Sunday, April 18, 2010

Consensus, Controversy, and Deviance

The national press, despite its power and occasional hobbyhorses, sees its role as “witnessing,” as serving up a “daily diary of debate,” as offering “a platform for independent inquiry and investigation” — but not as setting the terms of public discussion.

But, is it really possible for the media to be objective?

"A long-term focus on shifting the Overton window allows a think tank to follow its ideals and perform a genuinely positive public service, instead of being constrained to merely advocating those policies that are currently possible. When the window of political possibilities is moved along the political spectrum, the impossible becomes desirable and the simply desirable becomes imperative. This is the true influence of a think tank — shaping the political climate of future legislative and legal debates by researching, educating, involving and inspiring."

Ideas and topics can shift up and down the scale of acceptability:
  • Unthinkable
  • Radical
  • Acceptable
  • Sensible
  • Popular
  • Policy

Friday, April 16, 2010

Climate Change: Outside Natural Variation?

Basically, the question is whether the climate has changed sufficiently to push some ecosystems beyond resilience into active adaptation, ie change in vegetation type. Variation has increased, but many stop short of saying that the climate has actually changed. I have included a number of papers to peruse, none of which makes a complete argument in favor of climate over biological factors. Obviously both occur, and grazing and fire-suppression have exacerbated climate-driven changes. The hard question is to what extent each factor has "driven" the observed changes.

The old school of thought on climate change (which is still prevalent among scientists today) argues that climate change is happening but isn't here yet. In other words, that we are still within natural ranges of variability. However, my recent research has convinced me that the changes that are being predicted are already here, all around us.

Large forest die-offs have occurred in old-growth Amazonian and Indonesian rainforest, in addition to other undisturbed forests around the world (Allen 2010) and in the Western US (van Mantgem 2009). Here in the Southwest, Pinon die-off has been linked to an increase in temperature that increased the severity of an otherwise normal drought (Breshears 2005). Dr. Gutzler here at UNM has created a map showing what a 3 degree increase in temperature would do if precipitation variability remains unchanged (see below; Gutzler 2010). The trend is, indeed, toward unprecedented warming (Kaufman 2009). This kind of increased ET could also explain the increase in stand-replacing Ponderosa forest fires, which have occurred without 20th century overgrazing and fire supression (Meyer and Pierce 2003). Indeed, Dr. Archer at University of Arizona, an authority on shrub invasion of grasslands, also points out situations where differing grazing and fire regimes fail to modify climate-driven shrub encroachment (Fensham 2005). Dr Fredrickson (Fredrickson 2006) has shown that climate change can explain loss of Black grama grasslands on the Jornada in the absence of grazing pressure.

In a particularly interesting rebuttal to a long-held 'sacred-cow', Dr. Meyer at UNM recently used stratigraphy to show that beaver have not significantly affected hydrologic processes during the Holocene, but instead, that climate determined beaver abundance (Meyer 2008). I could include other papers, but I particularly like several of these. I intentionally saved papers on historic arroyo cutting for another time, but could have cited Leopold, Shumm, and many others to argue for climate-driven processes.

Bill McKibben has written a new book with essential the same argument: "Most accounts terrifically underplay what’s actually going on already. " Tim Flannery's book The Weather Makers makes a similar argument, even though it was published in 2006: "the first victims of climate change have already died".

Why aren’t more economists backing win-win climate solutions?

David Roberts at points out that climate change legislation would reduce the federal deficit while boosting production. Yet mainstream economists, and hence politicians, are stuck in the old paradigm wherein the economy and the environment are inherently opposed: you can't have one without sacrificing the other. Isn't it time we realized how absurd that is?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Ohio Country

East of the Appalachian Mountains, East and North of the Ohio River, and South of Lake Erie, lies a rich country of farms and forest. It is my new home. I think Michael Pollan's description of a farm in Virginia could equally describe Ohio:

"The wail of farm machinery had fallen silent, and in the space it left I could hear the varied sounds of birds: songbirds in the trees, but also the low gossip of hens and the lower throat singing of turkeys. Up on the green, green shoulder of hill rising to the west I could see a small herd of cattle grazing, and, below them on a gentler slope, several dozen portable chicken pens marching in formation down the meadow. Laid before me was, I realized, a scene of almost classical pastoral beauty -- the meadows dotted with contented animals, the backdrop of woods, a twisting brook threading through it all...."

The War Next Door: Adam Smith's invisible hand meets magical realism on the border.

High Country News p. 15 March 1, 2010. Vol. 42, No.4
The War Next Door. Adam Smith's invisible hand meets magical realism on the border. Charles Bowden.

"If the press reports this sort of thing, it is framed as part of a War on Drugs that must be won. These stories are fables at best. There is no serious War on Drugs. Rather, there is violence, nourished by the money to be made from drugs."

"The border should not be an issue in American life, but rather our window on the world. All our foolish beliefs are refuted here. Free trade is creating the largest human migration on earth. The migration of the Mexican poor should be seen as a natural shift of a species. We need ecologists on the border; the politicians have become pointless."

"The official line of the U.S. government, one most recently voiced bny Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is that drug consumers in the United States are responsiuble for drug murders in Mexico. Only someone who is drugged could believe this claim. The sole source of the enormous amount of money in the drug business and the accompanying violence is the U.S. prohibition of drug use by its citizens."

"On the border, Adam Smith meets magical realism. Here the market tenets of supply and demand, the basic engine of both the migration and the drug industry, are supposed to be overturned magically by a police state."

But that's not what's intended: The Border Patrol, DEA, the world's largest prison industry, "are literally failure-proof -- the more Mexicans that migrate, and the more drugs that arrive, the more agents that are hired."

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Supreme Court hears arguments over GMO Alfafa