Brief Political Commentary

Voters who attended the Democratic caucuses in Nevada yesterday were asked to identify the most important issue facing America. 34% said the economy and jobs; 7% said terrorism.


Voters in the Republican primary in South Carolina were asked the same question. 28% said the economy and jobs, but 32% said terrorism.

SGOP_IssuesV2_02202016I haven’t been able to determine whether the Democrats and Republicans were given the same list of issues to choose from, but it’s still remarkable that one-third of Republican voters chose terrorism as the most important issue we face. In fact, it’s remarkable that 7% of the Democrats said the same thing.

Unless these people think there is a strong chance that terrorists (of whatever political persuasion, not just Islamic fundamentalists) will attack America with nuclear or biological weapons, it’s silly to put terrorism at the top of the list. (In fact, given how silly it is, I have to wonder – mostly facetiously – whether some of those Democrats were devious Republicans attending the Democratic caucuses in order to make trouble, something the rules in Nevada allowed).

Here in New Jersey, we don’t get to participate in the nomination process until June, when it won’t matter what we think or how we vote. But if anyone asked me, I’d put global warming first, because of its possibly catastrophic consequences. After that, it would be hard to choose between the economy and jobs; money in politics; and the number of Americans who have lost their minds and vote for Republicans.

Who Knew the Pope Would Turn Out To Be a Christian?

And a Christian who believes in science!

Pope Francis is upsetting a lot of people, including the fools and knaves seeking the Republican nomination (you know, the make-believe Christians who won’t admit nine people were murdered by a racist in Charleston because that would imply racism is still a problem in America).

The Pope issued a message to the world this week. From The Guardian:

Pope Francis’s encyclical on climate change, Laudato Si’, is the most astonishing and perhaps the most ambitious papal document of the past 100 years, since it is addressed not just to Catholics, or Christians, but to everyone on earth….

We need nature, he says, and we need each other….The care of nature and the care of the poor are aspects of the same ethical commandment, and if we neglect either one we cannot find peace….

Starting from that premise, he launches a ferocious attack on what he sees as the false and treacherous appetites of capitalism and on the consumerist view of human nature. For Francis, there is a vital distinction between human needs, which are limited but non-negotiable, and appetites, which are potentially unlimited, and which can always be traded for other satisfactions without ever quite giving us what we most deeply want. The poor, he says, have their needs denied, while the rich have their appetites indulged. The environmental crisis links these two aspects of the problem.

… The document is absolutely unequivocal in backing the overwhelming scientific consensus that anthropogenic global warming is a clear and present danger. It blasts the use of fossil fuels and demands that these be phased out in favour of renewable energy. But it is also explicitly opposed to the idea that we can rely on purely technological solutions to ecological problems….There will never be a technological fix for the problem of unrestrained appetite, the pope claims, because this is a moral problem, which demands a moral solution, a turn towards sobriety and self-restraint and away from the intoxications of consumerism.

The New York Times offers this summary (followed by selected paragraphs from the encyclical with explanatory comments):

Pope Francis has written the first papal encyclical focused solely on the environment, attempting to reframe care of the earth as a moral and spiritual concern, and not just a matter of politics, science and economics. In the document, “Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home,” he argues that the environment is in crisis … He emphasizes that the poor are most affected by damage from what he describes as economic systems that favor the wealthy, and political systems that lack the courage to look beyond short-term rewards….Its 184 pages are an urgent, accessible call to action, making a case that all is interconnected, including the solutions to the grave environmental crisis.

Perhaps we will do nothing about climate change until it’s too late. Last year was the warmest since records have been kept. This year is on track to be even warmer. But the climate isn’t changing fast enough to generate concerted global action. Short of a message from on high (from much higher than the sky), there may be nothing that will act as a sufficient catalyst. For now, however, Pope Francis has done his part.

Here are the first paragraphs of Laudato Si’:

1. “LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.

2. This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.

Nothing in this world is indifferent to us.

The entire text is here.

Garry Wills on Who’s Afraid of the Pope

Garry Wills is one of America’s leading intellectuals. He’s now 80 years old and has had a brilliant career, but he’s still going strong. From the New York Review of Books blog:

Now, as the pope prepares a major encyclical on climate change, to be released this summer, the billionaires are spending a great deal of their money in a direct assault on him. They are calling in their chits, their kept scientists, their rigged conferences, their sycophantic beneficiaries, their bought publicists to discredit words of the pope that have not even been issued: “He would do his flock and the world a disservice by putting his moral authority behind the United Nations’ unscientific agenda on the climate,” they say. They do not know exactly what the pope is going to say in his forthcoming encyclical on preserving God’s creation, but they know what he will not say. He will not deny that the poor suffer from actions that despoil the earth. Everything he has said and done so far shows that Francis always stands for the poor.

Those who profit from what harms the earth have to keep the poor out of sight. They have trouble enough fighting off the scientific, economic, and political arguments against bastioned privilege. Bringing basic morality to the fore could be fatal to them. That is why they are mounting such a public pre-emptive strike against the encyclical before it even appears…..

The real issue here is not science vs. ignorance, or the UN vs. xenophobia, or my 97 percent of experts against your 3 percent. It is a case of the immensely rich few against the many deprived poor. The few are getting much of their wealth from interlocking interests that despoil the earth. The fact that the poor get poorer in this process is easily dismissed, denied, or derided. The poor have no voice. Till now. If the pope were not a plausible voice for the poor, his opponents would not be running so scared. Their fear is a testimony to him.

More here.

Just Another Day in the Garden State

Ice Caves Photo GalleryNo, that’s not the Garden State, but it’s how New Jersey feels these days. Snow, ice, cold, snow, ice, cold, snow, ice, cold…. It’s actually a cave at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin. People there and elsewhere have it worse than we do – as humanity continues to screw with the world’s climate, causing extreme weather of various kinds, as predicted. 

We’re Causing Global Warming 2158, the Other Side 1

There is a commonly-cited statistic to the effect that 97% of scientists believe that we are causing global climate change. Here’s another statistic:

James Powell, a geochemist and head of the National Physical Science Consortium, has surveyed the peer-reviewed articles in science journals published between November 2012 and December 2013. He found that among the 2,258 articles, written by a total of 9,136 authors, there was only one article by one author who rejected man-made climate change.

But, according to Powell, even the author of that article believes the climate is getting warmer — he just thinks it’s for other reasons, like deforestation. He also happens to be a Russian scientist who expresses concern in his article that Russia will lose income if people stop using so much oil.

So much for the idea that scientists who study the issue are in disagreement, or that there is “pseudo-science by the bucketful” on both sides of the argument (a claim I recently read on another blog). That’s what the global warming-deniers want us to think.

The Polar Vortex vs. the Noise Vortex

Many of us cold people now know about the polar vortex. Rush Limbaugh, however, doubts its existence, suggesting it’s part of a hoax perpetrated by the all-powerful liberal media. (That’s entertainment, folks!) Weatherman Al Roker responds with a passage from a 1959 textbook published by the American Meteorological Society:

polar vortex – the large-scale cyclonic circulation in the middle and upper troposphere centered generally in the polar regions.

Meanwhile, the White House science and technology advisor takes two minutes to explain the possible relationship between global climate change and the arrival of the polar vortex in places like St. Louis. It turns out that we hadn’t heard of the polar vortex before because it hasn’t visited us very often. Visits are now more likely. 

Some of This News Is Related (and We’re All Another Day Older)

The Wayne County (Michigan) prosecutor has charged 54-year old Theodore Wafer of Dearborn Heights with second-degree murder, manslaughter and illegal possession of a firearm. He shot Renisha McBride in the face after she crashed her car on his street at 2 a.m. and came to his house, apparently looking for help.

At least one semi-facetious observer recently suggested a link between this kind of thing and the end of the world as we know it. On a related topic – what we’re doing to the planet – a leaked report from a U.N. commission predicts that climate change will reduce the global food supply in coming years, while the world’s population grows (albeit at a declining rate) and the demand for food increases.

An ex-soldier writing in the New York Times accepts the idea that we’ve entered a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, a concept some scientists have adopted in order to reflect the massive effects we’re having on the planet. The ex-soldier argues that we should think of our civilization as already being dead, just like he used to think of himself as already dead when he was stationed in Iraq. Maybe he’s right and a more fatalistic attitude toward the effects of climate change would make us behave differently. We might go calmly about our business and make lots of necessary changes. On the other hand, we might do even less than we’re doing now.

There is also quite a big difference between one particular soldier dealing with the next few hours of his life and 200 nations composed of 7 billion people doing something about the next 100 years. Global climate change is, after all, a perfect example of the problem of the commons”, i.e. “the depletion of a shared resource by individuals, acting independently and rationally according to each one’s self-interest, despite their understanding that depleting the common resource is contrary to the group’s long-term best interests” (Wikipedia)An economist writing in the American Economic Review admits that:

as the US and other economies have grown, the carrying capacity of the planet—in regard to both natural resources and environmental quality—has become a greater concern….While small communities frequently provide modes of oversight and methods for policing their citizens…, commons problems have spread across communities and even across nations. In some of these cases, no overarching authority can offer complete control, rendering common problems more severe.

Yet he concludes that “economics is well-positioned to offer better understanding and better policies to address these ongoing challenges” (maybe he felt the need for an upbeat ending).

Still, the U.N. Climate Change Conference is underway in Warsaw. There are people advocating for a steady-state economy in which population growth and the use of natural resources are limited. A group of eminent scientists recently said that the “evidence indicating that our civilisation has already caused significant global warming is overwhelming”, but it’s still possible to limit the increase to a sustainable 2 degrees Centigrade if we act quickly. 

Meanwhile, China has just decided to remove its restriction on city-dwellers having more than one child, which will mean another million or two young Chinese every year, and Japan is substantially cutting its greenhouse gas reduction target in order to compensate for shutting down its nuclear power plants.

In other news, Andy Kaufman is, unfortunately, still dead.