Effect Measure comments on problems at CDC, with senior staff leaving out of frustration that they can’t get anything done. Particularly hard hit, it is reported, are the AIDS and influenza groups. With a potential avian flu pandemic looming, this is the last thing the nation can afford.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution [Discord leaves CDC vulnerable, employees say] is quoted as saying that the lapdog Senate is “investigating”:
The U.S. Senate Finance Committee is investigating whether turmoil within the Atlanta-based CDC caused by a massive reorganization is “resulting in the loss of distinguished medical experts whose participation will be greatly needed in the event of future catastrophic health emergencies,” committee spokeswoman Jill Kozeny said Tuesday night.
As is typical, the massive reorganization is apparently being done with little input from those being reorganized. The latter are naturally disgruntled. Of course, CDC management says everything is fine. Why don’t we feel fine?
Meanwhile, the CDC is simultaneously being investigated for ignoring scientific advice in the creation of performance standards for state bioterrorism preparedness:
Grassley’s committee is investigating whether efforts to create meaningful performance standards have been thrwarted [sic] by CDC management. Employees have told the committee that measurement tools written by scientific experts are “consistently rejected or rewritten” by managers lacking scientific or technical expertise, according to a letter sent on March 2 by Grassley to Michael Leavitt, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the CDC.
Unfortunately the AJC article doesn’t give examples of how the performance standards are being modified by management
May 26th, 2006
The following is circulating on the Internet. Source unkown [to me anyway]:
Calling the White House: A Not so funny JOKE
“Thank you for calling the White House switchboard. Our new voice activated system will help direct you to the proper office.”
“If you are calling to complain about the mishandling of the war in Iraq, press one.”
“If you are calling to complain about the abuse of prisoners and the White House’s endorsement of torture, press two, and then say the name of the torture site that you wish to complain about (and please note for the sake of the voice mail system that it is pronounced Abu GRABE, not Abu grahb).”
“If you are calling to complain about illegal spying on American citizens and the abuse of FISA laws, press 3, but do know that these calls will be recorded.”
“If you are calling to complain about the disastrous mismanagement of the hurricane Katrina recovery, please press 4, and your c all will be directed to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. If you wait for more than 48 hours without anyone picking up the phone, hang-up and send a letter. We have been assured that all letters will receive a prompt reply within one year.”
“If you are calling regarding the administration’s unwillingness to enforce immigration law, press cinco, por favor, or direct any thanks to your local chamber of commerce office, which can explain why we like cheap labor that can’t vote and where you may be able to find willing illegal day laborers in your local area.”
“If you are Jack Abramoff or any Saudi prince, please call the private line ? it is always open.”
“If you are calling about the Medicare prescription debacle, please press 6. If you are having a medical emergency, you should proceed directly to your local emergency room, although please understand that your health coverage may not pay for the visit and you can no longer get out from under the bill by declaring bankruptcy.”
“If you are calling about the ballooning federal deficit or the recent hike in the debt ceiling to $3 trillion, please press 7, unless you are Bill Clinton calling to brag about the surpluses under your administration, in which case we don’t want to hear about it.”
“If you are calling to complain about the White House’s efforts to block stem cell research, please press 8, and then say the disease that you are most concerned about that may ultimately be cured through scientific research. If you are a scientist calling with new research findings or important clinical data, please hang up, we don’t want to hear from you.”
“If you are calling to express concern about global warming and our efforts to roll back environmental laws, please press 9, unless you are a government scientist, in which case you are forbidden to talk without first clearing it with the oil lobbyist we hired to screen and edit your research. He can be reached at Exxon 4-2611.”
“If you are calling to complain about the President’s efforts to “privatize” social security, please press 1 and then the pound key, and your call will be redirected to representatives at Merrill Lynch, who will explain the virtues of putting all your savings in the stock market.”
“If you are calling about the need for more prayer in public schools or any other faith-based initiatives, please press 10 and Reverend Falwell will be with you shortly.”
“If you are calling to lobby for more Supreme Court Justices who will block a woman’s right to choose, please stay on the line and the President will be with you immediately.”
“If you are calling about all the tax breaks for the wealthy, press *1 if you have ideas for more loopholes and are making more than a million dollars per year; if you are earning less than a million per year but have ideas for how you may help the wealthy, press *2; if you are earning less than a million per year and just want to complain that all the burden is now falling on you, please call back in a couple of years.”
“Press zero at any time if you would like to hear these options again. Thank you for calling the White House. It is our pleasure to serve you.
May 26th, 2006
Dori Smith, of Talk Nation Radio, is sending around a letter she wrote asking people to support early release for imprisoned conscientious objector Kevin Benderman. I’ve taken the liberty of reproducing it here:
May 25, 2006
Dear friends in concern for peace and justice,
As you may know Kevin Benderman remains in Military prison at Fort Lewis serving a 15 month sentence for refusing to return to Iraq. He sought conscientious objector status from the US Military because after his initial deployment to Iraq in March of 2003, Benderman came to recognize the deceptions used to bring U.S. forces into Iraq and he developed a deep commitment to peace that would not permit him to return to the war zone.
He told listeners of WHUS Radio at the University of Connecticut about his concerns about what was happening to the civilians, and of his horror at having been ordered to shoot children on one occasion. He and others in his company refused.
Kevin Benderman was court martialed in 2005 and Amnesty International continues to call him a prisoner of conscience.
While other soldiers in similiar situations have received parole Kevin is serving his time under adversarial conditions that now include isolation from his family. He is under a disciplinary order and cannot contact anyone by phone. That includes his wife Monica and their children. The Military commanders argue that he was not quick enough to stand up when an official entered the room but those of us who know more about Kevin’s story understand the picture better–The commanders are not happy about the fact that he remains so strong and outspoken and they want to muzzle him. His prison stay has not been an easy one.
You can read the request Kevin made for clemency and to be released to his loving wife and family on their web page. He points out that they need him and that they desperately need his income from the work he will be doing upon his release. –Kevin plans to work for Evans Media USA, raising funds to help veterans and active duty military personnel who are experiencing PTSD and related medical and emotional problems and need legal or personal counseling.
Kevin Benderman has served 11 months of his term thus far as Monica continues to try to gain his release. She recently told her story on C-Span. As I watched her I remembered her gentle strength during radio interviews as she called her husband a hero for standing up for peace. Monica has been a source of inspiration for many of us who have been reading her statements and comments over long months of war. She continues to keep us informed at the NeverGiveUp blog:
http://www.newcafe.org/ to register, NeverGiveUp; The War, for discussions with first Kevin and Monica and now Monica on her own.
After filling us in all the infuriating story of what is happening to Kevin in Military
prison Monica said: “Please just keep Kevin’s name out there… and let people know – he is doing everything he can to help people learn what they need to know – so that we can begin to make the changes we need to make. Thanks!!!!”
You can write to Monica Benderman
Despite her work on behalf of Veterans it has been difficult for Monica to pay her bills every month on one salary and she is struggling. Please do what you can to support to her by writing a letter on Kevin’s behalf which might be entered into the Congressional Record by Representative, Cynthia McKinney. You can also write Kevin and Monica privately or you might also contact the representatives below to follow up on Monica’s efforts to get them to work for Kevin’s early release.
If you can please consider making a donation to help cover Kevin’s legal defense costs and provide financial assistance to his family while he is in confinement.
Contact these representatives to follow up on Monica’s recent appeals or use their web site linked above to contact other members of the House and Senate. You might also think about writing letters to the editor. Please feel free to write to me for further information.
Thank you very much for taking the time to read this.
Dori Smith, Talk Nation Radio, WHUS Storrs http://www.whus.org
Bridges Sinyard – Sen. Saxby Chambliss — Bridges_Sinyard@Chambliss.Senate.gov
Sara Hudson – Sen. Saxby Chambliss(GA) — Sara_Hudson@Chambliss.Senate.gov
416 Russell Building Washington, DC 20510
Sean Moore – Sen. Barbara Boxer(CA) — firstname.lastname@example.org
112 Hart Senate Building
Washington, DC 20510
Justin Walling — Rep. Lincoln Davis(TN)–
410 Cannon HOB
Washington, DC 20515
Alexandra Nunez — John Kerry(MA) — email@example.com
304 Russell Senate Bldg.
Washington, DC 20510
May 25th, 2006
The World health Organization is reporting that human-to-human transmission is likely in the Indonesian cluster of eight infected family members. [See Effect Measure: WHO update on Indonesia cluster: not comforting]
All confirmed cases in the cluster can be directly linked to close and prolonged exposure to a patient during a phase of severe illness. Although human-to-human transmission cannot be ruled out, the search for a possible alternative source of exposure is continuing.
While no cause for alarm now, this is disturbing news. It suggests the virus is mutating to be more compatible with humans.
May 23rd, 2006
A new Zogby Poll shed light on the extent of public disillusionment with most social institutions:
Three out of four (75%) said they trust government less than they did five years ago, just 5% said they think corporations do right by the consumers they are in business to serve, and only 25% feel the reporting is fair and accurate in the newspapers they read or the nightly broadcast network news they watch on television….
Overall, just 3% said they think Congress in general is trustworthy, compared to 24% who said President Bush is trustworthy and 29% who said they can put their faith in the national court system, the survey shows. Corporate leaders in America are nearly as widely distrusted as Congress – just 7% said they are trustworthy.
In another Zogby Poll [at least I think its a separate one], almost half expresses some skepticism about the investigation of 9-11:
Just 47% agreed that “the 9/11 attacks were thoroughly investigated and that any speculation about US government involvement is nonsense.” Almost as many, 45%, indicated they were more likely to agree “that so many unanswered questions about 9/11 remain that Congress or an International Tribunal should re-investigate the attacks, including whether any US government officials consciously allowed or helped facilitate their success….”
When asked specificially if they thought there had been a government coverup of evidence that contradicts the official story, the results were again not far from an even split, with 48% rejecting the idea of a deliberate coverup and 42% supporting it. Belief in a coverup was the majority position among Democrats, 18-29 year olds, and a few other groups.
The usual institutions that bind people to the status quo are collapsing from their internal rot. Obviously “alternatives” like the Democratic Party are nothing of the sort.
The only real alternative is democracy, people self-organizing to create a world worth living in, a world where corruption is the exception not the norm. To begin, people need hope and a glimpse of a better world. It remains to be seen if a grass-roots citizens will develop or if we will just slide further into the cesspool of modern America. Those who fantasize of being saved by electing an alternative bunch of crooks are simply whistling in the graveyard.
May 23rd, 2006
Senator McCain decided to stage campaign photo-ops at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, Columbia, and at the New School. In order to demonstrate his utter disdain for the graduating students, he delivered the same speech at each site, so he could brag about his “consistency.” He defends free speech and the importance of debate on important issues:
These are important questions; worth arguing about. We should contend over them with one another. It is more than appropriate, it is necessary that even in times of crisis, especially in times of crisis, we fight among ourselves for the things we believe in. It is not just our right, but our civic and moral obligation.
However, he makes clear that freedom of speech is just for those who agree with him, not for the graduating young adults he addressed. The speech went out of its way to insult the students, call them self-righteous idiots, and tell them to shut up:
When I was a young man, I was quite infatuated with self-expression, and rightly so because, if memory conveniently serves, I was so much more eloquent, well-informed, and wiser than anyone else I knew. It seemed I understood the world and the purpose of life so much more profoundly than most people. I believed that to be especially true with many of my elders, people whose only accomplishment, as far as I could tell, was that they had been born before me, and, consequently, had suffered some number of years deprived of my insights. I had opinions on everything, and I was always right. I loved to argue, and I could become understandably belligerent with people who lacked the grace and intelligence to agree with me. With my superior qualities so obvious, it was an intolerable hardship to have to suffer fools gladly. So I rarely did. All their resistance to my brilliantly conceived and cogently argued views proved was that they possessed an inferior intellect and a weaker character than God had blessed me with, and I felt it was my clear duty to so inform them. It’s a pity that there wasn’t a blogosphere then. I would have felt very much at home in the medium.
Unfortunately for thin-skinned Senator McCain, at the New School he met his match in Jean Sara Rohe, the Student Commencement speaker, who felt an obligati9on not to ignore the fact that her peers were being personally dissed by this windbag. Knowing that she was to speak before the Senator, she launched a preemptive strike against him, by reading his speech, already posted on the web and critiquing its hostile inanity:
I feel that it is absolutely necessary to acknowledge the fact that this ceremony has become something other than the celebratory gathering that it was intended to be due to all the media attention surrounding John Mc Cain’s presence here today, and the student and faculty outrage generated by his invitation to speak here. The senator does not reflect the ideals upon which this university was founded. Not only this, but his invitation was a top-down decision that did not take into account the desires and interests of the student body on an occasion that is supposed to honor us above all, and to commemorate our achievements.
What is interesting and bizarre about this whole situation is that Senator Mc Cain has stated that he will be giving the same speech at all three universities where he has been invited to speak recently, of which ours is the last; those being Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, Columbia University, and finally here at the New School. For this reason I have unusual foresight concerning the themes of his address today. Based on the speech he gave at the other institutions, Senator Mc Cain will tell us today that dissent and disagreement are our “civic and moral obligation” in times of crisis. I consider this a time of crisis and I feel obligated to speak. Senator Mc Cain will also tell us about his cocky self-assuredness in his youth, which prevented him from hearing the ideas of others. In so doing, he will imply that those of us who are young are too naïve to have valid opinions and open ears. I am young, and although I don’t profess to possess the wisdom that time affords us, I do know that preemptive war is dangerous and wrong, that George Bush’s agenda in Iraq is not worth the many lives lost. And I know that despite all the havoc that my country has wrought overseas in my name, Osama bin Laden still has not been found, nor have those weapons of mass destruction.
Finally, Senator Mc Cain will tell us that we, those of us who are Americans, “have nothing to fear from each other.” I agree strongly with this, but I take it one step further. We have nothing to fear from anyone on this living planet. Fear is the greatest impediment to the achievement of peace. We have nothing to fear from people who are different from us, from people who live in other countries, even from the people who run our government–and this we should have learned from our educations here. We can speak truth to power, we can allow our humanity always to come before our nationality, we can refuse to let fear invade our lives and to goad us on to destroy the lives of others. These words I speak do not reflect the arrogance of a young strong-headed woman, but belong to a line of great progressive thought, a history in which the founders of this institution play an important part. I speak today, even through my nervousness, out of a need to honor those voices that came before me, and I hope that we graduates can all strive to do the same.
In response, the straight-shooting Senator who couldn’t take even a hint of polite criticism from his inferiors told the New York Times:
I feel sorry for people living in a dull world where they can’t listen to the views of others.
I assume he really meant that he felt sorry for himself having to listen to the views of others.
Jean Rohe followed up her marvelous speech by explaining why she refused to stay silent and in her place, as expected by McCain, in an article in the Huffington Post: Why I Spoke Up :
When I got home Thursday night after a rehearsal, I decided I needed to at least insert a line in my speech about the armbands. And I would’ve left it there, had the other student speaker, Christina Antonakis-Wallace, not reminded me in a telephone conversation that night that I should read John McCain’s speech from his other two speaking engagements which was conveniently posted on his website. Of course! I had to do my research. I checked the schedule for the ceremony and realized that I would be speaking just before the senator got his award. And that’s when the idea for a preemptive strike began to brew in my little stressed-out brain. What if I tore McCain’s speech apart before he even opened his mouth? After reading his speech a couple of times I picked out a few particularly loathsome sections–and believe it or not, none of these actually came from the extensive section where he defends his position on the war in Iraq–and I began planning an attack against him using his own words.
Rohe also stakes her right to a few other opinions:
It’s been noted in several columns that anti-McCain sentiment coming from the left may actually help him to garner support from the conservatives by giving him the opportunity to paint us as extremist liberals, so we should all keep our mouths shut. I say we need some “extremist liberals” if we’re ever going to get our democracy back. Others have said that he’s a moderate at heart and that we should let him continue pandering to the religious right so he can get the vote. Once he gets into office he’ll show his true colors and be the centrist he always was. I don’t buy that. People who truly care about human beings don’t vote for an unjust war, among other things, simply as a political maneuver. Enough said.
More importantly, I feel obligated to respond to one thing that McCain told the New York Times. “I feel sorry for people living in a dull world where they can’t listen to the views of others,” he said. This is just preposterous. Yes, McCain was undoubtedly shouted-out and heckled by people who were not politely absorbing his words so as to consider them fully from every angle. But what did he expect? We could’ve all printed out his speech and chanted it with him in chorus. Did he think that no one knew exactly what he was about to say? And it was precisely because we listen to the views of others, and because, as I said in my speech, we don’t fear them, that we as a school were able to mount such a thorough and intelligent opposition to his presence. Ignorant, closed-minded people would not have been able to do what we did. We chose to be in New York for our years of higher education for the very reason that we would be challenged to listen to opposing viewpoints each and every day and to deal with that challenge in a nonviolent manner. We’ve gotten very good at listening to the views of others and learning how to also make our views heard, even when we don’t have the power of national political office and the media on our side.
In response, coward McCain sent one of goons, aka “aide” Mark Salter, to attack Rohe in comments in the Huffington Post:
What, pray tell, have you risked? The only person you have succeeded in making look like an idiot is yourself.
You took exception to the paragraph in which he lightly deprecated the vanity of youth. Well, Ms. Rohe, and your fellow graduates’s comical self-importance deserves a rebuke far stronger than the gentle suggestions he offered you. So, let me leave you with this. Should you grow up and ever get down to the hard business of making a living and finding a purpose for your lives beyond self-indulgence some of you might then know a happiness far more sublime than the fleeting pleasure of living in an echo chamber. And if you are that fortunate, you might look back on the day of your graduation and your discourtesy to a good and honest man with a little shame and the certain knowledge that it very unlikely any of you will ever posses the one small fraction of the character of John McCain.
Fortunately, McCain and his goons did not succeed in silencing this heroine of democracy. Her Response to McCain’s Aide Mark Salter shows what a class act she is, as does her appearance on MSNBC’s Countdown.
The following is addressed directly to Mr. Salter:
Without taking issue with your statement point by point, I’d just like to draw attention for a moment to a few things you said. Firstly, it was clear to me why Senator McCain chose to give the same speech at every school. It was meant to show consistency in his message, and, contrary to what you suggested, there is no place in my speech or my other writing where I take issue with that. However, interestingly, it is precisely because the senator’s speech had nothing to do with our graduation or anyone else’s that it worked so marvelously in all settings. It was equally out of place no matter where it was delivered.
So, here’s to Jean Sara Rohe, heroine of democracy.
May 23rd, 2006
Here is my latest article, now aailable on OpEdNews, ZNet, and InformationClearinghouse:
Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson hit the nail on the head recently with his column Nation of Fear. A bare majority may oppose the NSA database on all of us, but it’s pretty terrifying that the same polls indicate that 40% of Americans are willing to have the government record their every call in its enormous database. As Robinson points out, such attitudes are astounding in a country which has long rejected a national identity card and which would launch a revolution sooner than accept modest controls on gun ownership.
he explanation, Robinson claims, is the climate of fear that pervades the country, a climate that President Bush and his administration have manipulated, but which they did not create:
“If a psychiatrist were to put the nation on the couch, the shrink’s notes would read something like this: ‘Patient feels vulnerable to attack; cannot remember having experienced similar feeling before. Patient accustomed to being in control; now feels buffeted by outside forces beyond grasp. Patient believes livelihood and prosperity being usurped by others (repeatedly mentions China). Patient seeks scapegoats for personal failings (immigrants, Muslims, civil libertarians). Patient is by far most powerful nation in world, yet feels powerless. Patient is full of unfocused anger.’”
Robinson is correct about the fear, of course, but he does not do much to explain its origins. 9-11 was just the precipitating incident. But fear stems from insecurity and from guilt. Insecurity pervades the country as job security disappears along with the unions that fought for it and families experience large swings in income as members lurch from jobs to unemployment to new jobs, often at lower wages. Workers without professional training have little but WalMart wages and conditions to look forward to. Insecurity increases as the wages of the majority have almost stagnated for several decades, and as the country goes through a wave of downward mobility for many.
As job and wage security have eroded, the social safety net has been weakened. Over the last 25 years, our cities have become full of the homeless, whom most of us try hard not to notice. Americans are aware that decent medical care depends on remaining among the fortunately employed and insured, a status that can change as easily as one can receive a layoff notice. So-called welfare reform, passed under President Clinton, was a clear statement that Americans are ultimately on their own. A little help may come the way of the unfortunate, but, should circumstances not improve, the homeless shelter and soup kitchen are the only help of last resort. That this could become the fate of many of us was made clear after Hurricane Katrina, where the government proved profoundly uninterested and unable to help hundreds of thousands of its citizens.
In the America of today, government and society increasingly disdain responsibility to help, though, if individuals feel magnanimous, they can give to the private charity of their choice. As Barbara Ehrenreich pointed out several years ago, the dismantling of what this country had of a welfare state has been followed by the development of massive social service delivery by the religious right for those with allegiance to their positions and organizations. Aid is not a right, but a grace to be bestowed upon those found worthy. Insecurity is thus an increasing part of daily life.
Then we have 9-11 and the “war on terror.” Americans, singularly uninterested in other peoples, became aware that some of those others perceived Americans as the enemy. The country that viewed itself as the strongest and richest country on earth was the target of others whose motives we had no knowledge of and no interest in understanding. In situations like this, those others are ascribed motives. The ascribed motives are derived, not from an understanding of the other people, but from the depths within us. We give them those of our motives we are dimly aware of yet disown.
Thus, the country that spends more of its resources on war than any other is afraid of the terrifying killers in pitifully weak countries, the evil empire. The nation that possesses more nuclear weapons than all others and that rains hi-tech death from the sky upon numerous countries too weak to defend themselves (think Panama, Sudan, Serbia, Iraq for starters) is afraid of the mad terrorists out to bomb with weapons of mass destruction. And the country that flees headlong from the uncertainties of freedom worries that others “envy our freedoms” as our President once claimed, back in those days when he was the wise, all-knowing leader for so many.
Of course, fears often have a glimmer of truth to them. Thus, the country that proportionally consumes more of the world’s resources than any other is concerned that others want to steal from us, to take away the resources we stole fair and square. And every once in a while our defenses weaken and we glimpse the environmental destruction that awaits us if we do not change the path we are on.
Psychoanalysts have learned that, when faced with his or her destructive potential, an individual has available three major coping strategies. With the paranoid strategy, that person can massively deny the destructiveness within while simultaneously projecting it onto others, as many in this country have been doing for the last several years. With the depressive approach, the person can take the blame upon his or her self, engaging in depressive self-attack accompanied by hopelessness and passivity, as has been the case among so many of those unhappy with the direction they see the country taking. Finally, one can refuse to be paralyzed by fear or by despair, face up to reality, acknowledge one’s own destructiveness and act to contain its effects along with the fear and destructiveness of the formerly feared and hated others. Only then can one start the difficult process of transforming that destructive energy into a constructive force that builds ties to others and together with them creates an alternative. In perilous times like these, that last possibility is the only one that can lead to a sustainable world capable of surviving and truly worth living in. It remains to be seen if we American people are willing to cast aside our fears and live in a world of reality, of uncertainty and occasional chaos, but also a world of hope.
May 21st, 2006
Vanity Fair devoted its recent issue to global warming. Thanks to Guerilla News Network, the lead article While Washington Slept [subtitle: The Queen of England is afraid. International C.E.O.'s are nervous. And the scientific establishment is loud and clear.] is now available online. While ending on a fairly positive note regarding the ability of American capitalism to confront this mammoth problem, the article is an excellent summary of the issues, and of the massive organized campaign of global warming denial that has helped condemn us all to having to live with major global warming, if the world starts to act very soon. Of course, if the world doesn’t start to act, many of us, even in the United States, won’t live.
Here are a few excerpts:
Since roughly half the world’s 6.5 billion people live near coastlines, a three-foot sea-level rise would be even more punishing overseas. Amsterdam, Venice, Cairo, Shanghai, Manila, and Calcutta are some of the cities most threatened. In many places the people and governments are too poor to erect adequate barriers—think of low-lying Bangladesh, where an estimated 18 million people are at risk—so experts fear that they will migrate to neighboring lands, raising the prospect of armed conflict. A Pentagon-commissioned study warned in 2003 that climate change could bring mega-droughts, mass starvation, and even nuclear war as countries such as China, India, and Pakistan battle over scarce food and water.
The worst scenarios of global warming might still be avoided, scientists say, if humanity reduces its greenhouse-gas emissions dramatically, and very soon. The I.P.C.C. has estimated that emissions must fall to 60 percent below 1990 levels before 2050, over a period when global population is expected to increase by 37 percent and per-capita energy consumption will surely rise as billions of people in Asia, Africa, and South America strive to ascend from poverty.
Yet even if such a reduction were achieved, a significant rise in sea levels may be unavoidable. “It’s getting harder and harder to say we’ll avoid a three-foot sea-level rise, though it won’t necessarily happen in this century,” says Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton….
The upshot is that it has become too late to prevent climate change; we can only adapt to it. This unhappy fact is not well understood by the general public; advocates downplay it, perhaps for fear of fostering a paralyzing despair. But there is no getting around it: because humanity waited so long to take decisive action, we are now stuck with a certain amount of global warming and the climate changes it will bring—rising seas, fiercer heat, deeper droughts, stronger storms. The World Health Organization estimates that climate change is already helping to kill 150,000 people a year, mainly in Africa and Asia. That number is bound to rise as global warming intensifies in the years ahead.
The goal is to stop global warming before it crosses tipping points and attains unstoppable momentum from “positive feedbacks.” For example, should the Greenland ice sheet melt, white ice—which reflects sunlight back into space—would be replaced by dark water, which absorbs sunlight and drives further warming.
Positive feedbacks can trigger the kind of abrupt, irreversible climate changes that scientists call “nonlinear.” Once again, Hurricane Katrina provides a sobering preview of what that means. “Hurricanes are the mother of all nonlinear events, because small changes in initial conditions can lead to enormous changes in outcomes,” says Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, the director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the former chief environmental adviser to the German government. “A few percent increase in a hurricane’s wind speed can double its destructiveness under certain circumstances.”
Although scientists apply the neutral term “climate change” to all of these phenomena, “climate chaos” better conveys the abrupt, interconnected, wide-ranging consequences that lie in store. “It’s a very appropriate term for the layperson,” says Schellnhuber, a physicist who specializes in chaos theory. “I keep telling politicians that I’m not so concerned about a gradual climate change that may force farmers in Great Britain to plant different crops. I’m worried about triggering positive feedbacks that, in the worst case, could kick off some type of runaway greenhouse dynamics.”
Perhaps most importantly, the article lays out the similarities between the global warming deniers an the health risks of smoking deniers. They use the same tactics, and are even sometimes the same people. Perhaps the arch-villain is Frederick Seitz, a scientist, and former president of the National Academy of Sciences, who made hundreds of thousands conducting “research” for the tobacco companies in order to cast doubt upon the role of tobacco in causing lung cancer. In the 1990’s Seitz branched out and started shilling for the energy companies, denying that anthopogenic [human-caused] global warming was a serious problem. The goals wasn’t to convince, but to sow confusion and doubt: “If even the scientists can’t agree, then obviously we don’t need to worry about it.”
ExxonMobil—long the most recalcitrant corporation on global warming—is still spending millions of dollars a year funding an array of organizations that downplay the problem, including the George C. Marshall Institute, where Seitz is chairman emeritus. John Passacantando, executive director of Greenpeace USA, calls the denial campaign “one of the great crimes of our era.” Passacantando is “quite confident” that class-action lawsuits will eventually be filed against corporations who denied global warming’s dangers. Five years ago, he told executives from one company, “You’re going to wish you were the tobacco companies once this stuff hits and people realize you were the ones who blocked [action].”
The public discussion about climate change in the U.S. is years behind that in Britain and the rest of Europe, and the deniers are a big reason why. “In the United States, the Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers are deeply skeptical of climate-change science and the need to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions,” says Fiona Harvey, the environment correspondent for the Financial Times. “In Britain, the equivalent body, the Confederation of British Industry, is absolutely behind the science and agrees on the need to cut emissions. The only differences are over how to do that….”
And the media do their share to sow confusion and doubt:
Charles Alexander, the former environmental editor at Time, complains that, while coverage has improved recently, media executives continue to regard climate change as just another environmental issue, rather than as the overriding challenge of the 21st century.
“Americans are hearing more about reducing greenhouse emissions from BP ads than from news stories in Time, The New York Times, or any other U.S. media outlet,” Alexander says. “This will go down as the greatest act of mass denial in history.”
In 2002, Alexander went to see Andrew Heyward, then the president of CBS News, after running into him at a Harvard reunion. “I talked to him about climate change and other global environmental threats, and made the case that they were more dangerous than terrorism and CBS should be doing much more coverage of them,” Alexander recalls. “He didn’t dispute any of my factual points, but he did say the reason CBS didn’t do more of that coverage was that ‘people don’t want to hear all that gloom and doom’—in other words, the environment wasn’t a ratings winner. He seemed to think CBS News’s job was to tell people what they wanted to hear, not what they need to know, and I think that attitude is increasingly true for the news business in general.”
The damage they’ve done is immeasurable and will be paid by hundreds of millions of people, or more, as it is now likely too late to avoid major consequences from global warming, even if the world started to act right now. Read the full article, and start pressuring everyone to act now. If we don’t, we might as well kiss our children goodnight.
May 13th, 2006