Saturday, April 23, 2011

Earth Day in the National Progressive Press

Time for a linkspam.

Talking Points Memo: NASA Celebrates Earth Day With Stunning Photos Of, You Guessed It...Earth
In honor of Earth Day, NASA has compiled some of their most beautiful and captivating images of the third planet from the sun.
The Huffington Post: Why We Underestimate the Earth and Overestimate Ourselves
Posted: 04/14/11 02:27 PM ET
Crossposted with
In his 2010 book, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, environmental scholar and activist Bill McKibben writes of a planet so devastated by global warming that it’s no longer recognizable as the Earth we once inhabited. This is a planet, he predicts, of “melting poles and dying forests and a heaving, corrosive sea, raked by winds, strafed by storms, scorched by heat.” Altered as it is from the world in which human civilization was born and thrived, it needs a new name -- so he gave it that extra “a” in “Eaarth.”

The Eaarth that McKibben describes is a victim, a casualty of humankind’s unrestrained consumption of resources and its heedless emissions of climate-altering greenhouse gases. True, this Eaarth will cause pain and suffering to humans as sea levels rise and croplands wither, but as he portrays it, it is essentially a victim of human rapaciousness.

With all due respect to McKibben’s vision, let me offer another perspective on his (and our) Eaarth: as a powerful actor in its own right and as an avenger, rather than simply victim.
Mother Jones: Unsuck Earth Day, Please
— By Kate Sheppard
| Fri Apr. 22, 2011 12:00 PM PDT.
Confession: I can't stand Earth Day. I know I'm not alone; by time I was born it was already getting a little cliché. And I actually do believe the equally tired idea that it should be every day, not just one single 24-hour period at the end of April that sometimes coincides with both Easter and Passover and the hockey playoffs. The reason I dislike it that it has become mostly an excuse to peddle products of dubious "green" credentials and host events that involve celebrities in the lower-B-list category.

But I'm finding it especially hard to handle this year. Wednesday was the first anniversary of the Gulf oil disaster. It also comes against the backdrop of last year's total failure to pass a climate and energy bill in the Senate—or pass even the most basic legislation responding to the oil spill, arguably the worst environmental disaster in US history. Frankly, this Earth Day sucks because it just serves to remind me that the environmental movement is not exactly the powerhouse it was 41 years ago. Back then, millions of Americans mobilized not just to honor the environment as something worth protecting, but to demand that their leaders do something about it. The Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air Act, and the Clean Water Act as we know them today are all products of that generation of environmental activism.

If you can't make hay of a disaster—a visible, fast-moving one like the oil spill or a less tangible one like climate change—is there any hope of changing things? I know that the country's leading environmental groups have spent a good deal of the past year discussing, at least internally within individual groups, where the heck they went wrong. But there is still an unwillingness, it seems, to have a real conversation between groups and in the progressive community more broadly about what went wrong and what can be done better in the future.
Mother Jones: The Science of Why We Don't Believe Science
How our brains fool us on climate, creationism, and the vaccine-autism link.
— By Chris Mooney
"A MAN WITH A CONVICTION is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point." So wrote the celebrated Stanford University psychologist Leon Festinger (PDF), in a passage that might have been referring to climate change denial—the persistent rejection, on the part of so many Americans today, of what we know about global warming and its human causes. But it was too early for that—this was the 1950s—and Festinger was actually describing a famous case study in psychology.
In the annals of denial, it doesn't get much more extreme than the Seekers. They lost their jobs, the press mocked them, and there were efforts to keep them away from impressionable young minds. But while Martin's space cult might lie at on the far end of the spectrum of human self-delusion, there's plenty to go around. And since Festinger's day, an array of new discoveries in psychology and neuroscience has further demonstrated how our preexisting beliefs, far more than any new facts, can skew our thoughts and even color what we consider our most dispassionate and logical conclusions. This tendency toward so-called "motivated reasoning" helps explain why we find groups so polarized over matters where the evidence is so unequivocal: climate change, vaccines, "death panels," the birthplace and religion of the president (PDF), and much else. It would seem that expecting people to be convinced by the facts flies in the face of, you know, the fact
Mother Jones: Climategate: What Really Happened?
How climate science became the target of "the best-funded, best-organized smear campaign by the wealthiest industry that the Earth has ever known."
— By Kate Sheppard
IT'S DIFFICULT TO IMAGINE how a guy who spends most of his time looking at endless columns of temperature records became a "fucking terrorist," "killer," or "one-world-government socialist." It's even harder when you meet Michael Mann, a balding 45-year-old climate scientist who speaks haltingly and has a habit of nervously clearing his throat. And when you realize that the reason for all the hostility is a 12-year-old chart, it seems more than a little surreal.
Yet global warming skeptics have made the graph exhibit A in their cause. Congressional hearings have focused on it, and it has been the impetus for multiple critical books and blog posts. Skeptics have dismissed the graph as "little more than paleo-phrenology" and claimed that "Mann-made warming is real, while man-made warming remains at best a theory, more likely a hypothesis."

And Mann himself has become a target. Virginia's crusading Republican attorney general has suggested that he may have committed research "fraud." The 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference had a booth where attendees could throw eggs at his picture. There was a flood of hate mail, much of it containing death threats: "Your work is finished. YOU ARE GOING TO HANG SOON!"
Mother Jones: "This Case Is the Last Resort if the Federal Government Fails"
The implications of the landmark global warming case before the Supreme Court.
— By Kate Sheppard
Mon Apr. 18, 2011 12:01 AM PDT
Can polluters be sued for the damaging effects of global warming? That's the question before the Supreme Court on Tuesday, when it hears oral arguments in American Electric Power Company Inc. v. Connecticut.

The case got its start in 2004, at a time when the Bush administration had made it clear it had no intention of addressing the threat of climate change. Frustrated by the administration's inaction, Connecticut and a group of other states, as well as the city of New York and handful of land trusts, filed suit against the nation's five biggest polluters: American Electric Power, Southern Company, Cinergy (which has since merged with Duke Energy), Xcel Energy, and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Using a common-law public-nuisance argument, the plaintiffs claimed the companies were causing harm to the environment and the health of residents. Together, these five utilities were responsible for emitting 650 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2004—or about 10 percent of all US emissions. For that reason, they were substantially to blame for the hazards caused by climate change, the plaintiffs argued.

The utilities sought to have the case dismissed, arguing that climate change was a political issue that should be handled by elected officials rather than the courts. In a September 2005 ruling, the US District Court in Southern New York agreed. But four years later, in September 2009, an appeals court reversed that decision. The utilities appealed to the Supreme Court to throw out the suit.
Mother Jones: "BP Hasn't Made People Whole"
— By Kate Sheppard
Wed Apr. 20, 2011 2:35 AM PDT.
The Gulf oil disaster largely disappeared from the headlines last August, after the well was finally capped and the federal government declared that most of the oil was "gone."

For Gulf coast residents, though, the nightmare was just beginning. A year later, business hasn't come back for many in fishing and tourism, and the compensation check from BP still hasn't arrived. In the areas closest to the shores, people are reporting health problems consistent with exposure to chemicals. Dead turtles, dolphins and fish are still washing ashore. So are tar balls. So while most of the country has moved on, a number of Gulf coast residents have been in DC over the past week to tell decisionmakers one thing: It's not over.

Mother Jones talked to with several Gulf residents who have become advocates for their communities in the wake of the spill.
Mother Jones: 10 Reasons to Still Be Pissed Off About the BP Disaster
Your guide to the worst oil spill in US history, one year later.
Mother Jones: The Deepwater Horizon Disaster in Book Form
— By Kate Sheppard
| Fri Apr. 22, 2011 7:11 AM PDT.
There is certainly no shortage of books about the Deepwater Horizon disaster: at least eight by my count, and nine if you include the 300-page package of recommendations that the National Oil Spill Commission put out earlier this year (which you can buy on Amazon for about $40). Many of these books were published just in time for this week's first anniversary of the spill, and several of them managed to make it to my desk.

I'd like to say I read every last work of every one of them, but, well, they're all pretty long and I've both read and written quite a bit about the disaster. I wish I could say, "If you were going to read just one book on the oil spill, it should be X," but frankly each of these books offers pretty different takes on the same explosion and ensuing nightmare.

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