A Few Random Items of Potential Interest

We can’t cite any specific authorities on this matter—we have little to go on other than our own observations—but we’ve been getting the impression lately that even people who are normally level-headed have been getting cranky lately. We can’t say for sure why, but we have our suspicions.

It may have something to do with the 210,000 people who’ve died so far from the dreadfully mishandled global pandemic. Or, it may be a reaction to the economy nearly dying, due to the failed attempt to stop the virus.

On the other hand it could be some kind of subconscious reaction to the mass-extinction crisis. That one’s a little harder to credit, though, since hardly anyone is paying attention to it other than the odd scientist or two, quietly weeping in the corner of a closed-down lab. [Yeah, we know—they’re all odd. Yuck, yuck. Sit down and behave, will you? – The Ed.]

One strange thing about what some are calling the 6th Great Extinction—well, out of many, we suppose—is that, although a large percentage of the dying species are insects, one of the more disturbing stories we’ve heard is about a new species showing up here in the U.S. “Murder hornets.” Who’d a thunk it?

Could be the hurricanes, we suppose. What’s hitting Louisiana today? Delta, or something. The meteorologists have used up all 26 of the available names. We’d get on the horn and ’splain to them that consumers get angry when they have to settle for generics. They haven’t had a day off since hurricane season started though, so….

As we noted in the Rant, we’ve been feeling just a bit ragged ourselves lately—not physically, we’re at 98.6°, and even more robust that the President himself, who is a noted athlete. We’re just slightly flummoxed by the sheer volume of news.

Actually, we could probably handle that. It’s really the news-like…stuff that’s been gumming up the works. Ever since, oh, say, about June 14, 2015, the sheer volume of…stuff, let’s call it stuff, has been making our work exponentially more difficult.

In an earlier time we could sum up this problem with a folksy metaphor. Imagine spending the first few hours of every work day using a shovel to remove a layer of fragrant equine effluent from atop your desk. That’s what it’s like when you have to screen out all the bogosity coming from the Ruling Junta. Since the advent of the horseless carriage, though, half our audience will have no idea what we’re talking about.

Readers deserve to have the news presented to them in a manner that makes some kind of sense. When the news makes no sense, that becomes somewhat problematical. Rather than throw up our hands, and then possibly…oh, never mind.

Without further ado, or don’t, or might, here, in no particular order, are a few things that we think may have happened.


Department of Auguries and Signs

During the recent Vice Presidential Debate, incumbent Mike Pence took time out from ignoring moderator Susan Page and talking over Senator Kamala Harris to serve as a landing pad for a house fly. Pence’s noggin, with its white hair-helmet, turns out to be a perfect background for showing off the common pest, Musca domestica.

Judging from the post-debate reaction, the audience was relieved to have something to think about other than the Vice President’s rudeness. Unsurprisingly, given Pence’s unctuous religiosity, the incident engendered many ecclesiastical interpretations.

An unofficial correspondent in the U.K. said, “After all, according to the Hebrew Bible, ‘Beelzebub,’ in Hebrew, means, literally, ‘Lord of the Flies,’ which is another name for the ‘Devil,’ ‘Satan,’ or ‘Lucifer;’ and is also the title of William Golding’s novel, by that name.  How appropriate, therefore, that a fly should choose to settle on Pence’s head, as it would on a dung-heap: the Devil knows his own!”

To balance out this view from an obvious heathen, we turn to Hank Kunneman, of Lord of Hosts Church in Omaha, Nebraska. Speaking on evangelist Gene Bailey’s program “Flash Point,” Kunneman went right to the top for an answer.

“I said, ‘God, what’s up with the fly landing on the Vice President’s head? Why didn’t it land and buzz right on the nose of the sneering [Kinneman laughs at his own witticism.], snickering Kamala Harris?’”

The camera showed two gray-haired white men in suits, smiling and nodding as Kunneman relayed the Word of God.

“Because Ecclesiasties 10 says that the flies obviously go after the oil, and it talks about the dead fly that landed in the holy, precious annointed oil, and there was an annointing. Vice President Pence looked Presidential, and I’m telling you, it was a prophetic sight.”

Perhaps someone should warn the President’s medical team that a Higher Power may be contemplating a personnel change.


Right Wing Terrorists Plotted
to Murder Democratic Governor

Earlier this year the President tweeted—apropos of what, no one knew at the time—“Liberate Michigan.” It now appears that two small bands of Second Amendment enthusiasts knew exactly what he was talking about. Charges were announced against 13 men yesterday for plotting to kidnap and possibly murder Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, as part of a grander coup plot to take over the state.

In his inimitable fashion, the President tweeted in response to the news that Whitmer is a terrible governor, who should thank him, the President, because “My Justice Department and Federal Law Enforcement” saved her.


Constitution 2.0?

Rep. Nancy Pelosi [D-Calif.], Speaker of the House, spoke Friday about creating a commission to assess the President’s ability to lead the country, specifically citing provisions in the 25th Amendment allowing for the removal of an unfit Chief Executive.

Her remarks came the day after the President—who has been taking the powerful steroid dexamethasone, which he says is not a powerful steroid—made a series of telephone calls to Fox News. He complained that Attorney General Bill Barr had not indicted Joe Biden, his opponent in the upcoming election, or President Obama, calling that a “sad, sad situation.” He also called Kamala Harris a “monster” and “a communist.”

Despite this steaming mountain of fresh evidence that the President is deranged, Pelosi told reporters, according to ABC News, “This is not about President Donald Trump—he will face the judgment of the voters.”

Pelosi, some say, has legendary political skills. We must be rubes.


A Second Trump Term Would Be
‘Game Over’ for the Climate,
Says Top Scientist

By Mark Hertsgaard

[This story originally appeared in The Guardian October 2, 2020, and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.]

Michael Mann, one of the most eminent climate scientists in the world, believes averting climate catastrophe on a global scale would be “essentially impossible” if Donald Trump is re-elected.

A professor at Penn State University, Mann, 54, has published hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific papers, testified numerous times before Congress and appeared frequently in the news media. He is also active on Twitter, where earlier this year he declared: “A second Trump term is game over for the climate—really!”, a statement he reaffirmed in an interview with The Guardian and Covering Climate Now.

“If we are going to avert ever more catastrophic climate change impacts, we need to limit warming below a degree and a half Celsius, a little less than three degrees Fahrenheit,” Mann said. “Another four years of what we’ve seen under Trump, which is to outsource environmental and energy policy to the polluters and dismantle protections put in place by the previous administration…would make that essentially impossible.”

None of Mann’s 200-plus scientific papers is more famous than the so-called “hockey stick study,” which Nature published on Earth Day of 1998. With two co-authors, Mann demonstrated that global temperature had been trending downward for the previous one thousand years. Graphed, this line was the long handle of the hockey stick, which surged abruptly upwards in about 1950—represented by the blade of the stick—to make the 1990s the warmest decade in “at least the last millennium.”

In 1999, Mann became an assistant professor at the University of Virginia, where he was targeted by the climate denier crowd, an experience detailed in his 2012 book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars. He received death threats, he says, and had emails stolen. Virginia’s former attorney general Ken Cuccinelli, a hard-right Republican, subpoenaed documents related to Mann’s research funding in an effort to prove fraud. A Washington Post editorial blasted Cuccinelli for “mis[using] state funds in his own personal war against climate science.” In 2014, affirming a lower court’s decision, the supreme court of Virginia ruled against Cuccinelli, who now serves as a top official in Trump’s Department of Homeland Security.

Mann denies that it’s a partisan statement to say that four more years of Trump would mean “game over” for the climate.

“It is a political statement, because it speaks to the need to enact policies to deal with climate change,” he says. “But it isn’t partisan to say that we should act on this crisis.”

It’s also a scientific statement, Mann adds. Two years ago this month, scientists with the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a landmark study, “Global Warming of 1.5 Degrees,” which found that humanity had to cut heat-trapping emissions roughly by half by 2030 to avoid catastrophic climate breakdown. Headlines warned we had “12 years to save the planet.” Those 12 years are now 10.

Except more than two years have been lost, because in that time, the Trump administration has prevented the world’s biggest economy from making “the dramatic reductions that were necessary to keep us on that path” of halving emissions by 2030, Mann says. “So now the incline is steeper. It’s no longer five percent [reductions] a year for the next 10 years. It’s more like seven and a half percent.” (As a comparison, seven percent is how much global carbon emissions are projected to fall in 2020 due to the Covid-19 economic lockdowns that shrank driving, flying and other carbon-intensive activities.)

The numbers get unrealistically challenging if Trump gains another four years as president.

“Four more years of relative inaction, of flat emissions, means that four years from now that number might be closer to 15 percent [emissions reductions] a year,” Mann says. “And that may be, although not physically impossible, societally impossible. The rate at which we shift away from a fossil-fuel-driven infrastructure, it just may not be economically possible or socially viable to do it that [fast].”

“Our destiny is determined by our behavior”

Fortunately, there is encouraging news about climate science as well. It was long thought that Earth’s climate system carried a substantial lag effect, mainly because carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere, trapping heat, for many decades after being emitted. Even if all CO2 emissions were halted overnight, global temperatures would keep rising and heat waves, droughts, storms and other impacts would keep intensifying “for about 25 to 30 years,” Sir David King, the former chief science advisor to the British government, said in 2006.

Mann says research over the last decade has overturned this interpretation.

Good News: Shorter Lag Times

Using new, more elaborate computer models equipped with an interactive carbon cycle, “what we now understand is that if you stop emitting carbon right now…the oceans start to take up carbon more rapidly,” Mann says. Such ocean storage of CO2 “mostly” offsets the warming effect of the CO2 that still remains in the atmosphere. Thus, the actual lag between halting CO2 emissions and halting temperature rise is not 25 to 30 years, he explains, but “more like three to five years.”

This is “a dramatic change in our understanding” of the climate system that gives humans “more agency,” says Mann. Rather than being locked into decades of inexorably rising temperatures, humans can turn down the heat almost immediately by slashing emissions promptly. “Our destiny is determined by our behavior,” says Mann, a fact he finds “empowering.”

This reprieve will not necessarily spare polar ice sheets or evade tipping points that cannot be recrossed, the scientist cautions, and earth is already experiencing “much more extreme weather…than we expected 10 years ago.” Greenland and Arctic ice is already melting after the current temperature rise of 1° C, or 2.7° F, above preindustrial levels, and it will continue melting even without further warming. The resulting possibility of “massive sea level rise” is one example of why Mann says that humanity is “walking out on to a minefield” of tipping points: “The more we warm the planet, the more of those unwelcome surprises we might encounter.”

In the face of this urgency, Mann broadly supports implementing a Green New Deal. This he defines as a vast government effort that deploys both regulations—for example, no more coal plants—and market mechanisms like carbon pricing to transition away from fossil fuels as rapidly as possible. In the coming weeks, he adds, there is no more important way for U.S. citizens to exercise agency than to vote—vote for candidates who support such a transition, such as Joe Biden, and against Donald Trump and other Republicans who obstruct it.

“The future of this planet is now in the hands of American citizens,” he says. “It’s up to us. The way we end this national and global nightmare is by coming out and voting for optimism over pessimism, for hope and justice and progress over fear and malice and superstition. This is a Tolkienesque battle between good and evil, and Sauron needs to be defeated on election day here in the United States.”

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