Tuesday, November 25, 2008

climate review November

This month's climate review reflects we enter a phase transition.

Empirically, this is new: one, the 2008 hurricane season set a record. Two, the South Pole, until now defying the planetary trend, has started to heat up. Three, indications of an incipient poop loop continue to be published (see Ise, also Rigby). Next there are swirls over whether things are improving or getting FUBAR instead. There's the Big Chill hope (Crowley/Hyde) contra accelerated heating; there's the happy black carbon story (Lehmann) contra the unhappy one (UNEP); there's news on a nice negative feedback loop over the warming-induced growing capacity of soil for carbon lockdown (Feng) contra a nasty positive feedback loop over atmospheric methane (Rigby). There's also a swirl over data analysis and mystifying measurements (a NASA blooper; HadCRUT 3 V), with a counterpoint on "highly improved predictive skills in forecasting" (Lee). All swirls aside, we pretty much know now that 350 ppm CO2 is the absolute limit of safety; any higher than that and all bets are off (Hansen). We're now at 385 ppm. For details, scroll down to 'climatology'.

Rationally, crazy jokes can point the way. There was an awesome rip-off of the New York Times. The Yes Men, a group of artists, created a fake NYT, in a sci-fi world, dated Independence Day 2009. To the extent climate philosophy is this century's version of "world wisdom" or weltweisheit, the visionary fakery is a milestone on the way.
Imagine, with Leibniz and Lennon, we make progress now. Not a minimalistic techno-version -- no, the real deal, the full-blown, evolutionary Buddha-land-let's do it best-of-all-possible worlds version that was clear to Kant in The Idea of an Overall History in Global Village Intention (1784) and in Toward Steady Peace: A Philosophical Design (1795). Imagine this and ask: what's the work that needs to be done? Which policies got to go; which ones must get going? Don't stop imagining; go farther: suppose we do it right -- how would a step on the way look like? "All the news we hope to print" is a slap in the face of all cynics and an art happening par excellence: 1.2 mio fake papers were handed out. Reactions: "O it's possible; 'course it is." -- "say what??" And yes we can: a dream of Wolffian ambition; a blueprint for kickstarting climate evolution.

Culturally, things are heading right along. Environmental Ethics, taught each fall, is evolving to another level. We can accept data that caused debates only a year or two ago. This consensus propels us to new insights. Energy that used to go into debating the reality of problems can now be spent on mapping out pathways to solutions. There are swirls in the flow: this stunning civil evolution towards a post-carbon, post-consumerist, and post-capitalist social order is urged along by the crash of the carbon, consumerist, and capitalist lifestyle, a crash that puts people out of work, turns them out of homes, bars them from health care, and destroys life savings.

Politically, the US election is a leap toward a climate policy guided by realism and humanity. It's not a small step; it's a real leap: not only will American destructiveness under Bush abate after 20 Jan 2009 but also yield to constructiveness under Obama. Yet eddies swirl. Bush isn't sitting on his hands. Post-election, the neocon junta has defecated a swill of toxic acts on the heads of a distracted public.

No joke: G19 leaders snub the Climate Changer in Chief
(the "no handshakes with double-you" video 11.20.)

Locally, USF has now formed a sustainability committee. Green is not for sissies but for survivalists and thus joins a widening pragmatic Kantian stream. Yet eddies and swirls turn the current: plummeting domestic gas prices, now half of what they'd been at the pump four months ago, immediately show themselves on the road. Once again I seem to be the only bicyclist in Tampa, and once again the Hummers, Alfa Romeos, Tundras and Jaguars are back out in full force, snarling, growling, crawling on rail-less avenues girding USF.
Here and now it's dry. The rainy season was a flop. I ran last week from Trout Creek to the Hillsborough River at Morris Bridge. The water there is as low now as I remember it summers ten years ago. The other coast has worse problems with weird dry weather. Sorry Los Angeles: --surrounded by wildfires--?? you've gotta be kidding.


Many Americans have already bought their last car
-- they just don't know it yet.
Jim Kunstler


... Antarctic Wilkins shelf forms new rifts 11.29.
... 2008 hurricane season sets new records 11.25.
... Australia floods 11.20
... Colorado waldsterben 11.19.
... Montana waldsterben 11.18.
... California fires (pix) 11.17.
... California fires 11.15.
... Texas post-Ike tent cities 11.14.
... Earth: destabilizing marine biota 11.12.
... Arctic ice reduction analysis 11.4.
... Antarctica now starting to warm up too 10.31.
... Kashmir climate change 10.23.
... Australia freak weather strike 10.22.
... Antarctic ozone hole grew again in 2008 10.7.


... Bayern verlangt Abkehr von Klimazielen 11.23.
... UN publishes draft proposal ahead of Poland meet 11.21.
... Ozone Treaty parties agree to cut more climate emissions 11.20.
... Asian-Pacific climate change momentum fading 11.20.
... Quebec/Ontario ready protect 50% of forest as climate tool 11.19.
... US: Obama's Climate Poznan address 11.19.
... US: Bush permits exploitation of dirtiest fuel on the planet 11.19.
... US: Bush deregulates Clean Air Act near National Parks 11.19.
... US: Bush deregulates Endangered Species Act 11.19.
... Earth: rocky road to Copenhagen (J Lash) 11.14.
... US: anti-climate policy deepens for now 11.12.
... US: Obama's energy challenge (M Klare) 11.10.
... Maldives invest in new homeland 11.10.
... US: the climate for change (A Gore) 11.9.
... Beijing climate conference 11.8.
... US: Bush's climate sins 11.8.
... China asks rich nations to fight climate change 11.7.
... US: Bush's final destructive moves 11.3.


... Global citizens rank climate concerns ahead of economy 11.25.
... Oil sands carbon capture inefficient 11.25.
... Sun setting on the American Century? 11.21. (NIC 2025 report)
... Oil at $ 48 11.20.
... "The Year of Unsustainability" The Economist 11.19.
... Congo violence reaches deeper into forest 11.17.
... India lands on the Moon 11.15.
... Oil at $ 57 11.14.
... US debt reaches $ 5 trillion 11.12.
... US consumerist excess slows 11.11.
... US may lose AAA rating 11.10.
... Earth resource crisis 10.29.


... B McKibben: multiplication saves the day 11.27.
... J Kunstler: zombie economics 11.24.
... American mass transit funding triumph 11.18.
... German Greens pick Turkish leader 11.16.
... France: flour is for fur 11.15.
... US Blackwater busted 11.15.
... US finally shitty enough to make progress 11.5.
... US optimodals living off the grid 11.10.
... Question: how sexy are superfast trains? 10.29.
... Answer: very sexy!


... US bailout costs more than WW2 in inflation adjusted cost 11.24.
... Maryland police spies on climate activists 11.20.
... New York MTA cuts 11.19.
... Irish film makers 11.17.
... Californians 11.14.
... Floridians 11.6.


Big Chill:
... Crowley/Hyde "Pleistocene climate variability" Nature 456: 226-30
... A Revkin "Will next ice age be a long one? " dotearth 11.12.
... A Revkin "More on whether a big chill is nigh" dotearth 11.13.

Black Carbon (cool in soil):
... Cornell University: "Decrease climate predictions" 11.20.
... J Lehmann, "Australian feedback reduced" Nat Geosci ngeo358

Black Carbon (hot in air):
... UN EP report: Atmospheric brown clouds Nov 08 pdf
... Tamino "ABC" 11.16.

Data Reading:
... NASA blooper: the mountain version 11.16.
... NASA blooper: the molehill version 11.11.
... NASA blooper: the NASA version 11.13.
... Real Climate post on a warming interpretation gap 11.18.
... E Lee, "Highly improved monsoon forecast" AGU 10.29.

Feedback Loops:
... T Ise, "Peat decomposition water-table feedback" Nat Geosci
... X Feng, "Increased cuticular carbon sequestration" Nat Geosci
... M Rigby, "Growth of atmospheric methane" AGU 11.20. CO2

Big Lurch:
... R Alley "Glacier flow in changing times" Science 322: 1061-62
... L Stearns, "Increased flow speed" Nat Geosci 10.1038/ngeo356
... N Gillett, "Anthropogenic polar warming" Nat Geosci ngeo338
... X Zhang, "Radical shift in arctic atmospheric circulation" GPR 35
... oldie post on this site -- the Big Lurch: 213 ft or 65 m

Other blips on the radarscreen:
... R Jackson, "Protecting climate with forests"ERL 3, 11.11
... O Heffernan, "In hot water," Nature 10.1038/climate.2008.117

The upper limit of safety:
... J Hansen, "Target atmospheric CO2" pre-publication ms. (arXiv)
Open Atmospheric Science Journal Nov 08, in press

On the plasma-TV-crowd:
... word's spreading on NF3 or nitrogen trifluoride. It's like this: if you commute by car, you're clearly not a very good person. But if you also got a plasma TV, it would seem you're an orb-blistering asshole.

And thus we peter out, in eddies and whirls, until next time...


Monday, November 10, 2008

the rational clarity of history

The US election 2008 was historic. Despite some irregularities, it was no sham; it was an election. The vote was counted, unlike 2000, and polling data matched voting records, unlike 2004. Also unlike 2004 in Florida, electronic voting finally permitted paper receipts.

The election marks the return to constitutional values and a retreat from the abyss approached since 2000. It also marks a U-turn over respect for humanity. The past eight years had seen oil warfare, secret arrests, wanton torture, special rendition, and the buildup of concentration camps. My old friend Urs from the Bavarian Forest had one word for the US policies of the Bush junta: menschenverachtend -- policies contemptuous of human beings.

Now there is hope the USA will ease back into the civilized world of universal human rights, not just human rights for Christians, Jews, and rich people. Of course inhumanity remains an American status quo for the time being: globally, America has become prison planet, with more folks under lockdown than anywhere else on Earth, and locally, USF Professor Sami Al-Arian continues to do time in a gringo jail for having committed the sin of being Muslim and Palestinian. And Bush, still in power for two months, may well sign a few more execution orders at home and order a few more air raids abroad.

Yet the U-turn is happening. It also concerns the future of humanity. It is safe to say that American exceptionalism over global warming will now end and that president-elect Obama won't enter the annals of history as the climate changer in chief his predecessor had been.

It's amazing to surf world media and read how the whole planet is breathing a huge sigh of relief. It's the relief of worried onlookers who watch Americans recover from an eight year stretch of insanity.

More mixed, both good and bad, are the news for American Thought. Philosophers like to look at what they're doing as abstract work of no political consequence. And who knows which way causality flows, from the polis to the philosophers, or the other way around. But it's clear that most US philosophers didn't cover themselves with glory in the past eight years. And to the extent that they were standing in the sidelines, they had aided and abetted, or at least cheered on, the Bushist spectacle of menschenverachtende policies.

Sure, if any of my colleagues happen to read this, they'd shake their heads, shrug off these charges, and roll their eyes (again) at the Mad Hun. And granted, most of the colleagues in the field consider themselves "liberal" (whatever that means) and oppose Bushist policies. But, at the same time, they are implicated in the Bushist legacy both in practice and in theory. In practice, in that American philosophers with paychecks tend to buy wholesale into the consumerist lifestyle that Bushism encourages and represents--they live in the suburbs; they own houses; they drive cars; they are collectors, and they pray at the altar of free-wheeling capitalism. In practice, American philosophers represent consumerist conventions.

And in theory, because Bushism has been the first truly postmodern government in American history. In Bushism, truth was in the eye of the beholder; facts were negotiable; scientific findings were to be treated with a "healthy" dose of skepticism; and moral problems tended to have at least two sides. And that's just what many of my colleagues argue in their seminars and in their books. It's been the zeitgeist. Was it surprising that eventually some students of Plato's Republic, Hume's Treatise, Derrida's L'écriture et la différence, and Rorty's Mirror of Nature would take the ideas found there and use them, à la Karl Rove, in their political consequence?

The problem with a philosophical case against the violations of human rights and the perpetration of climate change that the world has come to associate with Bushist America is that making such a case would require a philosopher to be dogmatic and to come out as a Wolffian and as an absolutist. But American philosophers espouse an antithetical mentality: dogmatism is wacko, while skepticism is tough-minded intelligence; Hume is a famous historical figure taught everywhere, while Wolff is unknown (pdf); absolutism is dismissed, while relativism is always good for class discussion or a book chapter.

Thus, on human rights, for instance, American thinkers tend to be largely in favor but lace such favor with doubt. If we caught Bin Laden's advisor, should we not torture the next 9-11 plan out of him? Puzzles of this sort make conventional philosophers frown into their tea cups and mumble something about 'difficult' and 'hard problems'.

As one result, here at USF, from 2001 to 2008, the Mad Hun was the only faculty who taught an anti-government course, the Tao of War, whose point consisted in the comparison of Bush and Hitler, and whose grading requirement consisted in the analysis of past and present strategic failures in light of daoist military manuals. Colleagues taught pro-establishment topics such as the philosopher-kings of Plato's Republic and the ways of doubting in Hume's Treatise -- and looked the other way when the Mad Hun raved on.

As another result, the topic of climate has met with curious resistance in American philosophy during the same time period. In 2004 I first raised the subject in faculty meetings, my words were met with polite coughs and quiet snickers. In 2005 Katrina contra New Orleans opened minds enought to entertain the possibility of a climate conference, but it would take yet another year before this was possible. In the 2006 conference half of the faculty participated; the other half pointedly stayed away. (My esteemed colleague colleague Charles Guignon wanted to join in but was indisposed.) Among those who did participate, two of the inhouse presenters gave papers on unrelated subjects that didn't mention the offending terms ("global warming," "climate change") with a single breath, while one of the faculty panelists -- an ethicist no less -- openly rejected climatology findings. In 2007 I asked the former presidents of the Florida Philosophical Association to issue a call for papers on climate for the next annual meeting, and while my colleagues at the FPA found my request "interesting" they also denied it. Even in 2008, this resistance continued, and at USF, an associate dean of the honors college vetoed the plan for a regular climate seminar.

But all this are small potatoes. Historic is that the Gringo Square of Flawed Cognition has suffered a crucial blow. And contrary to what some historians might think, history is not messy, but in the end, historical verdicts are rational and clear. The crash of turbo capitalism raises questions about Adam Smith. The fall of Sarah Palin raises questions about the Baby Jesus. The failure of Bushism overall raises questions about Ayn Rand. And the defeat of the climate skeptics raises questions about David Hume. Now, hopefully, we can throw out bad philosophies with the trash and pray that the American Disenlightenment has come to an end.