Today’s topic concerns one of the oldest forms of religious apologia: deliberately confusing the relationship between probability and mystery. On one hand, science is a discipline which deals entirely in probabilities. On the other, it’s very common to hear religious believers talking about truth as a “mystery.” Another name for this apologetic is the “god of the gaps.” Let’s call those who use this rhetoric “gapsters.” Now let me distinguish what I mean by gapsters vs. believers in a particular religious doctrine: All believers are gapsters. Not all gapsters are religious believers. Some gapsters disdain organized religion but nevertheless believe in “something more” (but the “more” is a mystery). The idea of unsolvable mysteries is (and always has been) wildly popular.
Some examples of these widespread mystical beliefs are: a benevolent universe, a cosmic plan, “things happen for a reason,” a deistic intelligence suffuses all matter, living consciousness is a precedent of matter, a non-physical connection between living beings exists. Often you will hear those who hold such beliefs borrowing terms from advanced sciences such as “quantum” physics. This word is a giant red flag–call it a “quantum blunder” if you will–but if you hear the word “quantum” in any context other than a Star Trek episode, or from elite hard core Ph.D. particle physicists, you’re probably about to be served a king-sized helping of bullshit.
Mystical ideas form a smokescreen that blocks a scientific (probabilistic) understanding of the universe. Not only are they inaccurate, but they turn the goals of the Enlightenment upside down, denying the possibility of knowledge and reveling in the permanent impenetrability of the very types of mysteries science solves. Here’s how it works: replace any gap (unsolved mystery) with ‘god’ (divine or spooky action). For example, mental illness could be attributed to demonic possession. Storms, trees, or fire could be “ensouled” by nature spirits or elementals. And of course the idea of creationism has been the biggest intellectual logjam of the past 150 years: representing the intransigent refusal of many believers (and gapsters) to accept evolution by natural selection. Even among those gapsters who accept a great deal of science including evolution, “quantum spirituality” is all-too-common.
From studying the discoveries of Darwin, Einstein, Sagan, Hawking and many other giants, we now understand that there is no need to invoke spirituality to explain the biggest mysteries: human existence, human experience, love, beauty, the universe, or the stunning variety of life within it.
Prior to the 19th century, many of these big questions were answered by saying “only God knows.”
Today, even though there is an endless supply of new mysteries to be explored, we know enough to know that the best answer is never “only God knows” or “God did it.” But that’s exactly what the gapsters try to tell us. It’s the reason for the continuation of the stale debate between evolution and creationism more than 150 years after the publication of Origin of Species. But the “God of the Gaps” fallacy is not just for creationists. It has become a staple, a full-blown attack on knowledge, a shape-shifting strategy which has now been fully implemented by gapsters and the religious alike.
This was one thing when the world still had much larger knowledge gaps. We human beings are particularly good at writing stories to explain what we don’t understand. And in a pre-scientific world, these mythologies were highly important to maintain a perception of our place in a seemingly ordered universe. It was enough for our ancestors to face the threats of predators, disease, warfare and early death. Coming to terms with their ignorance, smallness and irrelevance on top of physical dangers would have been too much to ask of their primitive developing brains.
But in the 21st century, we are out of such excuses. If we want progress toward a better world, our stories must give way to knowledge. That doesn’t mean book burning, and it certainly doesn’t mean there’s no place for imagination or fiction. Quite the contrary. We now know we live in a material universe with no inherent purpose. So creativity, imagination and mythology are more important than ever to help give our lives meaning. But it’s time to acknowledge that the gapsters represent a severe threat to human progress. And when I say progress, I mean progress toward a better society and greater human flourishing. The gapsters claim to want the same things, but they are engaged in the deliberate blurring of the lines between truth and fiction, which can only hurt us in the long run. Why would anyone want this? They could just be a person who likes to keep things simple, and doesn’t think about the big questions too much. Or maybe they are someone who doesn’t like being “tied down” or limited by “cold” scientific truth. Still, this is a huge avenue of attack on science, and if we care about the future we should all probably pay attention.
So long as there were wide gaps in knowledge, science was no threat to the spiritual or religious world view. It’s a measure of how far we’ve come that we actually do understand a great deal about the origins and destiny of life, the universe, and everything. As the gaps in our understanding have shrunk and become more nuanced, there remain fewer and fewer places for grandiose notions about divinity to hide. Gapsters have recognized this shrinking space as an existential threat to their world views. In short, they either maintain the knowledge gaps are permanent, or they must admit the triumph of the physical sciences.
They’ve responded in two ways:
1) Science denial.
2) Science appropriation.
Which seems completely contradictory, right? Why would anyone both deny and appropriate the scientific method? The answer is because what we are talking about here is a classic human power struggle over social and political authority. It’s not a struggle between science and religion or even belief. It’s actually a struggle between two even more fundamentally opposite ways of looking at the world, probability vs. mystery. And the purveyors of mystery have figured out they’re losing the battle of ideas–badly. The legitimacy of their authority in society will be the next thing to go. So they have begun their counterattack with claims which deny science:
-Science was wrong before, so that proves we can’t really trust it
-Science is not the only way of looking at the world, there are other ways of knowing.
-Science can’t explain X, so what good is it?
-Science/technology has caused tremendous environmental damage and human suffering and is therefore wrong by result.
-Science has failed to bring humanity moral progress.
-Modern medicine/Big Pharma is a big nasty conspiracy to keep people sick and make money.
-Philosophy of Science undermines realist epistemological claims.
-Scientism is the reductionist and naive view that all problems have solutions and all mysteries can be solved.
Each of these false memes deserves an article-length rebuttal, and I’ve written on these subjects before. So have many others. I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume by now most of my readers understand the falsity of these claims.
When gapsters start losing the argument with science, they then shift tactics to claim that their position is (or will be) proved by science.
-Quantum physics tells us everything is connected, therefore… (god, spirit, universal love, whatever).
-Quantum physics tells us everything is uncertain, therefore we cannot ever truly know anything, (i.e. pack it up, old-school science and make way for the new ’science’ of spirituality).
-X, Y, or Z spiritual thing will be discovered by science in the future (i.e. someday science will finally have to admit religion/spirituality was right after all)
-A, B, or C scientist believed in god (favorites are Newton, Einstein, and Tesla)
-There have been studies conclusively proving people can control matter with their minds or remember past lives
-Christian ‘Science’, ‘Scient’ology, Institute of Noetic ‘Sciences,’ Ken Wilber, etc. are scientific.
Which are all variants on the old “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” strategy. Again, each of these claims and sources have been refuted countless times.
Unlike new age gapsters, I’m not going to claim to fully understand quantum physics. But I do know a few things about it. Like science itself, quantum physics is based on a full acknowledgement of uncertainty about particles, of their position, of their mass, of their velocity, of their energy levels. You can know some things about a particle sometimes, and other things other times. Particles behave like waves and vice versa. They move instantaneously to other energy levels rather than gradually. Measuring a particle changes the particle. There’s a lot of weirdness in quantum physics, and much of it strains our intuition. But none of it suggests anything about god or spirituality.
Empirical science is equally uncertain. With the problem of induction, David Hume gave us the insight that all observations suffer from uncertain repeatability. You could try an experiment a million times with the same result. But on the million and first trial, you could get a different (and unexplained) result. So it is well known among scientists that nothing is actually ever proved. It can only be tested and correlated with observation. High correlation between theory and experimental observation can be said to provide a high probability that the theory is descriptive or predictive of reality. But theories are always subject to modification with the discovery of new experimental results.
Science is therefore a whole lot more uncertain than we would like it to be. Which is bad if you’re looking for certainty. We can never say something is “proved.” Yet in layman’s terms, science does indeed prove a great deal to a high degree of probability–or beyond a reasonable doubt. This has been good enough to get us to the moon and Mars, defeat countless diseases, and give us an amazing global communication system.
But gapsters dismiss the scientific method because they claim it can never be certain. But what they are actually doing is comparing science with all its uncertainties to the false certainties contained within their stories. Which they also conflate with mystery. This confusion between science, story and mystery is the framework on which gapsters hang their entire future. And that future is looking bleaker by the day. Because the only way gapsters can survive is to keep simultaneously undermining science, while keeping the gaps in knowledge under authoritarian control and off limits to discovery. What they are effectively saying is “Science can’t know things for sure, so I’m going to go ahead and replace that unknown with a mystery we can never solve, then I’m going to go ahead and tell you it’s not a mystery at all but is actually this story (god, spirit, consciousness, etc.)
This is a three-way bait and switch. Let’s go over it again:
Step 1: Declare science to be an imperfect discipline.
Step 2: Declare all true knowledge is therefore a mystery.
Step 3: Declare that mystery is contained within our particular god or spirit story. (But if science ever challenges any of the facts of the story, it’s back to a mystery.)
Last night I had the privilege of speaking with particle physicist and New Atheist author Dr. Victor J. Stenger on my radio show at National Progressive Talk Radio. (nptr.net) It was a great interview, which in an hour barely scratched the surface of Dr. Stenger’s excellent new book God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion.
I’m not going to post a complete book review, for the same reason I haven’t been posting much lately on BSJ: other projects such as the radio show and documentary have been keeping me extremely busy. But I thought any readers still with me after this long hiatus would appreciate the update.
Dr. Stenger’s book compares favorably in scope with Daniel Dennett’s 2006 Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. Rather than analyzing religion as evolutionary psychology, Stenger takes a comprehensive journey through scientific thought from Plato, Aristotle, Democritus, Epicurus, Lucretius through the founding of Christianity and Islam, the enlightenment and into the modern age. He demonstrates how religion has repeatedly opposed science on a political basis, (ironically sometimes aiding it when it seemed temporarily to suit religious purposes). He discusses creation myths and the overwhelming scientific evidence of an eternal universe (multiverse). And he eviscerates any blinkered notions that science might support “quantum spirituality.”
This is not a polemic, but a reasoned critique by a seasoned scientist and philosopher, updated for 2012. He takes on the arguments of at least a dozen well-known proponents or apologists for religion, including William Lane Craig, Dinesh D’Souza, and Deepak Chopra. And he highlights the dramatically negative effects religion has had on the American political landscape on every subject from contraception and stem-cell research to climate change and same-sex marriage. There’s a great deal more substance to this book than I can summarize in a few brief paragraphs.
Check out the interview and the book. It’s well worth your time. And stay tuned for updates about the radio show and new National Progressive Talk Radio website launching soon.
NPTR 7 - The Folly of Faith - Dr. Victor J. Stenger]]>
I’ve been forcefully denouncing libertarianism for a few years now. It took me some time to connect the dots–and let my subscription to Reason lapse. Longtime readers of BSJ might remember some of my libertarian-leaning rhetoric from years ago. And anyone who takes the time to look will find I haven’t scrubbed those pages. I’m not afraid to show a bit of intellectual evolution. I wouldn’t be much of a shadow warrior if I hid from my past, would I? It’s better to claim it, to admit I learned something than to pretend perfect consistency. “Guilty with an explanation” is better than a whitewash. While many strands fed into my political philosophy, I now realize my libertarianism was both a reaction against the social conservatism and ironically a continuation of the anti-communism of my church. It was also a manifestation of legitimate revulsion at the conditional nature of forced religious altruism.
In the 1980s, Rush were my musical heroes, and they flirted with Ayn Rand in their Farewell to Kings/2112 period, dedicating the latter album to her. I eagerly lapped up Neil Peart’s lyrics praising the virtues of self-interest: “Well I know they’ve always told you selfishness was wrong, yet it was for me, not you I came to write this song.” Genius! I devoured Rand’s novella Anthem, which was the inspiration for the naming of Anthem Entertainment, the music publishing company for Rush. I was thrilled by Equality 7-2521’s discovery of the word “I.” And who doesn’t love the individual vs. the state heroism of one of the greatest rock-operas of all time 2112? With monochromatic intensity, the Priests of Syrinx pummeled the aspirations of the helpless protagonist. After his suicide, “Attention all planets of the Solar Federation, we have assumed control…” is the terrifying finale (and the end result of unfettered state power). Expressed in these terms, self-interest is an absolutely compelling imperative.
As I’ve often repeated to anyone who will listen, Rand was not wrong, just incomplete. She was caught up in her own reaction against the abuses of collectivism in the Soviet Union, and I don’t blame her at all. Her father’s business was expropriated by the Bolsheviks and her family left destitute. Fleeing the chaos, she was lucky to get out of the “worker’s paradise” alive. When you have the experience of taking off the golden handcuffs of an everything-provided-nothing-allowed religious community as I did, or forced collectivization as Rand did, you look for some alternative–some rational approach to dealing with other human beings. Whether it’s Equality 7-2521, Rearden or Roark, Rand’s heroes embody everything that’s good about self-interest and personal excellence. And their refusal to compromise their principles leads them to self-discovery which affords them great power. Rational self-interest makes for good boundaries and even better self-discipline.
The larger-than-life heroes can also teach us a valuable lesson about expressing our ego. It’s not just the state which tries to crush the individual, but also other people and their discomfort with social outliers. Anyone who’s ever decided to produce and publish anything realizes this. As soon as you start a blog, write a book, make a film, compose a song, or take a stand for anything, you will inevitably face “who-do-you-think-you-are?” opposition. People like others to “go along to get along.” On the web, this is less of an issue than it used to be since nearly everyone now tweets and posts their every whim. But “narcissism” and “navel-gazing” are still pejoratives for self-expression in some quarters. The right-wing is constantly denouncing “no-talent” celebrities. But this is incoherent, since celebrity is democratically defined as popularity, and “talent” is always eclipsed by hard work. New agers also babble incessantly about “getting rid of the ego,” the “human mind” as the enemy, “being in the moment.” I have little respect for either of these anti-individualist attitudes.
I hold that self-interest within the individual is absolutely necessary, that ego is healthy and we need more authentic ego expression–not less. Self-interest becomes problematic only when it draws its circle of empathy too narrowly or disregards the long-term. And when self-interest is extended to become the organizing principle for society–it translates directly into social Darwinism and vicious dog-eat-dog politics: Hobbes’ war of all against all. It’s a political philosophy which works really well for the young, the connected, the strong, the wealthy, and the dominant. What Rand’s work misses is that human beings naturally balance self-interest with communitarian values. Anyone with an ounce of self-awareness realizes that no matter how strong or rich we are, all of us will eventually become weak, get injured, lose our job or home, get sick, get old, and die. In their hubris, libertarians are loathe to admit that though they may have long ago left behind their diapers and pureed food, it’s overwhelmingly likely at some point they’ll take them up again.
Every society in human history has found some way to deal with its weaker members. In early nomadic cultures, a person went out to die when they could no longer move fast enough to stay with the group. There was simply no choice. It was a question of group survival. But every society with sufficient wealth or roots has since cared for its vulnerable members. In many parts of the world this still involves the keeping of multi-generational households. Or the building of religious orphanages and hospices. As religion and family ties have waned in modern democracies, the state remains the only actor strong enough to fulfill this role. Hate the burden of taxes or Social Security deductions? Imagine having absolutely no choice but to spend your entire youth taking care of your ailing grandparents or an injured sibling. Imagine if it was the church collecting tithes instead of government taxes. And remember we’re only a few generations removed from that harsh reality–and only our taxes which fund the safety net and allow the separation of church from state. It’s a price I’m very, very happy to pay.
We all know we have a 100% chance of suffering the great misfortune of death. Even if we live to age 100 or more without problems–no one on Earth gets out alive. Betty White is a shining example of a 90-year-old with elan. But she’s the exception, not the rule. Most people will count themselves fortunate to have 70 years of reasonably good health. But many will get far less. The social contract is therefore about how we manage inevitable human injury, misfortune, or decline with dignity. It is not a contract that it’s possible to opt in or out of. It is a condition of our birth.
Libertarians sneer at the social contract. “I never signed anything,” they say. But in the same breath they talk about human beings born with “natural” or “God-given rights.” I’ve personally brought three children into the world, and I examined them all very closely. None of them came with anything resembling “rights” attached to their bodies. They were protected by the good will of doctors, nurses, and their parents, and by extension the entire American society. Had they been born elsewhere in the world, they might not even have had the so-called “right” to avoid being killed by senseless violence or preventable childhood diseases. From this example, it’s clear human “rights” can only be provided by other human beings. They don’t exist in the abstract or the natural world. Like “rights,” wanting dignity is not the same as having it. We must make dignity for others if we want it for ourselves. It’s not enough to proclaim empty slogans like “libertarian” means we stand for liberty. To fully drink of the fount of liberty, we mush embrace our responsibilities to others as much as our rights. If we think our rights are valuable enough to talk about, we must recognize that we lose access to them as soon as we fail to protect them with a strong government.
NEXT: Libertarians vs. the commons.]]>
Here is how one 21-year-old Texas woman reportedly thinks we should solve poverty in America:
Give welfare recipients 50 lb. bags of rice and beans, bulk cheese and powdered milk instead of food stamps.
Conditions of Medicaid: Forced sterilization, mandatory drug testing.
Housing for the poor: Military barracks, subject to random inspections, must prove employment or join work brigades.
Disenfranchisement for the unemployed.
I really wish I was kidding. I’m sure this fascist un-Christian nightmare scenario doesn’t represent the views of everyone in Texas, but enough of the population to be an utter disgrace to the nation. For full details, read the forwarded email below:
Subject: Fw: WRITTEN BY A 21 YEAR OLD FEMALE FROM TEXAS !!
> Wow, this girl has a great plan! Love the last thing she would do, the best.
> This was written by a 21 yr old female who gets it. It’s her future
> she’s worried about and this is how she feels about the social welfare big
> government state that she’s being forced to live in! These solutions are
> just common sense in her opinion.
> This was in the Waco Tribune Herald, Waco, TX, Nov 18, 2011
> PUT ME IN CHARGE . . .
> Put me in charge of food stamps. I’d get rid of Lone Star cards; no cash
> for Ding Dongs or Ho Ho’s, just money for 50-pound bags of rice and beans,
> blocks of cheese and all the powdered milk you can haul away. If you want
> steak and frozen pizza, then get a job.
> Put me in charge of Medicaid. The first thing I’d do is to get women
> Norplant birth control implants or tubal legations. Then, we’ll test
> recipients for drugs, alcohol, and nicotine. If you want to reproduce or use
> drugs, alcohol, or smoke, then get a job.
> Put me in charge of government housing. Ever live in a military barracks?
> You will maintain our property in a clean and good state of repair.
> Your home” will be subject to inspections anytime and possessions will be
> inventoried. If you want a plasma TV or Xbox 360, then get a job and your
> own place.
> In addition, you will either present a check stub from a job each week
> or you will report to a “government” job. It may be cleaning the roadways
> of trash, painting and repairing public housing, whatever we find for
> you. We
> will sell your 22 inch rims and low profile tires and your blasting stereo
> and speakers and put that money toward the “common good..”
> Before you write that I’ve violated someone’s rights, realize that all of
> the above is voluntary. If you want our money, accept our rules. Before you
> say that this would be “demeaning” and ruin their “self esteem,” consider
> that it wasn’t that long ago that taking someone else’s money for doing
> absolutely nothing was demeaning and lowered self esteem.
> If we are expected to pay for other people’s mistakes we should at
> least attempt to make them learn from their bad choices. The current system
> rewards them for continuing to make bad choices.
> AND While you are on Gov’t subsistence, you no longer can VOTE! Yes,
> that is correct. For you to vote would be a conflict of interest. You will
> voluntarily remove yourself from voting while you are receiving a Gov’t
> welfare check. If you want to vote, then get a job.
…but the feminist wing of the atheist movement has just had a “skin ulcer moment.” And it’s by no means the first time.
A month ago, I was surprised and dismayed at what transpired after I made a comment on Greta Christina’s Facebook page questioning her position about the David Eller flap. I’ve always had a great deal of respect for Greta, and I think her writings on sexuality are unparalleled. I thought we were on the same team, and could therefore survive an honest disagreement. She ended up calling me a “flouncing troll” after 100-odd comments in which her Facebook friends ripped me apart like dogs for suggesting that maybe, just maybe, it was true that a pretty and intelligent atheist would make a good spokesperson for our movement on video. David Eller was forced to apologize for saying just that.
Now comes Skepchick (Rebecca Watson) complaining (and making a big deal about it) that some guy got into the elevator with her, and asked her to his room for coffee at 4 am at an atheist conference, and this was “creepy.” She turned him down, and, as Hemant Mehta so eloquently said, this should have been the end of the matter.
But, I’m discovering feminism in the atheist community is something like nitroglycerine. Say the wrong thing, express a different opinion, and you’re toast. Now, apparently, so is Richard Dawkins. And this is where I say emphatically this shit is totally out of hand. Most of us men fall somewhere in between the feminist ideal and raping, knuckle-dragging, mouth breathing misogynists. Yet from the comments of the offended woman and her defenders, which include PZ Myers, it would seem that anything other than full-throated condemnation of the elevator interloper is unacceptable. This is a form of intellectual fascism and I won’t be bullied by it. It makes me want to have nothing whatsoever to do with these particular women or their wing of the atheist movement.
Which is a shame, because we agree on far more than we disagree. But today they have completely lost my respect.
It’s worth reading the spot-on sarcastic comments of Richard Dawkins who–it seems–is also headed for troll status with the feminatheists:
Stop whining, will you. Yes, yes, I know you had your genitals mutilated with a razor blade, and . . . yawn . . . don’t tell me yet again, I know you aren’t allowed to drive a car, and you can’t leave the house without a male relative, and your husband is allowed to beat you, and you’ll be stoned to death if you commit adultery. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with.
Only this week I heard of one, she calls herself Skep”chick”, and do you know what happened to her? A man in a hotel elevator invited her back to his room for coffee. I am not exaggerating. He really did. He invited her back to his room for coffee. Of course she said no, and of course he didn’t lay a finger on her, but even so . . .
And you, Muslima, think you have misogyny to complain about! For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.
The “feminist” response to Dawkins follows:
Did you just make the argument that, since worse things are happening somewhere else, we have no right to try to fix things closer to home?
At which point Dawkins just nails it:
No I wasn’t making that argument. Here’s the argument I was making. The man in the elevator didn’t physically touch her, didn’t attempt to bar her way out of the elevator, didn’t even use foul language at her. He spoke some words to her. Just words. She no doubt replied with words. That was that. Words. Only words, and apparently quite polite words at that.
If she felt his behaviour was creepy, that was her privilege, just as it was the Catholics’ privilege to feel offended and hurt when PZ nailed the cracker. PZ didn’t physically strike any Catholics. All he did was nail a wafer, and he was absolutely right to do so because the heightened value of the wafer was a fantasy in the minds of the offended Catholics. Similarly, Rebecca’s feeling that the man’s proposition was ‘creepy’ was her own interpretation of his behaviour, presumably not his. She was probably offended to about the same extent as I am offended if a man gets into an elevator with me chewing gum. But he does me no physical damage and I simply grin and bear it until either I or he gets out of the elevator. It would be different if he physically attacked me.
Muslim women suffer physically from misogyny, their lives are substantially damaged by religiously inspired misogyny. Not just words, real deeds, painful, physical deeds, physical privations, legally sanctioned demeanings. The equivalent would be if PZ had nailed not a cracker but a Catholic. Then they’d have had good reason to complain.
Absolutely!!!! If agreeing with Dawkins makes me misogynist, then hate me and bring it on. The feminists have a right to their opinion, but if they are honest they must admit their view is totally subjective. In fact, it goes pretty far toward the demonization of men by calling them “creepy.” There are certainly guys who are “creepy.” There are certainly guys who engage in obnoxious and brazen come-ons. But in this case, all “creepy” means is “made an unwanted verbal advance.”
Men are at a distinct disadvantage in this game since they always have to deal with the high likelihood of rejection, something women have far less experience with. This is not a moral or progressive issue, or one of respect. This is an issue of equality. It’s an issue of recognizing (for once and for all) that women have the goods men want.
In that sense there will never be equality. Women will always to a certain extent be objects–because they have vaginas. Sex is a commodity that is bartered for in a number of ways, and yes–tragically stolen by men at times.
But the fact that some men range from creeps to full-blown monsters does not mean that other men are not completely within their rights to attempt to negotiate and strike whatever bargain they can to keep their penises happy. And that also means women get to say “no” and as long as the guy is polite and leaves the woman alone, he has done nothing wrong or anti-feminist. He may have been clumsy, or simply not attractive, but that should not be a crime.
Nor even an offense.
I’ve heard the arguments about safety, and how we men don’t realize that women are afraid in public spaces. Of course men realize that. Unless we’re black belts or body builders and/or have a permit to carry a concealed weapon, men are one thug away from being mugged, stabbed or shot in the city. The world is a dangerous place.
But it is up to every individual to determine when a situation is or is not threatening. By Skepchick’s own admission, the situation was non-threatening. So the safety argument does not apply. Saying it does in absence of threatening behavior is misandry, and it is collective punishment.
Unfortunately, this does call for the phrase “grow up.” If women want to be equals–instead of just demanding equality–then they should start by recognizing there are evolutionary imperatives at play. Sure, men need to work at improving their pitch. Some who may not be violent or threatening are nonetheless woefully rude, and tone-deaf to the shortcomings of their flirtations. But every woman also has to gain the maturity to handle and deflect unwanted come-ons with good humor. It’s part of being a self-aware human being with a vagina–and therefore a part of gender equality.
I think this brouhaha is a terrible tragedy for the atheist movement. I think Skepchick just made a colossal fool of herself. And, frankly, shame on those who doubled down on the foolishness.
Now bring on the nitroglycerine.]]>
Shelly is a geologist and passionate sustainability expert, who also happens to work as sales manager at the Widget Factory. Victor is the production manager, a composite character who embodies the “typical American consumer,” as well as a few classic lines from Donald Trump, George H.W. Bush, and teabaggers/climate skeptics. Victor is based on reality: I’ve personally heard every one of his positions in conversations about the climate and gas prices. Enjoy!
[Monday Morning, week after St. Patrick's day, the decorations are still up in the company break room.]
S: Hi Victor, how was your weekend? You sure look cheerful for a Monday…
V: Great, Shelly! This four dollar a gallon gas has been killing me. I just found gas for $3.20 a gallon. What a relief!
S: Wow, $3.20 a gallon–the good old days, right? When I first started driving, you could practically fill up for ten bucks. You know those days will never come again. I’ve heard in the long run, energy prices are going nowhere but up.
V: Yeah, I know. But I’d rather save money now and worry about that later. Three kids, my mortgage, all the bills, I just can not handle paying a hundred bucks for a fill up. It’s not right. This is America.
S: A hundred bucks? I had no idea.
V: Yeah, now it’s down to about eighty. Still expensive, but I just can not stomach handing over a c-note every week at the gas station. It makes me sick. It’s like a tax. It’s going to kill the economy. We don’t eat out that much any more, and forget about any road trips, or taking out the boat this year. We’re staying home.
S: That sucks. I really had no idea it was that bad.
V: How could you not? You have three kids too, you must have been paying through the nose like everyone else?
S: Oh, no. On my salary? I would have gone totally broke. I have a hybrid, we bought it in 2007. In fact, we’re hitting the road and going camping in Yosemite in a couple of weeks. Even at four dollars a gallon, it only costs about 40 bucks to fill the tank. And we can fit all our gear in the back. We love it!
V: Damn it. We have an Expedition, just bought it last year. It seemed so great and so roomy–perfect for the family. It has DVD players in the back, the kids love it. But now I don’t know what I’m going to do. Nobody wants them. You can not sell them. Nobody wants to spend a hundred bucks a week on gas. And now I owe more than it’s worth.
S: I feel bad for you. You know I’m not just a sales manager. I studied geology, and so I’ve known about the world oil situation since college. It’s scary.
V: What do you mean?
S: Well, the United States passed the peak of oil production in 1971, so it will never again be able to produce as much oil. That’s why we have to buy it from the Middle East.
V: Well they have plenty of oil to sell, we just need to kick their asses.
S: All that money spent on the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, the war in Libya didn’t seem to help.
V: Yeah, why is that? We spent all that money, we liberated them, they should just give us the oil!
S: A lot of geologists think Saudi Arabia is running out, too. And that the world passed its peak of oil production in 2005. That means even with all the new cars being built in China and India, the whole world is going to have to learn to get by with less oil.
V: Well, dammit, why don’t we just drill more right here in the United States?? What’s stopping them? It must be those damned environmental regulations.
S: No, actually, all the easy oil has been drilled in America. That’s what it means to say the US has passed its peak of production. Newer oil fields are smaller, harder to find, and are in more difficult locations than before. That’s why oil companies have to drill five miles under the sea floor. That’s why rigs sit in a mile of water out in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico.
V: Yeah, but I’ve heard President Obama is holding up drilling permits. There’s just too much regulation. People are suffering.
S: Actually, the regulations are really lax. That’s why BP had that huge oil spill.
V: Well I’ve heard there’s plenty of new discoveries that aren’t being drilled because of red tape.
S: Some areas along the coasts are off limits. But drilling there has high environmental risks, the potential to ruin beaches and kill tourism. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a unique and special ecosystem. We could drill in all of those sensitive places, and it would only delay the price increase a few years.
V: Well, this is bullshit. They should drill here and drill now. We should not be paying these kind of prices. At least we could keep American oil cheap for Americans.
S: It wouldn’t work. Oil is a global product, and so prices are set globally. America imports two thirds of its oil, and for every single shipment, we are bidding against consumers in China, India, Japan and Europe. Even for the oil we’re still pumping right here at home.
V: What?! Do you mean American companies have to sell their oil at the price set by other countries? That’s treason. They’re American companies. They should be prosecuted.
S: That’s just the way it is. Ninety percent of the world’s oil is pumped by government-owned national oil companies. Even they don’t set the price. It’s set by the world market.
V: That’s just socialism.
S: No, actually, it’s the free market–supply and demand.
V: That’s not how the market’s supposed to work. The American way of life is non-negotiable.
S: You know it was non-negotiable for a long time. Americans have 4 percent of the worlds population and use twenty five percent of the world’s oil. But now the other 96 percent of the world’s people have decided they would like to have a nice big family car, too. With air conditioning. And DVD players.
S: So, if we want to keep driving big cars, we are going to have to pay for it. And pay, and pay even more. Just be glad you’re not a poor farmer somewhere trying to buy diesel fuel for your tractor.
V: But dammit, Saudi Arabia’s supposed to be the world’s gas station. How can they be running out?
S: Actually, the United States imports more oil from Canada than Saudi Arabia. And Canada is the only country which is expected to dramatically increase its oil production over the next 10 to 15 years.
V: Oh Yeah, I saw on the news they were building a pipeline. Keystone XL or something. That will bring down oil prices, right? I hope they hurry.
S: Well, right now, President Obama and Hillary Clinton are totally in favor of that pipeline, pushing to get it done as soon as possible. I’m really upset about it.
V: Upset?? Are you crazy? That’s the one thing that’s going to save the economy. And my vacation next year. We need that pipeline, and we need it now!!
S: Not so fast. The oil from that pipeline comes from tar sands, which is a bituminous solid like asphalt. The tar has to be heated up with natural gas and cooked out of the sand. Then the sand has to be washed with water. They’ve diverted the entire Athabasca river. Fort McMurry looks like a war zone. There are hundreds of square miles that look like open-pit strip mines. And they are just getting started.
V: What choice do we have? We need the gas.
S: It’s not really a choice. Oil from tar sands produces twice as much greenhouse gas as normal oil. Which means we are cooking the planet even faster than we would otherwise.
V: Oh, that whole global warming thing? You’ve been paying too much attention to that lying fraud Al Gore. He has a big house, and he’s a huge hypocrite. He flies all over the world spewing out all kinds of hot air.
S: No actually, Al Gore’s travel has nothing to do with it. He’s just trying to warn us. He could be relaxing on a beach somewhere if he wanted to, right?
V: I guess so. But he’s just trying to make all that money selling carbon credits. What a crook.
S: No matter what you think of Al Gore, the world is really getting warmer, and it’s speeding up. This last decade has been the warmest in [recorded] history. Last year, the Arctic was up to 25 degrees warmer than normal. That’s why we had Snowmageddon, and that’s why we’re having so many powerful tornadoes, wild weather, and flooding as all that snow melts. And Texas and Arizona are having record droughts, and record fires. It’s no coincidence.
V: Uh, well…
S: It’s not rocket science, we’ve known about climate change since the 1950s. Every scientist from Carl Sagan to Isaac Asimov talked about it in the last decades of the twentieth century. Today, every national scientific body has concluded that the climate is changing, and the burning of fossil fuels is responsible.
V: I don’t believe it.
S: Do you believe your choice of family car is draining your wallet?
V: Well, yeah, but if I believe in global warming, they’ll want to raise the price of gas even more.
S: That might be true, but disbelieving in climate change won’t make it stop. And the effects of climate change will kill the economy even worse than high oil prices ever could. Imagine if droughts and floods got so bad the farmers couldn’t grow food, and we couldn’t feed our families. Imagine if the ocean got so acidic from carbon pollution, it killed the coral and caused a mass extinction. That’s what the scientists are saying is very likely to happen.
V: Yeah, I guess if the world’s ecosystem crashed, none of us would be too worried about going on vacation. But still, I’m not so sure about this whole thing. I think it is a big conspiracy to get money for the United Nations, and take away American independence.
S: Well, the atmosphere covers the whole world. The ocean covers the whole world. There are no national boundaries. So the whole world is going to have to work together to deal with this problem.
V: I don’t like people telling Americans what to do. They have no right.
S: Nature doesn’t care about anyone’s concept of rights.
V: Yeah, but how do we even know for sure it’s happening?
S: Just look at the NASA temperature data. If they could send people to the moon, I think we should probably trust them to take Earth’s temperature.
V: I see your point.
S: We need to do a lot more than just drive smaller cars. We need to change our entire relationship to energy. It’s the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced. And the biggest opportunity.
V: I feel sick to my stomach.
S: I understand. It’s a lot to think about. But please remember it’s not good news for the world when oil prices drop. It may feel good for the moment. But it prolongs our dependence. It makes our transition away from carbon more difficult, and it ruins the business case for companies trying to develop sustainable and carbon neutral liquid fuels that could drive prices down for good.
V: Yes, I see. Thinking long-term–you’re right.
S: Yup, long-term. Just like our ten-year sales forecast. See you at the meeting.
V: OK, see you.]]>
On Earth Day, surely it’s more than just about prices, right? But prices are what gets people’s attention, and rising prices have the potential to focus and enable energy infrastructure changes like nothing else. A study by Deloitte and Touche pegged $5/gallon as a consumer tipping point toward seriously considering electric automobiles. And we’re almost there now. Not a total solution to our transportation problem, but a start. In these videos I examine what has led the United States to our predicament of near-unbreakable petroleum addiction.
The Energy Philosopher Episode 3: Part 1, What’s going on with high gas prices? History of US oil production and imports, charts, graphs, clips from President Obama. CAFE standards vs. energy independence.
Please also watch Jon Stewart’s funny and classic video on eight president’s attempts at energy independence.
The Energy Philosopher Episode 3: Part 2, War for oil. Donald Trump “We should just take the oil.” Hubbert curve. Personal responsibility. Obama misinformation about oil production. Need to shift not just oil consumption, but everything about how we produce energy–how we inhabit our cities. Change is not optional.
Like this video? Subscribe to The Energy Philosopher YouTube channel.
Hello friends, I’m Sean Prophet, the Energy Philosopher. Today, I’m going to tackle one of the toughest, most politically sensitive subjects in the whole basket of energy issues–gas prices.
I just paid $4.27 a gallon today for regular, which is the most I’ve ever paid in my life. It didn’t bother me too much, though, because even though my Prius was nearly empty, it only cost me just over thirty bucks to fill up. Now I’m sorry if I’m gloating just a little bit. I’ve been paying the price since 2005, when gas was still cheap, to be an early adopter of hybrid technology . All kinds of people said, “why wouldn’t you just buy a Corolla or Matrix, the Prius just isn’t worth the extra money.” Well, now it is–at four dollars a gallon, and I’ve got a feeling that in a few years we’ll look back on four-dollar-a-gallon gasoline as the “good old days.”
But there are plenty of people who didn’t invest in new technology in 2005, or for that matter even in 2008 the last time we saw four dollar gas. They just thought to themselves, “the price will eventually drop” and flashed their credit score to bag a new Escalade, or Armada, or Navigator . Now, some of these people, especially the ones who live close to the Mexican border, are so upset about today’s prices, they’re willing to cross the border to buy a tank of gas at the government subsidized price of two dollars and eighty cents a gallon. All I can say is it must be a pretty big tank to make it worth a border crossing. Even with a 30 gallon tank it would only save a person about 40 bucks on a hundred twenty dollar fillup. Yeah, a hundred twenty dollars to fill up your SUV. When you’re in that much pain at the pump Is it really worth waiting in line for hours at the border to save 40 bucks?? Maybe if you’re one of these guys…
[clip of hot-rod flame thrower]
But seriously, is it that important to the American way of life to deliberately and frivolously waste energy in this manner? Are we really so resistant to changing our values that we’d rather spend hours at a border crossing every time we need gas–instead of rethinking our relationship to energy?
Now, the vast majority of Americans don’t have that option. Luckily, our government doesn’t subsidize petroleum as much as Mexico does. Or we’d clearly waste even more energy than we do.
President Obama talked about gas prices in his energy town meeting at the Gamesa wind turbine factory a couple of weeks ago on April 6, 2011. As the President said, prices of four dollars a gallon get everyone to sit up and pay attention:
[Clip 1: Obama on rising gas prices. Shock vs. Trance when prices go down.]
The President is absolutely right about this. For too long, we’ve taken the easy road to placate the howls of indignation from drivers whenever world events or geology or speculation have caused us to feel some pain at the pump. In past years, we’ve been very lucky. New oil discoveries, times of fragile peace in the Middle East, or even a disastrous economic collapse such as we’ve just experienced have brought world oil prices down and bought us some time.
But we’re only in this position in the first place because we have refused to rethink what it means to be oil-dependent. We’ve refused to accept how this disease has made our economy vulnerable. And as with any addiction, there’s something we’re getting out of the deal. Cheap energy makes our life seem better, and the dangers of addiction have remained some kind of distant abstraction. We haven’t quite yet decided to kick. As the song ‘Jane Says,’ “we’re gonna kick tomorrow.” But for America, it seems, tomorrow is never today.
[Clip 2: Obama on cut oil imports by a third]
OK, this is a great call to action by the President. He wants us to get ? of the way to being clean in 10 years. But who knows what will actually happen? James Howard Kunstler thinks oil supply will drop by a third on its own because of supply problems. But what if it doesn’t? To get a sense of how pitiful our previous attempts to get clean have been, you need only to watch Jon Stewart’s classic sketch from The Daily Show of June 16, 2010, during the height of the BP oil spill:
Go ahead, go over to Comedy Central and watch it right now. I’ll be here when you get back.
It’s a great history lesson. Stewart’s point is that no less than eight US presidents have tried and failed to tackle this issue. They’ve made ‘energy independence’ a centerpiece of State of the Union addresses and other high-profile national speeches. Yet little has changed. All of these presidents weren’t equal with regard to oil, and they have not all been complete failures about energy policy, of course. The story is much more complicated.
As this graph of US oil production and imports shows:
The trouble began for the US just after 1970 when our domestic production peaked and began to decline. Imports immediately spiked from 1 million to about 3 ½ million barrels per day. The 1973 Arab oil embargo gave the US its first taste of an oil shortage, which included gas lines and dramatic price increases. I’m old enough to remember waiting in those lines. Instead of taking the lesson from that energy crisis, however, we did the exact opposite: Even with the new corporate average fuel-efficiency standards (CAFE standards) that Congress passed in 1975, The United States doubled oil imports to nearly 7 million barrels a day by 1979. Ironically most of that increase came from OPEC, the very same nations which had just embargoed us.
Then when Iran had its revolution in 1979, President Carter slapped a reverse embargo on its oil. And then in 1980 Iraq invaded Iran, cutting oil production even further. The US was on the brink of rationing, having already printed rationing coupons. That year, Jimmy Carter also articulated the “Carter Doctrine” in which the United States declared that its “vital interests” included a stable Middle East, and that it would intervene militarily if necessary to ensure the flow of oil. But at least for the time being, the combination of high gas prices and energy efficiency did the trick. Americans in the early ‘80s were in no mood to waste oil. We also drilled, baby, drilled, and increased production slightly. Then gas-sipping cars became strangely popular, and between 1980 and 1985, US oil imports dropped by half, falling back to the 1973 level of 3 ½ million barrels per day. We actually made some good, if temporary progress toward energy independence in the eighties!
This was the direct result of the CAFE standards, which required automakers to produce a fleet average of 27.5 miles per gallon by 1987. And despite their vigorous protestations that it was an impossible goal, the automakers accomplished it easily. US oil imports that year remained below 5 million barrels per day. OPEC had more oil than it could sell, and it no longer controlled world prices. The US was finally making progress toward “energy independence.”
But automakers saw the oil prices falling. Their strategy relied on short consumer memories which led to an unprecedented surge in the demand and manufacture of oversized trucks and SUVs which were highly profitable. And luxury cars were also effectively exempt from CAFE since it was much cheaper for luxury automakers to pay the fines than lose their brand equity as producers of powerful high-class automobiles. Their unspoken motto became: if you have to ask about gas mileage, you can’t afford the car.
So it was that the 1990s became the decade the gas guzzler once again took over American highways. And as would be expected, by 1995 US oil imports exceeded production for the first time in the history of the automobile. Coincidence?
Even though the US was importing a lot of oil in the 1990s it’s less than it would have been without CAFE. Rising production meant OPEC still had not regained its pricing power, and the price of oil fell to nearly historic lows by the end of the 1990s. This led to gasoline being sold for less than $1.00 a gallon in the US for the first time since 1979. In inflation-adjusted terms, gas prices were lower in 2000 than they’d been since 1973.
But the rock bottom prices didn’t last. Congress had made two critical errors with CAFE that led directly to our current $4.00/gallon prices: They exempted light trucks from the regulations. And they made the fines too cheap to affect gas-guzzling luxury cars. Luxury carmakers had to pay just $55 per car per mile-per-gallon. Even if a car got 20 miles per gallon less than the standard, that’s only about a thousand bucks on, say, a 75 thousand dollar car. It’s a pittance. Once again, the rich were able to buy their way out of efficiency regulations.
END OF PART 1
And let’s talk about war. It’s the elephant in the room with regard to energy policy. It’s not a coincidence at all that the decade of the 2000s began with a mass-casualty attack on the United States, and ended with thousands of American troops conducting not one but two wars in the Middle East. And it’s not a coincidence that the 2010s have started off with our fighting yet another oil-based war in Libya. Will we ever learn?
Now there are certainly other reasons for these wars, like the rise of Al Qaeda sponsored terrorism and Shia-Sunni turmoil in the Middle East. But oil is also a prime factor behind the success of Al Qaeda. The calculus for the US entering these conflicts would be very different if we needed no oil. As Thomas Friedman described in his book Hot, Flat, and Crowded, high oil prices paid in American dollars keep dictators in power long after their regimes would have collapsed under the weight of their own incompetence.
I’ve often marvelled how many people don’t see, or maybe just don’t want to see the connection to their own behavior. Like for example, a person driving a large SUV with an anti-war sticker. Sorry, all you SUV lovers, but this is infuriating. If you drive an SUV, you just don’t get to display the peace sign with a clear conscience, OK? All of our oil consumption is enabled by the sacrifice of the blood of our troops. Of course, drivers of efficient cars contribute to the problem, too, but at much lower rates.
The more oil you use, the more you contribute to the cause for that blood sacrifice. It’s simple math.
I actually have more respect for people who are honest about the connection between war and oil, like Donald Trump who claims we have the right to just go over with the US army and take whatever oil we need.
[Trump oil clip]
It’s twisted, I agree. It’s a terrible idea. But at least Trump is not delusional on this one issue. He understands we’re in conflict with the rest of the world over a finite resource. And if you want it, you have to basically be a thug and go take it. He also hasn’t explained why we can’t just buy the oil on the open market like we’ve been doing. As an avowed capitalist, does he think we’re immune from the laws of supply and demand? Does he really think any oil company, American or not, would sell oil more cheaply to the US than other customers, even in conquered lands? Does he want the US to form a national oil company so that we can seize oilfields in the Middle East and reserve their output only for Americans? This is sheer insanity.
Alright, so if we don’t want to continue the Carter-Trump doctrine of being the world’s oil-stealing thugs, what do we do about this? Well, we wouldn’t need to start a budget-busting third war for oil if we just stopped using so damn much of the stuff. Sadly, this is where the discussion usually becomes heated.
No one, and I mean no one, wants to hear that we need to cut back. Saying so is setting yourself up to be attacked. So I expect to hear the full piss and vinegar that comes in response to any calls for Americans to bring down their energy consumption. Americans always shoot the messenger if that messenger tells them they have to conserve energy. Remember Dick Cheney, “The American way of life is non-negotiable.” Yeah, right. Until it is.
Not even our President is willing to fully confront the reality of reducing American demand. Instead he’s pandering to the right wing, not only with calls for increased production, but with inaccurate statements about how much oil we are now producing!
[Obama clip #3: We have the highest production in our history....]
Wait, did he just say that? I think he did. Let’s hear that again…
[Obama clip #3: We have the highest production in our history....]
I just can’t explain why he would have said that, since you can clearly see by this graph, published by America’s own Energy Information Administration, that we have never produced more oil than we did in 1970. Nor is it even geologically possible for us to return to that level of production. Not even remotely close. And President Obama knows this.
This is because of the Hubbert curve, which I’ll talk about in detail another time. But briefly, M. King Hubbert was a geologist who discovered the phenomenon of a “peak” of oil extraction in any territory, after which new discoveries fail to keep up with depletion of old fields. In 1956, based on his model, he correctly predicted the peak of US production at 1970. We are now 41 years past that point. The little bump of increased production in the early 1980s was Alaska, which is now also post-peak and in rapid decline. Even if all the environmentally sensitive areas in the US that we’re not now drilling like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and offshore of the coast of California, were to be opened up tomorrow for production, we might get another little bump in production like Alaska in 5 years time. That’s how long it can take to bring oil projects to production. And there are no guarantees.
Many of the oil leases now held by US oil companies are not being produced. With near-record prices, there has to be a financial reason for this. We can therefore conclude with a high degree of confidence that producing oil from these leases has proven to be uneconomical at current market prices. Which is exactly what we would expect in a country far past its peak of oil production.
But people don’t want to hear this. They really want to believe that there’s some grand government or environmentalist conspiracy keeping us from sucking all the oil we want out of the ground. I’ve even had people drag out the old discredited “abiotic oil” theory, that the earth somehow magically regenerates oil over time, and therefore we have nothing to worry about. Little problem is, it’s just not true, and the production graphs prove it. Old oil fields just stop giving up any more oil after awhile. You can inject water, CO2, drilling mud, or magic fairy dust and still eventually the fields sputter and run dry. No spent oilfield in the world has ever returned to previous levels of production without enhanced recovery methods. And even with enhanced recovery methods, the amount of ultimately recoverable oil is still finite.
[Obama clip #4: US only has 2-3% of reserves and uses 25% of the world's oil.]
Wow, he really stepped in that one, but who knew? Perhaps a guy with ten kids really does need a big SUV! But no one else does. I’m here to tell you if you’re not hauling equipment or 10 kids, you don’t need one! There’s just no polite way to say this. You might want one, you might enjoy having one, but if you buy one, and you fail to make the connection between your personal behavior and the global oil crisis, then you’re part of the problem. If you are a veteran of one of the oil wars, and you have sacrificed for your country, you may think you deserve to enjoy the spoils as Trump said. But it’s self-defeating, because this oil addiction is actually weakening the very country our troops are fighting for, draining us financially, killing our soldiers, and blocking much-needed energy innovation. And for what? A little legroom? So you can beat the next guy off the line at a red light? Really, is that worth destroying Americas position in the world?
[Obama clip #5: Last year we increased fuel efficiency standards for the first time in 30 years...]
I’m glad President Obama sees the connection to prices. I’m glad he tightened the fuel economy standards. But he could be doing so much more. Coming up in future episodes, I’m going to be talking about what really needs to happen to break our oil addiction. While it’s important to look at the automobile industry, it’s not nearly enough to think about building more efficient cars. We have to rethink our entire concept of transportation and our relationship to it. We have to rethink the very design of our cities and how we inhabit them, how we develop them, and how we change our incentives to reform business as usual in America. If this sounds like a monumental and expensive project–it is.
And doing it in an era of expensive energy and unprecedented deficits makes it even more difficult. Whatever your politics, whether you fight this change or embrace it, in the coming decades, we’re all about to discover that this transition is not optional. Fossil fuel scarcity will force choices we never believed we’d have to make. The good news is, the sooner we start making those tough choices, the easier our ultimate transition will be.
Thank you for watching, until next time.]]>
The following is excerpted from messages I exchanged with an acquaintance who calls herself a ‘Constitutionalist:’
When I hear “Constitutionalist,” it really means Constitutional fundamentalist, since no one is proposing *not* following the US Constitution (including the several hundred volumes of case law that govern its interpretation, the presence of which was ensured by the founding fathers’ creation of the Judicial branch of government.)
I have little (no) patience for these arguments and consider them the height of ignorance. This kind of thinking is destroying the world. And the United States. Utterly. So if that’s your deal, maybe you should unfriend me? Or are you just kidding about pulling out of the UN, thinking sharia law is some kind of threat in the US, and the Constitutional fundamentalism?
“Sharia law?” What are you smoking? I’m against Sharia law too, but the only people who think the US needs to “ban” it are the most rabid paranoid tea-party lunatics. Again, since the establishment clause of the, ahem, Constitution would seem to already take care of the Sharia problem–why do “Constitutionalists” seem to ignore the fact that we *already* have a government operating fully under the Constitution?
And people who want to ‘ban’ Sharia are usually also Christian dominionists who don’t like Sharia for religious reasons but would have no problem establishing Christian biblical law or putting the Ten Commandments in schools and courthouses. And such people rarely see the hypocrisy–as you probably don’t. They think the US is a “Christian” nation. Transparent madness.
And “pulling out of the UN” is utterly ridiculous. There are seven billion people in the world and the US is only about 4% of that. So, really? We should pull out of the one organization which represents the other 96% of Earth’s population? Wake up! You sound absolutely moronic, and that’s being charitable (would be if we were still in the 20th century, not the 21st). In 2011? Such views are just obscene. What kind of bubble are you living in?
…again I ask you since twice now you have refused to respond about the politics, what could be more important? How can you “put politics aside” when the “starve the beast” politics of the American tea-party constitutional fundamentalists are literally killing the planet (through resource degradation and refusal to support a climate treaty) and turning our once-great country into an indebted, oil-addicted, crumbling third-world joke? How can you? How does anyone buy into this myopic self-serving nonsense? Is it your age of 60 that makes you so callous and blind, like “I’ll be dead by the time the worst effects of climate change hit?” I mean how can anyone be so disconnected as to not consider the global impacts of decisions we’re making on a daily basis? This is the very definition of unconsciousness and it’s infuriating!
I have literally had to block and unfriend a couple of dozen people who are into this rabid right-wing stuff. How can you go through life and not see the literal war on women, children and seniors being waged in the supposed name of the Constitution? How can you not see the war on the planet being waged by bargain-hunting consumers teaming up with free-market libertarians? Small government means the country is left to be run by rapacious corporations (and their customers) which have now been allowed by the Citzens United decision to buy unlimited media and in so doing buy elections. Their agenda is to get rid of taxation, regulation, unions, and completely destroy the middle class. (They forget that in so doing, they will also destroy their customer base.)
So there is no way to “put politics aside” in any relationship as far as I’m concerned. When I started Black Sun Journal 10 years ago after September 11th, I vowed to ignore the “polite” rules of conversation which say you don’t talk about religion, politics or sex in polite company. There’s nothing else that really matters. Lives are at stake. Beliefs govern us and define our ethics. We are on the brink of an utter humanitarian crisis triggered by a crisis of democracy. Aside from green energy, restoring trust in a government-supported social contract combined with fiscal sustainability should be our absolute number-one national priority.
I will tell ______ you send your regards, though it is up to you whether I tell her you’re a constitutionalist fanatic who is participating in the destruction of our country and the world by spouting this wicked brand of politics. Are you? Or are you willing to drop this notion that the US should pull out of the UN? And that the US is not already living up to constitutional governance? And that the US is in danger of implementing Sharia law? For shame…
Everyone has the ‘right’ to their opinion, but that doesn’t mean opinions like yours don’t carry consequences. And of course I have the right to choose my friends based on their politics.
Sean Prophet (Citizen of the World)]]>
The Energy Philosopher Episode 2: All thermal power plants require generous amounts of water, and become less efficient in hot weather. Municipal water pumping and treatment consumes a substantial percentage of the world’s electricity production.
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TRANSCRIPT: TEP #2
“How are energy and water related?”
Hello, friends. I’m Sean Prophet, the energy philosopher. Today I want to talk about water and how it relates to energy production and consumption. Like energy, we usually think about water when something goes wrong. It doesn’t really matter whether the problem is too much water or too little, or even the wrong kind (such as seawater, wastewater, or even radioactive water.) What we need for human survival, for crops, and for energy production is just the right amount of pure, clear and cool water in the right place at the right time. I don’t have to tell you that human beings are more than half water, with an average person containing between 30 and 40 liters. And maintaining proper hydration in our bodies is critical. Yet the National Academy of Sciences estimates that given current trends, up to a billion people will go without adequate water by 2050, especially in China and India.
About 80% of water use is agricultural. There’s a lot to say on that subject, but we’ll let the farmers worry about that for right now. What is most important to you is that when you turn on that tap you get drinkable water, and plenty of it. So lets start with the basic task of getting water to cities. In 2009, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which is the largest municipal water system in the United States, delivered 200 billion gallons to our taps. Much of it had to be pumped hundreds of miles through pipes or aqueducts, the rest is from snow melt or other local sources, and it all has to be strained, carbon filtered, purified, ozonated, and chlorinated. All this processing and pumping takes an amazing amount of energy–between 2 and 3% of the entire world’s energy production is used to pump and treat municipal water.
Perhaps 1% of this water is used for direct human consumption, yet ironically the other 99% that is used for landscape irrigation, laundry, washing the car, and bathing still must meet the same exacting drinking water standards. The city of Los Angeles has some of the cleanest tap water in the world. So we need to think twice before we let the sprinklers run too long, ignore a running toilet, overfill the pool, or fail to fix a broken sprinkler head that forms a miniature geyser, making rivers of precious drinking water run down the street into the gutter. We pay too dear a price in both money and energy for this liquid gold.
I want to talk now about Lake Havasu, a major reservoir on the Colorado River for California and Arizona. Havasu is not just a lake that’s a great party spot, its Parker Dam also produces 120 MW of hydroelectric power, about one eighth as much as a large coal or nuclear power plant, with no carbon emissions. And it’s been doing so since 1938. Half of this power is used to pump water along the Colorado River Aqueduct, the other half feeds the grid. It’s an ingenious project–a zero-carbon self-pumping reservoir that’s been in operation for almost 75 years. Gotta love that. Without this water from Havasu and other sources, Los Angeles would be a desert most of the time.
So we can clearly understand that drinking water takes a lot of energy to move and treat. And it’s obvious hydroelectric power depends on full reservoirs and robust rainfalls.
What is less well known is that nearly all types of power plants consume water–lots of it. And here’s why: In order for the plant’s machinery to do useful work, it must reject heat to the environment. This is governed by the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Think of it this way: if you build a fire, you can warm yourself or cook food. It’s a straight up chemical reaction. But if you want to turn the heat from the fire into mechanical work or generate electricity, it’s a thermodynamic process requiring a cycle of expansion and condensation of a fluid. In most cases that fluid is water.
Here’s how it works:
In a thermal power plant, a heat source such as coal, natural gas, the sun or nuclear fission fires a boiler, in which water is kept under high pressure. As the steam from the boiler expands, its energy is transferred into a turbine mechanism. This process is only about ? efficient, meaning fully ? of the heat energy produced by the boiler is ultimately wasted and must be discharged into the environment. It does so as the steam condenses back into water to be recycled into the boiler. The steam condenser must be continuously cooled, or the steam won’t condense and the boiler will run out of water, the turbine will stop spinning and the power plant will shut down.
Some plants recirculate their water in cooling towers, (you know, those enormous scary-looking concrete cylinders), while others rely on rivers or the ocean. The overall thermal efficiency of the plant is determined by the temperature difference between the turbine and the cooling water. What this means is that all thermal power plants that rely on environmental cooling have higher efficiencies in the winter than they do in the summer.
During extreme heat waves or drought, thermal power plants have to scale back power production or shut down.
Jellyfish aside, power plants located on the ocean are far less vulnerable to temperature changes than those on rivers. It’s one of the reasons why Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant was located at the shore and directly in the path of a tsunami. The irony is, the very ocean that made the plant practical and productive became its destroyer.
And this is one of the lessons of this disaster. Energy and water are forever linked. And it’s not just fossil fueled plants. Renewable energy takes water, too, from hydropower to solar thermal, even many types of geothermal wells require injection of surface water to make steam, which must then be cooled and recycled like any other thermal power plant.
The only methods of power production not dependent on natural cooling water are solar panels, and wind turbines.
Many legacy power plants designed and built for the climate 50 years ago are finding themselves operating well outside of original assumptions about water availability. Climate change is affecting rainfall patterns around the world, creating floods in some areas and droughts in others. So even if we build new thermal plants today based on current rainfall expectations, we may find things becoming very different in future decades.
My point is not to paint a picture of doom and gloom. It is simply to show that the climate does not have to change radically to have huge cascading effects on our energy system. And ironically on the hottest days when demand is highest for air conditioning, thermal power plants are more likely than ever to buckle under the load. What that means is that utilities fire up natural gas peaking plants to keep the grid running. These plants are expensive to operate, and just end up producing more CO2 and making our planetary problem worse.
This creates a huge advantage for wind power and solar photovoltaic. These renewable energy sources don’t need fuel, don’t produce CO2, and most important of all, need no water.
So this is your chance once again to cast your vote with your dollars, invest in wind and solar directly, or buy your electricity from companies that do. Invest in more efficient light bulbs and appliances. Vote for political candidates who back wind and solar, as well as high efficiency standards, smart metering, and investments in the “smart electrical grid.”
Remember, every time you turn on a light or electrical appliance, you are also consuming water. And every time you turn on the tap, you are consuming electricity. I don’t say this to make you feel guilty. Just to help you become conscious of how inseparable these two services actually are.
We have a huge task ahead of us, and that is to learn to live sustainably and grow the economy in harmony with natural systems. In the past hundred years, natural life-support systems all over the world have become degraded by over exploitation. Our choice couldn’t be more stark. Your future, your job, and all economic growth depends on our leaders getting their priorities straight, and putting the resources we have left to better and better use. Your understanding of the costs, benefits, and trade offs involved in every energy decision you make is key to making the right decisions, both at the personal and political level.
Thank you for watching, until next time.]]>
I’ve started a new YouTube channel called The Energy Philosopher where I’ll be posting short video segments discussing energy and climate issues. The first episode is called: “Where do we go from here?” and provides a layman’s overview of our energy predicament. There is also a facebook page with the same title, (please like and share) and I’ve reserved the URL theenergyphilosopher.com. Follow me on twitter @EnergPhilosophy.
This was kind of a spur-of-the-moment idea. I’m doing these in one take on my MacBook Pro webcam with no lighting, no editing, and no frills. Information is the priority here. I hope to achieve 95% accuracy, if there are a few mistakes, I consider it an acceptable trade off to allow these segments to get done at all. Time permitting, and depending on viewer response, I plan to produce new content on a regular basis.
Some potential topics for upcoming episodes will include: “Can we drill our way to energy independence?” “Are biofuels a sustainable substitute for petroleum?” “How are energy and water related?” “Should we shut down our nuclear plants?” “Are higher energy prices good for the economy?” “What is the definition of natural capitalism?” “How can city-dwellers live more sustainably?” “Won’t carbon taxes kill the economy?” “What is the meaning of the phrase ‘cradle-to-cradle?’”
For now, I hope you enjoy episode 1.
Episode 1: Where do we go from here?
I know it seems repetitive to keep talking about the climate, but until the dismal US Gallup climate numbers begin to more closely resemble reality, it’s not possible to say too much about it.
In the past few weeks, I’ve heard several people repeating arrogant, ignorant energy misconceptions and climate denial talking points. Ironically they’re all right-wing members of my former church. These are all exact quotes from recent online discussions.
I’d be a rich man if I had a nickel for every time one of these “maroons” told me the Earth regenerates oil, or some suppressed “Tesla” technology for “free” energy will save us, or there’s “trillions” of barrels of oil “environmentalists” are preventing us from tapping:
There are trillions of gallons of oil that environmentalists (such as you, perhaps?) oppose drilling for.
Maybe you can answer why they oppose drilling for oil reserves in the United States when we have more oil within our borders than in Saudia Arabia.
Maybe they mean “mining, scooping and heating” not drilling? Because the only way you get multi-hundred billion barrel oil reserve numbers in the US is if you count oil shale and tar sands deposits. Which can’t be extracted without using copious amounts of water and either natural gas heat (more CO2 emission) or nuclear reactors (no, really). Whether denying climate science or dramatically exaggerating US reserves, these people are hanging onto their entitled lifestyles and outmoded economics with white knuckle grip:
…citing statistics from one’s favorite politically correct scientists, does not necessarily indicate a correspondence with Reality. Whether there is new oil or not, is a topic that is still open to debate. Furthermore, there are some that support the abiotic oil theories…Yale Ph.D., Robert M. Schoch, also has a good article in Jan/Feb Atlantis Rising mag entitled, “Politics, Money, and Science”, in which he generally agrees with “global warming” but questions the causes which can be both natural and artificial factors…according to Antony Sutton, who wrote a paper on this topic before passing, there is so called “future” alternative technologies that are already here, have been for many decades, and has been largely suppressed by the establishment. I can copy his paper if folks interested.”
Anything but just use the completely available knowledge of renewable energy we already have to create our own electricity and fuel and reduce the carbon content of the atmosphere. Next, there are the political hoaxsters, who think climate change was cooked up by the UN:
Climate change caused by man and carbon emissions is a devious hoax designed to further control and impoverish America.
Then there’s this confused rant about global government, eugenics, chemtrails, and the HAARP experiment:
…it looks to me that the concern being promoted over climate change is more of a strategy to manipulate people into complying more and more with the concept of ‘global governance’ by a ‘power elite’ composed of corporate and eugenicist interests. A couple of issues that I have not seen brought into the discussion around ‘climate change’. Actually, one of them, the subject of ‘chemtrails’ or geoengineering, has been brought up but as a mitigation effort rather than a contributor to the ‘problem’…The other topic is the HAARP arrays. HAARP functions by beaming high voltage energy into the Ionosphere, thereby heating it up. Wouldn’t heating up the atmosphere of the Earth cause warming?
It’s one thing for people to be misinformed, even willfully so. But this global conspiracy garbage is off the hook. Back to the data, scientists have been clear about man-made climate change since the 1950s as this 1956 presentation by corporate giant General Electric shows.:
We see the effects around us as species (including humans) are displaced, food and export crops (including tea and coffee) are affected, water dries up, weather patterns shift in seemingly bizarre ways that actually jive with detailed models and predictions going back decades. These are physical responses to a physical system which has been knocked severely out of the Holocene equilibrium in which our species evolved.
Here is what I don’t understand. The climate system doesn’t care about our squabbles or disagreements or our profits. What are right-wingers going to try to repeal next, the law of gravity? I fail to understand what is so anti-American about global cooperation on an issue that affects everyone ? Why is it that people want to ignore billions of tons of carbon human industry pours into the atmosphere and instead blame a *radar station?* Such ideas are laughable even in the unlikely event they were true, as their comparative climate forcing potential would be off by at least 6 orders of magnitude. [3.6 megawatts at the HAARP station vs. global fossil energy production in the multi-terawatt range.]
Such glaring math errors aside, the best predictor of a persons’ acceptance or denial of climate change facts is their political and religious affiliation. Why is that? Why does being in favor of liberty or the ‘constitution’ or believing in God mean we have to tear up the Earth and burn wasteful and polluting fuels and reject science? Is that really what it means to be free? Or are republicans and libertarians so ideologically driven that they’d rather stick to their guns even if it means being shills of the global fossil industry?
Imagine if other scientific questions were decided by whether or not they made a quick profit. The worst part is, I know it’s nearly completely pointless to say anything about it. Nearly 100% of the time, climate denialists come back with standard propaganda points and conspiratorial nonsense, and then I end up blocking them so I don’t waste my time in a fruitless argument. They’ll go right on their merry way thinking it’s AOK to eat all the meat in the world, and burn all the fossil fuels in the world–devil may care about carbon emissions.
In the Carbon-Watchers vision man is an evil carbon-emitting entity. Eventually, if these fanatics have their way (are you one of them?) your house will be taxed, or you will be penalized (imprisoned?) when you go over the “Allowable Carbon Emissions” for your city. Do you really want that?
Well, I just want people to live within our planetary means. Otherwise, I guess some cosmic tooth fairy is going to have to just come along and fix the Earth so we don’t have to do anything, or give up anything. Or we could just remake our food and energy systems into something that’s far more practical, productive and harmonious than what we have.
The willful ignorance and straw-grasping of the pro-carbon lobby (and their shills) in the face of such high stakes is utterly infuriating.
But if the resounding and overwhelming conclusion of the world scientific community and every national scientific body hasn’t convinced them, all I’m going to do is piss them off. So bring it on.
When we fix the climate (transition off fossil energy in earnest) we will fix our economy, and not before. The fossil crash is already well underway. The economies of nations are so intertwined with each other that they will never again be separated. We will see a new globalized money system taking shape as the US dollar falls out of favor as the world’s reserve currency. This will be because of our unsustainable trade deficit, tax cuts, and budget deficits started 30 years ago by Reagan and continued under every subsequent President except Clinton. The only way for the US to come back to any semblance of stability and prominence is through a green technology revolution similar to the computer/productivity revolution that got us out of the 1982 recession. If we don’t jump on it fast, China will eat our lunch. They might eat it anyway, because they are not only moving aggressively on green tech, they are leveraging their newfound wealth to modernize their infrastructure and the US is not.
As we see, globalization in other areas hasn’t slowed a bit. UN backed military action is now the rule rather than the exception. The world responded deftly to the Libya crisis. We need to globalize carbon regulation, and it would be in our extreme self-interest to do it immediately. There’s nothing like a dramatic rise in the cost of meat or fossil energy to get people to cut down their use and switch to healthier substitutes. Given the right global price incentives on food and energy, we can produce these substitutes profitably and return our nation and the world to prosperity. It would not only make us wealthy, it would feel really, really good.
Climate deniers may well decide to keep whistling past Earth’s graveyard as long as they can. I wish it were a fringe position, but all you have to do is look at the Gallup poll to see that 48% of Americans now disbelieve the science–with increasingly insane rationalizations. But what they can’t say is they weren’t amply warned. They may be slitting their own throats, but they’re slitting ours too, and we will all bleed out together. And what I won’t do is sit and quietly watch that happen.]]>
The world remains mired in blind indifference to a primal scream emanating from our future. If we could hear it, or pay attention to it, we would connect with a frightening level of rage leveled at our short-sightedness in 146 languages plus binary code and cuneform:
“You people were privileged beyond all reason, you knew, and you did nothing!!”
“Ustedes tuvieron el privilegio más allá de toda razón, te conocía, y que no hizo nada!”
“Sie waren Menschen jenseits aller Vernunft privilegierten, wussten Sie, und Sie haben nichts!”
“Vous les gens ont eu le privilège au delà de toute raison, vous le saviez, et vous n’avez rien fait!”
Climate effects everyone, and its change will change all of our lives dramatically. From the crops of subsistence farmers to the coastal infrastructure of major metropolitan areas, the way of life of billions is in peril. Climate change is going to impoverish us. It will cost untold trillions of dollars, create higher levels of human misery, has the potential to ruin teetering economies, and could set in motion military and political change that threaten the very notion of a modern liberal international system. If you think I’m exaggerating, just read the links I’ve provided.
Those of us who’ve been lucky enough to live at the top of Earth’s food chain in the incredible period of prosperity from 1945 to the present have the most to lose. You’d think people with so much at stake would pay more attention. I’ve argued that it’s precisely our experience of bounty, our sense of entitlement and exceptionalism in the post WWII period that makes Americans uniquely vulnerable to the clue-by-fouring that’s most assuredly on its way. This has been nowhere more painfully illustrated than the pathetic whining of people with disrupted travel schedules. As if being whisked across the world at will with blinding speed was some kind of basic human right. From TIME:
…the sheer number of canceled flights—and the number of angry passengers stranded in terminals up and down the East Coast—was more accurate reflection of just how common air travel had become, and with it, our expectations for our easy movement should be. On one level, after all, the global air travel system really is a technological marvel—with a few clicks, you can book yourself a ticket that can take you halfway around the planet in a day. (OK, maybe not right now, but usually.) What was once extraordinary had now become another form of commuting, and we think it our due to be able to fly thousands of miles to visit family for the holidays and fly back home in time for work….Perspective can get lost—let’s not forget, this was a major, major storm, and it shouldn’t be surprising that when lots of snow falls, travel is going to get gummed up—and then some….it’s as if we’ve become a “nation of wussies,” unable to deal with obstacles, turning a delayed cross-country flight into something out of the Odyssey.
Or the fury at government that’s so au courant, what with the Tea Party and all, as Alexis Madrigal points out in The Atlantic,
We assume that if only city government worked better, the hassles of the weather could be avoided. We blame The Man…While I’m sure weather emergencies can be handled better or worse, if the weather is crazy enough, the government-quality signal gets drowned out by the weather signal. Cities were built with certain tolerance levels in mind, certain climactic baselines, and if you go outside of them, everyone looks terrible because they’re pulling levers of power and control that are not commensurate with the task they need to fix….What you need to know is that your city — pretty much wherever it is — was built for a climate that it may no longer have. That’s going to mean tough commutes during the winter and spending more money on air conditioning in the summer. It’s going to mean that your city shuts down more often because some freaky thing happened that no one can remember happening in their lifetimes. [emphasis added] It’s going to mean the power’s going to go out because the electric system in your area wasn’t designed to handle the stresses it will be put under. Cities will have to get less efficient and more resilient. Redundancies will have to be built into systems that previously seemed to work just fine.
I can’t stress this point enough. Cities are located where they are based on human migration patterns over centuries of the basically stable climate of the late Holocene. Change the climate into what promises to be Anthropocene hell, and all of a sudden, crops don’t grow the same way the same places they used to, urban economics don’t pencil, and there’s little to nothing we can do but become poorer and more stressed as more and more of our resources go toward staying in place, replacing and beefing up infrastructure we took for granted, battling nature, and less toward things that make life better and richer like education, health care, and the arts. And that’s just us, the lucky ones. What about the billions who are only just now thinking they have a shot at getting out of the $1-a-day crushing poverty of the developing world?
It’s not like we haven’t been warned. Starting in the 1950’s, scientists began to discuss the greenhouse effect. In 1958, an amazingly prophetic Frank Capra produced an educational film “The Unchained Goddess” which included this segment on global warming. Campy as it is with its dramatic music and overstatement of immediate consequences, it was essentially right on the mark. In the late 1970’s President Jimmy Carter was run out of office for merely suggesting we connect with our energy reality by turning our thermostat down in the winter and putting on a sweater.
But Daddy Reagan told us it was “morning in America,” and Grandad George H.W. Bush agreed. By 1989 or 1990, we had missed our chance to avoid the worst of it by getting off fossil fuels. Earth passed the “safe” atmospheric CO2 threshold of 350 ppm around 1990. But in the 1990’s and 2000’s we reveled in our $30/barrel oil, and bought bigger houses, and ever-more-powerful shiny new cars, and other gewgaws.
As we did so, we happily whistled past the graveyard of old Earth, unaware we were irrevocably on the pathway to Eaarth, as described in Bill McKibben’s scary 2010 book. Then of course there’s the warnings from Al Gore, a name that’s been relentlessly vilified since the release in 2006 of “An Inconvenient Truth.” For his tireless humanitarian work, Gore’s been everything but tarred and feathered, including having a 10-foot-tall hot-air-spewing bust of himself paraded through Fairbanks, Alaska on the back of a pickup truck. We’ve made a national sport of killing the messenger, when the messenger was saying anything other than “turn down the air conditioning” or “turn up the heat,” “crank up the big screen” and “pass the Nachos.”
Now there’s clearly nothing wrong with Super Bowl parties or large screens or indoor climate control. But what they have the potential to do is to numb us to what’s really going on in the real climate, namely that we’re burning a lot of coal to keep the beer cold, the cheese sauce hot, and make that social gathering possible. And the carbon emissions from all that partying is going to make future partying more difficult and expensive. Just like all the past on-time flights have precipitated the weather that makes our current flights late. Would the Super Bowl party be any less fun if it was being held sustainably, powered by the wind or sun? And would we pay just a little more for electricity for just a few years if we knew it would help our kids and their kids to enjoy the same privileges we do? “Of course,” it’s easy to think. “We would gladly do that, there’s too much at stake not to,” right?
When it comes to the polling booth, apparently we won’t. And we won’t stop electing people who self-righteously sabotage the future for paltry present gain–which doesn’t amount to even pennies on the dollar.
Now what exactly is happening to the future (and the present)? Well–already–things that haven’t happened for 1,000 years.
In that sense, Matt Drudge must be feeling pretty good right now. But his headline from the Daily Star: “UK Winter May Be Coldest in 1000 Years…” should move the irony meter just a little bit. For the incurious majority of Drudge readers, the conclusion is as obvious as the snowdrifts are high: Al Gore is still wrong, just like he was yesterday, just like he’s always been, and spectacularly so. ‘Global Warming, right?’ Hahahahahahahaha!
But let’s look at the kind of real sentiments we’re hearing near and far. In a facetious Facebook status update a friend said, “Snow in Arizona? Look out for raining frogs and rivers of blood next. The Apocalypse must be starting.” More seriously, the Premier of Queensland, Australia, Anna Bligh said of recent flooding, “It’s without precedent in our recorded history, with so many places in so many diverse parts of the state each affected so critically at once.” Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport slashed flights Christmas week because of a shortage of de-icing fluid. New York’s snowbound airports (the result of a blizzard not matched since 1983) top the list of places where you hope you’re not stuck watching tomorrow’s countdown. In Los Angeles, we’ve had the wettest December on record, and howling hurricane-force winds (at 94 mph) are ringing in our New Year. Tonight it’s supposed to dip below freezing in supposedly sunny Southern California. What the hell kind of crazy is going on??
To the right-wing cohort, it’s all as it should be. The chortling over winter weather is about validating their broad view of science as enemy, and private enterprise under siege from every angle. Drudge’s banner headline screamed NYC SNOW JOB: SLOW CLEAN-UP WAS UNION ‘PROTEST’. I don’t know if it’s possible to be more wrong on more levels. At some point, such propaganda crosses the threshold from just wrong to sinister. Yes, this is the Most Important Lesson we’re supposed to take from the effects of global weather weirding: “The Unions in New York City are Just Too Powerful and Corrupt.” Gawd.
But what is science really saying about these strange weather extremes? Two phrases sum up what we know, or more correctly, what is the probable cause of some of these troubles. “Siberian Snow,” and “Arctic Oscillation.”
On Siberian Snow from Washington Post:
…Judah Cohen and colleagues which finds above normal fall snow cover in Siberia leads to cold winter over eastern North America. As a long-range forecaster with theCommodity Weather Group in Bethesda, Md., I can confirm that this relationship has some legitimacy….It is amazing to watch these powerful atmospheric waves propagate across our planet and grow over Siberia. We recently saw such a wave develop in December that helped establish the recent cold, and a new one is expected to move across Eurasia in the coming week. You can watch these waves (way up toward the top of the troposphere) via an excellent National Weather Service animation.
On Arctic Oscillation from Wikipedia:
…in February 2010 the Arctic Oscillation reached its most negative value, -4.266 (for a monthly mean), in the entire post-1950 era (the period of accurate record-keeping) and that month was characterized by three separate record or near-record snowstorms in the mid-Atlantic region, the first two dumping 25 inches on Baltimore, Md. on the 5th and 6th of February, and then another 19.5 inches on the 9th and 10th. In New York City a separate storm deposited 20.9 inches on the 25th and 26th. This kind of snowstorm activity is as anomalous and extreme as the negative AO value itself. Similarly, the greatest negative value for the AO since 1950 in January was -3.767 in 1977, which coincided with the coldest mean January temperature in New York City, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and many other mid-Atlantic locations in that span. And though the January AO has been negative only 60.6% of the time between 1950-2010, 9 of the 10 coldest New York City Januarys since 1950 have coincided with negative AOs.
Now of course, there are all sorts of caveats, and we must be clear that Earth’s weather is an incredibly complex and difficult-to-understand system. And we can’t say that this correlation between Siberia, the Arctic and crazy blizzards is an open and shut case. But here’s what we do know: On a global basis, 2010 was the hottest year of the hottest decade since records have been kept. So something odd must be happening, and it is along these lines: Warmer air holds more moisture. A warmer atmosphere has more energy to move things around. And both tend to amplify the effects of any weather system, summer or winter.
So keep these facts in mind over the next few months as the Northern Hemisphere goes through weather disruptions in the form of extreme cold and massive snowstorms: On a global average basis, the Earth as a whole is warmer than it has ever been in the modern era, and that’s not in dispute. Therefore something must explain the strange paradox of winter nastiness. If the American public can wrap their heads around that “something,” we might actually get somewhere.]]>
LED Lighting Guide: The Death of the Light Bulb
The incandescent lamp should be called the “heat bulb” not light bulb, since it is capable of a maximum 10% efficiency, meaning 90% of the energy used goes to waste heat. So ironic that this horribly wasteful piece of antiquated technology was once the archetypal symbol for a “good idea.”
CFLs contain mercury, and don’t yet match the light quality or CRI of incandescents. LEDs solve those problems, but remain expensive. Which is why the US has established 2014 as the deadline for the old bulbs to be phased out. Just in time for LEDs to become cost-effective. In the meantime, the dirt cheap incandescents have always failed to account for their true social and environmental costs. Which means we all have been paying a hidden tax to use them, in the form of CO2, particulates, and mercury emitted by the additional coal plants we’ve run. Yet listen to the most asinine GOP dinosaur Rep. Joe Barton try to justify “saving” the glass and tungsten environment-killers. Typical Republican waffle: if you don’t see a cost, it doesn’t exist.
Time: China’s People Rising
We seem to be able to get bipartisan agreement on only a few things, and one of them is protectionist legislation against China. But protectionism can only make the US less competitive and hasten the day China eventually cleans our clock decisively at the top of the value chain–not just in manufacturing. The right is so out of touch with this issue, it boggles the mind. America has hard work to do. We must strategically and intellectually compete with China or surely we will become a second-rate nation.
Chinese kids often study 10-12 hours a day, something mocked and rejected when anyone suggests it in the USA. Because Chinese parents only have one child, there’s a lot of pressure for success. I’m not saying its necessarily healthy, but it’s a fact of life. And they’re not just doing academics, but music, dance, extracurriculars. In other words, they’re becoming well rounded people.
When expectations are rising (and they are in China) the people can smell it. And the competitive drives kick in and transform society. They work harder because they can sense victory. Americans spend all their time worrying about making life easier and improving their leisure time. There’s nothing wrong with that when you are on top, but we’re not anymore. Our kids are not being given the discipline and understanding of what it will take to wim. We no longer work as hard as people in the developing world. Though American productivity is still among the highest in the world, we’re starting to lose our edge. Our incentives and priorities have not kept pace with a changing world. Or we wouldn’t need to be thinking about protectionism.
Clearly China has huge issues to overcome. Like pollution, overcrowding, growing inequality, reliance on coal. But they see the big picture and know where they’re going. They not only have the world’s fastest trains, but are quickly building out the largest rail network, and they know how important that is. Even as they continue to be the largest coal consumer, they will still kill the US in green energy if we don’t engage. We don’t have anywhere near forever to get this right. It sometimes feels as if we’re not even trying–but rather we’ve been sleepwalking into the 21st century.
The Nation: Lou Dobbs, American Hypocrite
*ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS* As if there was an option for these workers to come here legally. As anyone who’s been through the US immigration labyrinth knows, *THERE ISN’T.* And the GOP wants to keep it that way, all the while benefiting from the taxpayer subsidy provided to the undocumented workers they hire. Hypocrisy, be it sex or immigration–is an inseparable element of the right’s DNA.]]>
1. What important things do I believe I could accomplish that no one else could?
2. What’s my second or third act in life?
3. What would change everything for me from how it’s been up to this point?
4. What things am I better at than nearly anyone else?
5. What are my shortcomings that are holding me back?
6. What do I love to spend my time doing?
7. How can I transform what I naturally love into a career which sustains me?
8. How can I best engage reciprocation: providing service to others while gaining improved social standing?
9. How can I best utilize my most valuable external asset, time?
10. How can I best utilize my most valuable internal asset, my mind?
I’ve been spending some time lately reflecting on my own process, especially the ways in which I’ve come up short. For much of the time I’ve written for BSJ, I’ve focused on exposing the shadows I’ve seen in the hypocrisies of the worlds religions, and the shenanigans of the world’s so-called leaders. I’ve talked about personal shadow work, and the importance of coming to grips with buried grief, fears, angers, and resentments.
I realize I haven’t said enough about the other type of self-reflection, which starts with an honest evaluation of where I’ve come from, where I’ve been during the past few years, and how I can make the rest of my life count.
I’ve started to slowly work through the above list, and I realize that like anything worth doing, coming up with satisfactory answers is going to take a while. But I share the questions with you today as I encourage you to also go on that same quest to find your bright shadow: that part of yourself which you may feel you have not adequately expressed, which lies hidden and buried underneath the mundane realities of everyday life.
Whether we’ve wanted to or not, the past two years have forced most of us to focus to the point of distraction on the global economic crisis. The worsening business climate has affected our careers and those of our associates. It’s been damn frustrating to experience, and a lot of that anger has spilled over into the political arena–where it’s largely been misdirected. Readers of BSJ already know I want nothing to do with the trite non-solutions of the GOP or the Tea Party.
“What the world needs now,” to steal a line from TED, is a long-term move toward a sustainable economy based on Natural Capitalism, closed-loop manufacturing, and multiple levels of expert analysis of the costs and benefits of decisions on systems and infrastructure. We need this desperately, yet old money stands in the way, old thinking stokes fear, old bastions of corruption in the media prevent us from even having the right conversation.
We need to get away from these tired divisions and move toward win-win solutions that will transform the world and get us out of this slump we’ve fallen into. As we suck down the dregs of the unsustainable, we need to use the energy we have to build a new interconnected global economy that will last. So each of us has to realize that we are partly responsible for how things have been. Also that if we refuse to become discouraged, we are fully capable of transforming ourselves and the world.
If we really focus on the original meaning, and apply them to our lives, the following quotes are far more than the cliches they’ve become:
And so, my fellow americans: ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.
John F. Kennedy, Inaugural address, January 20, 1961
35th president of US 1961-1963 (1917 - 1963)
You must be the change you want to see in the world.
Indian political and spiritual leader (1869 - 1948)
What is the best way to keep focused on the big picture? How can we be that change we want to see in the world? How can we find that calling which President John F. Kennedy passionately asked every citizen of the world to answer nearly 50 years ago? How can we express service in such a way that in doing what we love we will be nurtured and prosper beyond what we ever considered possible?
I look forward to your thoughts in the comments.]]>
[The human] moral sense licenses aggression against others as a way to prevent or punish immoral acts. That is fine when the act deemed immoral truly is immoral by any standard, such as rape and murder, and when the aggression is meted out fairly and serves as a deterrent…the human moral sense is not guaranteed to pick out those acts as the targets of its righteous indignation. The moral sense is a gadget, like stereo vision or intuitions about numbers. It is an assembly of neural circuits cobbled together from older parts of the primate brain and shaped by natural selection to do a job. That does not mean that morality is a figment of our imagination, any more than the evolution of depth perception means that 3-D space is a figment of our imagination. But it does mean that the moral sense is laden with quirks and prone to systematic error–moral illusions, as it were–just like our other faculties. –Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate
Moral panic gripped America this summer, over plans for the “Park 51″ or “Cordoba House” mosque two blocks from the World Trade Center. Then the other shoe dropped, as self-styled ‘pastor’ Terry Jones gained worldwide notoriety by declaring 9.11.10 to be “International Burn A Koran Day.”
These stories have been beyond over-covered. What I’m interested in finding is some clarity. To be blunt, nearly everyone in this debate is positively choking on their own illusions:
The main organization behind the anti-mosque movement is SIOA (Stop Islamization of America), which claims to be “a human rights organization dedicated to freedom of speech, religious liberty, and individual rights; no special rights for special classes.” Which would be great, unless you happen to be Muslim.
Imam Rauf, the developer of Park 51, fed the flames of right-wing panic by having said in a speech in 2005 that the “the United States has more Muslim blood on its hands than Al Qaeda has on its hands of innocent non-Muslims.” Even if arguably true, the acts of 9.11.01 were a clear declaration of warfare by radical Islamists against the USA. Not only did they call for a response, but they forever changed US rules of military engagement. American policy has since supported both pre-emptive war and the inflicting of collateral damage (though the military takes great pains to avoid it). Rauf ignores the reality that there’s a huge moral difference between accidental killing of civilians and deliberate targeting.
Then there’s Terry Jones, poster child for the zany American religious far-right, (and ideological cousin of Fred Phelps of “God Hates Fags” fame). Jones claimed on signs and T-shirts that “Islam is of the Devil.” How would Jones know, since he admitted to not having read the Quran? And aside from “I don’t like it,” what does “of the Devil” even mean? One thing’s for sure, Jones knew how to attract worldwide attention.
President Obama, Hillary Clinton and General Petraeus made a grave, grave strategic error by granting the spectacle created by a fringe preacher the moral standing to affect the lives of US soldiers or change the outcome of the war in Afghanistan. Three prominent global figures have now endorsed the idea that not only is Muslim violence as a response to Quran burning inevitable, so is the spilling of American blood!
Oy, oy, oy. This debate or debacle (or whatever you want to call it) is full of ironies, mismatches and illusions.
Let’s take the most obvious falsehood from President Obama’s remembrance speech today at the Pentagon: “but as Americans we are not — and never will be — at war with Islam. It was not a religion that attacked us that September day — it was al Qaeda, a sorry band of men which pervert[ed] religion.” Wrong! Passages in the Quran demand Jihad against infidels. And substantial numbers of adherents to Islam follow those dictates. And they continue to do it in spite of widespread moderate Muslim condemnation. President Obama’s remarks are a form of the “no true Scotsman” fallacy. He also ignores that even non-violent Muslims have continued to call for the replacement of secular law in Western governments–and the implementation of Shariah ‘law.’
It’s tragic that President Obama decided to let Muslims off the hook for their radicals, while implying that a Christian radical could somehow represent all Americans!
What Obama should have said today is: “we are at war with an ideologically-driven non-state actor whose political goal is the destruction of the separation of church and state.” That would have been both accurate and damning to the cause of Al Qaeda, and it would have sent a message to the so-called ‘moderate’ advocates of Shariah.
Now, onto the question of Quran burning, which is subsumed under the greater conflict between freedom of religion and freedom of expression. This simmering human-rights imbroglio continues every year in the United Nations, where the OIC (Organizaton of the Islamic Conference) has tried, somewhat successfully, to get the UN to adopt language prohibiting the “defamation of religion.”
And this is no idle threat. We in the USA take for granted our protections for such expressions as book-burning or flag-burning, which cannot be made illegal under our constitution. But Europe has gone further down the road of prohibiting so-called hate-speech against religion. And it’s not a result anyone should be proud of. Right-wing anti-Islamic politician Geert Wilders has found himself in the position of being unable to travel to the UK, based solely on his public statements. Whatever I may think about Wilders, is that the kind of suppressive global legal human rights framework we want?
Let me clarify that I don’t necessarily condone either book-burning or flag-burning. It all depends on the motivation. In ages past, religious censors, kings, governments and demagogues burned books to suppress knowledge. Today, book-burning is purely a symbolic act of protest, since no one would argue (in the age of the internet) that any writings were actually being destroyed or diminished in availability in any way. So book or flag burning may be distasteful, but as an act of protest it’s not anti-intellectual, and it should never be illegal.
Still, Terry Jones is clearly a self-aggrandizing maniac, and one wonders what could be done to stop him from an act that because of media attention risked provoking worldwide Muslim outrage. As it turned out, presidential persuasion did its job and he backed down.
But was that wise? Isn’t protest and passionate debate exactly what our Constitution is supposed to allow? Doesn’t Jones have the right to his expression, however misguided, on American soil? Isn’t that freedom what was attacked on 9.11.01? Hasn’t Al Qaeda already sworn enmity with the US? Doesn’t the Afghan Taliban already portray the US as an anti-Islamic villain in every way possible? Don’t Muslims worldwide already riot and burn American flags?
Every few months we seem to go through this debate, and every few months, the values of free-expression take a back seat to protecting oh-so-sensitive-and-easily-offended Muslims. Whether it’s South Park, Danish cartoons, or symbolic book-burning, Western cultures have repeatedly self-censored. In so doing, we have granted radical Islam and Shariah a firm foothold. Many on the left support this under the moral illusion of “religious tolerance” or “respect.”
They couldn’t be more wrong.
Religious tolerance includes allowing law-abiding Muslims to build a mosque where they want on property they own. And making sure that they can freely practice their religion in a manner consistent with civil law. It does not, however, include allowing them to curtail freedom of expression.]]>