Welcome to the Republican Climate!
July 3, 2008
Even if we stopped putting carbon dioxide in the air right now (which is impossible), a great deal of global warming is inevitable, as a delayed response to the carbon dioxide we have already dumped into the air. If we control our carbon emissions, a new equilibrium will eventually be reached. Eventually. But meanwhile, a period of disruption is inevitable. This period has already begun. Already, global temperatures are increasing faster than at almost any time in the past. Ice caps are melting all over the world, and ocean levels are rising. Droughts and wildfires are increasingly common in western North America, where there are also insect outbreaks that have devastated many thousands of square miles of forests.
As the climate changes, some natural habitats, such as tundra, will disappear entirely. Later this century, the climates that are suitable for the survival of our forests will be found far to the north of where the forests are currently found. Eventually, our forest tree species will migrate northward to the places where the climate is suitable for them, and new plant species more tolerant of heat and drought will grow where our forests used to be. But meanwhile, during the transition period that will begin in perhaps just a couple of decades, most of the trees in our forests will die. Our children will reach old age in a landscape filled with the skeletons of trees where there were once forests. Our grandchildren will not see the giant sequoia trees of the Sierra Nevada mountains or the giant redwoods of the Pacific coast. They will see a devastated natural environment.
And the human environment will suffer even more. Many of our cities and much of our agriculture depend on irrigation from snowpacks that will largely disappear. Human society is precariously dependent on agriculture that is itself dependent on the continuation of our current climate. Our agriculture is not flexible enough to adapt to climate change without experiencing a great loss of production. One might even say, never mind the forests—where will people in cities get their food and water? Even the military is getting concerned about climate change. They predict that rising ocean levels and the spread of tropical diseases will cause millions of environmental refugees to flee across national borders (for example, from Mexico into the United States), causing a national security nightmare. (See chapter three of my forthcoming book, Green Planet, for more information about global warming.)
And it is the Republicans that we have to thank for this. While it is true that everyone, including Democrats, produce carbon dioxide and contribute to global warming, it is the Republicans who have blocked all attempts to control carbon emissions. As long as the Republicans remained in power, absolutely nothing was done to prepare for and minimize global warming. It was only after they lost control of Congress in 2006 that even limited progress has been made, such as the adoption of better fuel efficiency standards. The Republican minority has blocked everything else. They have done this because they want money from oil and coal companies, who make money from carbon emissions, and whose CEOs will be dead before the most severe effects of climate change begin.
I suggest that, later in this century, the devastated natural world and human economy that will result from global warming be referred to as The Republican Climate, in eternal tribute to the political party that is literally sacrificing the world for immediate economic gain.
Goodbye, From the World’s Biggest Polluter!
July 18, 2008
July, 2008—George W. Bush’s final summit meeting of the leaders of the eight economic superpowers (G8). Bush treated this meeting as an opportunity to make the United States of America look like a stupid, arrogant bunch of people who have no respect or concern for what happens to people in any other country. He greeted Silvio Berlusconi, the prime minister of Italy (where, I think, they speak Italian) with “Amigo!” But the true embarrassment for the United States occurred when Bush made his closing remarks. As reported by Newsweek (July 21, 2008, page 25) Bush punched the air, grinned, and said, “Goodbye, from the world’s biggest polluter!”
The man who will be our president for only a few more agonizing months thinks that the ecological impact of the United States upon the rest of the world is funny. He is proud of the mess that we are making in the world. It is an example of arrogance that is agonizing for any American citizen to behold.
I believe that this demonstrates that the deniers of global warming, led by the Bush administration, know that they are lying and are pleased with the joke that they are perpetrating upon the rest of the world.
This ought to be considered a disaster for the Republican Party, regarding the success of which I have no concern. Considering the utter failure of the Bush administration in every conceivable way, I think it is time for the Republican Party to officially declare that they do not want themselves to be associated with the Bush administration. John McCain should make an announcement that he will dissolve any ties with George W. Bush. Only in this way will Republicans have any credibility. But can we expect this from McCain, who (also according to Newsweek, July 21, page 25) joked that we could kill off the Iranians by selling them cigarettes?
I have sincerely and consistently hoped that Republicans might take the preservation of the world environment as seriously as Democrats, and Democrats as seriously as Greens. But I have been disappointed every time.
I only hope that I have better news to report, even about the Republican Party, in the future.
Aug. 3, 2008
Yes, Virginia, there is a Nebraska National Forest.
I was driving from Oklahoma to the Black Hills to teach a botany course early one summer when I saw the sign, Nebraska National Forest, in the northwestern part of the state. I drove up to a small hilltop with native ponderosa and introduced Austrian pines, overlooking the green shortgrass prairie. That was about it. But at least it really did exist.
The natural world is always ready to surprise us with unexpected diversity. It is not just a world of generic trees and shrubs and grasses and wildflowers and birds and insects, but of thousands of species of each of them. And much of this diversity is essential to the function of the natural world.
One of the things we need to do is to begin noticing the diversity of nature. For example, if you go up to Turkey Mountain just outside of Tulsa (it is a hill that is, as far as I know, without turkeys), you will see many species of trees. And if you look closely, you will notice that the trees on the south and west sides differ from the north and east sides. On the dry, hot sides of the mountain, post oaks and blackjack oaks predominate, while on the moist, cool sides there are Shumard oaks and chinquapin oaks and white ashes. But if you just walk along or ride a bike without stopping to notice which tree is which, you will never notice this important natural pattern.
When I got to the Black Hills to teach my course, I took students on hikes through natural forests. Some of them, of course, were more interested in talking—loudly—to one another, and would not notice the different species of plants unless I made them stop and look. You have to be quiet and observant. Nature seldom screams its truths to you, save during wildfires and hurricanes and earthquakes. I can only hope that I helped these students develop a little bit of a habit of observation.
And when you observe, you should be ready for surprises, such as the occasional Nebraska National Forest.
Consider the Lilies
Aug. 25, 2008
The Sermon on the Mount contained some of the greatest things that anyone ever said. I sometimes write on the board in my botany classes,
In all his glory
Was not arrayed
As one of these.
Jesus invited his listeners to look closely at one, even just one, of the spring wildflowers in the Mediterranean climate of Judaea. Each flower, of which there were and are thousands, is a greater work of art than was or is found in anything that humans have made. The above quote is the passage, of course, that begins, “Consider the lilies of the fieldÖ”
Jesus did not say, glance at the lilies of the field and then forget about them.
Jesus did not say, impose theories upon the lilies of the field without studying them.
Jesus did not say, trample on the lilies of the field.
Jesus did not say, spray herbicide on the lilies of the field.
Jesus did not say, pour concrete on the lilies of the field.
The lilies of the field were spring wildflowers (related to some that grow in the midwestern United States, such as crow poison, which is a lily, and blue-eyed grass, which is an iris) that grow in February, bloom in March, and turn brown in April (as Jesus said, they “are thrown into the oven”). They have a right to be where they are; their right to existence does not depend on any service they perform to humans. And you can learn a lot of wisdom from them; the more you study them, the more you learn about the way the world works. You must do more than glance at them, but study their structure, and how they grow (Jesus in fact said, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they growÖ”). Humans like to impose stories upon plants and animals, allegories or fables or “lessons,” but the teaching needs to be the other way round: they teach us. The idea that the lilies of the field, even mere weeds, have no value and only need to be eradicated during our pursuit of wealth would have been as disgusting to Jesus as were the activities of the money-changers in the Temple, whose tables Jesus overturned.
Sept. 6, 2008
The ecological problems of the Earth seem too big to solve. When I gave the junior high graduation speech in Lindsay, CA in 1971, my topic was “the overcrowded spaceship Earth.” There were three and a half billion people! Today, there are six and a half billion. And many of these people are using more energy and materials, and producing more carbon dioxide and garbage, than people were back in 1971. Whatever progress we seem to make towards reducing our ecological impact on the Earth, it seems to be counteracted by the increase in population—several thousand more than when you logged onto this website.
What will future generations think? Will they pass judgment upon us the way we pass judgment on slave owners? Today, many historians ignore the fact that Thomas Jefferson tried to find a way to free his slaves without going bankrupt, and simply condemn him. Will future generations condemn even those of us who are trying to do a few things to reduce our contribution to the destruction of the Earth? And what will they say about those in positions of political and economic leadership who have directly prevented the solutions from even being considered? Future generations of Americans—in a world transformed by global warming; in which most of Florida is flooded by the sea; in which the entire Southwest is too arid for agriculture and where mountain snow packs do not produce enough water for cities let alone irrigation; in which tropical temperatures bring tropical diseases—may angrily refer to it as the Republican Climate, in honor of the political party that made sure that this climate took shape. Students of the future will read about a man named James Inhofe, senior senator from my state of Oklahoma, whom they will consider to be a lunatic for claiming that all the scientists in the world are secretly plotting to suppress the truth that only he and Michael Crichton know—which is, that global warming is a hoax perpetrated by extremely rich and evil environmentalists. But these people of the future will not be particularly fond of the Democrats either—can you imagine Ted Kennedy in a Toyota? What will they say about those of us who participate in the destruction of the Earth but just a little less?
Still, little things can add up, especially if the idea catches on and thousands then millions of people start doing it. I ran across a statistic that increasing our vehicle fuel efficiency from its current 23 mpg to 35 mpg, as per the bill that just came out of both houses of Congress, would save half as much oil as we currently import from the Middle East. A toilet that uses 1 ½ rather than 3 ½ gallons per flush (GPF, as the experts call it), when used by 300 million people, adds up to a lot of water.
And it is a national security issue, according to a panel representing all sixteen federal intelligence agencies, who are worried about the security threat posed by millions of environmental refugees. Bill McKibben, one of the leading science writers and one of the first to write about global warming, said that big SUVs ought to come with little Saudi flags on their hoods.
I decided to walk to work whenever I could. But where I live there are no sidewalks. It is true that I save a little gasoline. Unfortunately, I breathe the fumes of vehicles that pass me by, and I never fail to get doused with cancerous volatiles. And let’s not even talk about the dogs that chase me. Perhaps the risks of walking to work outweigh the benefits. Despite examples such as this, nearly everything I do to lighten my impact upon the Earth has been easy, cheap, and without detrimental side-effects.
It is far better for everyone to use less energy than for a utility company to build another power plant or for the United States to invade another country that has oil.
America the Glutton
Sept. 21, 2008
Americans use about one-third of the resources of the world—a rough estimate based upon everything from electricity and metals to food and fresh water. There are about 300 million Americans. If everyone in the world lived like us, the world could hold only 900 million people. There are over seven times that many people in the world.
And yet we act as if we deserve all of this wealth. And if anyone tells us that we should use it more frugally, we are sometimes offended. But face the facts—you neither need or deserve an exorbitant share of the world’s wealth.
You say that you need to drive a big car. No you don’t.
You say that you need to keep your heat up to 74 degrees in the winter. No you don’t. President Carter got in trouble for telling Americans to keep the thermostat down to 68. Johnny Cash, wearing a big sweater, did an advertisement for him, saying, “You think 68 is too cold? Well, put on one o’ these!”
You think you need to keep your air conditioner thermostat at 70 degrees in the summer. No you don’t. Even 81 degrees is perfectly comfortable, if you have ceiling fans.
You think you need a big fancy house. No you don’t.
I would not want to live as frugally as Jesus did. And I don’t. But I wonder sometimes if He would criticize me for the amount of luxury I do have, in my house that I keep cold in the winter and hot in the summer, driving my Toyota. An African peasant would say, we get along fine without Toyotas and heaters and air conditioners. All we want for now is enough food to eat and some basic medical care and to not have anyone shoot at us.
And what do they think when they look at us, using one-third of the resources in the world?
Looking for a Few Good Conservatives
Sept. 27, 2008
In theory, there ought to be no reason why a conservative cannot be scientifically honest, or honest in every other way. But dishonesty seems to be very consistently associated with conservatives. I provide here a few examples.
Creationists condemn evolutionary science and offer their own creation science as an honest, biblical alternative. One would expect them to live up to the standards of honesty that they accuse evolutionists of not having. But creationism appears to be rife with dishonesty. Kent Hovind, a Christian creationist who called himself “Dr. Dino” and had a museum of what he claimed were creation evidences, was convicted of tax evasion. His Muslim Turkish counterpart Adnan Oktar, who wrote under the name Harun Yahya and whose books were sent throughout the world, was arrested for involvement in organized crime. A recent review paper in the journal Proteomics was a disguised creationist paper attempting to prove that mitochondria in cells did not evolve but were created. It turned out to be a cluster of plagiarized passages from other publications.
The pattern shows up more generally in the big-time preachers of the religious right. Every few years there is another televangelist scandal, most recently involving Richard Roberts, the heir of the Oral Roberts empire. Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, began investigating many of these preachers, whom he suspected used their tax-exempt status to accumulate personal wealth. Of the six he investigated, only one agreed to cooperate. Said Grassley in November 2007, “Jesus comes into the city on a simple mule, and you got people today expanding his gospel in corporate jets.”
Dishonesty has been the mainstay of the Bush Administration. As just one example, this administration presented false evidence to the world as justification for the Iraq War, and took revenge against a diplomat who revealed the evidence to be false. Other conservative politicians fare little better, and apparently the people who vote for them expect no better. Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, despite facing criminal charges for accepting undisclosed gifts from industry, won his state’s Republican primary and leads in the polls for the general election. One would hope that the McCain-Palin ticket would be honest, but they are only a slight improvement over the Bush Administration. McCain slammed Obama for having campaign advisors connected to Freddie Mac, then a few days later the news came out that he also had such advisors. Sarah Palin claimed that she had turned down the Bridge to Nowhere money, when in reality she had welcomed it.
The world is fully ready to see an honest conservative. We are waiting. Maybe it will be Charles Grassley.