Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
November 25, 2012

I promptly posted this on the web version of our last WIR: Correction. In our section on Hostess below we repeated an inaccuracy we had picked up from a wire service report. The Teamsters are in fact the largest union, the Bakery Workers who went on strike are the second biggest.

The web version will always have not only a better format than e-mail but includes any needed corrections of either fact or typography.

Optional Personal Note
I want to reassure those of you who expressed concern about my health. With the indispensable help of my friend of nearly 45 years, Tony Saper, as designated driver, I did have cataract removal surgery last Monday. The initial blurred vision as the surgery heals has kept me from driving and reduced my computer usage. A regimen of multiple applications of six different drops over the course of each day is time consuming. Other than these inconveniences, which will soon be behind me, I’m as well as can be expected for a man my age and condition. (I’m on track to hit the biblical benchmark three-score years and ten in two weeks.) Hopefully I will be rewarded with better optical vision to continue my pursuit of social vision a while longer.

Can’t Remain Silent
I was interested to see how the prestigious PBS science program Nova would deal with SuperStorm Sandy. Despite Mitt Romney’s assertion, not all PBS programming is financed by Chinese loans. A major sponsor of Nova is the David H Koch Foundation.

David Hamilton Koch is the fourth richest man in America, co-owner, with his older brother Charles, of the privately-held conglomerate Koch Industries. Their father who founded the family business had been a founding member as well of the John Birch Society--who accused President Eisenhower of being a Red dupe. A Cato Institute board member, David Koch once ran for Vice-President on the Libertarian Party ticket.

And he and his brother have used vast amounts of their personal fortunes to finance global warming denial. How would Nova satisfy both their science mission and this generous patron?

Overall, the show did a good job in tracing how Sandy became transformed from a routine storm at the tail end of the hurricane season in to the most catastrophic natural disaster ever witnessed by humans on the Eastern Seaboard. The science was supplemented by dramatic film footage and accompanied by interviews with storm victims as well as public officials and shell-shocked utility and transportation managers.

Considering this was put together two weeks to the day after what the media called a Frankenstorm clobbered the Northeast Corridor it was a remarkable piece of work. If this was a production by a network news department they could have stopped there and maybe even won some award.

But failing to mention global warming would have ignored not only what climate scientists are saying but also statements of the tenth richest man in the USA--who also happens to be Mayor of New York City. Silence was not an option.

After obligatory bromides from meteorologists that no specific weather event can be directly linked to global warming the producers acknowledged that the same extremely warm waters that fed Sandy’s fierce energy also result in expansion of sea water volume. Melting sea and glacial ice in the Arctic is also contributing to higher sea levels that will continue to rise. There’s no denying that was a major factor in the devastating storm surge that inundated the Jersey Shore and big swaths of every New York City borough.

There was no mention, however, of the scientific consensus that the cause of this global warming induced sea change is primarily human produced greenhouse gas emissions–including those flowing from the products of Koch Industries. To be fair, there is much on this topic, and even discussion of alternatives, in blogs and audio presentations on the Nova website. But they are not yet ready for prime time with present sponsors.

There is no question that public concern about climate change was already rebounding even before Sandy. But those who rely on network or cable television for news are not likely aware of just how bad things have got. For example,

* Despite the fact that many countries met their milk toast Kyoto Treaty goals, despite serious recessions in major industrialized countries, and despite massive shifts from coal to marginally cleaner natural gas, heat trapping greenhouse gas atmospheric concentrations have risen twenty percent just since 2000.

* The lingering drought following earlier severe floods throughout the corn belt that led to a spike in global food prices--exacerbated by half the crop going to make ethanol--is consistent with predictions made by climate scientists and is on the way to becoming a new norm.

* Even the World Bank says, “All nations will suffer the effects of a world 4C hotter, but it is the world's poorest countries that will be hit hardest by food shortages, rising sea levels, cyclones and drought.”

The COP 18 UN Climate Conference will take place over the next two weeks in Doha, Qatar. Unlike the optimism shown before the 2009 gathering in Copenhagen the mood now appears dismal from the outset.

Recently, vague remarks by the leader of the free market world have rekindled the pathetic faith of U.S. Pale Green environmental groups. President Obama, who never once mentioned climate during three televised campaign debates, found courage after the election to say there should be a “national conversation” about the greatest crisis to face humanity. But most of the delegates to COP 18 remember how the green-blessed President effectively trashed Copenhagen three years ago. Washington has reneged on even the puny promises of assistance to poor countries made then. Chief U.S. negotiator Todd Stern has refused all journalist requests for interview.

The previous seventeen top level conferences have extensively discussed the problems and everyone understands–though many will not publicly acknowledge–the only viable solutions. The bottom line is that we must phase out the burning of fossil fuels as rapidly as possible. Nothing else will work.

Of course, clean, renewable energy alternatives to carbon-based fuels have long been known and there are examples of them working well on a modest scale today. In 2009, in anticipation of a global agreement to drastically reduce greenhouse emissions coming out of the Copenhagen Climate Summit, plans for a gigantic solar power project in the Sahara were launched. The BBC now reports,

“An ambitious plan to provide 15% of Europe's power needs from solar plants in North Africa has run into trouble. The Desertec initiative hoped to deliver electricity from a network of renewable energy sources to Europe via cables under the sea. But in recent weeks, two big industrial backers have pulled out. And the Spanish government has baulked at signing an agreement to build solar power plants in Morocco.”

The two companies, Siemens and Bosch, have an impressive array of scientists, engineers, and skilled workers on their payrolls. They have successfully installed solar power operations throughout Germany and other European countries. But they have seen the failure of the Copenhagen gathering being compounded by the austerity drive that has resulted in even the “rich countries” slashing subsidies and tax incentives for energy restructuring. No government support means no profits guarantee. No profits leads them to bid Auf Wiedersehen.

We don’t have a Sahara in North America but there are many isolated sun-drenched areas that would be ideal for a project on the scale of Desertec that could provide many terra watts of electricity. Other areas not blessed with abundant sun can produce wind power. Recent gains in tidal power technology can be utilized along the coasts.

But while climate destructive industries generate enormous profits such sustainable conversion to clean renewables will never be accomplished in a market economy. We need a new public sector empowered to plan and implement this restructuring, a project that will generate jobs for all–including those who will lose present jobs based on carbon dependency.

The science, technology, and economics to save our biosphere are ready to go. We have just one small obstacle–we first have to replace the rule of the corporate climate wreckers with a government by and for the working class majority. That’s a precondition for the survival of human civilization.

Pardon my preaching but I too can not remain silent.

There is much more worthy of note over the past week such as the Walmart actions and the horrible garment factory fire in Bangladesh, but I have about reached my temporary light duty restrictions. I do plan to resume posting the news on the Labor Advocate Blog tomorrow, Monday.

That’s all for this week.

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