Thursday, March 20, 2014

Small Light in the Harbor

One thing is always true, if it's cold on land, it's colder on the water.  I boarded a bright yellow NYC Water Taxi commandeered by the Audubon Society for a few hours recently.  It was a full boat of bundled up nature-watchers.

Once underway, my eyes watered and the drops seemed to turn to icicles on my cheeks.  But my spirits were high.

We slipped past Governor's Island, looking like a New England college campus, directly across Buttermilk Channel from towering erector-set beasts that eat containers off massive cargo ships.

When our mustachioed and wry-witted guide spotted some birds, we'd peer and marvel a little.  An earnest volunteer would hold up a poster board with a lovely and colorful painting of the bird.

We moved farther along the hard edge where Brooklyn meets ocean.  There's a sewage treatment plant.  There's a desolate parking lot with litter skittering across.

It's easy to be melancholy.  There are absolutely no soft edges, no natural transitions between land and sea, in an area once so full of life it made hearts sing.  But life still finds a way.

In the end, we saw a handful of interesting birds and the marquee critter: seals.  There they were, impossibly, on old Swinburne Island, fat and curious.  They rolled off rocks into the choppy water or bobbed in the water looking at us looking at them.

I'm just going to say how it felt to see seals within sight of the Verrazano Narrows bridge and the sprawling metropolis:  Refreshing. Energizing. Awesome.

It's a small light I will carry with me through the darkest urban nights.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

There is No Debate

This one hits it out of the park.  Nice job, Carol Costello from CNN.  Global Warming's Six Americas is especially interesting.  Enjoy. 

Why Are We Still Debating Climate Change? 

There is no debate.

Climate change is real. And, yes, we are, in part, to blame.

There is a 97% consensus among scientific experts that humans are causing global warming. Ninety-seven percent!

Yet some very vocal Americans continue to debate what is surely fact

The question is, why?

Trust certainly plays a part.

According to Gordon Gauchat, an associate professor of sociology from the University of Wisconsin, just 42% of adults in the U.S. have a great deal of confidence in the scientific community.

It's easy to understand why. Most Americans can't even name a living scientist. I suspect the closest many Americans get to a living, breathing scientist is the fictional Dr. Sheldon Cooper from CBS's sitcom "The Big Bang Theory." Sheldon is brilliant, condescending and narcissistic. Whose trust would he inspire?

But trust isn't the only factor in why many Americans doubt climate change.

I asked Anthony Leiserowitz, the director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. His group has been studying the "why" question for more than a decade.

"We've found there are six very (specific) categories that respond to this issue in different ways," he said.

He calls these categories "Global Warming's Six Americas."

The first group, "The Alarmed," is made up 16% of the public. They believe climate change is an urgent problem but have no clear idea of how to fix it.

[Editor's Note: One question about these Americas from Yale -- where are the people who believe it's urgent and have several clear ideas of how to fix it, like me?  Here's three ways to fix it: Eliminate coal; Rapidly ramp up a clean energy economy; Get special interest money out of government.]

The second group (27%) is "The Concerned." They believe climate change is a problem but think it's more about polar bears and tiny islands than a problem that directly affects them.

The third group, "The Cautious" (23%), are people on the fence. They haven't made up their minds whether global warming is real or if it's a man-made problem.

The fourth group, "The Disengaged" (5%), doesn't know anything about climate change.

The fifth group, "The Doubtful" (12%), do not think climate change is man-made. They think it's natural and poses no long-term risk.

Leiserowitz says it's the sixth group, "The Dismissives," that is the most problematic, even though it comprises just 15% of the public.

"They say it's a hoax, scientists are making up data, it's a U.N. conspiracy (or) Al Gore and his friends want to get rich." Leiserowitz goes on to say, "It's a really loud 15%. ... (It's a) pretty well-organized 15%."

And thanks to the media and the political stage, that vocal minority is mighty.

Former presidential candidate Rick Santorum told Glenn Beck on Fox News in 2011, "There is no such thing as global warming." Santorum went on to tell Rush Limbaugh, "It's just an excuse for more government control of your life, and I've never been for any scheme or even accepted the junk science behind the whole narrative."

And just last week, tea party favorite Sen. Ted Cruz told CNN's Dana Bash, "Climate change, as they have defined it, can never be disproved, because whether it gets hotter or whether it gets colder, whatever happens, they'll say, well, it's changing, so it proves our theory."

Meanwhile, the climate change "counter movement" has been helped along by an infusion of cash from, among others, some in the powerful fossil fuel industry.

A recent study by Drexel University found that conservative foundations and others have bankrolled climate denial to the tune of $558 million between 2003 and 2010.

"Money amplifies certain voices above others and, in effect, gives them a megaphone in the public square. Powerful funders are supporting the campaign to deny scientific findings about global warming and raise public doubts about the roots and remedies of this massive global threat," writes environmental scientist Robert J. Brulle, the study's author.

The good news is, those uninformed minority voices are being quieted by nature and by those who have powerful voices.

Extreme weather is forcing people to at least think about how global warming affects them directly. And, perhaps more important, many religious leaders, including evangelicals, are now "green." They concur with the scientific community and take it a step farther. They say we have a moral obligation to save the planet.

Even the enormously popular Pope Francis may soon speak out on global warming. The Vatican press office says Francis is working on draft text on ecology. That text could turn into an encyclical, or a letter to bishops around the world, instructing that the "faithful must respect the environment."

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A Clean Future Gets its Own Billionaire

You know I'm always whining about too much money in politics -- and it's still happening -- but at least now the playing field will be leveled a little more.

In 2012, the Koch Brothers spent hundreds of millions of dollars to spread doubt and fear over carbon pollution, and to get as many fossil fuelers elected as possible. 

Now, billionaire Tom Steyer is going to raise 100 million, half of it his own, to ensure climate change and carbon pollution are a prominent campaign issue. 

“Is it going to take $100 million? I have no idea. I think that would be a really cheap price to answer the generational challenge of the world," he said in the New York Times.

Is it hypocritical to rail against the systemic problem of too much money in politics as long as we're talking about the opposition?  Maybe. 

But this broken political system is not going away anytime soon and the overheating planet needs action now.  If this is the way we have to do it, then so be it.  Can't be foolish or idealistic enough to bring a knife to a gunfight after all.

Thanks for making my day, Tom.