California Gas Price Hysteria

I feel compelled to write this. I’m tired of seeing the oil lobby’s propaganda (and influence over economy) spill onto people’s timelines via shoddy reporting by journalists after sensationalist stories. Yes, prices for gas in California have recently gone up. However, slamming the state’s climate change law (2004’s AB 32 – which was also upheld by California voters in 2010) is not only ignorant and wrong – it’s narrow-minded. For one, oil companies making a stir can cause prices to rise…which is exactly what they want to happen so there will be widespread public backlash. But not so fast.

A couple of years ago, Media Matters posted a brilliant smack-down of misinformation from the right-leaning Orange County Register. The paper’s claim was common among the American right: Tackling climate change will kill the economy so we shouldn’t do anything. Except that’s not correct. At all.

In fact, as the post pointed out, climate change policies not only save consumers money, they boost the economies where they are implemented. I highly recommend a read-through of the post – it’s informative and relevant now more than ever. Read it here.

If you aren’t able to at this time, here’s a quick overview some of the facts:

  • Cap-and-Trade policies are the best market-centered ways to decrease pollution and greenhouse gasses (via California Legislative Analyst’s Office, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, International Emissions Trading Association, and the EPA)
  • Consumers will end up saving money (via the California Air Resources Board, a UCLA study, and a Stanford University study)
  • Existing Cap-and-Trade laws have resulted in economic booms (via the EPA, the California Air Resources Board, and economic consulting firm Analysis Group)
  • Cap-and-Trade (prior to the recent Frankenstein-esque rise of the Tea Party) has had bipartisan support across the country

Don’t be swayed by Big Energy’s misinformation. Cap-and-Trade is the most market-friendly, cost-effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The planet is warming, feedback loops are being tripped and time is quickly running out to avoid the worst of climate change. Renewable energy is in the midst of a revolution, but this is still the time to rise above partisanship and pseudoscience – the planet depends on us to do so.

hysterical

 

No, Kate Mulgrew does *not* endorse geocentrism

There’s been quite a stir on the Interwebs over the last 24 hours over actress-extraordinaire Kate Mulgrew’s alleged participation in a ridiculous documentary called The Principle. The premise: Galileo was wrong and the Earth really is the center of the solar system and universe. Take that, science and reason!

Wait, what?!! Kate Mulgrew?!

The second I read this, I knew something was wrong with this picture. To start with, Mulgrew never actually said anything about geocentrism in the trailer. Hell, she’s only in the trailer – there’s no indication she would even be in the film. Her signature, velvety voice simply piques the viewer’s interest with “Everything we think we know about our universe is wrong.” (a statement which is a little true, given there’s practically a new breakthrough in the scientific understanding of the cosmos every other day). She is also a hero to the scientific community and Trekkies (myself proudly included) for her excellent portrayal of Captain Janeway on Star Trek Voyager. Plus, leading experts on everything-to-do-with-cosmology Lawrence Krauss and Michio Kaku also appeared in the trailer. They also never said anything about endorsing geocentrism. And if their lives’ works are any indication, they would rather die than endorse geocentrism.

Yesterday I told a friend that Mulgrew had most likely been hired to narrate the trailer without knowing what the film was about. An actress getting paid to simply say, “Everything we think we know about the universe is wrong,” does not prove anything. Kaku and Krauss, I argued, were somehow tricked into appearing in the movie, which is much easier to do nowadays thanks to the proliferation of the Internet.

I’m happy to say I “called it.” Krauss wrote an awesome post on Slate slamming the movie today, saying he literally has no idea how he ended up in the documentary. I expect Kaku’s comment soon. Kate Mulgrew posted the following message to her Facebook page this afternoon (4/8/2014):

“I understand there has been some controversy about my participation in a documentary called THE PRINCIPLE. Let me assure everyone that I completely agree with the eminent physicist Lawrence Krauss, who was himself misrepresented in the film, and who has written a succinct rebuttal in SLATE. I am not a geocentrist, nor am I in any way a proponent of geocentrism. More importantly, I do not subscribe to anything [producer] Robert Sungenis has written regarding science and history and, had I known of his involvement, would most certainly have avoided this documentary. I was a voice for hire, and a misinformed one, at that. I apologize for any confusion that my voice on this trailer may have caused. Kate Mulgrew”

I can rest assured that Captain Janeway has not – and never will- failed us. Now I think I’ll go watch a marathon of Voyager and drink some coffee – black.

Kate Mulgrew as the legendary Captain Janeway

Kate Mulgrew as the legendary Captain Janeway

“Surviving Progress” For A Sustainable Future

Can progress be a problem? Is bigger, better, faster and cheaper really the best way to advance as a society? How much more can humanity extract and deplete the world’s resources as more nations become “developed?” Could it be that Homo sapiens are evolutionary dead ends?

All these provocative and controversial questions are tackled by the critically acclaimed 2011 documentary Surviving Progress. Executive producer Martin Scorsese brings together some of the world’s greatest minds to discuss humanity’s history, its present “predicament” (to say the least), and what can be done to overcome our self-destructive tendencies (for starters, making a distinction between what Ronald Wright calls “good progress” and “bad progress”).

 

The film destroys the conventional concept of “progress,” one of constant expansion and growth. In short: overconsumption, disregard for the planet, overpopulation, massive debt to private interests, grotesque amounts of greenhouse gas emissions and the alarming growth of income inequality are anything but progressive. How can we praise and preserve the status quo when our very survival is at stake? Our current course is clearly unsustainable and until we realize this and do something to change it, we’re doomed to failure.

“Unlimited economic progress in a world of finite natural resources doesn’t make sense. It’s a pattern that is bound to collapse and we keep seeing it collapsing. But then we build it up because there are these strong vested interests; “We must have business as usual.” And…you get the arms manufacturers. You get the petroleum industry. You get the pharmaceutical industry. And all of this feeding into helping to create corrupt governments who are putting the future of their own people at risk.”

– legendary primatologist Jane Goodall during one of her interviews in the film.

Things clearly have to change. We have to realize that progress does not simply equal more more more.

“All the civilizations of the past and, I think our own, only seem to be doing well when they’re expanding, when the population is growing, when the industrial output is growing and when the cities are spreading outwards. Eventually, you reach the point at which the population has overrun everything, the cities have expanded over the farmland. The people at the bottom begin to starve and the people at the top lose their legitimacy. And so you get hunger. You get revolution.

– Ronald Wright, author of A Short History of Progress, the book on which Surviving Progress is based on

 

Surviving Progress delivers a dose of reality and offers a challenging solution. To overcome this challenge, it is going to take the one thing that seems to have brought us to this point: our brains. The world is an international one. We’re literally one people now and all of our lives are interconnected. It is going to take cooperation with other nations. It’s going to come from consuming less and fundamentally altering our view of what makes life “good.” My two cents: living to make humanity and the world better than it was before our own, mediocre existences began is the “good” life. 😉

“Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math” Explained By Rolling Stone’s Bill McKibben

If you’re in the mood for a horror or thriller movie, look no further than the latest issue of Rolling Stone (August 2nd, 2012 issue). Look past the post-pubescent, sexed up picture of Justin Bieber on the cover and to an article that everyone should actually read, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math.” Writer Bill McKibben paints a disastrous picture of the planet’s future and who enemy number one is: the fossil fuel industry.

Loads of data and science are presented in the article (in direct contrast to Fox News’ idiotic attempts to smear climate science as a liberal conspiracy, or something). For example, in order to keep the global temperature from increasing by 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), we cannot spew more than 565 gigatons (565,000,000,000 metric tons) of CO2 into the atmosphere. At our current rate of increase, we’re set to reach that well within the next 20 years. If that doesn’t scare you, this will: Current global coal, oil and gas reserves (fuel we’re planning on burning at some point) is equal to 2,795 gigatons (2,795,000,000,000 metric tons), which is worth about $27 trillion to coal, oil and gas companies . That’s FIVE times the limit for a two-degree increase in global temperatures.

The planet is already becoming warmer, the oceans more acidic and Arctic ice is rapidly melting. As extreme as the weather has become, it’s sobering to realize that we’ve only increased the global temperature by 0.8 degrees Celsius. An 0.8 degree Celsius increase has broken 3,215 heat records across the U.S. this past June and created the conditions for the hottest rainfall in Earth’s history; This past Spring it rained in Mecca, Saudi Arabia….when it was 109 degrees Fahrenheit. It can be argued, as many climate scientists have, that even a two degree Celsius increase limit is too much.

alarming graph from NASA showing an undeniable global warming trend

The evidence is overwhelming. We know that climate change is real and that it presents drastic changes to our planet. The question is whether we will do anything to slow down the rate of temperature (and extreme weather) increase. We can change. We have the technology. What we lack is the will to act, as McKibben also points out…

We like cheap flights to warm places, and we’re certainly not going to give them up if everyone else is still taking them. Since all of us are in some way the beneficiaries of cheap fossil fuel, tackling climate change has been like trying to build a movement against yourself – it’s as if the gay-rights movement had to be constructed entirely from evangelical preachers, or the abolition movement from slaveholders.

Record profits by the world’s largest oil companies and cheaper goods are not what building a better future looks like. We have to get beyond the “cheaper = better” equation that has been the staple of industry since the Industrial Revolution. Capitalism itself is not the enemy: corporate greed and complete disregard for everything else is. Investing in and improving the efficiency of renewable energy technologies must become international priorities. As I said in a previous eco-themed post, the traditional concept of the lavish “American life” (bigger, faster, fatter, cheaper, etc.) is clearly and undeniably unsustainable. If we value the planet we live on or even our and our posterity’s future, we have to change.

Read McKibben’s brilliant article here.

Apollo 11 and Viking 1 – Two Trailblazers Remembered

Yesterday (July 20, 2012) marked the anniversaries of some important dates in human history, specifically in space exploration. On July 20th, 43 years ago, Apollo 11 accomplished its mission by landing the first humans on the moon: Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins. Also on July 20th, 36 years ago, the Viking 1 lander successfully gathered a wealth of data and pictures from the surface of Mars.

 

 

In 1969, Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins made history and expanded humanity’s knowledge of the cosmos. It really was a “giant leap for mankind” as Armstrong famously said. Only eight years prior, humanity’s first satellite was launched into orbit (igniting the Space Race). We weren’t even using telecommunications satellites until 1962.  NASA met President Kennedy’s ambitious goal and landed a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s. For that, we and future generations will be forever grateful. The Apollo program sent men to the lunar surface five more times until its end in 1972.

Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin on the surface of the moon

NASA’s Viking program was not the first to land spacecraft on the surface of Mars, or another planet for that matter. The Soviet Union’s Venera 3 was the first spacecraft to land on another planet in 1966. However, in this case, “landed” means “crashed-landed on Venus.” The first spacecraft to (crash) land on Mars was another Soviet mission, Mars 2.

Viking is special because it was the first lander to successfully reach the Martian surface and send back large amounts of data and photographs. The Viking program changed our view of Mars by revealing that the Red Planet may have had water on its surface in the distant past. Today we know that Mars did in fact have water on its surface billions of years ago.

The Martian surface as seen from the Viking 1 lander

The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), NASA’s fourth rover to the planet, is almost at its destination. In another 15 days, it will land on the Martian surface and search for the building blocks of life with the most advanced scientific equipment ever sent to another planet. The MSL owes its very existence to its trailblazing cousin, Viking 1.

an artist’s rendering of the Mars Science Laboratory rover

I often find myself frustrated with NASA and the condition of human space exploration. Why haven’t we achieved more? Why has it been decades since the last lunar landing? Why haven’t we sent humans to the surface of Mars yet? Aren’t we supposed to have hotels in orbit around Earth!? I realize that the answer to these questions is very complicated (funding, cost, national/international goals, technological capability, etc.). But someone as idealistic and geeky as me still wonders why we haven’t achieved more.

Don’t get me wrong, we’ve accomplished an incredible amount. We’ve sent men to the moon. The Voyager probes are rapidly approaching interstellar space. We can communicate instantaneously from anywhere on the globe. These are all the “stuff” of science fiction, and they’ve all been accomplished during the last 50 years….that’s it….five decades. Think of the whole of human history, all (roughly) 200,000 years of it. Half a century is an incredible leap from undersea cables and transcontinental railroads to complex networks of communications satellites and countless probes traversing the Solar System.

I am confident that in my lifetime men will go to Mars and possibly the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. I am even more confident that at some point in the next couple decades, mankind will have a permanent outpost on the moon. If we could send men to the moon in the 1960s and land a spacecraft on Mars in the Decade of Disco, we can push the limits of human exploration to the outer Solar System in the 21st century. Missions like Apollo 11 and Viking 1 were milestones that expanded the reach of our species. Their contributions to human accomplishments and exploration will always be seen with reverence and awe.

Earth as seen from the moon during the Apollo 8 mission

 

My Little Eco Rant…

“Change!” It’s incredibly cliché and overused. When people say the word, it creates more questions than answers. From campaign slogans to kitty litter box instructions, that simple word creates an array of mental images. But, I’m going to say it anyway – We have to change.

The traditional concept of the “American Way” as established in the 20th century (bigger, faster, fatter, cheaper, etc.) is clearly and undeniably unsustainable. I realize that telling people they need to change the way they see reality isn’t exactly a winning campaign strategy for an aspiring politician, but it has to start at some point.

The world’s oil supply has been on the decline for decades and climate change has been accelerating, wreaking havoc in the form of crazier weather and more intense storms. The Earth itself is at a tipping point and yet most of the world’s leaders are more concerned with drilling for more of a dwindling resource (it’s called “fossil” fuels for a reason) than investing in and improving renewable, sustainable sources of energy.

America is the richest nation on the planet and leads the world in natural resource consumption…and we only account for five percent of the global population. We produce incredible amounts of waste and pollution, which is to be expected from a developed society like ours. However, the fact that other nations around the world are striving to become like us should be a motivation for us to set an example.

Faster, sleeker, sexier cars are fun…but do they really improve one’s life? Buying everything in bulk may be economical, but it isn’t always the best option. Cheaper, hormone-filled foods treated with large amounts of chemicals may be convenient and delicious, but they have disastrous health implications for the body and the planet.

Higher profits and expansion are key to any successful business, but it shouldn’t be the goal of life. Capitalism creates superior products and innovations, but it can also create massive amounts of poverty, pollution and waste. In short, it is not the cure-all for every ailment.

I have nothing against technological innovation or progress; I’ve always been a geek, fascinated with new technologies and the promise of a better tomorrow as depicted in pop culture hits like Star Trek. I am incredibly thankful that I live in a prosperous country like the United States. I love my country and am optimistic about her future…even if her priorities are frequently out of whack.

Things like improving the efficiency of solar power technology and increasing incentives for green technology and renewable energy sources should be some of our top priorities as a species. Governments need to pledge to follow international treaties that treat climate change for what it is: a global crisis that affects everyone.

I know this kind of “rant” may simply be seen as a stupid, tree-hugging, hippie, pink0-commie plea for change, or something…and I don’t care. Shrug away. Laugh it off. Call me young and naive. Continue living in ignorance. I care about the future of this planet. I’m not trying to boost my own ego…to the contrary – Long after I’m gone, I want humanity to be thriving and continually improving. I can’t, in good conscience, focus solely on my own life and ambitions and ignore the consequences of contemporary policies.

Simply closing one’s eyes doesn’t make the rest of the world temporarily disappear. Get real and do something. Live your life with the knowledge that your decisions have consequences. Vote for candidates who are committed to humanity’s betterment and survival. Stay up to date on scientific advances and updates. Realize that while you may live in a sovereign nation, you share a planet with billions of other people and millions of other species. Change. 😉

Reflection From The Pale Blue Dot

In 1990, the Voyager 1 space probe looked back at Earth from the outer solar system and snapped a picture that captured the attention of the world. How did our humble home look? A dot. Literally, the Earth was nothing more than a pale blue dot in the image taken by the probe.

In 1994, Carl Sagan wrote the book Pale Blue Dot. In it, Sagan wrote what he believes humanity can and will achieve (a future in the stars). One of the most moving and profound quotes you’ll ever hear or read also comes from the book. Reflecting on the 1990 photo, Sagan comments on the insignificance, vulnerability and preciousness of planet Earth in his classic eloquent way:

*italics added by me…

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme   leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

Carl Sagan 1934-1996