Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
March 5, 2012

Acid Solution
For most of us, our knowledge of the pH scale comes from what we read on shampoo bottle labels. We, of course, are all born with hair that is inadequate by cosmetic industry standards. The pH reading helps us determine which chemical recipe is right for the either too dry or too oily, too dull or too shiny, scalp covering supplied by our gene pool.

A recent article led me to take a closer look at pH. I never found out why the p is always lower case followed by a capital H. But it turns out this 14-point scale, that was codified in its present form in 1924, has many applications–including measuring the acidity of oceans.

A Reuters story by Deborah Zabarenko entitled Oceans' acidic shift may be fastest in 300 million years looks at a review of hundreds of studies of pre-human climate records published in the journal Science. These investigations examined acid rise in conjunction with naturally occurring spikes in carbon in the atmosphere. These past acid jolts were also marked by substantial global warming. That combination led to mass kills–sometimes extinction–of many species, on land and in the sea.

But these ancient disasters are a drop in the ocean compared to what’s happened since humans started massive burning of fossil fuels–coal, oil, natural gas–with the Industrial Revolution. Zabarenko writes,

“During the warming period 56 million years ago, known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, or PETM, and occurring about 9 million years after the extinction of the dinosaurs, acidification for each century was about .008 unit on the pH scale...By contrast, in the 20th century, oceans acidified by .1 unit of pH, and are projected to get more acidic at the rate of .2 or .3 pH by the year 2100, according to the study. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projects world temperatures could rise by 3.2 to 7 degrees F (1.8 to 4 degrees C) this century.”

This means more than a bad hair day at the beach. While not as dramatic as the unseasonable tornadoes claiming dozens of lives in the USA over the past week–also likely the result of global warming’s climate change–the long term impact of ocean acidification is grievous.

The acid attack is killing off coral and other organisms nourishing the sea food that is a vital part of the human diet–and provides the livelihoods of tens of millions of workers and their families. It’s also a mortal threat to our marine mammal relatives that we shouldn’t be eating.

We can’t handle this crisis by dumping a lot of Tums in to the sea. It can only be reversed by reducing the carbon content of our atmosphere. At the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, carbon concentration in the atmosphere was 280 parts per million. Today it stands at 392 ppm–and is still rising.

Prehistoric global warming disasters were caused by natural forces that would still be beyond our ability to control. But, so far, today we have the means to drastically reduce carbon emissions by converting to energy alternatives--such as solar, wind, and water--as well as restructuring our urban housing and transportation.

Of course, life styles would be altered--but they need not be degraded. We can have a quality living standard without destructive and wasteful urban sprawl, without every individual relying on a personal internal combustion engine to get around town.

Unlike the bogus job promises of those who poison our air and waters, the restructuring antidote to carbon emissions would be the biggest undertaking in human history, providing full employment for generations to come.

The challenges standing in our way are not science or technology. The scientists have done their job. The obstacle to leaving a sustainable biosphere to our progeny is the same fossil-based ruling class that has also brought us the credible threat of nuclear annihilation of humanity. Taking them out is our job.

Superheroes to Strike Again
“Batman would help the teachers, why won't you? Teachers are our superheroes” So read a sign carried by one of the thousands of high school students in British Columbia who skipped class Friday to demonstrate in support of teachers set to strike Monday.

BC teachers are not nearly so accommodating with the boss as most of their Yank counterparts. They more clearly recognize that they are professionals who are also wage workers and that their employer doesn’t share the interests of either teachers or students. The teachers consider the right to strike to be a basic democratic right–one that they have used in the past.

The Liberal provincial government is moving to outlaw this right for teachers. So far, the opposition NDP–Canada’s version of a labor party–has erected legislative obstacles. We should show solidarity with the BC “superheroes”–and encourage their emulation on this side of the border as well.

Twelfth Triple Anniversary
On Thursday, March 8, KC Labor will again note three events associated with the date:

1- International Women’s Day
Like May Day, IWD has roots in the USA but is today celebrated mainly in other lands. The first Women's Day was organized in 1908 by American socialist women fighting for the right to vote and promoting organization of workers through the Women's Trade Union League. Fifteen thousand marched that day through the streets of New York. The following year they organized another mass demonstration in New York in preparation for a major garment worker strike. Their actions inspired a 1910 Women's Conference of the Socialist International to proclaim a coordinated annual International Women's Day on March 8, beginning in 1911–and it continues now in many countries more than a century later.

2-Beginning of the Russian Revolution That Overthrew the Czar
In 1917 an IWD mobilization in Petrograd (later named Leningrad, today known as St Petersburg) directly contributed to the February Revolution that overthrew the Russian Czar. (The Romanovs clung to a different calendar than that used by most of the world, which placed March 8 in February.) Workers and sailors coming to defense of women marchers attacked by the police didn’t stop until they not only swept away the brutal cops but the monarchy and government too.

3-And On a Different Historic Scale--Launching of the KC Labor Website in 2000
After some experimenting with a KC Labor Party free AOL site in 1999, I decided to launch this project with a bigger scope the following year. I was fortunate to get some valuable assistance in building content from labor and civil liberties attorney Doug Bonney, editor of our
Know Your Rights section, and workplace safety and health issues from Mary Erio, a CIH who happens to also be my wife. I’m indebted as well to Linda Mathews, who created the impressive IBEW Local 1613 site in Kansas City, and Stuart Elliott, webmaster of Kansas Workbeat in Wichita, for early technical help and hints.

When www.kclabor.org first lit up, Netscape was the browser of choice, AOL dominated the ISP market, and we were in the midst of the Dot-Com boom–soon to bust. Large numbers of workers were just beginning to get hooked on the Web. There were still few labor-oriented sites and we found a niche that brought us steady increase in visitors until reaching our present plateau of about 150,000 annual visits a few years ago.

While site visits continue to meet expectations some new setbacks have emerged. For a number of years financial donations not only covered the costs of maintaining the site and the e-mail service but also generated a surplus that allowed us to sponsor conferences and travel to and report on other important movement gatherings. That hasn’t been the case for some time.

In a regrettable but necessary austerity move, last fall I switched our e-mail list to a free Yahoo group. You always expect to lose a few people in any such switch–but we lost a lot more than a few. Some have told me they found Yahoo enrollment confusing or offensive and are reading the WIR on the site. That’s fine but I suspect many others have been lost in the shuffle. I’m not sure there is any quick fix that fits our present budget but I’m open to suggestions.

While I greatly appreciate those who continue to give through what has been tough times for many, donation totals have dwindled to the point of covering little more than our server and domain fees and the subscription I now must pay for the New York Times. My aging computer and outdated software could go anytime. Since my sole personal income is from Social Security I have no deep pocket as back-up.

This is a topic I always dread raising but full disclosure requires sometimes brutal honesty. I hope to see a thirteenth anniversary and more. I’ll hang on as long as my health allows–physical and financial. If you can afford to help you’ll get my warmest thanks. If you are no better off than I am–I wish you good luck.

I’ve done some modest tweaking of the KC Labor home page to mark the Big 12. Next Sunday, March 11, Tony Saper is hosting an informal celebration of our twelfth year of online service at his home in North Kansas City. If you are in the area and want to join us give me a call at 816-753-1672.

In Brief...
¶ From AFP, “People from the wealthy upper classes are more likely than poorer folks to break laws while driving, take candy from children and lie for financial gain, said a US study”
¶ A Los Angeles Times story reports a study revealing, “Of the nearly 20 million older Americans who live alone or with a spouse, about 47% can’t afford everyday necessities such as proper nutrition and medical care.”

Did your regular news sources report in depth on the general strike in India, or mass strikes and demonstrations in Greece, Spain, and Belgium? Did you hear that because customers of Kansas City Power & Light adopted the company’s conservation recommendations, reducing consumption two percent, KCP&L now demands a fifteen percent rate hike? How about a proposed law in the Georgia legislature that would make union and other protest picket lines a felony offense?

Those are just a tiny sample of the dozens of news stories that were posted on the Labor Advocate Blog last week that I didn’t have room to deal with in the WIR. The news on the Blog is updated Monday-Friday by 9AM Central–usually much earlier.

That’s all for this week.

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