Six Words Say It All
by Lorin Robinson
(May 20, 2021) You’re probably as tired as I am of viewing incessant video coverage of assorted protests, demonstrations and riots. I make only one exception. Footage of the January 6 insurrection. I’m all in favor of continued exposure since Republicans are doing their best to rewrite history and downplay the significance of the event—calling it, in one case, nothing more than a “normal tourist visit.”
As a “word guy” I can’t help reading banners and signs waved about during demonstrations. One, in particular, stands out.
I saw it during coverage of a protest in Michigan last spring in which comic-book camo “patriots” carrying semi-automatic phallic symbols stormed the capitol to protest Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s attempts to shut the state down in face of COVID and enforce the wearing of masks.
In the crowd was a MAGA-hatted young man sporting a scraggly neckbeard who enthusiastically waived a hand-lettered sign proclaiming: “I’m selfish and proud of it.”
Republican sloganeers would be hard-pressed to wordsmith a more appropriate motto to capture and communicate the essence of the GOP. Its rank selfishness, for example, was made abundantly clear when not a single GOP senator voted for the America Rescue Plan that has done so much to help get the nation back on track.
Republicans tell us that protecting personal freedoms is their paramount concern. That’s tied into another GOP mantra—“The government that governs least governs best.”
What this young man was protesting, of course, was the government’s efforts to restrict his freedom not to wear a mask; his freedom to infect himself, his family, his friends and strangers on the street. It’s the same attitude that is driving so many—even in the face of the rampant and deadly Delta Variant—to reject vaccination as it spreads death among the unvaccinated.
One protest sign read: “You can’t tell me what to put in my body!”
Have you ever noticed, however, how few personal freedoms most Republicans actually rally around? They’re quite selective. It’s amazing how many don’t make the cut.
For one example—women’s reproductive rights. For decades since Roe v. Wade (1973), the GOP has actively campaigned to limit or abolish this freedom. But, hundreds of court cases since have upheld a woman’s right to choose. And, at the moment, 66% of Americans agree with Roe v. Wade. That includes 47% of Republicans.
Enter our now highly politicized Supreme Court. To date the Court has consistently refused to intervene in state-sponsored legal actions to chip away at Roe v. Wade. No longer. The Court now agreed to take a case that could end Roe v. Wade’s guarantee of abortion rights throughout the United States—Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a challenge to Mississippi’s law banning most abortions after 15 weeks.
What other rights or freedoms don’t many Republicans support? Let us not forget the most basic of our constitutionally protected freedoms—the right to vote.
As of June 21, Republican legislators in 17 states had enacted 28 bills with voting restrictions. This, plus the bald-faced gerrymandering practiced in many states, could significantly reduce Democratic voter turnout as soon as 2022, allowing a minority party—only 29% of voters identify as Republicans—to regain control of Congress.
The only hope for suppressing voter suppression is the passage of the For the People Act (S.1) that would override the worst of the voter suppression laws already enacted and that could be enacted. But continued deliberation on the controversial Bill will not resume until after the Senate’s August recess.
When and if the Bill is finally considered, selfishly—as with the COVID Relief Bill—not a single Senate Republican is likely to support it.
Four Millennia of History
And Little has Changed
by Lorin Robinson
(June 2, 2021) I try not to dwell on the condition of the world. I am one of many who feel powerless to do anything meaningful to help solve the calamities and coming calamities of our times. But I do occasionally get overwhelmed and have a bad day.
Like the other day when it simply got to be too much.
I was able to go abroad mask-less since I’d been double vaccinated, but I couldn’t help but think about the more than 600,000 people in the country—many who died unnecessarily—who would never enjoy the freedom I’d just regained.
Meanwhile, mass shootings are becoming an almost a daily event as are murders of people of color by those sworn to serve and protect. And don’t forget the “Party of No,” whose only purpose is to block Biden’s efforts to put the country back on its feet and to regain power by implementing voting restrictions across the country.
Add to that the increasing cyberattacks on our government, political system and infrastructure, presaging the cyberwars to come.
And, if all that weren’t enough, white supremacists —encouraged by our former Racist-in-Chief—are increasingly crawling out from under their rocks, making one wonder if we have to defeat Jim Crow and Hitler all over again.
That afternoon, my wife and I had headed out to run some errands. One stop was a tile shop where we hoped to buy tile cleaner. For the life of me, I couldn’t muster up any interest in tile cleaners. So I left Linda with the clerk to explore the benefits of the various products. Instead, I wandered into the empty showroom and sat at a coffee table graced with a single book—a massive, true coffee table book—titled "Ceramics in Turkey: The History of Earth and Fire." Its subtitle: "An 8,000-year history of ceramics in Anatolia."
Any other day the book might not have caught my attention. But I was looking for a distraction. So I randomly riffled through its pages, stopping at an early chapter about cuneiform writing. I was puzzled at first by its inclusion in the book until I remembered that clay was the medium for cuneiform —one the world’s first writing systems. It used wedge-shaped indentations made in wet clay tablets with a reed stylus. I was informed that cuneiform was invented by the Sumerians in Mesopotamia about 5,000 years ago, predating Egyptian hieroglyphs.
But what got my attention was a translated example of cuneiform. The claim was that it came from a diary written about 2,500 BC by a woman named Lammasatum:
“It was always I who produced.
I who planted the Earth.
I who gathered the produce of it.
And when we were hungry we ate our fill.
And it was I who wove so we might be clothed.
And then it was cold, and we did not shiver.
And then it was hot, and we did not burn.
It was I who made vessels from the Earth.
And from them we drank.
In the wild country, it was I who toiled.
It was I who gave order to our home.
My nights I gave to my husband.
And to my children, I gave birth.
A gift to society.”
I was moved by the simple eloquence of the passage, by the intimate look it afforded into the life of this woman and her family, by the realization that this has always been the role of women, by the fact I was reading thoughts written 45 centuries ago. This also, it occurred to me, is what life was like before humankind became “smart,” before we layered on often destructive, disruptive technologies and imposed problematic social, political, economic and religious dictates and dogma—and called it civilization.
This is not to glamorize or romanticize Lammasatum’s life. It was, I’m sure, relatively short and brutish. There was war, genocide, disease, drought and famine. But 4,500 years later, billions on the planet still face war, genocide, disease, drought and famine—and live short and brutish lives. And to that we have added and continue to add enough greenhouse gas to the atmosphere to bring survival of our civilization — at least as we know it — into question.
No, there have never been “good old days.” And it seems likely there will be few “good new days” to come.
Well, at least the tile cleaner works. It might have made Lammasatum’s life a little easier.
On White Supremacy and “Race”
By Lorin R. Robinson
(June 16, 2021) About 20 years from now a special baby will be born in the United States. It will probably have brown skin. Or it may be of Black, Asian or Native American descent. The family will not know why its newborn is significant. The child will also grow up not knowing.
The significance of this baby will be demographic, statistical. Baby X will be the one who makes “people of color” the majority in the U.S.
Today Whites represent about 59% of the population. The White share has been dropping since the 1950s and will continue to decline. The Hispanic population is the next biggest followed by Blacks and Asians.
Eventually, demographers tell us, Whites will become a minority, dropping below 50 percent before 2045.
What will this dramatic demographic shift mean to our sociological and political landscape? Will it simply pass by unnoticed? Doubtful. What, for example, will White supremacists do when they find they are no longer the numerically supreme “race?”
Hold that question. Let’s first take a semantic sidestep to consider the term “race.”
Most people use “race” to make distinctions between humans in terms of physical traits—skin color, shape of eyes or hair type—or differences in behavior. But most geneticists believe the idea of “race” is inherently naive or simplistic, arguing that “race” is irrelevant because all living humans belong to the same species, Homo sapiens.
The reality is that the human species doesn’t include enough genetic variation to justify drawing “racial” lines. We are too alike to split into groups. Advances in genetics have demonstrated that human physical variations do not fit a “racial” model. Instead, variations tend to overlap. There are no genes that can identify distinct groups that accord with the conventional “race” categories.
In fact, the genetic difference between any two humans is less than one percent. Thus, scientists conclude that the concept of race has no biological validity.
Differences in appearance and behavior of the “races” are not genetic. They are based on adaptation to climatic and geographic variations and cultural differences that evolved as far flung groups of humans adapted to new environments following the African exodus starting over 100,000 years ago.
Further proof is found in breakthrough genetic research that helps cement the notion that humans cannot be divided into different “races.” “Mitochondrial Eve” is the common ancestor of all living humans. In other words, she is the most recent woman from whom all living humans descend in an unbroken line tracked through the mitochondrial DNA of mothers and through the mothers of those mothers until all lines converge on one woman.
She lived in Eastern Africa approximately 200,000 years ago, well before humans began the long out migration. (She, by the way, is not to be confused with the Biblical “Eve.”)
Thus the term “race relations” has no meaning. The correct phrase is “intra-species relations.” Instead “race” is used to encourage discrimination and scapegoating, to justify wars and genocide and to rationalize political, social and economic control based on meaningless perceived differences.
The causes of America’s tribalism are many. They include the coming loss of White numerical superiority, declining social mobility, a growing class and income divide, and media that reward hatred and promote conspiracy theories.
Now let’s return to that breakthrough baby a couple of decades hence. In what kind of environment will he/she be raised? Will it be one of justice and equality for all?
Clearly, human nature is not going to change any time soon, requiring that justice and equality be legislated. In 2021 we are at a tipping point. Legislation stuck in our dysfunctional Senate—The For the People Act and The George Floyd Justice and Policing Act—would get us started in the right direction.
But, it appears that progress can be made only if real Democrats expand their numbers in the Senate in 2022. This will require an all-out assault on the “Party of No” and the Trumplicans. Otherwise, Baby X will be raised in a world much like today’s.
The Conspiracy Bug
by Lorin Robinson
(June 23, 2020) Some people think I have too much time on my hands. This post may prove it. But I’ll take my chances.
Everyone has trains of thought. You know. That one-thing-leads-to-another kind of thinking. Well, I had quite a ride the other day. Climb on board if you’re interested.
I was thinking about all the bat-shit crazy conspiracy theories floating around the country infecting people like viruses. The Big Lie, QAnon and all the rest.
That led me to wonder if people who promote and believe this utter nonsense are, in fact, sick.
Then, naturally, I began to conjure up names for the disease. I started with “itis” and “ism” since those are suffixes for so many ailments. “Conspiritis” or Conspirism” don’t exactly roll off the tongue, but that’s the best I could come up with before the train hit the next station.
If it is a virus or some sort of disease, why couldn’t the major pharmaceuticals do for “Conspiritis” what they did for COVID? Create a vaccine or a pill?
And then I violated the sacred mantra of marketing—Product, Price, Place (distribution), Promotion. And in that order. I jumped to Promotion since in my days in marketing that was always the fun part.
So, I thought I’d give Pfizer, Merck or any firm that want to take a crack at it a little help—a leg up. I wrote some copy.
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I might have continued to ride that thought train, but, fortunately, something more pressing came up. I had to walk the dog.
Where Have All the Heroes Gone?
by Lorin Robinson
“Those who say that we’re in a time when there are no heroes just don’t know where to look.”
– Ronald Reagan
(July 3, 2021) Never would have I imagined that I’d open a post with a quote from Ronald Reagan. But the “Great Communicator” did have some good script writers.
“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
“America is a shining city on a hill.”
And, perhaps best of all: “It’s been said that politics is the second oldest profession. I have learned that it bears a striking resemblance to the first.”
Who is a hero? A good definition is harder to come by than you might think.
“A hero is an ordinary person who does something extraordinary.” Sounds good. But it lacks specificity since it could include people like Charlie Manson and Derek Chauvin.
“A person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.” That’s a little better.
And where does one look for heroes today? Certainly not at many of those who practice the second oldest profession.
Most Americans would classify Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy, Marjory Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz, Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Governors DiSantis, Abbott and Kemp and all the rest of Trump’s legion of lickspittles as anti-heroes—as antagonists—in the struggle to preserve our Democracy, that “shining city on a hill.”
But, as Reagan suggested, heroes are out there. One just needs to know where to look.
Let’s start with Paxton Smith, the 2021 valedictorian of her Dallas high school. She had the courage to throw away her prepared and pre-approved speech to stand before her peers, parents and school officials and speak passionately about women’s reproductive rights.
Her remarks came less than two weeks after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed new restrictions into law that ban abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected—as early as six weeks.
“…I cannot give up this platform to promote complacency and peace when there is a war on my body and a war on my rights. A war on the rights of your mothers, a war on the rights of your sisters, a war on the rights of your daughters.”
And then there’s Darnella Frazier, the teenage girl who whipped out her cell phone and recorded the murder of George Floyd last summer. She preserved its full nine minutes and 23 seconds despite verbal harassment from the killer and his cohorts.
She was recently honored with a Pulitzer citation for her video, which “spurred protests against police brutality around the world.” She received a $15,000 award.
And you may remember Georgia Democratic state Rep. Park Cannon who had the temerity recently to knock on Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s office door as he signed a voter suppression bill into law in a closed-door ceremony.
Cannon, who is Black, was handcuffed by state police after she tried to enter Kemp’s office, arguing for transparency for the bill signing. What she and news viewers saw were about a dozen old White men—looking very pleased with themselves—gathered around Kemp’s desk.
She was forcibly removed while repeatedly identifying herself as a legislator, and placed in a police car. Cannon was charged with obstruction of law enforcement and preventing or disrupting an official meeting. She was released on a $6,000 signature bond.
Have you heard of Marc Elias? He’s an attorney specializing in election law, voting rights and redistricting. Most recently, on behalf of the Biden campaign and the Democratic National Committee, he oversaw the state-by-state response to lawsuits contesting 2020 election results filed by Trump’s “gang that couldn’t sue straight.” The score: Trump 0, Truth 60.
In 2020, he founded Democracy Docket, an organization focused on voting rights and election litigation. Elias filed suits questioning the constitutionality of new voter suppression laws passed to date by 14 states—the day after each became law.
Groups of people can also be heroic. Witness, for example, Texas state Democratic Legislators who exited the legislature as a group, robbing Republicans of the quorum necessary to pass their voter suppression bill.
Or the more than 3,600 health care workers who died in one year during the COVID pandemic while trying to save as many of us as possible.
And the 140 Capitol Police who were injured or, in several cases, killed when overwhelmed by blood- thirsty insurrectionists—but still managed to protect the vice-president, legislators and staff members.
The heroes are there. As Reagan said, you just need to look.
The New Space Race
Commercialization of the Final Frontier
By Lorin Robinson
(July 10, 2021) Despite the Soviets early lead, putting U.S. feet on the Moon in 1969 pretty well brought an end to the early space race.
But fast forward 50 years and the nature of the race has changed dramatically. The direction today is toward commercialization of space by wealthy entrepreneurs.
Donald Trump had an affinity for “rocket-loving rich guys.”
“…rich guys seem to like rockets. So, all those rich guys that are dying for our real estate to launch their rockets, we won’t charge you too much.… I am instructing my administration to embrace the budding commercial space industry.”
These rich rocket guys included:
Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, world’s richest man ($198B), and founder of Blue Origins; Elon Musk, second richest ($167B), founder of Tesla Automotive and SpaceX; and Sir Richard Branson (a pauper at $6B), founder of Virgin Galactic and some 400 other enterprises.
And the race between these rich guys is heating up.
Branson joins the crew of his Unity Space Plane for a suborbital flight on July 11. The launch will be from his Spaceport America in the New Mexico desert.
(Alternate: Branson joined the crew of his Unity Space plane for a suborbital flight Sunday. The vehicle was launched from his Spaceport America in the New Mexico desert.)
Branson has been promising commercial flights and claims to have 700 people—including Tom Hanks and Lady Gaga—signed up for the $250,000 flight that guarantees several minutes of weightlessness.
On July 20, Bezos will be aboard the first manned flight of his reusable New Shepard rocket.
Beso’s snarky comment to Branson: "We wish him a great and safe flight, but they're not flying above the Kármán line, and it's a very different experience."
Obviously testosterone is at play here. NASA considers the edge of space as 50 miles. Others cite the Kármán line (60 miles) as the border. Branson’s flights to date have not exceeded 60 miles.
Elon Musk has already done his publicity stunt, boosting his “personal” red Tesla roadster into an elliptical orbit beyond Mars. Driving the car is “Starman,” Musk’s alter ego. The flight in 2018 marked the debut of his Falcon Heavy booster.
Another use of Musk’s payloads is depositing cremains in low-Earth orbit. The cost: $2,490. Among notables to date—astronaut Gordon Cooper. This confirms the orbit’s new role—a graveyard for about 20,000 defunct satellites and, now, the dearly departed.
But most controversial is Musk’s Starlink satellite venture—using mega-constellations of satellites ostensibly to bring high-speed Internet to underserved areas. The cost: $499 upfront and $99 per month. One can imagine African Bushmen and Bangladeshi rice farmers lining up for service.
So far the company has launched 1,325 satellites. The FAA has authorized 12,000 more, likely turning the already cluttered low-Earth orbit into a demolition derby.
Musk has also riled up the astronomical community because the satellites are starting to wreak havoc with heavenly observations.
Another concern. The real possibility that we will soon see celestial billboards.
PepsiCo announced in 2019 that it was developing a low-Earth orbit “billboard” for its energy-drink Adrenaline Rush. The public outcry forced Pepsi to scuttle its plans “at this time.” But, celestial billboard technology exists.
Which brings us to the question: Who’s in control here?
When it became apparent the U.S. would land on the Moon, the UN generated the “Outer Space Treaty”, providing a framework for international space law including the following principle: “States shall be responsible for national space activities whether carried out by governmental or non-governmental entities.”
That role is supposed to be played in the U.S. by the FAA. But it issues commercial space transportation licenses when a launch “will not jeopardize the public health and safety, property, U.S. national security or foreign policy interests, or international obligations of the United States.” No consideration is given to what’s being sent aloft and there is no meaningful mechanism for public input.
Why isn’t NASA in charge? Taxpayers have funded NASA to the tune of $650 billion since it was founded in 1958, funds used to build its extensive infrastructure, develop spaceflight technologies and fund an incredible array of space missions. This work was implemented by its astronauts, 17 of whom died in the line of duty.
Why should a bunch of Johnny-come-lately “rocket-loving rich guys” be allowed to stand on NASA’s taxpayer-supported shoulders and turn space into a commercial free-for-all?
And are celestial billboards really in the offing? The rule where technology is concerned: If it can be done, it will.
The Warming: A Realistic Assessment
by Lorin Robinson
(July 20, 2021) Donald Trump’s exit from the White House was a welcomed relief for environmentalists and climate scientists. Among his many other crimes against America was his conversion of the Environmental Protection Agency into the Environmental Destruction Agency.
Very near the top of Joe Biden’s long, long list of Trump transgressions to fix is repairing the EPA and putting America back in a leadership position in tackling global warming. His first step was to up the U.S. pledge for greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction made at the 2015 Paris climate talks. Obama promised a 26-28% reduction by 2025. Biden’s pledge is 50% by 2030.
Ambitious, yes. Realistic? Probably not. Yet it signaled to an increasingly warming world that the U.S.—the planet’s number two emitter of GHG—is taking the warming seriously again.
Biden’s re-engagement in the fight has led to increased optimism that the world can reign in emissions and dodge the potentially civilization-changing impact of the warming.
Is that optimism justified? I think not.
According to organizers of the Paris talks, humans must dramatically cut GHG pollution to avoid an average 3.6°F global temperature increase—the threshold proposed if we are to avoid the worst of warming-induced calamities. The report maintains that if GHG concentrations continue to rise, the earth could warm by as much as 9°F by 2100.
To date 194 nations and the European Union—representing more than 87 percent of global GHG emissions—have signed the Paris Agreement. But total voluntary pledges for reduction fall far short of that required to keep the increase under 3.6°F.
The bad news doesn’t stop there. A recent report describes a world in serious trouble as soon as 2040—at an even lower temperature threshold. The report, written by 91 scientists from 40 countries, analyzed more than 6,000 scientific studies.
They found that if GHG emissions continue at the current rate, the atmosphere will warm by as much as 2.7°F above preindustrial levels by 2040, inundating coastlines, intensifying drought and severe weather.
Meanwhile the world continues to dump about 40 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually and its concentration continues to rise—419 ppm at this writing. The last time there was this much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was more than three million years ago, when temperature was 3.6°–5.4°F higher and sea level was 50–80 feet higher than today.
And how are we doing in efforts to replace fossil fuels? It’s a snail’s pace. Nuclear, solar, wind, hydro and tidal energy today account for about 15% of the planet’s energy supply.
Unpredicted effects of the warming are also increasing CO₂ levels while we struggle to reduce them. Carbon emitted from rapidly thawing permafrost in the Arctic has not been included in the majority of models used to predict future climates.
This carbon-rich frozen soil covers 24% of the Northern Hemisphere, holding more carbon than has ever been released by humans through fossil fuel combustion. It has kept carbon locked away, but as global temperatures warm, the permafrost is thawing rapidly, releasing GHG into the atmosphere.
So, what are the chances the world can keep the GHG-induced temperature increase below 2.7°F? Highly unlikely.
With carbon dioxide in the atmosphere exceeding 419 ppm, many climate scientists maintain effects of the warming are already baked in, irreversible. Certainly, rapid and drastic reductions in GHG would help. But even if we ceased burning all fossil fuels today and converted tomorrow to non-polluting energies, the earth would continue to warm.
Why? A chemist will tell you that the carbon dioxide molecule is robust—it degrades slowly—and can stay active in the atmosphere for a long time. So a molecule that goes up some smokestack today can still be trapping heat many years hence.
Then what can be done?
It is heresy to say this. But we must direct more resources toward preparing for what’s coming—to adapt and survive—than on reduction (mitigation) of GHG. We must reduce the vulnerability of infrastructure, social and biological systems to help offset the inevitable effects of the warming.
What’s at stake is survival of civilization as we know it.
LUDDITES AND GLOBAL WARMING
By Lorin Robinson
(August 8, 2021) Ned Ludd had it right, although the initial movement named in his honor was a little narrow in scope.
Ludd, an English weaver, is said to have smashed two knitting machines in a fit of rage in 1779. He saw the mechanization of his trade as a threat to his livelihood. Luddism became a movement between in 1811—with Ludd as its Robin Hood—when textile workers burned mills and sabotaged new steam-driven looms that had led to massive unemployment and ushered in the Industrial Revolution.
Mill and factory owners took to shooting protesters and eventually the movement was steam-rolled over—subdued with legal and military force.
And where are the Luddites today? Oh, we’re still around. But, despite the urge to smash things once in a while, we’re pretty harmless and not inclined to organize. We tend to talk a lot about the evils of technology. But, of course, nobody’s listening. Everyone seems to have taken an early GE slogan to heart—the one actor Ronald Reagan intoned with gravitas in its commercials—“Progress is our most important product.”
The Industrial Revolution and the technical revolutions that followed probably were inevitable. What, after all, were we humans supposed to do with our big brains and opposing thumbs? Spend our lives hunting and gathering? That wasn’t going to happen.
But there’s always been a piece missing. While humans get an A+ for innovativeness and creativity, we earn an F for foreseeing or dealing with the consequences of our actions.
POP PSYCHOLOGY ALERT: I’m convinced that the human species as a whole is afflicted with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). One of the major symptoms is to “Just Do It!” and worry later about the consequences.
There are, of course, two kinds of consequences—those of the unanticipated variety and those that might have been anticipated had anyone made an effort to identify all possible outcomes.
To be fair, one can’t really hold early robber barons responsible for the damage their clanking, belching steam machines caused—massive economic dislocation, Dickensian living conditions, grime and pollution. Nor could they have known that their carbon emissions would mark the beginning of our march toward the civilization-changing effects of global warming. Of course one might wonder—if they knew—would they have cared since long-term thinking and social responsibility are also not hallmarks of the human psyche.
There is a third consideration. What does one do—what does a civilization do—when the negative consequences of an action become clearly understood? In terms of the warming, we deserve less than an F. We should be sent back several grades.
It’s not as if we hadn’t been warned.
In the 1820s, French scientist Joseph Fourier proposed that Earth’s atmosphere acts like a glass greenhouse. Energy enters through the glass, but is then trapped inside. He surmised that the more greenhouse gases (GHG) there are, the more energy will be kept within the atmosphere.
The greenhouse effect analogy stuck and, some 40 years later, Irish scientist John Tyndall explored exactly what kinds of gases were most likely to play a role in absorbing sunlight. In the 1860s he demonstrated that CO₂ in coal gas acts like sponge.
In 1895, Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius, in order to explain past ice ages, wondered if a decrease in volcanic activity might lower global CO₂ levels. His calculations showed that if CO₂ levels were halved, global temperatures could decrease by about 5°C (9°F).
Next, he wondered if the reverse were true. This time he calculate what would happen if CO₂ levels were doubled. His results suggested that global temperatures would increase by the same amount.
Modern climate modeling has confirmed that his numbers weren’t far off the mark.
It wasn’t long until these concerns appeared in the popular press.
In 1914, a New Zealand newspaper warned readers: “The furnaces of the world are now burning about 2,000,000,000 tons of coal a year. When this is burned, uniting with oxygen, it adds about 7,000,000,000 tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere yearly. This tends to make the air a more effective blanket for the earth and to raise its temperature. The effect may be considerable in a few centuries.”
In 1922, The Washington Post reported: “The Arctic Ocean is warming up, icebergs are growing scarcer and in some places the seals are finding the water too hot….”
In 1975, Wallace Broeckner, a Columbia University researcher, coined the term “global warming” in an article that correctly predicted rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere would lead to pronounced warming.
Why, after all the early and more strident recent warnings, do we find ourselves hurtling toward a global climate catastrophe like a runaway train?
(Hang in there. That question and more will be considered in Part Two coming up when I get around to it.
Luddites and Global Warming
by Lorin Robinson
(August 13, 2021) This is the question with which we ended Part One: “Why, after all the early and more strident recent warnings, do we find ourselves hurtling toward a global climate catastrophe like a runaway train?”
One explanation is the uncounted millions in advertising, public relations, support of pseudoscience and lobbying spent by the energy industries and right-wing deniers to convince the public that the warming isn’t real. Failing that, their focus shifted to blaming a “natural warming cycle” as the culprit. Failing that, we’re now told—despite all the very visible evidence to the contrary—that the forecast negative effects are exaggerated.
This campaign of lies is reminiscent of the tobacco industry’s successful 50-year defense of smoking (The Merchants of Doubt). It’s the same playbook. Only, in this case, the deceit has been far more harmful. It has misled and confused the public, substantially slowing society’s reaction to this potentially civilization-changing crisis.
This kind of corporate misbehavior and disregard for the future of the human species has led many, from the Pope to Greta Thunberg, to call for the crime of “ecocide” to be recognized in international criminal law.
Ecocide— “killing the environment”—is an idea that seems radical but, campaigners claim, is reasonable. The theory is that no one should go unpunished for destroying the natural world. Advocates believe the crime should come under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, which can prosecute four crimes: genocide, war crimes, crimes of aggression and crimes against humanity.
While it is unlikely that petrochemical, coal, utility or automotive chief executives will see the insides of jail cells, there are many who think they should. Others in the U.S. believe certain federal government officials are equally culpable.
Taking an active and rational approach to the warming was dealt a major blow with the election of Donald Trump in 2016. His position on the warming may best be summed up by one of his incessant tweets: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”
According to fact checkers who’ve been keeping close track, that’s just another of the more than 30,000 lies he told the American public during his four-year term.
Trump vowed to dismantle the U.S. commitment to the 2015 Paris climate accord so as not to cooperate with global efforts to rein in GHG pollution. And he exhorted his Environmental “Destruction” Agency to delete any vestiges of earlier regulations to deal with the crisis.
Trump, like most Republicans, slavishly adheres to the notion that efforts to minimize the effects of the warming will require more “big government” and cause serious injury to our largely mythical system of “free enterprise.”
The Biden Administration appears, however, to be making the warming a top priority—along with undoing the damage and potential damage to the country done by the previous administration. He ordered executive agencies to review 103 Trump-era actions on the environment and public health, a potential wholesale reversal of Trump’s effort to deregulate fossil-fuel companies.
Another explanation of the reluctance of many to accept the warming’s threat is the tried and true Theory of Cognitive Dissonance—a fairly simple explanation for why it's so difficult to change people's minds or warn them of potential dangers. We all use built-in mental defense mechanisms to protect us from information we believe to be threatening or that runs contrary to our beliefs.
To avoid aversive information about the warming, for example, many choose to expose themselves to right-wing media like Fox—Trump’s primary trumpet for spreading disinformation about the climate crisis.
There is also a clear anti-science bias evident in the U.S. population. A recent Gallup poll indicates 40 percent of U.S. adults reject evolution in favor of a creationist view, believing God created us in our present form roughly within the past 10,000 years.
Is this the same 40 percent who polls say deny dangers posed by the warming? One can be certain there is a great deal of overlap.
The nature of the warming itself also has contributed to people's seeming inability to accept its existence and to consider its negative long-term impact.
There's a simple and well-worn analogy. If you toss a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will hop out. But if you put it in a pot of lukewarm water and slowly turn up the heat, it will boil before it realizes what's happened.
The warming is like that slowly heated pot of water. It's insidious, slow-moving. It has crept up on us. Every slight change in the planet's temperature becomes the "new normal" and is accepted as such. More drought and shrinking water supplies? The new normal. Increases in ocean levels? The new normal. Increasingly violent weather? The new normal.
We must fight against “new normalism” or, like the frog, we will “croak.”