Weekend Reads and Quick Hits, Mostly Bleak

Hey, remember on Wednesday, when we had sort-of good news about things? A post that wasn’t super bleak? Well, don’t get used to it, chumps.

Let’s hit some things, quickly! How about we start with…the death of the planet?

Planetary Forcast Is Hot and Dead

 

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Earth, 2075. (Note: POSSIBLE exaggeration)

 

At Inverse, which is really a wonderful site, Mary van Aue reports that we’ve had our 400th consecutive month of above-average temperatures. We’re also pretty much guaranteed to have a temperature change of at least 2 degrees, Celsius. This is: bad.

With these new records behind us, scientists are now forecasting that the “worst case scenario,” one in which the planet heats up more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures by the end of the century, is more likely.

That number isn’t arbitrary. Limiting global warming to just 1.5 Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures would limit the carnage that climate change has on the Earth’s biodiversity. A new study published in Science on Friday found that keeping global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius would preserve tens of thousands of land-based species of plants, vertebrates, and insects living on the planet.

For anyone who thinks “biodiversity” is just something liberals like, remember that we all eat plants and animals! And they eat other things, and get nutrients from other things, and keep other plants and animals alive, and often work in complex, symbiotic ways.  When species start dying, whole ecosystems can collapse. We live in a bunch of overlapping ecosystems. This is a catastrophe, and honestly, I don’t think we’re going to make it.

Congressman Has Odd Ideas About Rising Sea Levels

You probably saw this earlier, but Mo Brooks (R- Alabama, the least surprising parenthetical ever) made maybe the dumbest comments ever uttered in the House of Representatives, a place that employs Louis Gohmert. It was about climate change and the rising seas.

Now, the official GOP position is that global warming doesn’t exist, and that it is all a hoax made up for some reason, most likely to make scientists rich. This is enshrined in our nation’s highest office.

But on the other hand, there are things like “facts” that make it super hard to pretend this isn’t happening. One fact is that we just passed 410ppm of CO2. That’s not a record, probably, since there have been times when it was higher, like when the Deccan Flats or Siberian Traps were coming damn near to extinguishing life on the planet, but it is the highest we have in about 800,000 years. (I linked to Business Insider there because I don’t think they’re known for their raving liberalism.) This keeps going up, according to the dangerous radicals at NASA.

There’s also the fact of rising oceans which threatens a lot of the world’s population, and which is getting considerably worse. One of the reasons it is getting worse is because of all that CO2 floating around, and warming the oceans, which is melting Antartica from beneath, which we just discovered, and is genuinely terrifying.

So it is the job of Republicans to wave away these facts, and they showed their tactics in full at a hearing this week. As Science explains:

The purpose of the hearing was to focus on how technology could be deployed for climate change adaptation. But the hearing frequently turned to the basics of climate science. Many of the questions by Republicans and Democrats alike were directed to Philip Duffy, president of the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts and former senior adviser to the U.S. Global Change Research Program.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) said he was bothered that established climate science has not been questioned more by the committee, which has accused federal climate scientists of fraudulently manipulating climate data and subpoenaed their records.

“I’m a little bit disturbed by, No. 1, over and over again, I hear, ‘Don’t ever talk about whether mankind is the main cause of the temperature changing and the climate changing,'” he said. “That’s a little disturbing to hear constantly beaten into our heads in a Science Committee meeting, when basically we should all be open to different points of view.”

That’s the most common Republican tactic…allege that the scientists aren’t open to other points of view, that it is a conspiracy, and that they just want to get the truth. It’s a very hard-to-fight cynicism, because overwhelming consensus is whistled away as proof that everyone is in on it. It’s a real mob mentality! That this is being put forward by bought Russian stooge Rohrabacher is the real icing here.

But it is up to Mo Brooks to not just counter the idea of rising seas, but to find alternate ideas. These are…interesting.

Brooks then said that erosion plays a significant role in sea-level rise, which is not an idea embraced by mainstream climate researchers. He said the California coastline and the White Cliffs of Dover tumble into the sea every year, and that contributes to sea-level rise. He also said that silt washing into the ocean from the world’s major rivers, including the Mississippi, the Amazon and the Nile, is contributing to sea-level rise.

“Every time you have that soil or rock or whatever it is that is deposited into the seas, that forces the sea levels to rise, because now you have less space in those oceans, because the bottom is moving up,” Brooks said.

“What about the white cliffs of Dover, California, where time and time again you’re having the waves crash against the shorelines, and time and time again, you’re having the cliffs crash into the sea. All that displaces water, which forces it to rise, does it not?”

Duffy responded: “I’m pretty sure that on human time scales, those are minuscule effects.”

It’s really the “does it not”, that sells this, like Brooks just check and mated the eggy egghead liar. There’s no doubt that on a grand geologic timeframe the land all washes into the sea and the world is remade, but it doesn’t actually happen this quickly. Brooks could also possibly be surprised by the fact that, as the earth is currently constituted, there is more ocean than land.

At least this was a nice exchange.

Brooks added that Antarctic ice is growing. That was true a few years ago, and scientists say it does not disprove the theory of global warming because different factors affect the Arctic and Antarctic rates of melting.

“We have satellite records clearly documenting a shrinkage of the Antarctic ice sheet and an acceleration of that shrinkage,” Duffy said.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t know where you’re getting your information, but the data I have seen suggests — ” Brooks said.

Duffy answered: “The National Snow and Ice Data Center and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.”

Your Reminder That The President Doesn’t Know Anything: North Korea and Libya Edition

Sigh…

The US president issued the threat at the White House when he was asked about the recent suggestion by his national security adviser, John Bolton, that the “Libyan model” be a template for dealing with North Korea at a summit between Trump and Kim planned for 12 June in Singapore.

“The model, if you look at that model with Gaddafi, that was a total decimation. We went in there to beat him. Now that model would take place if we don’t make a deal, most likely. But if we make a deal, I think Kim Jong-un is going to be very, very happy,” Trump said, suggesting that the regime’s survival could be assured if Kim agreed to disarm.

“This with Kim Jong-un would be something where he would be there. He would be running his country. His country would be very rich,” the president said.

I mean…that’s not what the Libya model is. It’s when, after the invasion of Iraq, Gaddafi agreed to give up his nuclear power in exchange to be welcomed into the world community and keep getting rich. The problem is that after a while, the world helped him be overthrown and killed. So it is a weird precedent for Bolton to suggest, but I see the outline of coherence there.

But Trump doesn’t know that, or doesn’t care. He’s just making random threats, only remembering one thing, and using that as his “model”. If you wanted to argue that he was making a point, it is that he’s assuming Kim saw what happened to Gaddafi, so he knows the US could take him out, so he should make a deal. After all, Trump literally says that they’ll decimate the regime if a deal isn’t made, which now that I read it, should be the fucking headlines.

That’s terrifying and a horrible way to negotiate. I know he thinks it sounds tough. But combined with the “Libya model”, what reason is there for Kim to give up his weapons? The stability of the United States? The strength of our promises? It’s madness predicated by total ignorance and a half-cocked notion of how strongmen talk.

What 100 Miles In Means to Border Patrol

 

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The borderlands of Indianapolis

 

A year and change ago, we talked about how an aggressive CBP, who, along with ICE, is the spear end of Trump’s white nationalism, were using the full extent of their powers to harass people “100 air miles from any border“.

It’s a weird notion for those of us who don’t really have to worry about Border Patrol. We don’t really understand the extent of their jurisdiction. But Tanvi Misra and the great people at CityLab showed exactly what this means, in a tremendous piece of research and data-reporting.

In the “border zone,” different legal standards apply. Agents can enter private property, set up highway checkpoints, have wide discretion to stop, question, and detain individuals they suspect to have committed immigration violations—and can even use race and ethnicity as factors to do so.

That’s striking because the border zone is home to 65.3 percent of the entire U.S. population, and around 75 percent of the U.S. Hispanic population, according to a CityLab analysis based on data from location intelligence company ESRI. This zone, which hugs the entire edge of the United States and runs 100 air miles inside, includes some of the densest cities—New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago. It also includes all of Michigan and Florida, and half of Ohio and Pennsylvania, according to a prior rough analysis by Will Lowe, a data scientist at MIT.

Read the whole piece to understand the democratic dystopia that has been gaining steam for decades, and has now been shot into hyperspeed.

Finally, A Nice Thing About Rivers

 

Bluff Springs Fen, October 31

Bluff Springs Fens, Oct 31st. By the artist. I mean, this is just lovely, right? 

 

The Center for Humans and Nature has a nice interview with an artist named Joel Shessley. (Disclosure: the company I work for has the Center as a client, though I wasn’t there when we did their website.) He is painting the Fox River, and his work will be presented at Aurora University in September. Anyway, he has some lovely thoughts about rivers, and I’ll leave you with them, contemplatively.

How has painting from different perspectives and during various seasons transformed the way you view life on the river and the life of the river itself?

Since I’m dealing with the watershed, and not just the river itself, I’ve become much more aware that the river cannot be separated from the land that feeds it. The river is what it is by virtue of all the named and unnamed tributaries, all the little rivulets and the larger streams that flow together to become the Fox River. Working across the Fox River Valley, I’ve begun to feel the pull of gravity down the gentle slopes. I’ve begun to sense how the river and the land interact. A topographic map would show you this, but patient observation on the ground and moving with the current in a canoe puts this information into your bones in a visceral way.

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More Good News! VIDA Blocked; Invasive Species Kept Away From Great Lakes

Pictured: Joe Manchin

It’s water Thursday, and hopefully we’ll get to the roundup after work tonight, but wanted to bring you a rare bit of good news: the Vessel Incident Discharge Act, which would have removed needed protections against invasive species in the Great Lakes, was actually defeated in the Senate yesterday!

We talked about this last year, and were officially Not Optimistic, saying it was part of the GOP’s mad desire for “letting industry control their own regulatory regimes.” That’s a big part of this, and something we need to keep fighting against.

It’s also an interesting story, because it is part of the larger geological and hydrological history of opening up the Great Lakes to the world. The Niagara Falls was an enormous barrier to any creatures trying to make their way to the Lakes, if they could even get past the punishing downstream currents of the St. Lawerence.

But the building of canals and the invention of steamboats changed all of that, in ways that transformed not just the economy of our country, but the basics of geology. Global trade, in which huge vessels picked up ballast water from the Bosporus, teeming with life perfectly suited for that environment, brought that life here, where it wasn’t suited (and obviously vice-versa, this isn’t an assault against America or anything).

Trade is good. Connecting the world is good. They’ve brought enormous benefits. But there are huge risks and downsides, which we need to work against so that everyone benefits. That “everyone” should also include ecosystems, which are where we, you know, live. That’s why regulations about ballast water were important, and why trying to remove them was insane.

I don’t have to tell you that nearly every Republican voted for VIDA, right? But they also had some Democratic help.

Democratic Sens. Bob Casey (Pa.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp(N.D.), Doug Jones (Ala.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Bill Nelson (Fla.) voted with Republicans to advance the bill. Everyone, besides Jones, is up for reelection in a state won by Trump in 2016.

Casey and Donnelly are Great Lakes senators, which is particularly maddening. But think about what that says: it says that red (or reddish) state senators feel that any environmental legislation is so toxic, even one as obvious and benign as this, that they are siding against it for cheap political points. Even though I doubt that there are many people in landlocked West Virginia too damn concerned with inconvenience to oceanic freight, Manchin sided against clean water.

That’s nuts. One of the consequences of opening up the Lakes to the world is that every river system that is connected to them can can be infested with invasives. And since Chicago reversed the river, that means the Mississippi watershed, which includes the Ohio and all its tributaries, which includes the Kanawha and the Monagahela, which are in West Virginia. And I think the Missouri runs through North Dakota and, well, Missouri.

The point is, that thanks to geology and our economic choices, we’re all connected. It’s our politics that suffers a vast disconnect, where even pointing out that we should make it slightly harder for oxygen-killing mussels to infect every waterway, the source of our country’s strength, is some kind of commie tree-hugging bullshit.

But that can change. We can get better. Rejecting VIDA is a hopeful sign that sometimes the good guys can win. It’s not un-American to protect America. As we learn more, and as voices speak up, we’ll expand that idea of America to our land, our water, and ultimately, the people who live here.

Thursday Water News: Drugs in the Water, Messing up the Mississippi Basin, and Pruitt Takes Control

In last week’s water news, we ended on a sort of kind of happy note, raising a moderately-filled glass that Capetown’s Day Zero was pushed back until next year. It was nice to have a sort of kind of happy note! Water is good, and we should be happy when there is happy news!

This week will not have it. This week will end with Scott Pruitt, if that’s any indication.

Let’s get at it!

Drugs in the Water: Not The Good Kind

 

 

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Remember: drugs lead to jazz

 

Last year, I wrote a long piece about antidepressants in the Niagara River. It is one of my favorite posts on this blog, and won praise from a cousin who said “Brian, I love you, but you are pretty depressing.” It’s like a Pulitzer!

Anyway, the point was that antidepressants leeching into our waters were causing fish to not eat, not reproduce and to stop caring about avoiding predators. Really, it made them stop doing the only thing they were good at, which was: continue being fish. I thought the symbolism of it was a little on-the-nose.

 There is is something deeply wrong here. Our society drives people to medications, which can do good or ill, and the waste of our addictions and needs ultimately ends up pissing itself into the water, where it infects other species and drives them toward involuntary suicide.

Well, obviously, an enormous supply of antidepressants isn’t centered entirely around Buffalo, though you’d be forgiven for imagining that to be the case. As The Guardian reported this week, it is a global epidemic.

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Clean Water is a Common Good. That’s Why Its Access is Being Limited.

Pictured: Not Tang.

“Brackish” is a wonderfully descriptive word; it is nearly onomatopoetic in its immediate salinity. It has a scaly tangibility to it, and contains within it an instant shudder. “Brack” is the sound you make when you taste something undrinkable, something wrong, something poisonous.

But for too many Americans, that is the reality of their water. It is choking, dirty, and dangerous. It is the opposite of what water should be. It has been degraded by capitalism and left to fester by the people elected to remember the forgotten.

This is laid out in stark detail by Sarah Jones and Emily Atkin at the resurgent The New Republic, in an article titled, with no pulled punches, Rural America’s Drinking Water Crisis.

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Programming Notes and Quick Hits!

 

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Quick hits, see.

 

Sorry for the slow week. We’ll be doing a lot of blogging next week, as the Presidents of the United States and North Korea flip through their dictionaries to find the most obscure insults they can understand (Un will call Trump a “dew-beating wandrought” and Trump will respond with “very bad and very sick ‘Rocket Man'”). It’ll be fun.

I had a whole Quick Hits and Weekend Reads planned out, but as I went through the stuff I collected during the week, it was all really depressing. I understand that isn’t unusual here, but after another stupid and hateful week, just didn’t want to do to any of you.

If you’re interested, you can read about how 1.3 billion people live on environmentally and agriculturally degraded land, or how dangerous Pipeline 5 under the Great Lakes is (something we’ve talked about), or how lead in Flint’s water led to a far higher rate of fetal deaths and infertility, which the party of pro-life is content to ignore because privatizing water is a goal unto itself.

Or don’t read any of that! Have fun instead. Go play outside.

If you want one cheerful-ish read, the good people at Circle of Blue have an extensive report on how California’s Clean Water for All law is working. California was the first state to declare access to clean water a human right, and the impact that has had on distribution and sanitation has really borne fruit. Even during a drought, and even when water usage and distribution is a political football (see the surprising new block to the  Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta tunnel plan, which would have reengineered the state’s water supply), people in California are getting clean water.

That shows what happens when a government understands that water is for the people. It is a human right, a basic right, and our politics should be geared around ensuring that it works for everyone. It shouldn’t be based on figuring out who can profit from it.

But that’s not the GOP line. Everything should be sold. If it can be carved up, chopped up, and taken from people without political clout, it should be. Everything for profit. I swear to Moses, we’re about a year or two away from hearing Doocey say “Water isn’t a right, it’s a privilege!”

But the California experiment in basic decency serves as an elegant rebuttal to all that. So drink up, in whatever liquid you find fits a celebration. Even if things are dark, raise one up. Why not? Dark times call for good times. It’s the one light we have.

 

 

Weekend Good Reads and Quick Thoughts: Chelsea Manning, Gitmo, The Sinking East Coast, and More

This is the last weekend of the year you are legally allowed to listen to this song. 

I always want to do “Quick Hits” and such because I think they’ll be shorter, but they never are. Anyway, here are a few scatterings on some stories as well as things you should read, if you don’t have anything else going on during summer weekend, as summer blazes up once again to send us into the fall.

Let’s do this gossip column style.

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Surprise! Scott Pruitt’s EPA Uses Bad Economics on the Clean Water Rule

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In the Aftertime, when our descendants are fighting over the last scraps of arable land, this fucking Okie hump is going to be one of history’s primary villains.

Scott Pruitt is not an honest man. He has one core belief–that extraction industries (and really any industry) should be able to do whatever they want to maximize profits. His ancillary beliefs–that there should be no regulations, that labor or environmental protections are evil, that climate change is a hoax, that we the poor and undeserving should choke on the ashes of capitalism–all flow from that.

All of his dishonesty and petty idiocy come from this. He’s an industry shill who literally copy-and-pasted comments extraction flacks wrote for him about EPA regulations he was fighting (before he was put in charge of the damn thing). He forces his department to self-censor the truth or lose their jobs (many choose the later). He replaces scientists with industry goons. He’s says it is “insensitive” to talk about climate change being a cause of more powerful and destructive because he knows it is inarguable, and so hides behind a veneer of compassion for environmental victims his whole career proves a lie.

He’s one of the primary disasters of the Trump regime, coming in close behind or ahead of Sessions, depending on where you stand on things. I’ll consider them tied. It flows from the top, of course. Just like in Pruitt’s EPA, dishonesty has begun to affect the noble institution with every one of his idiotic appointments.

We can see that inherent dishonesty in a recent review of the Clean Water Rule of 2015 (this is also known as Waters of the United States Act, or just WOTUS). The administration has been trying to overturn these regulations, which changed what water could be regulated by the federal government. The definition was expanded to include many irrigation channels and small streams.

To many, this was big government intrusion at its worst. And to be fair, I find that argument sympathetic. Irrigation channels often run on private land. The problem, of course, is that they don’t end there. Water seeps into aquifers or it runs rivulets of phosphate into lakes, creating murderous algae blooms, or it is just wasted. But, more regulations could be onerous to farmers, who already eke out a meager existence.

Who was on their side? Well, nearly everyone.

President Donald Trump made repeated campaign promises to repeal WOTUS, which is opposed by a variety of industrial sectors, including agriculture, iron and steel manufacturing, home builders, and mining groups. Industry associations representing those sectors argue it would trigger requirements to obtain costly federal permits to dredge wetlands and streams that they say fall under state and local laws already.

Now, some argue, maybe we should protect wetlands more. It’s a compelling argument these days. So who knows what to do? But no fear! That’s why the EPA commissioned a study. And they found that the economic burden would be super expensive. There’s just, well, one problem. From the Commies at Bloomberg.

The Trump administration was sloppy in how it estimated the economic impact of a proposal to repeal an Obama-era water pollution regulation, relying on data and assumptions that industry previously criticized, according to economists and regulatory analysts interviewed by Bloomberg BNA.

Chief among their complaints was that the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers used recession-era economic data and failed to account for some of the benefits of leaving the 2015 Clean Water Rule in place. Their economic analysis even drew criticism from David Sunding, a University of California-Berkeley agricultural economist who was hired by industry groups to counter theanalysis the Obama administration used to back its regulation.

“I am not normally this dismissive, but this is the worst regulatory analysis I have ever seen,” Sunding told Bloomberg BNA in telephone interview.

It’s worth repeating that Sunding had been hired by industry groups, in large part because he criticized the conclusions of the Obama administration, saying they had used faulty data to overstate the benefits. But then the Trump admin under Pruitt used the same numbers to come up with even worse results.

When the program was first proposed, it was under one set of economic conditions (coming out of the recession). That skewed the benefits, because it started from an artificially low baseline. But Pruitt’s EPA used that same baseline, and ignored any benefits. Bloomberg can explain.

The Trump administration used the 2013 estimates as a starting point, assuming that the costs of that regulation would be avoided by a repeal and the benefits of the regulation would be foregone. The proposed repeal was estimated to result in $162 million to $476 million in avoided costs, while the estimated foregone benefits range from $34 million to $73 million per year.

In the 2013 analysis, the EPA estimated the annual costs of implementing the water jurisdiction rule to range from $133.7 million to $277 million, but those costs were outweighed by annual projected benefits of between $300.7 million and $397.6 million.

The EPA’s 2017 approach drew the ire of economists because no recent permitting data was used to estimate the economic impact of the proposed repeal. Instead, the analysis used data from fiscal years 2009 and 2010, a time when U.S. economic activity was at its lowest since World War II, particularly in the manufacturing, residential, and commercial development sectors.

Basically, the Obama estimates might have been wrong, but the Trump ones were almost deliberately misleading. Or, knowing them, not almost.

I err on the side of WOTUS, clearly. But it is worth looking into. We do need to know the impact of everything we do. Scott Pruitt sort of agrees. He thinks we should know the negative impact of any regulation. He doesn’t really care to know any of the benefits, or care about the long-and-short term destruction of our environment. That sort of impact doesn’t matter.

The only impact that matters is if business is happy. For some reason they don’t, or won’t, see the ground crumbling beneath their feet. They don’t see the flames licking up the sides of the house. They feel the lash of the storm, but assume it is passing, or pretend their boat can get out of the way. Theya re depserate and greedy murderers, and Scott Pruitt is their chief enabler.

If we’re lucky enough to have history in 100 years, his name will be cursed.