Scathing government report contradicts Trump on climate change, but that starts a whole discussion on media responsibility

Friday November 3, 2017 the USGCRP issued a scathing report (“Highlights of the Findings of the U.S. Global Change Research Program Climate Science Special Report“)  analyzing the runaway train effect of global climate change, and pinning the “blame” on human activities since the industrial revolution.  Of course, this publication goes against everything that Donald Trump has said to mollify his own base.

Vox has a detailed commentary by Umair Irfan, pretty standard for mainstream and progressive media companies.

And this brings me to my next big point. The mainstream media has done a pretty good job of presenting the case that we need to take climate change very seriously, particularly if we take our responsibility to future (unconceived as well as unborn) generations as a moral issue (Point 5 of “DADT IV”)

Trump has played the denial game to his base with shocking effect, most of all when he announced June 1 that he was pulling out of the Paris accords on the day I was looking at the recovery from wildfires in Shenandoah.

The more mainstream conservative media (Fox, OANN) have demurred a bit but still covered the bases.  Yet, we aren’t to the point that there is a bipartisan political will to face the problem with federal action, but there is obviously a lot incentive in private American hands.

On other issues that I view as “hidden in plain sight”, I could say that the major media have covered issues of fiscal sustainability (social security, population demographics, debt ceiling) with some consistency but again without the result of a political will to face the issue squarely, partly because the demographic component (longer life spans, fewer kids) seems so intractable.

So I come to the starkest issues that give me an incentive to “stay in the game” as a blogger.  Notable, it’s hard for me to “join the movement” for an “oppressed group” when I think there are big issues that could blow our entire civilization (and make my whole life’s Akashic record pretty irrelevant and forgettable). And the biggest of these is the stability of the three major US power grids.

Part of the controversy concerns whether there really exist relatively inexpensive fixes (like neutral ground circuits) that (for maybe $10 or so per American, that is, a few billion dollars) make the grid far more resistant to terrorist or enemy attacks (especially E3 level) as well as to big “Carrington” solar storms. I’ve read that utilities in Virginia and Maine in particular have a head start on this issue.

Another part of the controversy really concerns the likelihood that an enemy (most recently in view, North Korea, as well as radical Islam) could credibly carry out an EMP attack (which doesn’t necessarily have to be nuclear) instead of a conventional thermonuclear strike. Again, the mainstream press has demurred on this somewhat.

So part of my own personal mission is to try to encourage the mainstream press, maybe starting with some of the more conservative news companies (Fox, OANN, Sinclair – which has reported on this as reported on this blog already) to give the public an objective assessment on the problem.  Yes, I’m ready to get on planes and go interview people.

There are other problems that need this kind of approach.  One is filial responsibility laws, part of the whole population demographics problem mentioned above.  Another is, of course, the threats to our permissive atmosphere of user generated content on the web – ranging from Section 230 (the Backpage controversy) to fake news and enemy (especially by ISIS) recruitment, as just reported last night on AB 20-20 on a scathing report by Diane Sawyer (“ISIS in America”).

I have a particular take on the whole Russia fake-news and social media trolling thing. I have long been personally concerned that foreign enemies could target individual people (and those connected to these people, like family or business associates), such as what we saw from North Korea at the end of 2014 with the Sony Pictures hack.   What I did not see was that enemies would try to goad “oppressed minorities” (BLM) or reactionaries to these minorities (less educated white males connecting back to white supremacist groups) into forming movements and fighting each other internally.

Diane Sawyer’s report (just mentioned) makes the good point that the asymmetry of the Internet (and user-generated content) makes young men who feel “powerless” or “left behind” individually dangerous in a way we haven’t seen before.  That is part of the old inequality paradox: you need to accept inequality and ego to have innovation that benefits everyone, but then people need to somehow “pay their dues” or you get instability (the “Epilogue” or Chapter 6 of my DADT III book in 2014).

I write all this today by using other funds (some inherited, but mostly my own) to support my own news commentary activities.  At some point, I need to partner up with someone to tackle some of the bigger problems I mentioned here (no, I really want to do better things with my life than scream in demonstrations for mass movements, but even my saying that is provocative). It’s true I am a globalist and somewhat “elitist’ but I call myself conservative (but in the libertarian sense, not Trump-ian). But I wanted to note that billionaire Joe Ricketts just shut down some local news sites he owns because they couldn’t pay their own way.  His own WordPress blog post on unionization is interesting.

(Posted: Saturday, November 4, 2017 at 1 PM EDT)

Update: Friday, Nov. 10 (12 noon EST)

I have to note this article in Vox on the effect of “tribal elites” especially on the climate change debate.   Sorry, I really do try to investigate the world’s woes (like the power grid exposure) “hands separately”.  I could say, “tribalism is for losers”, ha ha. And I’d get executed or beheaded quickly and there would be no funeral.

Yellowstone Caldera attracting attention for catastrophic eruption potential, but maybe “it won’t be so bad”

There has been some hype in tabloid media (and on doomsday prepper Facebook accounts) in the past couple of weeks about the increase of small earthquakes in the Yellowstone National Park caldera area, interspersed with quiet periods.  Some sources say this could be a warning of a catastrophic eruption which could make two-thirds of the United States uninhabitable.  Other possible indications could be changes in water levels in various ponds and hot springs.

There are reports that that DHS has talked to at least four countries (one of them is apparently South Africa) on other continents about taking American “refugees”.  I could say, fat chance, given Trump’s attempts at travel bans!  There are predictions of at least a 10% probability of a major eruption by 2100.

The Pacific Northwest seems to have a massive eruption about every 650,000 years and we are near that time.  Each eruption occurs farther East than the previous one.   And scientists have found that the magma chambers under Yellowstone were even deeper and larger than previously thought.

But if you check more mainstream media, the sources indicate that earthquake swarms are common and not necessarily a sign of a major eruption. And more stable (and sometimes conservative) sites tend to suggest that the damage possible from a Yellowstone eruption is much smaller than the tabloids or Hollywood disaster movies predict.

Indeed, there would be massive destruction for at least 100 miles or so in every direction from the Caldera, more than was found with Mount St. Helens in 1980.

And there could be considerable ashfall over the upper Midwest, compromising farmland and gumming up streams and rivers.  Furthermore, the volcanic could would block sunlight and cool the Earth for several years, maybe substantially, reversing global warming temporarily and leading to shorter growing seasons.

I can recall that this risk came up on an Outwoods hike near Minneapolis back in the fall of 1998 when a University of Minnesota chemistry professor on the hike mentioned it, as a real hazard to civilization.

This site in the UK is rather sensational, as is Millennium Report, but these (Fox, Gizmodo, Livescience) make more temperate predictions.

I visited Yellowstone myself in May 1981 (also nearby Teton), and the Mt. St. Helens site in Washington State in July 1990.  I also flew over the St. Helens peak on a flight from Seattle to San Francisco in August 1980.

There have also been reports that Mount Rainier in Washington State could have a massive eruption.

Map of past eruptions.

Map of calderas.

Caldera photo.

Mt. St. Helens

(Posted: Friday, June 23, 2017 at 1:30 PM EDT)

Guest post on countries that can go to nearly 100% renewable energy

While Donald Trump, with “America First”, seems eager to give fossil fuels a longer lease on life, at least to help out coal miners in his voter base, it seems that some smaller countries are doing well in going to nearly 100% renewable energy.

Here follows a guest post on the topic:  It’s original title is “7 Countries that Said ‘Adios’ to Fossil Fuels & Run 100% on Clean Energy.” It is authored by “We Love Costa Rica”.  I’ll add that Costa Rica was a popular destination by the Dallas Sierra Club when I lived in Dallas in the 1980s.

“You might not have heard of countries like Bonaire or Tokelau before. They are really small and they only have a few inhabitants. Despite this, they were able to do something many other major countries have not done – remove fossil fuels and be totally dependent on renewable energy sources.

“In a lot of countries, there are still debates going on regarding global warming and the real reason why it exists. For these small countries, it is no longer up for debate. They have done something to change their energy source to make it cleaner.

“”They know that when disaster strikes, they will be the biggest victims. They understand the impact of global warming as they are the first people to reap the damages if floods and typhoons become more violent than before.

“Bigger countries don’t care for now as they can’t feel the immediate impact. If they will see the heavier impacts of global warming, they will surely change their tone. Just look at China. They have allowed big manufacturing companies to take over and do whatever they want.

“As a result, there is rising level of pollution in major cities. They have decided to do something about it when the problem has gone out of control. In short, these smaller countries are wiser to not wait for the damages to happen before doing something.

“Get to know these countries more through the infographic below. It lists the countries that have succeeded in eliminating fossil fuels from their system.”

7 Countries that Said 'Adios' to Fossil Fuels & Run 100% on Clean Energy

(Posted: Thursday, April 6, 2017 at 11 PM EDT)

On “elitism”, real life, and having “too much education”

I wanted to pull together some threads of animosity in today’s multi-polarized climate over many issues, with all the rancor surrounding Donald Trump’s election and presidency.

A key concept seems to be resentment of “elitism”. David Masciaostra has a piece in Salon on Nov. 20, “’Real Americans’ v. ‘Coastal Elites’”. The tone of the piece reminds me of a drill sergeant, when I arrived at Tent City at Fort Jackson SC during 1968 Basic Combat Training, saying I had “too much education”. Others in the barracks regarded me as a “do nothing” or dead wire when it came to risk of pain and sacrifice. Salon mentions people wanting a leader who can talk in middle school language, or “talk that way”. Voters want respect for “real life” (as my mother called it); they see elites as spectators and critics who don’t put their own skin in the game. And some voters seem way to gullible in their response to authority that can get them what they think they want, whatever it costs others; and these voters actually believe that everything that matters in life happens through a chain of command, even within a family.

I could mention a related issue right away: modern society’s unprecedented dependence on technological infrastructure. Trump hasn’t talked about it this way, but Bannon ought to be paying attention to taking care of the power grids, especially, as I have often written here before. Along those likes, I thought I would share a New York Post piece on teen digital addiction. Remember 60 years ago, middle school teachers screamed, “Read, don’t watch television”. And in those days we had only black and white.

The “real life” person doesn’t trust what disconnected intellectuals write, so the “real lifer” doesn’t think it’s important to listen to arguments about pollution or climate change. The lifer knows that she can’t afford Obamacare premiums, but has no concept of how the policy changes promised to her by huckerizing politicians could make things worse for her or for a lot of other people. Lost. By the way, in the argument about health care, is the total lack of transparency in pricing (the GOP is right about this). But the “lifer”, with her anti-intellectualism, ignores a moral precept: that looking after the planet for future generations matters. Yet, it’s only been the last few decades that we’ve come to see that as a moral idea, even given our preoccupation with “family values” – and lineage. It’s ironic that the cultural, even gender-sexist moral arguments of the past flourished in a time of higher birthrates and shorter life spans, when filial piety and taking care of our elders hadn’t become the issue it is today.

Policy problems are often presented in moral terms, but we actually tend to get used to a status quo without asking why things need to be the way they are. If we did have single payer health care (like Canada), it would become the expected public safety net, and unreasonable demands on families or of volunteerism would no longer have a place at the “morality” table. Bernie Sanders is right about this. But other status quos in the past have been “bad”. We accepted homophobia without understanding why other adults’ private lives needed to be our business. We had a male-only military draft, and a hierarchy of forced risk-taking for the country. It took a long time to change these.

We also get used to begging from politicians in terms of groups and identity politics. That works better with “vertical” groups – long, well-established common identities that policy is used to addressing. These include nationality, religious affiliation, and race, and sometimes economic groups like labor and workers.   Groups associated with gender issues and sometimes disability tend to be more “horizontal” as members appear in all the vertical groupings, causing divided loyalties. They intrinsically take longer for partisan political processes to handle. Differentiating “chosen” behavior and inheritance (or immutability) becomes much murkier. “Middle school kids” have a hard time disconnecting this from religion because of “anti-intellectualism”.

We also see appeals to become personally connected to people, as online, as transcending the barriers of the past, but still colored by “identity politics” and a tendency to entangle legitimate individualism with a sense of automatic entitlement to attention from others. We gradually learn that as we distance ourselves from our groups of origin (often families), we find their replacements (even a “resistance”) just as demanding in loyalty and obedience.

All of this leads me to pose the question, “How is the individual who perceives himself/herself as different really supposed to behave?” Maybe not the Pharisee that I became, who wants to be recognized for his original content, but doesn’t seem to care “about” individuals who can’t distinguish themselves.

Here are a couple of other perspectives on elitism: the New York Times on liberal bubbles; The NYT on leaders needing meek little followers; and a (real) “rude pundit” blogger.

(Posted: Tuesday, March 28, 2017 at 2 PM EDT)de

Republicans begin to quibble on their climate change denial; is a carbon tax real progress?

Will a carbon tax get anywhere now?   Some Republican “elders” have recently endorsed a carbon tax, set at $40 a ton of carbon dioxide.

For Republicans to “come out” for such a tax is indeed to ratify a moral precept:  that people living today owe people to be conceived and born in future generations something.  We call that “sustainability”.  How far into the future is a good question.

But such a tax, to be reasonably effective in slowing tempering global warming, would need to be steep on drivers, maybe up to $2 a gallon of gasoline.  Given the current rural Republican base, that hardly sounds politically realistic.

I can remember the mood about gasoline consumption in the 1970s, during my own “second coming”. In fact, some time in 1971 or so, there had been reports of possible future gasoline rationing in Los Angeles to control smog.  In early 1973, there were already some disquieting signs of future “energy crisis”;  during a benchmark trip to St. Paul in May 1973 there were already speculations about the “state rationing gasoline”.

Then, almost immediately following the Yom Kippur War in early October (which I found out about on a Saturday night at the Ninth Street Center after coming back to the “City” from an overnight camping trip), gasoline lines appeared and soon President Nixon, in a national address in early November, admitted (almost in the same breath of talking about Watergate and calls for his resignation) that he “might have to ration gasoline”.  We all know that an even-odd system for days or purchase developed in many areas, and the shortage did not life until April 1974, when gasoline prices rose enough to control demand on its own.

This was a big deal for me in those days.  “Getting around” physically was an important part of my personal strategy for finding the right person(s).  At the time, I needed ready access to “the City” but was employed in “the burbs”.

As we get into retirement age, some of us note the bad karma of some of our personal consumption behaviors.  We won’t be around when “The Purification” comes, but other people’s children will be.  Sustainability has to remain a fundamental moral objective.

“Here we have some fossils who want to tax fossil fuels”.  Will the rebate go to everyone (which the GOP wants) or only to poor people?

There is another perspective to add to this.  While we want to save people’s jobs, and these include coal miners’, we have to realize that sustainability always means developing a workforce with newer skills – in this case, developing and manufacturing the hardware associated with renewable energy.  That’s also essential for power grid security, as I’ve discussed here before.

On Trump’s use of coal miners as part of his base, it’s also worthy of note that strip mining and mountaintop removal, while degrading the environment (in areas like southern West Virginia) certainly tends to employ fewer people over time.

Op-ed by Robert Samuelson Feb. 20, 2017 on the carbon tax in the Washington Post.

Site with pictures of Kayford Mine in West Virginia.

(Posted: Tuesday, February 21, 2017 at 3:30 PM EST)

Update:  Feb. 26:

Here is a Cato Institute paper “The Case Against the Carbon Tax” by Robert Murphy et al.

Trump has pitched the virtues of living “locally” at his “thank you” rallies

One of the points Donald Trump tried to move his crowd with at a “thank you” rally in Ohio was the idea that people want to live locally and take care of their own business locally, and that people should live relationally and locally.  That goes along with his more recent speculative comment (in relation to Russian hacking of both major political parties) that “no computer is safe.”

That sounds like a potential, anti-intellectual anathema for someone like me, who likes to play the role of global observer, a sort of alien anthropologist which Mark Zuckerberg has become much more successfully than I did – but I had first helped forge “a path ahead” in the 90s.  Indeed, in the LGBT community there is a certain sort of cosmopolitan gay male who seems himself this way – Milo Yiannopoulos, the quintessential bad boy, anticipated by “bad boy” Shane Lyons’s character (played by Timo Descamps) in the now classic sci-fi fantasy “Judas Kiss”, linking modern world values to the ironic moral problems associated with the notorious Biblical character’s betrayal of Jesus (as in the CNN series “Finding Jesus”). In the “straight” world (again, ironically), people have perceived celebrities like Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, and punk-master Ashton Kutcher this way.  (Any one of these three would have been fit to be president now.)

Local values have played out in different ways.  Back in the 70s and 80s, people were moving to the suburbs, and companies followed them from the cities, to provide safer and more segregated lives for their “families”. This was bad for a singleton like me, who needed geographical mobility as a kind of “power” (and in my case, in the early 70s, to “come out”).  Now, the genie is instant self-broadcast in public mode online, influencing “strangers”.

Local values are more or less commensurate with “family values”, being able to find meaning in the emotional connections to others, of varying ability, in one’s immediate “family group”, before moving out into the world.  Finding emotional connections meant local focus, and it also emphasized hands-on practical skills at home.  For example, this used to mean conformity to gender-related expectations.  All of this can be quite challenging to someone who is “different” and is likely to move into a different community as an adult.  Yet, when someone does, he or she is likely to find a comparable expectation of loyalty and openness to emotional connectedness, and resentment of cherry picking, in a new social community.  But local values can impose original family obligations, meaning everyone needs to learn to be hands-on taking care of the elderly and even other people’s children;  “Raising Helen” scenarios are indeed unpredictable.

Local values may grate against “identity politics”.  People are born into families and communities (subsuming socially constructed races and politically constructed nation-states) and often expected or goaded into accepting these as their “groups”, which indeed remain the objects of “zero-sum thinking” political barter.  But people often perceive themselves as members of other self-defined marginalized groups (especially with respect to gender and sexuality).  Religion is somewhere in between.

“Local values” are also commensurate with “doomsday prepper” values.  These precepts include the idea that everyone should have the practical skills to survive in a small social unit without dependence on modernity. These included self-defense (responsible gun ownership), mechanical skills, to do repairs on home and automobiles, and some ideas of chivalry, like that men should be able to change tires for women.  There is an idea that one should be “good” with this before moving on to the bigger world “on the outside” as an adult.

Sometimes these ideas seem anti-intellectual, prone to pressure to accept religious dogma and fellowship as dictated by others as truth (partly because it is so easy to rationalize anything “globally”).

But, again, the point is for the individual to consider just what will be expected of him and her, by a society that may look at him as beholden to others by definition. It certainly invites authoritarianism, even feudalism. Information is handed down along with political and social authority, and limited to what can achieve immediate practical results for the community.  Personal creativity is discourage for all but the very few who “make it”. Everyone else must live and reproduce for the good of the group.

When one does acquire fame and wealth and the things “adults” typically want in a modern western society (“democratic capitalism”) one is challenged by the idea that one is obligated by the sacrifices others in his “family groups” have made.  But he’s also inherited karma from these groups.  If his family lived off of ill-gotten gains, he or she may wind up on the hook for it.  That’s sort of the lesson Scarlet O’Hara learns and lives through in “Gone with the Wind” – but perhaps Scarlet was a prepper after all (“I’ll never be hungry again,” and she wasn’t.)  Remember how the novel begins, with her denial of the talk of war, which could disrupt her comfy life (funded in an ill-gotten way by slavery);  then at the end, she has gotten it all back, but loses another man (Rhett).  It’s easy to imagine many situations where people face the same thinking today:  young people who grow up in settlements on the West Bank, for openers.  Do you really inherit ancestral rights as part of a religious group or nationality?  I’ve never believed that as a moral precept.  Things can be taken away from you so easily.

Preppers may be on to something else.  They often believe that existential shocks to civilization are inevitable and happen cyclically, even if civilization is to survive for millennia and some day move to other worlds – which will provide new moral problems (how to select who gets to go). So they believe everyone needs to be willing to participate in a world where their old lives could end and where they still have to hand over a world to future generations. But I think we have to get smart enough at some point that we take care of our planet and don’t let our way of life get away from us.  Yes, we can.

(Posted: Monday, January 2, 2017 at 3 PM EST)

Trump could get interested in renewable energy if Thiel, Wilson, Andraka brothers, et al, press it; hint: national security

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One of the more positive lynchpins of Donald Trump’s proposed policies is focused attention on infrastructure.

Trump has talked about clean coal (because so many supporters were from coal states), which is not good for the mountaintop-removal issue.  (It’s good to note here that Jack Andraka’s brother, Luke, won a science award himself for a project on reducing acid mine drainage, story ).  Trump is probably fine with the Pickens Plan for natural gas.  And he’ll probably try to push the Keystone Pipeline.  He might not be all that sympathetic to homeowners with fracking earthquake damage – or maybe he will surprise us there, because, after all, he comes from real estate.

But will he do anything for renewable energy: solar and wind?  He might look further than that, since Peter Thiel has been one of his advisors.  Thiel has supported inventor Taylor Wilson, who had built a fusion reactor at age 14.

There is plenty of criticism of Wilson’s claims, as in Qurora, here.   Fusion, as far as we know, requires a lot more energy to fire it up than the fusor can produce. Wilson has never claimed that fixing this will be easy. But Wilson also has proposed beefing up the power grid with small underground fission reactors to reduce the load on transformers (decentralizing power further) and making the grid more secure from solar storm damage and from terrorists.  This still sounds credible, but would require billions in investment.  But that idea might actually entice Trump, who probably would have hired Wilson on the Apprentice had Wilson been a contestant.  (I can think of some people who screamed about Trump election night, people who would have survived all of Trump’s Boardrooms – like Jack Andraka, Timo Descamps, probably Richard Harmon.  Trump could easily throw away his top talent if he doesn’t stay on point.)

Peter Thiel’s idea that college is a scam, and that he should encourage Mark Zuckerberg’s example by enticing other gifted teens away from college to start businesses (even infrastructure-critical ideas like Wilson’s) is a little dubious.  For Jack Andraka to fulfull his dreams, he has to become an MD anyway, all eight-plus years.  But college is still a tremendous social-and-people learning experience, for the start of adult life.  Remember that point in the WB series “Jack and Bobby” – which prognosticates the grim idea of a nuclear attack around 2040.

(Posted: Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016 at 11:45 PM)

Disaster preparedness and prevention: is this about personal responsibility, or about having each other’s backs?

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Yesterday, on a little day trip, I drove down a remote creek valley road extending north west from the little hamlet of Gore, VA, about 10 miles west of Winchester on US 50.

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The road seems to follow a heavily wooded canyon (limestone or quartz rock walls several hundred feet high) around a stream, running in the western part of the Shenandoah Valley as the “Ridge and Valley Country”, leading to the Eastern Continental Divide eventually, starts.   There are numerous little bridges, some one lane, along the road (I think it is county 704) with warnings that the stream can flood.

I saw numerous homes, some of them mobile, some of them with small farms, and even a Boy Scout camp.  One home had a crude pontoon bridge crossing another little tributary to get to the house.  I didn’t look at my cell phone, but this indeed looks like life off the grid with sump pumps, self-reliance, gun ownership, and the like.

Apparently this area has been lucky enough not to flood during the numerous heavy rain events in the past three weeks as the heat wave finally breaks.  So what happened to Ellicott City could have happened here.  Or maybe it’s less likely – this area is farther area from water;  north central Maryland, by contrast, gets moisture from SE winds off the Chesapeake Bay, which makes the strorms in that area stronger with some wind shear that creates a small “tornado alley”.

But I was impressed by the fact that most “average people” do live in risky circumstances, and often are underinsured.  I don’t know whether flood insurance is required along this road, or how many people have it.  But when calls for financial help, donations, and even volunteer hours happen after a natural (or manmade) disaster, we often find that homeowners and renters had very poor or no insurance coverage (especially separate flood or earthquake insurance, since regular property insurance doesn’t cover floods and earth movement).

I wonder, do we live in a society with narrow “personal responsibility”, or do we need to learn more to have each other’s backs?

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We build on flood plains, and criticize people who do so – but when you drive through this canyon, you realize there is no place to live in the area except on a flood plain   We criticize people for building beach homes – but most landowners in resort areas (I know a woman who rents homes in Rehoboth) know the risk.  In Louisiana, residents in parts of New Orleans trusted the US government,, which failed them in Katrina;  and now residents around Baton Rogue face a flood that is said to be unprecedented, maybe related to climate change.  And many homeowners did not have flood insurance.

In the west, we build in urban fringes and into dry canyons that can be overrun by wildfires.  You don’t usually need special insurance coverage for wildfires.  But one match can destroy hundreds of homes.  So can dry lightning.  Look at what happened to Fort McMurray, in Canada.

Addendum: Trey Yingst of One America News reports on Red Cross volunteers in flood areas of Louisiana.

We could also stark a discussion about tornado storm shelters in homes in the Midwest and South, especially (some homes don’t have basements, normally), and even about tornado-proof steel construction (will return to this later).

 

 

(Published: Friday, August 19, 2016 at 2:15 PM EDT)

An amateur journalist (me!) covers disasters (the W Va floods), and incurs self-righteous resentment

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Tuesday (July 12) I attempted to survey the West Virginia flooding as part of a brief 3-day trip.

Northbound on I-77 from I-1 in Virginia, I had passed through the Big Walker Tunnel and then the East River Mountain Tunnel. A rig almost clipped me while illegally changing lanes and cutting in inside the tunnel, which would have led to a Stephen King-like catastrophe.  After I was in West Virginia,  I stopped at the first “visitor center” which was a little hard to get to, requiring getting on to public streets, off I-77, now called “The West Virginia Turnpike.” I went in to look for a state map and asked about road closures through the affected areas.

The information desk did not have any of this, and the woman (at the customer service desk) acted offended that anyone would travel through the area out of “curiosity” if he weren’t a “volunteer”.  I went back to the car, and finally found a road closure list on the website of a Hungtington W.Va. television station. I went back inside and showed it to her.  She became even more upset, even unhinged.  She insisted that “they” didn’t want people traveling in the region at all unless they were there to help.

I drove on to a service plaza, and got somewhat the same information, although the person was much more courteous.   I would then have a bizarre “character test” in the parking lot (narrative here ).

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I had heard in Washington DC news media (like station WJLA) that the Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs had re-opened (it had housed people displaced by the floods).  So I decided to go only through the southern section along I-64 (and not try to go through Richwood, a town I have visited numerous times before) on SR 39, even though WSAZ said it was open.

I got off at Lewisburg, where there was a “Traffic Jam” unrelated to the flooding     But I drove down to Ronceverte, W. Va., down in the valley along the Greenbrier River.  Most of the buildings downtown showed evidence of high water up to about two feet, but businesses were open.  I had lunch in a cash-only family restaurant fried chicken buffet, and picked up a West Virginia news paper that talked about a library in Rainelle W. Va. that had a Gofundme to replace its books.   Remember, at the Public Library, “It’s free, it’s free.”   Homes near the water appeared damaged but it seemed most people were still able to live in them, and a church was undamaged.  Only one street was closed to non-residents because of a bridge safety problem.

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I then drove to White Sulphur Springs, where the relief activity was much bigger.  Along the main street into town there was a lot of refuse piled up, near the Greenbrier Golf Course, which itself appeared to be pretty much restored. There were numerous signs “Sulphur Springs Strong” and “West Virginia Lives” or words to that effect.  There was a relief station at the St. Charles Catholic Church and one other one downtown.  Businesses appeared to be open and welcoming.  Toward the river, just north of downtown, businesses and homes appeared damaged, but again it appeared people lived in them.  Most of the people needing relief would appear to have come from more rural areas down the river.

The West Virginia Daily News covers the disaster with many stories, such as this one about the volunteers, or this one about therapy dogs.  The newspaper has articles on how FEMA works, and addresses the question of whether homeowners had procured flood insurance.  After disasters in lower income areas, we always hear horror stories about people without reasonable property insurance.

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I have visited the Greenbrier area numerous times before.  I placed one copy of my first DADT book there in a store in 1997, and I took the tour of the Greenbrier nuclear bunker at that time (another story).

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I had visited WSS overnight in December 1996 right before an important meeting about my “conflict of interest” problem that I have discussed elsewhere (May 30).

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There is also a “tunnel to nowhere” just south of WSS.

I have visited disaster areas before, without issues, such as after the February 2016 tornado near Tapapahonick. VA.

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I saw the aftermath of the 2014 tornado in Tupelo MS, where many homeowners were still rebuilding and considerable debris was still left (hotels were open but some wireless services didn’t work)

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And I noticed the effects of the  2011 tornado in Tuscaloosa, AL, where some areas south of campus haven’t been rebuilt.

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In March 2013, several months after Hurricane Sandy, most areas of the Jersey Coast and southern Long Island were open, but one community Rockaway Queens as closed, and various streets or neighborhoods in coastal towns (like Seaside Heights) were still clearly marked as closed except to local traffic.

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Generally, after most disasters (like large tornadoes, wildfires and earthquakes), authorities (usually the governor) clearly announce which areas are closed to the public (sometimes open only to residents with identification).  This does not seem to have happened this time in West Virginia, maybe partly because of the widespread area of damage.

Should “amateur blogger journalists” cover disasters?  Should someone “like me” play real-life “Star Reporter” (that very geographical 1950s board game, now forgotten)?  This really is not about earning ad money off of other people’s tragedies (which is what that first clerk could have been thinking).  Note that this blog doesn’t even carry ads yet.  “Amateurs” after all, probably haven’t paid their dues covering conflict journalism and taking the risks (look at what happened to Bob Woodward).  Anderson Cooper and Sebastian Junger both started out by “paying their dues”.  I came to all this on my own as a “second career”.

Should amateur bloggers claim that expected journalistic objectivity is a good thing?  Or should they be ready to “join in” “other people’s” causes, with some self-directed passion?

(Published: Wednesday, July 13, 2016 at 3:15 PM)

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Update: Sunday, July 17

Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA said this morning that a youth volunteer group will go to the Richwood area and live and work under somewhat primitive conditions. Whatever the media reports, word of mouth suggests that conditions along SR 39 may be more difficult than what I saw along I-64, twenty or so miles to the south.

Update:  Thursday, Sept. 8

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I drove through the WVa 55 and 39 area, through Richwood and other communities on Aug. 26.  Most of Richwood was high enough not to have damage, but a few houses were destroyed by rockslides, too.  Along streams, homeowners seemed to be doing repair work themselves.  People who live in this part of the country are self-reliant and know how to do construction on their own, even without hiring many contractors. Outside volunteer help in the area did not seem to have been that significant.

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For climate change debate, the fact that rapid increase in CO-2 levels is man-made is settled science, and that really matters

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One of my own pet “peeves” is being expected to go along with others demanding my “loyalty”, against the evidence of science.  I remember how this sense played out during the early days of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, and I’ll come back to that later.  Right now, I’m most concerned about libertarianism and conservatism (which I normally advocate) and climate change.

It is practically undeniable that the Earth is slowly warming, but the central logical question seems to be, is the warming the result of man’s activity.  The notion that man has caused it is also viewed as settled science, in the sense that the structure of the solar system (with the Sun in the center) is settled science.

That is indeed how I see it.  As a matter of completeness, it’s important to admit that indeed the climate of the Earth has always changed through “natural” mechanisms, including a past history of “snowball Earth”, ice ages, and little ice ages.  There was a “year without a summer” in the early 19th century (with snow in August at mid-latitudes) probably caused by volcanic dust in the atmosphere.  Over a very long time – millions to billions of years – the Sun will eventually enlarge (to the red giant stage in about five billion years) and even scorch the Earth, so that mankind will have to move to another world to survive. Natural climate variability does happen and, as a matter of principle could overwhelm man’s effects.

But the real evidence, so well laid out in Al Gore’s famous film “An Inconvenient Truth” in 2005, points to the idea that, with respect to time frames (a few decades to two or three centuries) that matter in most human moral perspectives, human activity is causing a relatively rapid increase in carbon dioxide.  A secondary result, not necessarily proven yet, could be the release of large amounts of methane, from permafrost or the deep ocean.

Al Gore’s presentation is pretty much reinforced by charts on NASA’s evidence website.  What jumps out immediately is the derivative of carbon dioxide concentration (yup, the concept you learn in freshman calculus), the idea that the rate of increase is so large (in fact that rate may be accelerating itself),  A related concept in science is the acceleration of gravity:  an object’s velocity increases with time as it falls to any planet.

The Economist as a good article, with a breakdown as to which activities have helped release CO2 emissions.  One surprise is the benefit of China’s one child policy.

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CNN has a piece on the symptoms of climate change denial (which Donald Trump seems to join), and the libertarian-leaning Niskanen Center in Washington also answers the climate change skeptics, as does Reason magazine. Note a twinge of doubt in CNN’s piece with the use of the adverb “almost” in the article banner.

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Although Reason, in particular, says that massive public policy changes are not necessarily justified by climate change, in general it does matter that it is man-made. Personal and corporate behavior with respect to the environment would not be so much an issue of natural climate cycles really could dwarf the effect of man-made emissions.

However, it is true, that, for one thing, climate change can exacerbate political tensions with the developing world, even the relatively near term of a decade or so.  The “West” developed first, and started the pollution. Now, developing countries (most of all China) can wonder why they must “sacrifice”.  And sea level rises may very well disproportionately affect poorer populations around the world, for example, Bangladesh.

If climate change is man-made, there are concerns for personal morality, too.  In general, people well socialized in large coherent families and communities use less energy per person, although that tendency may have been offset by larger families to move farther away from jobs to exurbs and to drive more, using larger vehicles.  Single people have different patterns of energy use and emissions.  Living in a large city without a car may help, but tends to be offset when people (like me) work and travel alone, often using resources by renting cars alone, for example.

In fact, personal mobility has always been important to me, for my entire adult life.  In the earlier periods (in the 1970s) it was more threatened by international oil dependence (as with the 1973 embargo).  Today, political instability (especially with the Islamic world) is exacerbated by past energy practices and their effect on western policies, even in a time when oil prices fall and the West becomes much more self-sufficient in energy.  Air pollution and climate change replace the prospect of energy shortages as political hot flashes.

The fact that life spans are finite, and, while getting longer, still usually less than the time it takes to see the real impact on near future generations of people, does tend to mitigate the sense of moral urgency on a personal level, both for personal lifestyle, and for the way some businesses (especially energy companies) have behaved (a lot of written about the Koch family, including documentary films).  That is one reason why many religious faiths (including Islam) make a lot of a responsibility to unborn, in fact un-conceived (not yet existing) generations. Do people who don’t yet exist have a moral claim on us?

In general, climate change seems most pronounced at polar latitudes and higher altitudes.  Glaciers are disappearing even at lower latitudes. Spring starts earlier and fall lasts longer in temperate areas.  Heat waves farther north (in northern Europe or Russia) have occurred.  When I lived in Minneapolis from 1997-2003, it seemed that winters were not as severe as I had expected.

It’s true that hotter, drier summers in the US became noticed first in the late 1980s, with increasing wildfire threats that have mounted ever since, along with drought in the West. On the other hand, it’s not clear that hurricanes in mid-latitudes are more destructive (whether “perfect storms” like Sandy will become more common), or whether large tornadoes will become more common, especially away from areas used to them (the US Great Plains and some of the Southeast).  Cold fronts from the north are not as strong sometimes, so that could argue against more tornadoes.

Even so, the amount of snow in a typical mid-Atlantic season has remained normal, but with more erratic weather and more snow bundled in fewer but larger storms (as with January 22, 2016).  Abnormally warm late fall months (like December 2015) are tempered by sudden late winter polar wind fronts (as in February and again in early April).

In December 2008, meteorologist of station WJLA gave a presentation at an Arlington VA high school, written up here .  Local meteorologist Doug Hill somewhat discounted the climate change claims, but I wonder what he would say now, seven years later.

I have to admit that my comfort level in retirement is partly predicated on my own previous oil company holdings, which worked out well for me (I sold before the dip in prices), and also the family’s.  On my mother’s side, there was a major gas well in Ohio for many years, and it provided more than enough money for eldercare.   I wouldn’t have the “freedom” I have today without my own “unclean hands” and rentier behavior in the past oil and gas business.  And, oh yes, I lived in Dallas from 1979-1988.  I have a little bit of the karma of both Donald Trump and J. R. Ewing. But for policy, we need to get to the truth.

Pictures:  Maybe more carbon in the atmosphere stimulates wild vegetation in yards.  Also, a storm out in the ocean off Reboboth Beach, DE.

(Published: Friday, June 10, 2016 at 2 PM EDT)

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Update: Wednesday, June 29:  On p. A11 of the Wall Street Journal today, Holman W. Jenkins writes “Climate denial finally pays off“. Let’s play devil’s advocate.