Left Behind: Bush's Holy War on Nature.
September 18, 2005 5:36 PM   Subscribe

Left Behind: Bush's Holy War on Nature. Chip Ward enumerates the bizarro-world logic and Orwellian language of current American environmental policy. Even as Katrina's aftermath is focusing attention on links between global warming and more severe hurricanes, and studies of arctic sea-ice suggest that we may be 'past the point of no return' of climate change, the Department of "Justice" seems intent on blaming the flood of New Orleans on environmental groups. This War on Terra may not end in our lifetimes (despite the number of lives it will end...)
posted by dinsdale (33 comments total)
War on Terra, that's good. Oh, and no shit, I mean holy shit!
posted by snsranch at 6:33 PM on September 18, 2005

When the history of the 21st century is written, Bush's foray into Iraq etc will be almost forgotten, but the consequences of his administration's (and his constituency) attack on the environment will be profoundly obvious to everyone, and bitterly remembered.
posted by wilful at 7:15 PM on September 18, 2005 [1 favorite]

Careful bringing up Orwellian and Bush in the same paragraph, SweetJesus will have your ass.
posted by furtive at 7:17 PM on September 18, 2005

can you imagine what the next generation will think of the insipid man that is currently president - and the legions of morons who voted his administration into power?


global warming is all of our problem - and those with opportunity and power to do something about it - are ignoring it.

never mind the legions of other environmental issues like the rape of the amazon - or the dying oceans.
posted by specialk420 at 7:29 PM on September 18, 2005

The only uplifting thing here is that either someone at the DOJ or one of the US attorney's offices felt compelled to leak that internal e-mail just as Karl is stepping up to the plate. I'm probably being pathetically niave, but I hope we're seeing the beginning of the (long awaited) backlash.....
posted by maryh at 7:55 PM on September 18, 2005

Never seen the Uncyclopedia before. Good.

It's hard to put on a happy face every morning when teaching school and raising children, believe me, when this kind of shit is happening.

Not that I pretend to be unconcerned, but I mute my fear for the planet's future for the childrens' mental well-being.

They are already well aware that things are not going right.
posted by kozad at 8:09 PM on September 18, 2005

I had, well, read, (don't blow my head off for this), that there was "real," (i.e. not global-warming denying pseudoscience) science that backed up the notion that since the 1970s we had been in a period of abnormally low hurricane activity, and that we are beginning to come out of that period. Not that it is unreasonable to suggest that global warming contributes, but even the article you linked as the, well, link between the two states most of its stuff as 1970s-nowish as the years of "lower" hurricane activity.

It just seems too easy to grab hold of last year's florida hurricane season and the Katrina disaster and point the finger straight and direct at global warming. I know it is probably good politics, in the sense that it will make people more interested in the ramifications of global warming when something like this happens and we can make a simple cause and effect argument but it might just not be true.

I guess the real interesting question then is whether it is better to point the finger right at global warming, in the hopes that that will change some minds, (although I doubt it), or to keep saying what I've heard most people say about anything related to global warming, essentially that ____ could have happened anyway, but global warming could definitely made ____ worse.

Finally, I don't understand why people use these scare-tactic doomsayer phrases like "point of no return." Is there even any point in trying to convince people if we really believe we are past a point of no return? I mean honestly this has been my least favorite thing about global warming arguments, people on one side simply refuse to believe that it could happen, people on the other seem elated to think that it will inevitably bring down civilization, and almost totally uninterested in discussing any way to stop it other than to instantly and magically undo the entire industrial age.

I realize that may be too much to ask of people, but was there ever any country, leader, governing body, anywhere, who implemented policies that if implemented worldwide would actually make real significant change in global warming? I never hear about this and that's what bothers me so much. I don't have much of any faith left in my own government, but for some reason I think that if there was something that could be done at all, somebody somewhere would have tried to do it. I'm aware that many countries implement environmental policies that when compared to the US's seem like radical improvements, but I've never seen any global warming advocate suggest that following the lead of ___ country would, well, really significantly help. I hear plenty of people who are angry about the rejection of the Kyoto protocols, but very few studies, papers, etc, suggesting that if Kyoto had gone differently things would be an iota different than they are now. I know this sounds like a search for a magic bullet, but I'd be satisfied with even a normal bullet. Maybe even a slingshot, or some sorta pointy rocks.

Faced with these options I can actually sympathize with the "fingers-in-ears lalala" argument, and that is a pretty sad state of affairs.
posted by SomeOneElse at 9:23 PM on September 18, 2005

SomeOneElse :

The problem is one of commicating complex ideas, but "the point of no return" concept can be conveyed pretty simply :

1) You trip.

2) Head hits rock

3) Death : point of no return

In the case of Global climate it's been shown that it can shift into very different patterns and stay in those for a long time.

There are "tipping points". These are not "scare tactics" but - rather - accepted scientific truths about the Earth's climate.

I'm sorry to say.

But as far as hurricane activity goes, it's brutally simple :

a) Co2 traps heat in the atmosphere.
b) that heat warms the oceans.
c) the warmer the oceans, the more energy for hurricanes.


Your argument seems to me to amount to this:

"How can anyone know anything when there are competing viewpoints ?

Thus, why bother ?

Lalala !"

But, if empirical knowledge is impossible your car, your toaster oven, even your computer all run on magic.

Do you really believe that ? Or, do you think science has something valid to say about the natural world we live in ?
posted by troutfishing at 9:48 PM on September 18, 2005

As far as action on Global Warming....

Well, the US is the world's wealthiest and most pwoerful nation. Effective action is very difficult ( if not impossible ) without America's participation in whatever sloutions might be proposed.

And, there are solutions.

This is a political and social problem.
posted by troutfishing at 9:53 PM on September 18, 2005

posted by MoralAnimal at 10:16 PM on September 18, 2005

The "tipping point" aka "point of no return" mentioned in the article has to do with an altogether unprecedented (in the last x thousand years) situation of there being significant amounts of ice-free water for significant periods (ie. summer months) in the arctic ocean. Ice is white, it reflects solar energy; open water is dark, it absorbs solar energy - this represents a new source of "warming" for the arctic, completely unrelated to CO2 - as the sea ice retreats, a positive feedback loop kicks in whereby more melting is inevitable. If you prefer to think of this as "doomsayer scare tactics" I'm afraid I have no response. I guess people used to say that about washing your hands to get rid of so-called "germs". But what the scientists are telling us is that it is becoming increasingly likely that it is in fact too late to save the climactic equilibria (dynamic though they may be) that we now have, the basic global climactic patterns with which we have been familiar since the dawn of civilization (a measly 5 or 10 thousand years). The *best case scenario* is that we might be able to stabilize the climate at a point perhaps 2 degrees warmer than the present global average - something like 4 times the warming that we have experienced so far. Of course this would require actually admitting that it's happening, which may take several more Katrina-scale weather disasters. (Which may not be so long in coming.)
posted by dinsdale at 10:27 PM on September 18, 2005

Problem with the point of no return (and to add to trout's comment). Unlike with most things we will not know when exactly we will have passed said point in regards to global warming.

CO2 takes decades to have it's full effect and centuries to go away.

This means if we do get to a point where things become unacceptable from a global warming perspective, like too much weather damage from stronger hurricanes, or too high a sea level or the lack of drinking water in certain places or too much rain in others, we will have passed this point a few decades prior to the problem and will have decades of worsening before our actions today have any effect.
posted by aaronscool at 10:40 PM on September 18, 2005

Elizabeth Kolbert, who wrote a really excellent 3 part series on global warming for The New Yorker, has a short piece in last week's magazine about climate change and Katrina. Impressively thoughtful, the gist is we won't necessarily be seeing more hurricanes as a result of global warming (as some have suggested) but rather more powerful ones.

It also points out how absolutely insane the administration's arguments against the Kyoto protocol are, even on purely economic grounds.

American exceptionalism keeps deafly fiddling, sadly unaware that the world is burning...
posted by jimray at 10:47 PM on September 18, 2005

Oh, and there's this interview with Kolbert which neatly (and briefly!) sums up the the big issues with climate change.
posted by jimray at 10:55 PM on September 18, 2005

Whether you're for global warming or against it (personally, I'm up for some more tanning time), I think we can all agree that the phrase "War on Terra" should be taken out back and shot.
posted by medialyte at 11:02 PM on September 18, 2005

*pointing to wilful's comment way uptop yonder* I agree.

The only new news is science news, and the biggest science news of the century is environmental change.
posted by stbalbach at 11:02 PM on September 18, 2005

I suspect what people are going to remember from this era is how we economically fucked the future. The environment will be a secondary consideration. When the deficit bill for the Western world comes due there is going to be hardship that goes well beyond breathing dirty air.

Feeding yourself will be the focus.
posted by srboisvert at 11:20 PM on September 18, 2005

Impossible to know doesn't concern me a tenth as much as impossible to change. Discussions about what is in fact the case are interesting, but it seems to me that people are presenting data and information, while nobody is presenting plans or innovation. And at the same time we decry the lack of action.

While I think that absolute final complete certainty is probably unlikely, it is certainly possible to know something to the point where you can form a plan of action. Where you can then say, "What should we do?" If there is no answer to that question, I don't know that we can really criticize people for lack of interest in what information we have or what we know.

And your 3 step problem there is simple to the point of being simplistic.
posted by SomeOneElse at 11:35 PM on September 18, 2005

I suspect what people are going to remember from this era is how we economically fucked the future. The environment will be a secondary consideration.

I think that the story of a good chunk of how the economy got fucked will be in the environmental vandalism. If we're all heading to some neo-agrarian existence, the existence of fertile soils, clean water and natural cycles is going to be even more important.
posted by wilful at 11:45 PM on September 18, 2005

I was thinking about doing a post like this but didn't have the links to really flesh it out, and now dinsdale has done a better job of it than I would have anyways. Kudos on a thoughtful, well-done, and important post.

Also, for anybody interesting in some more in-depth reading about the global warming PONR and the impact of global warming upon ice sheet melting, read here. It's seriously scary stuff.
posted by baphomet at 7:15 AM on September 19, 2005

Yeah, movies!
posted by cleverusername at 8:22 AM on September 19, 2005

nobody is presenting plans or innovation

SomeOneElse, there are many plans, and much innovation.

Claiming that there is no plan is like a smoker claiming that it is impossible to give up smoking. You have reasons for that view, presumably.

What Can We Do to Slow Global Warming?

1. Stop driving unless absolutely necessary.
2. If you absolutely must buy a car, buy a small hybrid.
3. Invest in wind power, solar power, and/or tidal power.
4. Conserve electricity. Insulate your home.
5. Become vegetarian - or, even better, vegan.
6. Don't have more than one child.
7. Plant trees.
8. If you're a farmer, leave some land fallow. It magically becomes meadow and hedgerow and forest.

There are many more such ideas, each valid at the global level, at a national level, and at a personal level, and I'm sure a little research might enable you to find them. Of course, if you don't want to, and you'd prefer to carry on with your current lifestyle, you'll have the full support of the oil industry.

But you won't have any excuse.
posted by cleardawn at 8:58 AM on September 19, 2005

great quote in the Kolbert interview linked above:

"If ten people told you your house was on fire, you would call the fire department. You wouldn’t really care whether some of them thought that the place would be incinerated in an hour and some of them thought it would take a whole day."

SomeOneElse's point about "what should we do?" is a valid one - the contours of the "real" problem are not entirely obvious. One of the big issues is that there are powerful economic and political interests who have a vested interest in keeping us all in denial, analogous to the tobacco industry in cleardawn's example. But it's even bigger and wider than this - our whole "media ecosystem" is complicit in not only obfuscating the problem but also the possible solutions. So let me suggest some further measures you might consider:

9. Stop supporting media corporations who lie to you - don't buy newspapers or watch TV "news" shows that argue that there isn't a broad consensus on climate change, or that the Kyoto protocol isn't an essential "first baby step" towards bringing this juggernaut under control.

10. Don't buy products advertised in these media - and let them all know why.

and while you're at it:

10. Don't vote for politicians who are climate-change "skeptics" or even fence-sitters.
posted by dinsdale at 10:56 AM on September 19, 2005

But you're still not answering SomeOneElse's question because you are completely ignoring implementation and practicality. Some of the things you suggest are relatively easy to do, like conserving electricity, limiting your driving, or buying a smaller car. Some of them would require a radical restructuring of our entire society. People aren't just going to all stop eating meat or have only one child. To be realistic you need to have a way to convince people to do this, and just saying "If you don't, you're all doomed!" isn't enough. You might say that they should just realize it's best for them and if they don't they're stupid, but that doesn't solve anything. Where are the realistic solutions?
posted by Sangermaine at 12:25 PM on September 19, 2005

You could poison the meat.
posted by baphomet at 12:54 PM on September 19, 2005

Be realistic, demand the impossible.

seriously, there is no magic bullet that is gonna kill this beast - the "american way of life" had better start negotiating while there is still something left to negotiate...
posted by dinsdale at 1:14 PM on September 19, 2005

Some of them would require a radical restructuring of our entire society. People aren't just going to all stop eating meat or have only one child.

Yeah, boy. That's just crazy. CRAZY.
posted by dreamsign at 2:51 PM on September 19, 2005

"Some of them would require a radical restructuring of our entire society. People aren't just going to all stop eating meat or have only one child."

No one could live that way. Not even the Chinese.

...ok, well the Chinese, but not the Eskimos.

Ok, the Eskimos, but not, uh...Texans!
posted by Smedleyman at 3:55 PM on September 19, 2005

But you won't have any excuse.

But that's the whole blamed problem. If we really know that this is going to happen and needs to be stopped, who cares who has an excuse? There's a reason to change our lifestyles if we can solve the problem. There isn't any reason for me to do it so that I have an excuse. I mean is that the whole goal of personal environmentalism? So that after we're all dead I get to be in the group that says "I told you so!"? Unless we're talking religious/afterlife retribution I don't think it is going to matter much whether I have an excuse or not if we're both at the bottom of the sea.

Personally, I'm unmarried right now, and since I've just started working close to where I live I won't have to drive to work anymore. I don't really know if I agree so much that large families are as big an impact as other things one could do / not do. I certainly don't have a large family, but I just...don't know if that is such an environmental issue as a social one that I don't think we have to get into in order to fix (big) environmental problems. I'd like to see us divorce this really necessary change in our society from other changes that seem more tangentially related. I might be wrong on this though. But if we're realistic I think we all realize that existing in our society right now, the way it is, we have a debt to the environment in some way or another. There may be some very fringe cases of people who really live such a lifestyle as to leave no ecological footprint, or whatever the term is, but with the fundamental structure of society right now that kind of lifestyle is beyond even the choice of the majority of people.

(I'd also like to at least say thanks to the people who posted the links about solutions (not all of which I've had time to read yet but I'll get to it this evening sometime). Sometimes when I post it becomes too much a response to whoever was most vocally opposed to my point and less to other people who try to contribute. Sorry.)
posted by SomeOneElse at 4:23 PM on September 19, 2005

dreamsign, Smedleyman,
There's no need to be hostile. I think you're missing my point. It's not that these changes are impossible or crazy, it's a question of implementation. It's not enough for small groups of people to choose to not eat meat or limit family size or whatever your idea is, a significant portion of all people have to do it, and changing that many people's minds isn't easy, even if you think what you're asking is simple. Look at what China had to do to get one-child families. Do we really want government-mandated child control policies? Should the government just pass laws forcing us to not eat meat or use gas? That could be one way to achieve your goal, but the society that would result doesn't seem very desirable. All I'm asking is, what's the plan for getting everyone on board for these ideas?
posted by Sangermaine at 5:02 PM on September 19, 2005

All I'm asking is, what's the plan for getting everyone on board for these ideas?

What you, and we, should be asking is, "where were these ideas 50 years ago?" If we had taken them seriously then, it wouldn't be past critical mass like it is now. I know it's hindsight bias, but the point is that right now there's very little we can do that will stop the heat cycle that dinsdale discusses. Even if we all started to take up cleardawn's suggestions, there's a good probability that the net effect will be akin to that of throwing a deck chair off the Titanic.

So enjoy driving your SUV. Help yourself to another steak. Consume and spend yourself into the grave, and don't worry about the consequences.

But please, all I ask is that you don't bring any more kids into the world. They're going to be paying the price of our excesses and it will be very steep indeed. Spare them.
posted by baphomet at 6:56 PM on September 19, 2005

People people, you want solutions, a little bit of research does not seem to be too much to ask - ever hear of a little thing called "international cooperation"? Kyoto came out of a long process of studies and negotiation - we gotta go with the treaty process we have, not the treaty process we might wish to have! This internationally binding treaty has been signed by 156 states and regional economic integration organizations with one notable absence, which unfortunately produces 25% of the world's greenhouse emissions.

Nobody is saying that it's perfect, or that it's enough, but it is a start, one which has a chance of working because it avoids a reliance on individual altruistic behaviour (someOneElse's objection to some of the suggestions above) by positing a sort of collective altruism (a necessary pre-requisite for collective survival). Cheat sheet: it creates a market for "carbon credits" - to keep warming under x degrees, we can only pump x megawhatevers of CO2 into the atmosphere - divide by x billion people = x whatevers of CO2 for every man, woman, and child on the planet (adjusted to allow for "carbon sinks".) To use more than your quota, you gotta buy some from someone who is using less than theirs. Some people even think this should become an actual global currency.

And I'll break ranks with my fellow "non-skeptics" in this thread and say that having fewer kids (or avoiding procreation entirely) is not going to help. It's not a question of numbers so much as *how we live* - the fact that 250 million Americans produce more co2 than 1 billion Indians demonstrates this well enough. If the folks who can see that we really need to be creating community-based, cooperative, self-sufficient societies decline to have children, then the next generation will consist entirely of hummer-driving steak-eating bible-thumpers OMFG!!! So, all you smart, aware, intelligent and caring folks out there - have kids! Lots of them! (no more than you can raise in a loving and respectful manner of course...)
posted by dinsdale at 8:58 PM on September 19, 2005

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