Climate change, population growth, and social justice

At the recent climate change town hall series put on by CNN, Bernie Sanders got asked a question about overpopulation and climate change. His answer focused on reproductive rights, and on expanding the right to birth control and other family planning options not just to American women, but to women all over the world. This includes ending bans on foreign aid going to organizations that do things like providing abortion and other family planning services around the world:

This take is a good one, in my view, because it shows a commitment to improving the world for everyone that is often sorely lacking in discussions around overpopulation and limited resources. It’s one of those issues where a lot of people talk about how important it is to find a solution of some sort, but the conversation often doesn’t go farther. Most of the solutions that are readily available in popular culture seem to be… Bad. Also generally authoritarian.

If you have the time, I strongly recommend Peter Coffin’s video on the subject, as he does a great job of going into the history of concern over the problem, as well as some of the proposed solutions: [Read more…]

Climate denier pleads irrelevance and infirmity, and a zombie myth shambles on

The science of climate change is a field that focuses on trends over periods of a decade or more. Unfortunately, not all the trends the informed viewer will encounter have to do with climate research – some have to do with those who reject that research for non-scientific reasons. These people – generally referred to as climate science deniers – will show the non-scientific basis for their objections in the way they will use the same objections, year after year, no matter what new data arise, or how often those objections are rebutted.

This trend of continuing the use of dead arguments long after their demise is common to all areas of science denial, from the anti-vaccination crowd, to young-earth creationists. The tactic generally involves making false claims that seem plausible on the surface, and that take far more time and effort to rebut than was expended on the original lie. As a result, in all areas where this problem exists, people end up building resources to ease the rebuttal process. For climate science, the handiest one is the argument list found on Skepticalscience.com. The purveyors of these lies have found that there is no point at which their bullshit will have grown too ripe for their followers to swallow, so they have no incentive to stop feeding it to them.

When talking about science, this endless dishonesty also means repeatedly lying about actual people and the work they do. Arguably the most popular target for this behavior is climatologist Michael Mann, first made famous for his “hockey stick” graph in the 1990s. There are a variety of claims made about his work, but one of the most persistent has been that his temperature reconstructions discounted the Medieval Warm Period. This was a period during which Western Europe and Southern Greenland experienced higher temperatures than during most of the last couple centuries, and that showed prominently in an early IPCC graph. The graph seems to have been based on data from England, and incorrectly described as representing global temperatures. Mann’s graph drew data from multiple sources around the planet, and so, unsurprisingly showed a different result. If you haven’t seen it, or if you’d like a refresher on the subject, I highly recommend you watch this video from Potholer54 on the subject:

Mann has, over the years, been subject to an endless torrent of harassment and lies, and eventually decided to sue one of the primary culprits for libel. This would be a fellow by the name of Tim Ball, has gained a reputation for inflating his credentials to lend artificial authority to his arguments against the general consensus of climate research. I’ll refer you again to some of Potholer54’s coverage of the subject, with the relevant portion of this video starting around 8 minutes in:

Mann’s lawsuit against Ball has recently been dismissed, which has been claimed as both a victory for Ball, and a validation of the claims Ball has made about Mann and his research. It may shock you to learn that this reading of the situation is, in fact, another lie. From what I can gather, the request for dismissal that the judge granted was not based on the merits of the claims made. It was based on Tim Ball being old and sickly, and the assertion that nobody takes Ball seriously, and so his lies could cause no real harm to Mann (link leads to a twitter-based image that I have transcribed below):

The BC Supreme Court has never made any finding, directly or indirectly, that you failed to produce your data.

The August 22, 2019 ruling said nothing on that subject.

Ball’s request that the lawsuit be terminated – for delay – relied heavily on his alleged state of health.

Ball said in an affidavit supporting his application that lawsuit be terminated for delay:

“My Health

82. I myself am 80-years old (born 5th November 1938. I am diagnosed a Type 2 diabetic controlled by insulin. 

83. I had quintuple bypass surgery in June 2007.

84. After the trial adjournment in February of 2017, I suffered coronary heart failure. This occurred in May 2017. It result in the surgical insertion of five stints in my heart. I am on blood thinners and will be for the rest of my life.”

Ball’s request that your lawsuit against him be terminated for delay also relied heavily on his argument that Ball’s accusations have not damaged your reputation.

According to a written submission filed with the Court by Ball’s lawyer:

“Dr. Ball’s website did not appear in a Google Search of Dr. Mann or his research for at least 92% of all searchers, likely more. Dr. Ball’s website has a low ranking and low popularity as calculated by Alexa, software used to judge website popularity.”

“…there are eight years of evvidence to support the complete lack of damage to reputation in BC or elsewhere.”

Basically this is tantamount to saying that Ball’s accusations against you have been given no credibility by the average, reasonable reader.

In summary, the court’s brief ruling on August 22 made no finding on whether your claims were valid, or whether Ball’s pleaded defenses had any merit.

Such findings would have been made at a trial, which will now not happen (unless this ruling is reversed on appeal).

As ever, the science denial crowd is relying on the most superficial of glances to “support” their declarations of victory, so Mann has helpfully provided resources for those who wish to look into the subject – and the data – for themselves: https://twitter.com/MichaelEMann/status/1165641839627702274.

The reason I went into the Medieval Warm Period “controversy” in the beginning is because the science denial crowd has been using their “victory” to spread around the same long-debunked ideas about climate history over the last thousand years, in an effort to cast doubt on the properties of CO2 as a greenhouse gas. The basic idea is that if the “hockey stick” pattern isn’t real – if the Medieval Warm Period was hotter than today – then it can’t be CO2 causing current warming. We’ve known for decades that the pattern Mann found is an accurate one, and as I mentioned back in 2013, there have been multiple studies, by multiple teams, using multiple data sets from all over the world, that have all come to the same conclusion: The global temperature is higher now than it has been in hundreds of thousands of years, and we’re headed for temperatures not seen in millions of years.

We’ve been digging up carbon that was pulled out of the atmosphere over a period of hundreds of millions of years, and putting it back into the atmosphere in a matter of decades. It was much, much hotter back then, even with a cooler sun. If we continue on this path, we will go far beyond anything our species has ever encountered, or the species we descended from, or their ancestors, going back to the first mammals. If we do end up burning all of the fossil fuels we know about, we’re not facing the current nightmare scenario of 4-6 degree temperature rise. Accounting for feedbacks like the melting permafrost and seafloor methane clathrates, we’d be facing over 10 degrees of warming. It’s unclear whether humanity can survive in a world like that, but unless we make massive changes to how we live and how we use our technology, I would say the answer is a sepulchral NO.

The climate models were accurate.

It should come as no surprise to most readers that the science denial crowd have been lying about climate models. We’ve known this all along, but it’s always worth checking for the thousandth time. As Gavin Schmidt says:

“Uncertainty is important to understand because we know that in the real world we don’t know everything perfectly. All science is based on knowing the limitations of the numbers that you come up with, and those uncertainties can determine whether what you’re seeing is a shift or a change that is actually important.”

Image is map of the Earth, colored to show temperature difference from 2008-2012. With blue being a drop in temperature, and red being an increase in temperature, the entire map is shades of red and orange, with blue areas in the Pacific, and in Antarctica. The darkest red - showing the most warming - is in the arctic

Most of the time when scientists run computer models on something, they run them with a variety of inputs, to test a variety of scenarios. What happens to the climate if we accelerate emissions? What happens if we slow them down? What happens if we have an unusual amount of volcanic activity? What happens if fires increase? Every time climate models are published, they show multiple scenarios, just as hurricane forecasts show multiple possible paths.

When science deniers talk about models, they generally take one of two approaches. The less common one is to focus on the best-case scenarios, to say that there’s nothing to worry about. The more common one is to focus on the worst-case scenarios, attack them as catastrophism, and then crow about scientific dishonesty when the climate follows the “most likely” paths instead.

It’s a useful rhetorical trick when your audience, quite understandably, doesn’t have the time or resources to read and understand every paper that’s published, and it has been effective in swaying public opinion and understanding.

Universe Today covers a recent report from NASA on how current global temperatures compare to what past models predicted:

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Hasan Minhaj: why your public transportation sucks

Transportation has always been one of the most public-facing pieces in the climate change puzzle, through emissions, through the health effects of air pollution, and through the politics of moving people around. Ground-based mass transit has always been one of the obvious “first steps” available to us to solve all of those problems. Modern trains are far more efficient per ton moved, whether it’s people or freight. They also create far less air pollution than road traffic, and they make travelling, for work or for pleasure, considerably more affordable.

And so, of course, the Koch empire opposes it. Many thanks to Hasan Minhaj for covering this:

When Benjamin Franklin was the first Postmaster General of the United States, his vision of the postal service was as a great force for unification. Its mandate, to deliver mail to every corner of the nation, served to tie the us together, by allowing an affordable flow of data, ideas, and other information, available to every person living in the land.

A nation-wide rail network – particularly a modern, well-maintained one – serves much the same purpose. It means that you don’t need the expenses and dangers of car travel to see any part of the nation – you can just pack a bag and get on the train. If you can’t find a job where you are, you can commute to locations farther away, even if you can’t afford a personal vehicle. If that doesn’t work, you can pack all of your belongings onto a train and move to any other part of the country. It’s available to everyone, and if it were to be operated – like the USPS – as a public service, rather than an engine for private profit, it would be affordable for everyone too.

Mass transit gives power to the people. The power to leave an area ravaged by corporate greed. The power to move to a place with better opportunities. The power to travel without paying tribute to those who want to use your money to rule the world. That’s why oligarchic thugs like the Koch brothers have always fought against it, and why we have everything to gain by fighting back.

Reforestation in Ethiopia: This way lies hope.

Despite our rapidly advancing technology, and the years of research into carbon capture, photosynthesis still seems to be our best option for pulling large amounts of CO2 out of the atmosphere. This is why global deforestation has been such a big problem. It has not only been releasing more CO2 into the atmosphere, it has also been destroying many of the systems we have in place that act as a carbon sink, further amplifying the effects of the hundreds of billions of tons of CO2 that we’ve already released into the atmosphere. We’ve known for decades that reforestation, among other strategies rooted in the use of plants for photosynthesis, was a readily available, effective means of slowing the warming of the planet, though insufficient to stop it alone. As with so many other available actions, we have yet to make a concerted effort to do this, as a species.

Ethiopia has been no exception to the global deforestation trend, but they have recently taken steps showing what that collective action could look like. It’s a way that a government can use its resources, with the help of the people, to make a real difference:

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The endless fight for the future of humanity

For the last year or two, every time I sit down to write about climate change, I keep running into the same wall: Without a radical change to how the entire global economy functions, and who it serves, humanity has no future.

There are endless arguments to be had about to what degree renewable energy can replace fossil fuels, what role nuclear power should play, how much efficiency we can wring out of our technology, how we can make food production sustainable, and so on, but none of that really deals with the central, driving force that has destabilized our climate and pushed us into a hellish future of accelerating global warming. The global economy is designed to maintain and concentrate the wealth and power of those who are already wealthy and powerful, at the expense of everyone else. The fires in Brazil demonstrate this pretty well – The neo-fascist regime headed by known terrorist Jair Bolsonaro, and the conservatives who support him in places like the United States, have gone beyond being willing to burn the world to rule the ashes. Now, it seems, they prefer the ashes to any other option.

In fact, the conservative movement in general seems pretty hostile to most of the planet, and most of the people on it, so maybe it shouldn’t have taken me so long to realize that they don’t have much incentive to act. They might not like the smell, or the annoying ash fall, but in general, they seem to think that if most of humanity burns, the world will be better off for it. Their oddly karma-like view of poverty – that it shows a moral failing on the part of the poor – means that no matter how much blood and misery the future brings, it’s either a good thing, or it’s all just an “unfortunate necessity”. We don’t have enough money to house the homeless, despite the millions of homes standing empty. Not everybody can have safe drinking water, despite more and more of the world’s fresh water being turned into private property to be sold for profit. No matter what we’re talking about, there’s always a reason why it’s… not “OK”, exactly, but a necessary reality that most of humanity cannot have the resources needed for a good life.

And in the background, a handful of people profit off of the artificial scarcity. The reason we have so many homes standing empty is that housing the homeless doesn’t generate profit, and having a limited number of adequate homes allows landlords to charge more for the homes people are allowed to live in. While people around the world get sick from drinking water contaminated with industrial waste and bacteria, companies like Nestle are declaring the world’s fresh water sources to be their property, so that they can force people to pay higher prices for bottled water.

It may be that there really aren’t enough resources for everyone to have access to clean water, sufficient food, and adequate housing, but that’s not a claim we’ve ever really tested. We’ve started from the default assumption that there’s not, and therefore it’s OK that those problems are made worse and worse as a tiny number of people hoard more and more money. As long as access to the planet’s resources is governed by assumptions like that, we will never be able to deal with problems like climate change. We can’t feed everyone, so we shouldn’t try. We can’t house everyone, so we shouldn’t try. In fact, anyone who does try is evil for doing so.

Mark Fisher proposed that for a lot of people, it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. For a lot of people, that seems to be less a matter of acceptance than it is one of preference – the end of the world would be better than the end of capitalism.

For Bolsonaro and those who support him, this has gotten to the point of actively playing chicken with the extinction of humanity, and unless they are stopped, no progress we manage to scrape around the edges will be enough. The effort that I’ve put into reducing my personal carbon footprint is meaningless in the face of the methane released through natural gas production, or more recently the burning of the Amazon rain forest. Individual action was never a viable solution for a problem this scale.

So it’s hard to know what to write about. For a time my approach was to focus on obvious first steps, like generating power from sewage, but so long as we have billionaires hoarding access to the resources we need, every tiny bit of progress requires far, far more effort than we have time for. We’re on a different planet now – one that was once hospitable to human civilization, but is becoming less so with each passing year. We’ve entered an age of endless recovery, in which we stagger from one climate-fueled crisis to the next. Never again will there be a time when those who value money over life cannot make the case that there’s simply too much going on for us to afford what’s needed. They would rather see billions die than give up their power.

The only path forward that I can see is to take away their power, just as they’ve taken away our entire world. The conservatives say that if we raise taxes on the money hoarders, they’ll take their hoards and go somewhere else. Fine. We’ll take over the resources they leave behind, put them to use, and then follow them to their new lairs to do it again. Maybe, in time, they’ll all get on one of Elon Musk’s rockets and go to eat their money on Mars.

Even if that does happen, though, there will never be a time when that struggle is over. There will always be people who can’t tell when they’ve had enough, and who think the rest of humanity exists to feed their bottomless appetites. No matter the society we build, we will always have to be on guard. That means empowering the powerless. That means breaking down barriers of prejudice and bigotry. If people have to fight for basic rights and equality, that’s energy they can’t spend fighting for humanity as a whole. That means fighting until everyone has access to food, and healthcare, and shelter, and education, and leisure time, so that they have time and energy to hold the line, to live lives they find fulfilling, and to fight for an even better world.

What does it mean to care about the wellbeing of sex workers?

Once again, Oliver Thorne has created an important, informative video on an issue laden with controversy and bad intentions.

 

For those who can’t see, at the beginning and end, Ollie is in a dressing room applying makeup. During the portions where he talks about gambling, and magic, he illustrates his points with card tricks, combined with a gambling scenario in which he plays the role of the House, in a three-piece suit and a leather armchair, casually demonstrating how he holds all the cards, and the sex worker, presented as the viewer (Based on camera angles) isn’t even allowed to keep hold the cards in their hand, having them replaced with jokers as the various entrapping rules are described.

Important context for understanding what’s happening in Latin America

I think the closed captions cover the material OK, but the TL:DR is this: Aid for Latin American countries has often come with strings attached. Leaders who don’t give favorable deals to wealthy nations and corporations (and “favorable” means “keeps the tropical country poor”), the people sent to talk to them start getting less friendly. Over time, the nice people in suits are replaced by “do what we say or you’ll die. Badly.” And if you don’t take the money in the first place? Well, then we just skip that step.

The United States, and the corporations protected and served by the United States, have done a LOT of harm to the global south, while the population of this country has, for the most part, turned a blind eye. Until we accept what we’ve been doing, and stop doing it, it is right and just for every poor country to view the United States as a hostile power. So far, we haven’t learned. We continued these atrocities under Democratic and Republican presidents, and congresses, and it sure looks like we’re continuing them now.

A vision of the future from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is fighting an uphill battle, but I think she’s fighting it well. She seems to be one of the very few politicians who can grasp the scale of the problem we’re facing, including the difficulty many of us have seeing a path forward. This is… Far more optimistic than I feel right now, but it does represent something that we are capable of doing.