Category Archives: Political & Environmental Commentary

Yosemite National Park and Dome Photographs July 28, 2017

For insight into the current political climate, take a look back at the year 2000 Ridley Scott movie, Gladiator. See if Emperor Commodus (d. 192 CE) reminds you of anyone in today’s less than stellar set of politicians.

Then, to make yourself feel better, check out this entry of my 2017 Yosemite photographs taken along the Tioga Road during an off-trail climb  north above Cathedral Creek with Bob Hare, seeking a view southwest toward Cathedral Peak. Destination was a dome visited by John Muir in 1901at 37° 53´44.06 N x 119°24´45.16 W.

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Yosemite National Park and Mono Pass Photographs July 27, 2017

There are now millions of climate change refugees worldwide, including thousands in the United States who have lost everything to floods, hurricanes or firestorms. Climate experts have indicated that such disasters are more likely than not to continue. This is one in a series showing places around Yosemite National Park that have, so far, escaped catastrophic events. Consider them as baseline documentation before inevitable future changes. Photos were taken summer 2017 on hiking/photography expedition with naturalist Bob Hare.

See: http://yosemitecathedral.blogspot.com for Bob’s photographs of this trip.

Photo copyright 2017 David L. Witt

Heading southeast and up towards top of Mono Pass

 

Lake at top of Mono Pass

 

East South East and down from Mono Pass into Bloody Canyon

 

Mono Lake in the distance

 

Looking up to Snow fields in Bloody Canyon–zig-zagged through the rocks to get around them

 

Lake in Bloody Canyon, named “Red Lake” by John Muir

 

Crimson Columbine/Aquilegia formosa  and Potentilla species in Bloody Canyon

 

Globe Penstemon/Penstemon globosus in Bloody Canyon

 

Glacial Tarn in Bloody Canyon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  Mountain Heather/Phyllodoce breweri

 

View down to Mono Lake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Upper Bloody Canyon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Upper Bloody Canyon

 

Bob documenting old cabins just west of Mono Pass

 

 

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Why Trump is like Nasal Congestion

dsc_8391     Send Trump to the North Pole—it’s warmer there.

It’s beginning to look a lot less like Christmas up north. Mid-month December temperatures at the North Pole have risen 50° F above average to just below freezing—nighttime temperatures in Taos are colder. During summer, parts of the Arctic are warmer than Taos.

Time to start panicking?

Meanwhile: Hysteria reigns in North Carolina over who gets to use which bathroom. “Liberal” media (MSNBC, Huff Post, etc.) continue giving Trump more of the free publicity they used to propel him into the White House. The Obama administration slams Russia for providing armaments to Syria used to kill civilians there while at the same time providing armaments to Saudi Arabia used to kill civilians in Yemen. Democrats blame (among others) the Russians for costing them the election—easier to blame foreigners than there own stupidity (e.g., they really should have won).

From the Radical Natural History perspective, it is clear that negative media about Trump misses an important point. He is not a cause of our problems, but a symptom. Think of him as nasal congestion, an outcome of the corruption of the common cold, not the cause. It is the deeper virus-like corruption of a world civilization—that can tolerate, ignore, or even benefit from (in the very short term) the cataclysm of rising temperatures and species extinction—which has not the slightest compunction about producing Trump and his illiberal companions.

Time to start panicking, or past the time when we should have done so?

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The Environmental Movement Betrayed Part II

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The outcome of the December 19, 2016 election is another disaster for environmentalists. Beginning in November, environmental advocacy organizations have made their usual response: a plea for more money.

The appeal for funds has become an end in and of itself rather than a means to an end. Environmental organizations will raise more money in reaction to the complete take-over of government by a single political party, but species extinction and climate heating will continue as before on an ever accelerating path.

As long as fund raising remains the goal, radical naturalists and well-meaning environmentalists alike will continue to lose wild-nature one piece at a time until it is gone.

We should instead see fund raising only as a means, and direct action (with results) as an end.

Here are a few things we can do now:

  • Admit that as goes the occupation regime in Washington, D.C., so goes the environment (nothing but disaster ahead without our concentrated opposition).
  • Reject the prevailing trend that partisanship must trump patriotism.
  • Accept that acting to save our environment from destruction and the agents that intend to bring that destruction about, is an act of urgent patriotism.
  • Agree that doing violence in doing so is not answer (we don’t want to become like them)
  • Pay attention to the “unpresidented” intervention by a foreign government in choosing the current leadership in Washington. React in the following way:
  • Call the election result what it is—illegitimate. Become an election denier, a Dearther (for the dearth of information provided by intelligence agencies and others that might have changed the election result).
  • Shame Democratic politicians into not attending the inaugural on January 20 (nothing else will get their attention). If they attend, they will validate the fraudulent election result.
  • Demand the appointment of an Independent Special Prosecutor to investigate, without restrictions, the actions of a foreign government in influencing the election.
  • Demand the appointment of a second Independent Special Prosecutor to investigate the actions of the FBI over its political intervention in the election.
  • Demand an immediate disclosure of all tax and business records by the new elected and appointed officials regarding their financial ties to foreign governments.
  • Stop referring to fascist (euphemism: “alt-right”) propaganda as “fake news.” The word to use instead: lies.

While raising money to support specific environmental causes is necessary, emphasizing money is not the answer—in that direction lays despair and hopelessness. Our opponents will always raise more.

Our usual defensive/reactive posture must be replaced by its opposite. We must fight to save nature (or itself and for our own self-interest) and create awareness that what we do in the world, destruction or preservation, is the very definition of morality.

Writing on the Wall photo by David L. Witt

 

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The Environmental Movement Betrayed

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Liberals and conservatives have failed to adequately address the climate change crisis. Neither political party gave significant attention to any environment issues during the 2016 elections. Politicians left and right are unable even to ask meaningful questions regarding the environment because the frame of reference of these philosophies is not set up to do so.

In his 2014 book, The Great Debate, Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, And The Birth of Right and Left, the political scholar Yuval Levin chronicles the late 18th century origins of conservatism (Burke) and Liberalism (Paine).

Burke believed that rejecting the traditions and practices of the past leads to disaster. He feared that the passions of the moment overwhelm reason, and that instead, keeping to what works contributes to overall societal happiness. We retain inherited political and social institutions for good reason—the maintenance of order. Social relations are and must be restrained by the legacy of past generations and by our obligations to future generations. These traditions mostly obviate the need for social engineering by government regulation.

Paine believed that not rejecting those traditions and long standing practices leads to disaster. Discarding the dead hand of the past and adapting to changing conditions creates justice in the contemporary world contributing to overall happiness. He trusted citizens to employ “reason” in their consideration of political matters. Social and power relations should change with each generation, through revolution if necessary, and that the present should be of greater importance than the past or the future. Reason, rather than tradition, should be our guide.

Paine favored individual choice. Burke supported the obligations and privileges to which we are born. Both views have negative implications for contemporary environmentalism.

Conservatives see no reason to intervene in ancient environmental systems since those have and will continue to manage—and even evolve—on their own. Applying “reason” (including science) to address environmental issues unnecessarily grants authority to radicals who are more than willing to tear down the existing order for obscure (to the conservatives) revolutionary objectives. We have built a great nation on certain shared values (such as property rights, capitalism). Leave well enough alone.

Don’t expect liberals to come to our rescue. According to Paine, the motives of authorities (representing the long existing establishment, including scientists) are suspect; they are not to be trusted. Personal experience and immediate needs (such as alleviation of poverty, prevention of war) are of greatest concern. The people of the future can (and should) address the problems of their own time. Meanwhile, we must look out for ourselves.

As a result, neither conservatives nor liberals have much to offer environmentalism. Conservatives fear that environmental action will trample the rights of individuals well vested in the current system. Liberals fear that environmental action could compromise their goal of a more just and equitable society.

If conservatives admit the reality of climate change, then they have to admit that the issue can only be addressed though collective action organized by multinational governmental agencies. If liberals admit that climate change is real, then they have to adjust to societal sacrifices, knowing that the less well off and less powerful will give up more than the rich and powerful in addressing the problem.

Their differing worldviews make conservatives and liberals unable to understand one another on almost any issue. At the same time, but for entirely different reasons, their preconceptions make them equally unable to take revolutionary action that would disrupt our world society today for a payoff (in environmental and climate terms) that cannot be achieved until far into the future.

 

“The Great Chasm” Photo: David L. Witt

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Clinton can still win the election

Secretary Clinton is only 42 votes shy of winning the Electoral College, the second phase of the Presidential election which takes place in each state on December 19. Another way to put this is that she already has 228 votes lined up. If 42 Republican electors were to put country ahead of political party and change their vote to Clinton (who won the popular vote) we could, perhaps, achieve a more hopeful future. Somebody get this idea to Michael Moore!

The College was designed for just this purpose. Alexander Hamilton explained in an essay in The Federalist Papers that the College was the one chance to keep the Presidency from going to an unqualified person.

There is little time to left to save what remains of wild-nature–as well as ourselves–the extraordinary measure I propose could be our one remaining chance.

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Framework Convention on Climate Change

DSC_5428 Sun Dog

Adoption of the Paris Agreement

December 12, 2015

In combating climate change, the Agreement emphasizes “should” rather than “must,” which is to say that it is voluntary. It calls for recognition of social justice, for sharing technology, and for wealthier countries to support appropriate development in less wealthy countries. Environmentalists (including me) will fault the agreement for not being stronger. At the same time, however, it does establish an international moral imperative to combat this grave danger that threatens us all.

Will it be enough to save remaining wild nature and the larger part of world civilization? Implementation of the agreement is likely to be slower than needed. But how could 190 countries have come up with a better plan? Short term interests of corporations and the politicians they buy is as strong as ever.

Still, maybe, perhaps, if we’re lucky, maybe the United States of America will take the lead as its used to do in the 20th century when faced with global challenges.

Here are some highlights. For the full document, go to:

http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/cop21/eng/l09r01.pdf

Article 2

This Agreement, in enhancing the implementation of the Convention, including its objective, aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change, in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty, including by:

(a) Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change;

(b) Increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development, in a manner that does not threaten food production; (c) Making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.

Article 4

  1. In order to achieve the long-term temperature goal set out in Article 2, Parties aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing country Parties, and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with best available science, so as to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century, on the basis of equity, and in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty.
  1. Each Party shall prepare, communicate and maintain successive nationally determined contributions that it intends to achieve. Parties shall pursue domestic mitigation measures, with the aim of achieving the objectives of such contributions.

Article 6

  1. Parties recognize that some Parties choose to pursue voluntary cooperation in the implementation of their nationally determined contributions to allow for higher ambition in their mitigation and adaptation actions and to promote sustainable development and environmental integrity.

Article 8

  1. Parties recognize the importance of averting, minimizing and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, including

extreme weather events and slow onset events, and the role of sustainable development in reducing the risk of loss and damage.

Article 9

  1. Developed country Parties shall provide financial resources to assist developing country Parties with respect to both mitigation and adaptation in continuation of their existing obligations under the Convention.

Article 10

  1. Parties share a long-term vision on the importance of fully realizing technology development and transfer in order to improve resilience to climate change and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Article 21

  1. This Agreement shall enter into force on the thirtieth day after the date on which at least 55 Parties to the Convention accounting in total for at least an estimated 55 percent of the total global greenhouse gas emissions have deposited their instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession.

<Will it be sunset, sunrise, or something in between? Aylmer Lake sundog, Summer 2015. dlw photo)

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Ethnic Cleansing Goes Mainstream: Donald Trump and Our Christmas Wish

SAM_3532       I recall a movie from the Cold War days. A device was discovered that had the power to make bad people disappear. After giving consideration to the merits of this power, it was used to make all the Commies disappear—Russians, Eastern Europeans, probably Chinese. Those who remained on earth rejoiced at the triumph of our way of life. Getting rid of those we don’t want around is more messy than making a wish.

The Donald wants all the “Mexicans” (short hand for Latin American civilization) to go away. His proscription for doing this is ethnic cleansing—forced deportation. His political opponents have not called his plan ethnic cleansing, but they should since that it what it is. The mainstream media has failed us by not applying this obvious labeling.

What does this have to do with radical natural history? I’ll get to that, but first, more examples of magical wishing from this week’s news:

Fox News wants Starbucks and its non-Christmas promoting red coffee cups to go away. Violent Shiite groups want violent Sunni groups to go away (and vice versa). Many Israelis want Palestinians to disappear (and vice versa). The Koch brothers, ALEC and other right wing anti-American groups want democracy to go away. The Catholic Church wants media coverage of their pedophile scandals to go away. Sagebrush Rebellion conservatives want public access to public lands to go away.

Carbon companies and their hired politicians want environmentalists and solar energy to go away. Big Pharma wants the movement for patient’s rights to end. The Prison Industrial Complex wants the opponents of mass incarceration of poor people to vaporize. European conservatives want Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraqi refugees to go somewhere else. The Chinese government wants all other countries to give up their right of free navigation over wide parts of the Pacific Ocean. Nearly everyone of any sense wants Putin to go away.

Back to natural history: Fish and Gave authorities in New Mexico, Wyoming, Oregon and other states want wolves to go away. A majority of humans, in claiming all natural resources and physical space for themselves want, in effect, for wild nature to go away

It is the same mindset that wants to get rid of “Mexicans,” wolves, nature, or whatever. And the harder we all work on getting our wishes, the closer we come to making all those wishes come true. We’re well on our way.

(I managed to gain special access into The Donald’s soul and was rewarded with the picture that leads off this essay. For Sci-Fi fans, recall the Krell of Altair-4.)

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Zakaria, Gates and CNN’s GPS (Global Phooey Square)

_1DW4188     In a surprisingly insensitive and insincere interview aired by CNN on May 17, 2015, Fareed Zakaria interviewed Bill Gates. Mr. Gates made three main points during their extensive talk.

1) The American middle class is today better than it was 20 years ago. 2) Solar energy is not cost effective compared to various carbon fuels. 3) “Common Core” standards have greatly improved our education system. Hmmm.

1 Mr. Gates measured middle class progress by increasing access and use of information technology. Self-serving on his part? Recent measures of income growth and household wealth over the past two decades (particularly among minorities and less educated whites) show instead a growth in income inequality leading to a shrinking middle class.

2 Solar energy still costs too much? This depends on your accounting methods. The actual cost of using carbon as a fuel source not only includes getting it out of the ground, but also the expense of maintaining vast military establishments to protect producers from foreign and domestic threats. There is also the cost of the deterioration of fresh water as a result of fracking and oil spills. Mr. Gates also did not include as a cost the damage to human and overall environmental health (climate change, habitat destruction) from carbon fuels. These escalating, possibly exponential costs are impossible for the rest of us to ignore.

3 The blessings or curses of Common Core standards pale before the problem of inadequate funding for child education (based on local property taxes) and the unreasonably high costs of a college education. Middle class kids are being buried by debt or priced out altogether.

Mr. Zakaria called for support of free trade deals. I would like to make him a deal: You can have the latest free trade scheme in return for making sure the wealth created benefits the middle class not just the ultra rich. The likelihood of that particular deal happening, however, is too small to measure.

Mr. Zakaria and Mr. Gates have a wide platform for getting their views noted. By selectively editing out certain facts while fabricating others they can, in the short run, support any conclusion, however nonsensical. The disciplines of both history and natural history suggest that their fabrications will be shown as such in the long run. But it is the short run that worries me. The time we have left to give up the new Gilded Age fantasies to save both ourselves and our civilization seems to be all too limited.

<Puffball as metaphor for the Earth; dlw photo May 25, 2015>

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