the University of Chicago while I was settling in for a life of blue collar employment.

But I won’t see much of the attractions of the Windy City this time. I’ll be headed to the Labor Notes Conference in Rosemont, adjoining O’Hare airport. There will likely be upwards of a couple of thousand labor activists, including many from outside North America, so it seems like a good place to be.

Like I have for the last three such biennial events, I requested a “vendor” table. This time there was unprecedented demand for table space. This good news unfortunately caused me some problems. By the time my table request was confirmed the union printer I use couldn’t guarantee my piddly jobs would be done in time–because of a backlog created by election related work. So instead of the union bug we’ve always had on our free hand-outs this time we acknowledge they are printed “in house.”

Safety Editor with Webmaster

This is literally true. I’d be empty handed if our resourceful site Safety Editor—a member of the National Writers Union who also happens to share her home with me—hadn’t done yeowoman’s work cranking out on her printer the three leaflets that will be on the kclabor.org table. We’ll also have an assortment of buttons—with a union bug—for a dollar each, Stop Global Warming tote bags for five bucks, and we’re pleased to have a small consignment of labor and climate books from MayDay Books in Minneapolis. If you are attending the conference I hope you will drop by and say hello.

Because I am old and slow, there will be no WIR next week, and I won’t be posting news on the Labor Advocate blog over the next two weeks.

That’s all for this week.


The WIR is available by RSS

If you want to be on our e-mail list send your name and e-mail address to: billonasch@kclabor.org

You can follow Bill Onasch on Google+

Check out our digest of news stories about working class and climate issues, posted Monday-Friday by 9AM Central. on our companion Labor Advocate blog.

Our sole source of operating income is reader contributions. If you can help please visit the KC Labor Donate page.

This blogger is a NWU member

Week In Review March 20

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Mar 202016

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

Staying Above Water

My wife’s daffodils and the city’s Bradford Pears started magnificent blooming here in Kansas City weeks before the end of another warm winter. We, of course, are not unique. On a color coded world map prepared by NASA KC is in a big region of North America that had a temperature anomolay of +2-4 degrees Celsius in February.

That’s actually quite a bit–but it pales in comparison to other areas that contributed to making this the warmest February on record—following 2015 being the hottest year since measuring began. A vast swath of northern Europe and Asia, right across to Alaska and much of Canada, had above normal readings that ranged from 4-11C. And some spots above the Arctic Circle were hotter yet.

Suzanne Goldenberg opened a Guardian story datelined Ft Yukon, Alaska,

This year’s record-breaking temperatures have robbed the Arctic of its winter, sending snowmobilers plunging through thin ice into freezing rivers and forcing deliveries of snow to the starting line of Alaska’s legendary Iditarod dogsledding race. Last month’s high temperatures – up to 16C (29F) above normal in some parts of the Arctic – flummoxed scientists, and are redefining life in the Arctic, especially for the indigenous people who live close to the land. In Fort Yukon, an indigenous Gwich’in community eight miles inside the Arctic Circle, the freakishly warm weather is forcing people off the rivers that are their main transport corridors in the winter time. ‘You can’t trust the ice,’ said Ed Alexander, Yukon Flats centre coordinator for the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. ‘This is the warmest winter that we have ever seen up here. We have had less snow. We have had real thin ice. We have had an explosion of growth in the brush clogging up trails and that kind of thing. It makes everything dangerous.’”

The impact of warming causing so much grief for the Gwich’in dwelling in the Earth’s “air conditioner” is also being felt thousands of miles to the south by the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw. Segments of these tribes were resettled by order of Andrew Jackson, under terms of the 1830 Indian Removal Act, to Isle de Jean Charles off the Louisiana coast. For more than 170 years they have supported themselves through fishing and farming. But now 98 percent of this island is under water. There are two reasons for its disappearance:

* Rising sea levels—eight inches over the past 50 years–resulting from melting Arctic ice and volume expanded by warmer water temperatures.

* This combined with sinking due to marshland erosion caused by oil/gas pipelines and well leaks.

In an early case of assisting climate refugees, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has allocated 52 million dollars to relocate the 400 remaining tribe members, including 100 still clinging to a narrow strip of land, to their own new mainland community.

But even that solution may be temporary at best. Torrential rains swelling the bayous in to raging rivers have caused unprecedented flooding throughout Louisiana ruining thousands of homes without flood insurance. And no one in the region has forgotten that most of New Orleans has long been below sea level, dependent on levees that failed catastrophically during Hurricane Katrina—killing 1400, and forcing an emergency evacuation of the city from which most did not return.

A 2014 study by the New York Times estimated 650 million around the world are vulnerable to rising seas caused by global warming. China topped the list with over fifty million. The USA is in eleventh place with over 3 million, 12th place Britain 2.5 million.

These already dated estimates seem too conservative in some areas—including the USA. And they only include the threat from rising coastal waters. There is already significant migration beginning in Africa because of other effects of climate change.

Prosperous Europe has not adequately handled a few million refugees from wars in Syria, Iraq, and Libya and Republicans are opposed to accepting any of them in the USA. And, of course, their presumptive presidential nominee has promised to build a Great Wall along the border with Mexico. Even refugees who evoke popular sympathy don’t fare well. So what will happen to 130 times as many climate refugees as rising waters gradually inundate their present homes?

The key word here is gradual. The threat will likely play out over decades. It might yet be possible to reduce these numbers through rapid reduction of greenhouse emissions. There is some time for an orderly relocation from areas where the process is already irreversible—like Isle de Jean Charles.

While we should give due credit to the action taken by HUD to help 400 in Louisiana it would be foolhardy to expect enough further such efforts by this, or any other agency of any governments that are dominated nearly everywhere by climate wreckers.

The only realistic perspective for preventing this disintegration of human civilization is for the working class to take power away from the culprits responsible. Only then can we develop and implement a global plan for stabilizing our stressed planet–and nurturing it back to health through sustainable production and consumption.

In Brief…

* For those of you who believe the hype coming from the AFL-CIO that the Obama National Labor Relations Board is a good supporter of workers I highly recommend an excellent piece by Joe Burns on the In These Times site—A Current Longshore Battle Shows That the NLRB Is Not a Friend of Organized Labor. Joe sorts through the tortured logic the Board used to uphold a complaint from the company running the privatized Port of Portland (Oregon) that will be very financially costly to the ILWU and will hinder efforts to enforce the West Coast contract in other ports.

* In a blockbuster exposè, a New York Times article is headlined, As Women Take Over a Male-Dominated Field, the Pay Drops. Claire Cain writes, “A new study from researchers at Cornell University found that the difference between the occupations and industries in which men and women work has recently become the single largest cause of the gender pay gap, accounting for more than half of it. In fact, another study shows, when women enter fields in greater numbers, pay declines — for the very same jobs that more men were doing before.”

* Jane Slaughter did an informative round-up in Labor Notes about protests against threatened cuts in pensions affecting 410,000 Teamsters retirees and widows. Teamsters for a Democratic Union are integrating this fight in to their campaign against the current national Teamster officers.

* It will undoubtedly shake up the schedule of the coming Labor Notes Conference but few will grumble about supporting a strike and mass downtown demonstration by the Chicago Teachers Union April 1.

* From the National Nurses United site, “Registered nurses at Kaiser Permanante’s flagship Los Angeles Medical Center begin a seven-day [March 15-22] strike this morning with a focus on improving staffing to protect patient care and achieving economic gains to retain experienced RNs and boost recruitment of new nurses. The walkout affects 1,200 RNs, member of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United who are seeking their first CNA collective bargaining contract.”

* The ink was hardly dry on the Governor’s signature on a new compromise, tiered Oregon minimum wage law when Democrat legislators declared their intention to work to exempt teen-agers from coverage.

That’s all for this week.


The WIR is available by RSS

If you want to be on our e-mail list send your name and e-mail address to: billonasch@kclabor.org

You can follow Bill Onasch on Google+

Check out our digest of news stories about working class and climate issues, posted Monday-Friday by 9AM Central. on our companion Labor Advocate blog.

Our sole source of operating income is reader contributions. If you can help please visit the KC Labor Donate page.

Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member

Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member