Liberals and Conservatives Finally Agree: Volt Can End US Dependence on Middle East Oil


Over the past year conservatives have engaged in brutal and ongoing attacks against one of the greatest American automotive innovations ever the hit the road — the Chevy Volt — but today, thankfully, these attacks appear to have stopped.

An American Innovative Marvel

The Chevy Volt is the world’s first successful plug-in gas electric hybrid. This revolutionary vehicle allows drivers to run their vehicles in all electric mode for up to 55 miles before recharging or switching to burning gasoline to extend the vehicle’s range to over 350 miles. Since most commutes are about 26 miles, Volt drivers can reap amazing gains in fuel efficiency. Reports back from Volt drivers show that they are driving, on average, 1,000 miles between fill-ups. This gives the vehicle an average fuel efficiency of over 130 miles per gallon.

In addition, the Volt is wildly popular among owners. In 2011, it ranked highest in customer satisfaction out of any vehicle sold.

Attacks against Volt harm sales

The fact that such a powerful technology is available on the road is a miracle of modern engineering. But despite these obvious benefits and the fact that this amazing vehicle was an all-American invention, conservatives engaged in a massive politically driven attack against it. Ignoring the fact that the Volt began development under the Bush administration, republicans called it an Obamamobile and went about doing everything they could to demonize it. These attacks resulted in some dealers refusing to sell the vehicle for political reasons.They also alienated would-be Volt buyers — patriotic Americans concerned about US imports of oil from places like Venezuela and Saudi Arabia.

But, even from the start, there were a few defectors in the republican ranks. Bob Lutz, a prominent republican derided attacks against the Volt, saying that these attacks were misguided at best.

Conservative media about face

Now, the conservative media appears to have done an about face on the Chevy Volt, today airing a piece on Fox News that could be best described as a Volt promotion. Fox even posted an analysis showing that the US could be energy independent from the Middle East if we managed to sell 30 million Volts by 2020. Comparing it to the ipad, Fox then went on to state that so long as economies of scale were able to be reached the Volt could radically drop in price making it much more accessible to average Americans.

Work together for energy independence?

The admissions by Fox today represent a huge break in the conservative log-jam over alternative energy technologies that help to reduce oil prices. It is a welcome change, for a certainty. And perhaps, at least, conservatives and liberals can finally agree on the need for alternative fuel vehicles and plug in electric hybrids. If we work together, America could well become a leader in this critical new technology, serve to help reduce our own oil dependence and, through exports of revolutionary vehicles like the Volt, reduce world dependence on oil as well.


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No Response to Global Warming After 60 Years of Scientific Warnings — Would we Really Take Away Our Children’s Hope?

The above video covers over 100 years of climate science. It shows how scientists began making serious warnings about global warming in the 1950s and that these warnings began to intensify during the 1970s and 1980s. It also shows that the scientists were absolutely correct in their estimates of temperature increase.

However, the most chilling aspect of this video is it shows that scientists greatly underestimated the degree of response from the world’s ice sheets and other key climate indicators and feedbacks. One such instance is displayed by early scientific estimates of sea ice melt.


In the above figure, we see IPCC model runs on Arctic sea ice melt (shown in black) compared to actual arctic sea ice melt (shown in red). As with other observations, the response from sea ice to human heating has been much more sensitive than the response estimated by scientists. What one can extrapolate from this is that the entire climate system is probably much more sensitive to forcings than what scientific estimates and models show.

But what is most concerning about the video is that, despite over six decades of warnings from scientists, civilization has yet to make serious efforts to curtail greenhouse gas emissions. Now time is growing short and we have already locked in a certain degree of damage from human-caused climate change. Wait another decade or two and there probably won’t be much chance to stop some very, very tough consequences.

The video concludes with a stark statement by Dr. MacCracken:

“I have a colleague who went home very discouraged to her 13-year-old daughter. And her daughter just heard this disappointment and all this stuff, and basically said to her mother, “You can’t take away my hope.” I think we have an obligation to try to find a path.”

Though I agree with the statement by Dr. MacCracken, I believe, like most statements from scientists, that his words are entirely too moderate. I think that, if we were to set in place a series of events that would wreck the climate system for our children and grandchildren, then we would be nothing short of the most monstrous human generation who has yet lived. And, if humans survived such a self-inflicted trouble, they would rightly view our generation with even far greater ire than the most hated and feared tyrannies of human history. We will be seen as they ones who wrecked their prospects, who created the conditions that resulted in so much harm. And we would entirely deserve this hatred and ignominy.


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Open Letter to Lionsgate Films — Let Hunger Games Fans Fight World Hunger!

Dear Lionsgate Films, Executives, Producers, Owners,

We recognize that art has a right to be rewarded — both through purchases of art, and through public acclaim. That said, we also recognize that art has intangible cultural value as a reflection of a society’s hopes, aspirations, fears and, in the case of “Hunger Games,” as a revelation of the threat of world hunger.

There are few greater threats to the lives and happiness of the inhabitants of Earth than world hunger. It is a threat that affects every nation — no matter how rich or poor. And it is a threat that the popular novel “Hunger Games” helped to shine a light on. Inspired by the intrinsic and unique message of this story, the fans of this novel have, they feel, received a call to action and have directly answered that call in order to help the very real people of this world, not the inhabitants of some imaginary future land.

So we are asking that you cease and desist in all letters or other legal action against Hunger is Not A Game. It is a charity organization that in no way competes with or detracts from the potential for film-making profits. To the contrary, the existence of Hunger is Not A Game lends legitimacy to a film that would, otherwise, merely be an expression of entertainment for profit. But, because of the heartfelt action of responsible “Hunger Games” fans, this work of commercial art has been elevated to the level of a public cause for economic justice.

Therefore, we believe, that the myopic special interests of a commercial, for profit, endeavor should not supercede an action in the public interest. Rather, we believe that Lionsgate should embrace, validate, and, when possible, promote the valid action to end world hunger that Hunger is Not A Game represents. We believe, that should Lionsgate act in this fashion, both commercial interests and the public good can benefit. But a commercial interest attacking a public good in pursuit of profits is exactly what one would expect of the oppressive and selfish rulers of the “Hunger Games” world.


Hunger Games Fans Everywhere



Lionsgate Films has stopped legal action against Hunger is Not a Game. A victory for all those who oppose hunger everywhere.


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Hunger Games — A World Suffering From the Devastating Aftermath of Climate Change and Resource Depletion


This week, the long awaited Hunger Games by Susanne Collins will grace the silver screen. A popular dystopia novel, Hunger Games is set in an all-too-possible future world. A combination of climate change and resource depletion result in a United States shattered into 12 districts ruled by a dictatorial and repressive regime.

In the world of Hunger Games children are required to be sent as tribute to fight in a Battle Royale to the death. Katnis, the main character finds herself in the unique position of deciding to take her sister’s place when she’s chosen to fight in the games (Yes, I know, but Hunger Games was published three years after Luthiel’s Song. So it appears the inspiration may be running the other way).

But what’s most uncanny about this amazing series is that it occurs in an, entirely possible, future world. The climate is hot, the coastlines receded, and resources are scarce and growing ever moreso. A greedy and insulated ruling city lords its power over its subject districts in a reinvented feudalism. The subjects of these outlying districts are pressed into slave labor even as they are slowly starved. Though unrealistic, the map below is a dark vision of a world ravaged by these ills:


In stark contrast to the hundreds of millions now living in the continental US, only hundreds of thousands remain. It is clearly a world that has suffered a devastating collapse brought on, at least in part, by an irresponsible and self-serving leadership.

What makes the story most compelling is Katnis’s struggles against a leadership that continuously preys on the people under its rule and against the corruption that seems to crop up each time a hand reaches out to grasp power. The books painted a well-rendered and deeply compelling story about a world that could be. I sincerely hope the movies live up to the spirit of the originating vision.


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What Solar Panel Dumping Case Reveals About How Chinese Manufacturers Dominate Markets

Today the Federal Trade Commission ruled against Chinese solar manufacturers, finding that government subsidies harmed US companies. In the ruling, Chinese companies were assigned duties between 2.9 to 4.7 percent. The duties depended on the degree of subsidy assistance Chinese companies received. Another ruling will be made in June to determine the degree to which Chinese companies have been dumping solar panels on the US market. This additional ruling is expected to result in further duties and penalties.

The Solar Surge

These rulings and investigations come after a massive surge in amazingly cheap Chinese solar panel exports to the US since 2008. This influx, which almost everyone with any honesty is calling dumping, has resulted in average solar panel prices falling from $3 to less than $1 per watt over the same period. In fact, the lowest cost solar panels on the US market are now selling for less than 84 cents per watt. This extensive dumping has resulted in three US solar companies, including Solyndra, being forced to file for bankruptcy and has negatively affected every other US solar manufacturer.

The silver lining is that US solar energy consumers now have access to solar panels at much lower costs. And these panels are now rapidly closing the gap between fossil fuels, likely to beat coal on cost by 2015. But the rapidly falling prices may well drive all manufacturers except the Chinese out of this critical market. And this state-sponsored international monopoly may well be benevolent if not for the stark history of Chinese monopolization in other key areas. For example, Chinese state-sponsored industry moved to rapidly dominate rare earth metals and are now setting higher prices or denying access to rare earth metals altogether. Similar behavior with regards to solar panels may well prove disastrous in a world needing a rapid transition to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Government Spending/Perks Key to Chinese Dominance

So how do Chinese companies come so rapidly to dominate markets like solar? The answer is a combination of cheap loans, government payments on interest for the these loans, and predatory business practices. Cheap loans provided by the Chinese government resulted in the emergence of 700 new solar companies in China over the last ten years. In total, because of these loans, the Chinese now possess a capacity to manufacture 40 gigawatts of solar panels within one year. That’s enough solar panels to power all of New York State in just one year.

These state-sponsored loans may have provided the impetus for developing a world-dominating industry, but a number of other ‘perks’ aided the Chinese industry as well. For example, many Chinese manufacturers were able to purchase land directly from the state at 1/3 standard price levels. In addition, Chinese monopolization of rare earth metals has led to preferential pricing for raw materials feeding in to this state-sponsored industry.

But these aren’t the only advantages state sponsored Chinese companies enjoy. In addition to low interest loans provided to Chinese solar manufacturers, often the interest on these loans are paid, pro-bono, by the Chinese government.

So imagine you are a Chinese solar manufacturer. You receive nearly unlimited low interest loans from the government. You have much or all of that interest paid by provincial governments. The land for your plants is sold to you at major discounts and your raw materials are supplied to you at the lowest prices possible. This is all facilitated by the state-sponsored system. And, finally, you benefit from relatively low labor costs which give you a 3-4 percent price advantage. In fact, the other state-sponsored benefits are so great that the labor cost difference may as well be nil. In such a beneficial environment, it would require a stunning failure for you not to achieve market dominance.

Chinese Capitalize on State-sponsored Consumer Incentives

But what other benefits could a solar manufacturer in China look to gain from? Not just from the Chinese state, but from other states’ programs as well. Up until last year, the Chinese solar industry was almost entirely positioned for export. This strategy allowed them to benefit from state-funded programs that provided incentives for solar panel purchases. Already receiving so many benefits from the Chinese state, these solar exporters were rapidly able to dominate markets in Europe and the US, driving many other solar manufacturers to lay-offs and bankruptcies.

Meanwhile, the West suffers from an ideology that dramatically opposes the level of state assistance currently provided by the Chinese government. So most Western programs have been aimed at providing support for consumer purchases, not to providing seed funds for a fledgling industry, and, thus, those funds have been indirectly grabbed up by the surging Chinese solar industry.

Tariffs, Trade Barriers not Enough. Best Solution is Comparative Levels of Investment

In total, China is investing the equivalent to 90 billion dollars each year in alternative energy and efficiency. And this  investment will be enough to dramatically reduce prices for both wind and solar power by sheer scale alone. If the United States and other western governments wish to host industries that become anywhere near as competitive, they will need to provide comparative levels of direct funding, year after year. Otherwise, the Western manufacturers will fail and the key emerging solar and wind industries will be entirely ceded to the Chinese. Enacting trade barriers, penalties and tariffs would, at best, only slow the transition to Chinese state-sponsored monopolization.


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GOP Budget — An Exercise in Looting Public Resources to Benefit the Wealthy

This week, the GOP issued its annual budget proposal. It is a plan that flies directly in the face of all recommendations for responsible action. Unable to focus on what is needed to help the American economic system, a plan that includes both revenue generation and spending cuts, the republicans have returned to their wasteful program of looting public resources, raiding programs that help the poor and middle class, cutting taxes for the wealthy, and attacking solutions to current energy and climate problems.

Part #1: End Medicare, Affordable Health Care, Cut Medicaid

For years, the GOP has targeted Medicare. The program, which grants seniors a degree of security and medical assistance during old age, has been particularly critical in keeping many out of poverty during the recent great recession. But republicans seem to be happy to target any program within government that actually provides help to the less fortunate in order to transfer the largess to those who are already very well off. In the case of the Ryan Budget, the proposal again attempts to turn Medicare into a voucher program that would dump seniors into a predatory and privatized system.The result is that medical expenses for seniors would rise dramatically, increasing by as much as $6000 per year.

The GOP plan is also aimed directly at dismantling the Affordable Care Act. Demonizing the program from the beginning, primarily because it aids the uninsured and holds the insurance industry to a higher level of accountability, the GOP plan to remove the program would result in more than 30 million Americans being dropped from insurance roles. It would also continue the trend toward rapidly increasing medical expenses.

Finally, the Ryan plan intends to cut more than $800 billion from Medicaid over ten years. This would directly impact the most vulnerable members of society — the disabled. But it would also harm poor seniors who rely on Medicaid to supplement their support via Medicare.

Part #2: Cut Taxes for the Rich, Again

Following in the footsteps of the infamous Bush Tax Cuts, the Ryan plan pushes another 3 trillion dollars in tax cuts for the wealthy onto the backs of American citizens. This bid to increase the concentration of wealth at the top of the economic spectrum comes at the cost of harm to our seniors and requires wide-ranging cuts throughout the budget. On the chopping block include public roads and other infrastructure, science, alternative energy and education. These cuts are so deep that they endanger key infrastructure. For example, weather forecasting will likely be degraded and many of the nation’s bridges and roads will be at increasing risk of failure.

Part #3 Create a Requirement to Raise Taxes on the Poor and Middle Class

According to the Tax Policy Center, the Ryan Budget would reduce federal revenues by an additional $900 billion dollars per year (in addition to current deficits). Yet Ryan claims the budget is deficit neutral. So, in order to make up the gap, his budget would likely require closing a number of tax loopholes that benefit the poor and the middle class. Though Ryan has made no specific claims as to how this lost revenue would be made up, most rational analysts note that a rise in taxes on the poor and middle class is a likely result of the Ryan plan.

Part #5 Extend Subsidies to the Oil Industry While Cutting Alternative Energy

In addition to increasing unnecessary military spending, the Ryan budget extends more than $40 billion in subsidies to the oil industry. These subsidies come at a time when profits for the oil industry are at record levels. So Ryan’s proposal is simply to throw public money on top of private profits for his oil industry buddies. Meanwhile, as China prepares to eat the US solar energy industry for lunch and then jack the cost of solar panels worldwide, the Ryan budget slashes US public subsidies that provide a hope for a US future in solar manufacturing. The result, when combined with Chinese solar panel dumping, would be that the US solar industry will not exist within five years. Furthermore, the combination of republican budget cuts and Chinese dumping are likely to result in far less American innovation in this critical new technology.

Part #6 Sell off National Parks

The final insult inserted into the Ryan budget is a direct assault on the US park system. Ryan recommends selling public lands to private special interests who would, in turn, monetize these public treasures through the sale of their resources. Ryan’s plan flies in the face of Teddy Roosevelt’s vision for a national park system that husbanded the nation’s vast, but still limited, natural resources. It would also result in an America far less resilient to the impacts of resource depletion and climate change.

The Republican Moai Builders

Given all these myopic and decidedly unequal recommendations, one would not be surprised if the GOP recommended a new subsidized program to pay industry vast sums of money to construct enormous useless, yet self-gratifying, monoliths lining the coast so that future civilizations journeying to our shores could wonder at our stupidity, decadence, inequity, and wasteful use of resources.


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March Heatwave — Among Most Extreme in US History — Fuels Potential for Catastrophic Flooding

This afternoon the National Weather Service issued a catastrophic flood warning for the areas of Eastern Oklahoma, Western Arkansas, Western Louisiana, and Southwest Missouri. The NWS predicted that widespread and potentially catastrophic areal and river flooding were possible in the region today. An enormous, slow-moving low pressure system is colliding with the moistest air mass ever recorded for the central US during March.

The NWS in Minneapolis Minnesota measured the highest levels of moisture ever recorded so early in the year flowing northwards into Minnesota along the cold front yesterday. A large trough of low pressure is now lifting this massive volume of moisture aloft and is expected to dump from 4-8 inches of rain with isolated amounts measuring as high as 15 inches in the warning areas.


Fueling this storm is an extreme record heat-wave that has pumped massive volumes of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico over the central US. This heat wave was spurred by a Pacific La Nina weather pattern combined with abnormal heat and moisture fueled by global climate change.

All throughout the Midwest, records have been shattered with many cities showing the warmest March in history. In Illinois, republican climate change deniers vying for primary voters were greeted with seven days straight of 80 degree weather.

Obama, in a recent chat with Oprah today said “It’s warm every place. It gets you a little nervous about what’s happening to global temperatures. But when it’s 75 degrees in Chicago in the beginning of March it gets you thinking…”

Oprah replied: “Something’s wrong.”Image

The March heat wave is producing a huge swatch of extreme temperatures with North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio all seeing temperatures 20-25 degrees or more above average for this time of year.

From Weather Channel meteorologist Stu Ostro: “This remarkable warmth is associated with a bulging ridge of high pressure aloft that is exceptionally strong and long-lasting for March. While natural factors are contributing to this warm spell, given the nature of it and its context with other extreme weather events and patterns in recent years there is a high probability that global warming is having an influence upon its extremity.”

UPDATE: Storm system sparks flash flooding, severe storms, tornadoes across the warning region (more information available at

UPDATE: According to reports from The Weather Channel, and the National Weather Service, storms last night dumped up to 12 inches of rain over the warning area, with one area reporting 15 inches. The storm is currently advancing, creating the threat of up to 5 inches of rain in eastern Louisiana and western Mississippi today.

UPDATE: The current heat wave has resulted in over 3,000 record high temperatures over the US.

UPDATE: Weather Channel’s Stu Ostro says extreme weather linked to climate change.



NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center:

The Weather Channel:

Think Progress:


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Arctic Sea Ice Melt, Methane Release Shows Amplifying Feedbacks from Human Caused Climate Change

For years now, scientists have warned that additional atmospheric heat caused by human releases of carbon dioxide (CO2) could result in amplifying feedbacks that cause even more heat. At first, most of these comments were academic, an exercise in predicting what would happen if humans did not curtail greenhouse gas emissions. But as human CO2 emissions continued to increase, global warming amplified and changes accelerated. Now the warnings from scientists are much more direct. Consider NASA scientist James Hansen’s most recent statement:

“We don’t have a substantial cushion between today’s climate and dangerous warming. Earth is poised to experience strong amplifying feedbacks in response to moderate additional global warming.” – James Hansen

Amplifying Feedbacks via Microphone

An amplifying feedback is a rapidly increasing response to an initial forcing. In everyday life, people are generally familiar with what happens when you put a microphone close to a speaker. The microphone picks up ambient noise, and pushes it out through the speaker. This, now louder, noise is picked up again by the microphone and sent back to the speaker as a much louder input. The loop continues until the speaker is pouring out a rapidly rising wail of sound.

Arctic Sea Ice Melt as Amplifying Feedback

In nature, something very similar can happen as a result of an initial climate forcing. In the Arctic, we can see this in the form of sea ice melt over the past few decades. Increases in ocean temperature and stored heat has gradually worn away at both Arctic sea ice area and Arctic sea ice volume.

In 2007, Arctic sea ice area reached the lowest levels ever recorded, a level far below the 1979-2001 average. Sea ice lost area equal to 20% of the total summer coverage of the previous year. More than 20% of Arctic sea ice gone in one year. Since that time, Arctic sea ice area has failed to recover with 2011 showing the second lowest area on record at end of summer, an area very close to the unprecedented 2007 record low.


The above image shows the difference between 1980 and 2007 Arctic sea ice (Source: Cryosphere Today).

But sea ice area as seen from above only tells half the story. The second half is told by total sea ice volume. Area measures how much surface is covered by ice. Volume measures the total amount of ice by taking into account sea ice thickness. And when looking at volume, there has been a precipitous and unrelenting fall.


Sea Ice Volume shown above is calculated using data from the Pan-Arctic Ice Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System of the Applied Physics Lab at the Polar Science Center and inserting it into a curve fitting process. And the curve shows a near-ice free Arctic under current trends by or before the summer of 2020. In fact, the model shows that September could see ice-free seas as early as 2013. Not likely, but another couple summers like 2007 could bring us very close.

But even if current trends don’t hold, additional statistical analysis shows nearly ice free summers by or before 2035.

And the, usually guarded, IPCC findings point toward ice-free summers before 2050. So depending on the dynamics of Arctic weather, which can certainly be very dynamic, our best analysis points toward a continuation of rapid collapse or a shift to a more gradual melt down.

Regardless of final melt dates, APL sea ice volume measurements show Arctic sea ice is getting very, very thin.

The reason Arctic sea ice melt is an amplifying feedback is due to the heat reflective nature of ice vs the heat absorption nature of water. Water just by virtue of color alone, absorbs more sunlight than ice. This results in water temperature in ice free seas being as much as 5 degrees C warmer than water beneath sea ice. And this warmer water heats both the air and the entire water column. Loss of sea ice alone is a powerful amplifier of temperatures during the Arctic summer and this extra absorbed heat is on top of the extra heat added by human caused global warming via CO2 emissions.

Arctic Methane Releases as Amplifying Feedback

It is the nature of single amplifying feedbacks that they tend to kick off other feedbacks. And this is exactly what is happening with Arctic methane.

In the Arctic, both methane and ice have been locked together in a chilly marriage ever since the roof of the world began to freeze about 10 million years ago. The reason for this is that the bodies of dead plants and animals have accumulated in the tundra’s frozen soil year after year. Dead and decayed biological matter has also been locked in formations called methane hydrates in the shallow Arctic sea.

When the ice melts, seas warm. This results in warmer winds blowing over the tundra. The tundra’s permfrost soils begin to melt and, when they do, bacteria begin to break down the dead matter locked in these frozen soils for so long. Once the matter breaks down, methane is released.

Now methane is a very powerful greenhouse gas — packing a potency twenty times that of CO2. So Arctic methane releases result in a powerful global warming force adding to the effects of sea ice melt and human CO2 emissions. The result is that the Arctic warms even more, more tundra melts, and more methane is released.


Often, when heat melts the tundra, new lakes form. These lakes contain large volumes of methane. Sometimes, researchers ignite this methane to demonstrate how much is being emitted from the lakes. Often, these ignitions result in dramatic plumes of fire, illustrating the explosive nature of methane emissions in the Arctic.

But, sometimes, this new methane seeping up from Arctic soils are ignited by nature in the form of lightning strikes. And these lightning strikes can result in vast tundra fires that burn massive swaths of the Arctic. One such tundra fire recently burned an area the size of Cape Cod in Alaska.


These tundra fires convert massive volumes of biological matter into CO2 which adds another amplifying feedback.

Out Gassing of Submerged Arctic Methane

Even though vast areas of land are now providing amplifying feedbacks as Arctic tundra thaws, some of the thawing tundra isn’t on land, it’s under the water. North of Siberia, the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS) is a protrusion of tundra now flooded by the Arctic Ocean. As the water above this shallow shelf warmed, the submerged tundra began to thaw, and as it thawed it began to release methane.

These underwater methane releases were only recently discovered. Since their discovery, the rate of methane release has defied all expectations, pouring more methane into the atmosphere than any other natural source. Just this summer, Arctic researchers including Igor Semiletov discovered enormous plumes of methane venting up from the sea bed. According to the researchers, some of these methane plumes were more than 1 kilometer across.

“Earlier we found torch-like structures like this but they were only tens of metres in diameter. This is the first time that we’ve found continuous, powerful and impressive seeping structures, more than 1,000 metres in diameter. It’s amazing,” Dr Semiletov said in a 2011 interview. “I was most impressed by the sheer scale and high density of the plumes. Over a relatively small area we found more than 100, but over a wider area there should be thousands of them.”

Some of this submerged methane comes from the decomposition of submerged tundra, the rest comes in the form of destabilized methane hydrates. As seen on the map below, the ESAS is just one of many areas where high concentrations of methane hydrate are expected.

Overall, 1700 gigatons of carbon are estimated to be locked up in the melting tundra and more than 4400 gigatons of carbon are estimated to be stored in the form of methane hydrates. By comparison, remaining conventional fossil fuel sources are estimated to contain about 1100 gigatons of carbon — about equal to the amount already emitted. So even if a fraction of Arctic Methane destabilizes it could more than double the impacts of human caused climate change.

But there is additional danger. They include loss of oxygen in the world’s oceans, rapidly increasing ocean acidification, the risk of much larger tundra fires, and the risk of very large fires sparked by lightning strikes in the event of sudden, large methane releases. These dangers should be seen as directly related to the risk posed by amplifying feedbacks.

Combined Impacts

When added to the very high volumes of CO2 produced by human activity, a volume 150 times that produced yearly by volcanoes, the increased heating caused by melting sea ice and increased methane release creates a dangerous amplifying feedback to global warming. The effects of these feedbacks are large and growing larger. The valid concern among scientists and those researching climate change is that these feedbacks will only expand exponentially as human forcing increases, eventually creating a cascade of effects whose scale is beyond the ability of humans to reign in.


Cryosphere Today:

National Snow and Ice Data Center:

The Polar Science Center:

“Vast Plumes of Methane Seen in Arctic as Sea Ice Retreats”

International Arctic Research Center:

The Storms of My Grandchildren by James Hansen, 2008


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Who is to Blame for High Gas Prices?

As the presidential election’s silly season continues, as the most outrageously pandering promises are made to all people across the political spectrum, a single issue seems to have outdistanced the rest — who is to blame for high gas prices?

Republicans, for their part, seem to enjoy blaming Obama who, supposedly, is keeping millions of magical drilling rigs hostage. If only freed from their bondage, republicans claim these rigs all alone, all by themselves, could, in a puff of faerie dust, reduce the price of gasoline to $2.50 per gallon.

But do the republicans have a rational leg to stand on in their endless drill, baby, drill diatribe? To find out, we’ll have to examine some facts.

Obama brings massive increase in drilling

Since Obama entered office, there has been a massive increase in US drilling. And the sad truth, despite republican rhetoric, is that the US would be engaged in increased drilling regardless of who held the office of president. The US is so addicted to oil that it can’t afford, at this time, not to exploit every economic source. As a result, drilling has increased by over 350% under Obama.

Huge drilling efforts result in only moderate supply increases

Considering tripling US extraction efforts, one would think that US oil production would rise dramatically. In truth, production has risen, but by only a small amount. The net result of a massive 350% increase in drilling has only been a moderate bump in oil production of 14%. US crude oil production increased from a 2008 level of about 5 million barrels per day to today’s level of 5.7 million barrels per day.

Moderate increase in supply does not result in oil price drops

So all out drilling under Obama has resulted in some increase in supply. And you would think, all things being equal, that the price of oil would also fall. But all things are not equal. Oil is traded on the world market and there are an expanding number of factors keeping the price of oil high.

First, Saudi Arabia has claimed that $100 per barrel is a ‘fair’ price for oil. Saudi Arabia produces more than 10 million barrels each day and is the world’s second largest oil exporter. They are the only country in the world left with substantial spare capacity. This means that Saudi Arabia is the only oil producer with much influence on supply or price. But Saudi is saying it will defend $100 oil. And the means Saudi has to defend this price is through cutting supply. So should oil prices decrease, Saudi will cut production. In fact, it did this during 2009-2010. And since Saudi cut production at that time, prices have risen from $40 per barrel to over $105 per barrel now. As the world economy recovered in 2010-2011, Saudi Arabia brought production back. But demand was so high that the new oil didn’t result in substantially reduced prices.

Second, the reason Saudi Arabia is the only producer with spare capacity is the fact that all other oil producers are pumping oil flat out. And despite this all-out production, the world’s supply of crude oil has remained flat at around 74-75 million barrels per day (blue line on graph) since 2004. This means that despite the highest average price for oil ever, for eight years running, world crude oil production has structurally leveled off. The reason for this plateau is that new production of crude oil is only enough to keep pace with the rate of production decline from existing wells. In short, when it comes to crude oil production, the world is running to stand still.

Third, high cost unconventional oil fills in the gap. Today, the world produces 18 million barrels per day of unconventional oil along with other substances such as wet gas and condensate (condensate is usually included in the crude oil figure, but it’s a different substance altogether). This includes supplies of tar sands from Canada, deep water oil, natural gas liquids, and biofuels. Much of this oil costs $50 dollars per barrel or more to produce. And the fact that the world is reliant on this ‘oil’ means prices will never fall below the high cost of a marginal barrel.

Most unconventional oil isn’t really oil at all. For example, Canada uses 8% of its entire natural gas supply to hydrogenate tar and ship it to us as ‘oil.’ The fact that we are calling hydrogenated tar ‘oil’ is a certain sign of how desperate we’ve become. And biofuels certainly aren’t oil. They’re fuels interchangeable with oil derived from crops. And it is through the production of these very expensive and difficult to produce fuels that the world has been able to increase production at all.

Fourth, the nominal demand for oil is about 98 million barrels per day, this is ten million barrels per day higher than the combined total production of crude oil plus unconventional oil. What this means is if prices go down, demand will keep going up until we hit a level of consumption of around 98 million barrels per day. The reason for this very high nominal demand is the fact that so many machines using so much oil are operating around the world. Oil-consuming automobiles alone are being produced at a rate of 80 million each year with more than one billion of these machines in existence around the world. With so many hungry machines, any new oil produced will be rapidly snatched up.

These combined issues mean that the US would have to produce more than ten million barrels per day of additional low-cost oil in order to create a situation where long-term gas prices of $2.50 cents per gallon or less were possible. But, in truth, achieving this feat is a bald impossibility.

All new oil is expensive oil

The reason why drilling cannot dramatically bring down the price of gasoline is that the cost of producing all the new oil is dramatically high. ‘Conventional’ oil from fracked wells costs $50 per barrel just to produce. Prices for biofuels, deep water drilling, polar drilling and Canada’s hydrogenated tar are about the same. But even the most wildly optimistic projections from all these sources show only slow increases in production requiring massive expense and effort.

Options for drastically increasing production do exist, however, if you’re willing to pay much more for gas. Oil shale contains 1.5 trillion barrels of potentially recoverable goop called kerogen. The US kerogen, however, is even less energy-dense than Canada’s tar. So the cost of producing this ‘oil’ is around $100 per barrel. And this cost hides the fact that a huge amount of natural gas would be needed to hydrogenate the kerogen. Furthermore, the oil shale is in a water poor region. Massive volumes of water would be needed to produce this goop. But the water doesn’t exist in the high volumes needed, so it would have to be piped in.

The result is that a immense and terrifying industrial effort would be needed to rip an enormous hole in America’s heartland to produce this ‘oil.’ And the irony is that, if we are forced to produce the oil shale, it will only result in even higher prices than today.

New drilling can’t dramatically lower prices, even though that’s what oil companies want you to believe

So, in short, the republicans are either misinformed, or they’re not telling the truth. This is hardly surprising considering that oil companies paid 18.5 million dollars into republican campaigns this year alone. Money to democrats from oil companies was substantially lower — only 2 million dollars. And what this oil company money is going to is keeping us all dependent on increasingly expensive oil.

Oil companies don’t want us to realize that even more drilling can’t radically reduce prices. But they do want to continue their dominance in the energy markets. They do want to continue their position as the dominant provider of transportation fuels. And in order to do this, they must convince us that the best solution to high gas prices is more drilling, even if it is not.

Real solutions — increased efficiency, alternatives

The only real solution to the oil depletion problem is switching away from fossil fuels and dramatically increasing efficiency. And even though republicans aren’t very good at proposing sustainable solutions, they are very good at demonizing policies and technologies that actually help.

This was recently demonstrated by republican efforts to demonize the Chevy Volt. Number 1 in customer satisfaction in 2011, the Volt dramatically reduces dependence on oil by making commutes all-electric. Since 80% of all gasoline consumption occurs in commutes, a transition to electric vehicles like the Volt would drop US oil consumption by 7 million barrels per day. If these vehicles became common-place around the world, oil consumption could fall by as much as 35 million barrels per day. And that would dramatically lower oil prices as well as eliminate the need for new oil production. This powerful new technology represents a potential future oil companies and republicans most definitely do not want. A future, however, that would be dramatically more prosperous for the rest of us.

But republican attacks aren’t limited to demonizing revolutionary American technologies like the Volt. Republicans have also worked to de-fund all government incentives to produce solar energy, wind energy, and to increase vehicle efficiency. Solar and wind energy reduce dependence on fossil fuels and since gas and coal are increasingly interchangeable with oil, they indirectly reduce oil prices. Finally, republicans attacks on energy efficiency directly increase the price of oil by increasing demand.

Republican policies push high prices higher

Only a dummy or someone bought and paid for would make the argument that civilization should remain dependent on an increasingly expensive and scarce resource like oil. And that’s just what republicans are doing. Though republicans aren’t to blame for the fact that oil itself is more expensive because it is depleting, they are to blame for pushing policies that enforce dependence on oil, for fighting at every turn to reduce efficiencies, and for doing their best to demonize and destroy any alternatives to oil.

Foremost, the republican push for drilling as the only solution is doomed to failure. At best, new drilling is a temporary stop-gap. Long term, without alternatives, it dooms the world economy to spiraling increases in energy prices. This policy is one born out of the myopic special interests of oil companies and their continued drive for dominance and outrageous profits. A true allegory to this failed policy was the conservative/republican push for deregulating the banks and the housing market in the 1990s. The result was a world financial collapse in 2008. We don’t want to see the same thing happen in energy. But blinded by profits and donations, republicans are,once more, trying to force us down a dangerous path.


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Earth Alone


Earth. A lonely world in a vast universe. And all around us, in our solar system, and even in the places barely visible through the lengthening vision of our telescopes, are dead worlds. Barren worlds. Hellish hot worlds. Strange giant gas worlds. Frozen worlds. But none hospitable to the rich variety of life all around us.

There is poetry here. It is the poetry of beauty. Of singular wonder. Of a gift or of the great good fortune that we ended up here, the only place we could have come to be. It is also the poetry of loneliness and desperation. For if anything happened to this world. For if the world changed even just a bit. It becomes far, far less likely that we would continue. Change a little more and the chances for life existing on Earth grow slim indeed.

Massive things in motion

In many ways we are beholden to the enormous natural forces that surround us. There is much we cannot control — the fall of an asteroid, the explosion of a supervolcano, a gamma-ray burst all would result in changes that are likely beyond the scope of human beings to adapt or overcome. But there is also much we can control. And there are many things we can do to reduce the likelihood for harm coming to our world at our own hands.


There are 7 billion human beings living here. This is seven hundred times the number of hunter gatherers the world supported 10,000 years ago. In the 1970s and 1980s, sustainability experts set a cautious growth limit for humans on Earth at around 6 billion. Even at the time of the first reports, 4 billion human beings were causing major stresses to the world environment. Species loss was accelerating, resources were beginning to deplete, forests were disappearing, and pollution was creating greater and greater impacts. Loss of ozone was already a threat and reductions in the use of pesticides were needed to protect key species. It was also becoming clear that human emissions of CO2 more than a hundred times that emitted by volcanoes was starting to warm our climate.

Some sustainability experts, like the authors of the ground-breaking book Limits to Growth, made appeals for building a livable path forward. A transition to technologies that did less harm. A transition to ways of living that produced less children. A transition away from dirty, dangerous and depleting fossil fuels. The hope was to sustain civilization. To prevent overshoot. To preserve a world hospitable for human life. But few people listened and few of the policies were enacted. Now, we are in a situation where resources are rapidly depleting, arable land is shrinking, and the climate is growing increasingly hostile. We live in a world of social, political and national unrest. We live in a world of resource wars. A world where the number of refugees from extreme weather exceeds the number of refugees from warfare.

These instance are all signs of overshoot — a situation where the human stresses to Earth are beyond what is sustainable for a livable world. A situation where resource depletion exceeds the natural world’s ability to replace those resources. A situation where the rate of pollution, primarily of CO2, exceeds the ability of sinks to absorb it. A situation where the pollution sinks are filling up and starting to become sources.

The Global Footprint Network makes yearly estimates of how many planets would be needed to support human consumption. And their estimate is that currently 1.5 Earths would be needed to sustain our recent activity indefinitely. Looking forward, under business as usual, Global Footprint estimates that 2.2 Earths will be needed by 2050. Since there is only one Earth, this level of overshoot cannot be sustained indefinitely. And pushing Earth too far beyond its limits results in irreversible damage and a contraction of the world’s carrying capacity to .8, .5, .3 or even zero Earths. Overshoot for too long means we could, potentially, remove ourselves from the planet.




Returning to sustainability means both change and reduction. And, perhaps, this is why it is so unpopular. A drunk or a drug addict doesn’t like to be told he or she needs a change in behavior. And we have grown drunk on growth, addicted to fossil fuels, hooked on over-consumption, stuck in population growth without restraint.

To change to sustainability means more cooperation and less competition. It means more moderate winners and far less losers. It means holding the robber barons to account. It means reducing and removing fossil fuel consumption. It means eating less meat. It means more renewable energy and more localized communities. It means more democratic rule and less hierarchy. It means more freedoms for women to control their family size and when they have children and less oppression of and violence against women. It means more compassion and less selfishness from leaders.

Making a change to sustainability will be a hard lesson to learn. It is even doubtful that we are up to the task. But the stakes couldn’t be higher. If we fail, if we choose the path of hubris, then we risk losing our civilization, so much of life, and perhaps even our world. It is difficult to make an appeal to humanity’s better angels. But if the angels are listening, please fly to send word!


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World Resources Institute Shows Widespread Coral Bleaching by 2030


The World Resources Institute recently issued a report on the health and future prospects for the world’s coral reefs. Entitled “Reefs at Risk Revisited,” the study tracks global warming impacts on coral reefs through 2050. The verdict? Not too hot for Earth’s reefs. Simply put, under business as usual fossil fuel emissions, it doesn’t seem likely there will be many, if any, reefs remaining by 2100.

The study shows warming will be highly damaging to coral reef systems by or before the 2030 and that such damage will become catastrophic by the 2050s. The above map only tracks damage due to coral bleaching, not damage due to reef stress from human activity, or damage due to ocean acidification.

Ocean acidification is caused by increasing levels of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. And since the dawn of the industrial revolution, CO2 levels have been creeping upward. Due to human emissions, world CO2 concentrations are now rising at the rate of 2.2 ppm each year. And a good amount of the CO2 that doesn’t end up in the air ends, instead, in the ocean. Scientists show that some corals and coral reef systems are under stress from acidification with current world CO2 levels at 393 ppm. Most studies show that coral reefs would be wiped out by the time concentrations reach 600-650 ppm. Under business as usual CO2 emissions, this level will likely be reached by the latter half of the 21rst century.

The WRI shows bleaching due to human-caused warming at critical levels during the same period.

The combined impacts of heat stress, human activity, and ocean acidification creates dangerous stresses to reef systems now. Over the coming decades, increasing damage from these sources will place the continued existence of coral reefs in doubt.

WRI also provides a compelling video investigating current stresses to coral reefs around the world:


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American Outrage at Rush — A Warning to the Powerful

Nearly two weeks after Rush Limbaugh ignited a public firestorm by bullying Sandra Fluke over national airwaves for three days running, calls to advertisers and radio syndicates to have Rush taken off the air have only grown louder. Many in the mainstream media seemed taken aback by such a strong public response, shocked that so powerful a figure could be shaken to his very foundations by public outrage. Some, including Bill Maher who has born the brunt of republican attacks for his own off-color jokes targeting some women, have even defended Rush.

What the media seems to be missing is context, the deeply abusive nature of Rush Limbaugh’s public bullying, and the dreadful harm the slut shaming of a defenseless law student inflicts on us all. Nor does the media seem to fully realize how what Rush says and does is directly linked to the political activities of republicans in Congress and the ongoing conservative war on women’s health and reproductive freedoms.

Scared of Rush

As recently as two weeks ago, republican leader John Boehner admitted at a Congressional press conference that republicans, members of the most powerful government in the world, were scared of Rush Limbaugh — a powerful political radio pundit who sometimes hides behind the title ‘entertainer.’ The big man, issued an honorary position in Congress in the 1990s, wields vast political power through his 15 million radio viewers and his incessant calls for political action. He has been at the forefront of many republican political campaigns over the breadth of his reign as EIB pundit and, at every turn, he has challenged liberal power-brokers. In many ways, Rush is the hand that wields conservative power in Washington and this is done through the scope of his far-reaching radio show.

Gagging Sandra Fluke

Then came Sandra Fluke, the woman who was supposed to testify.

Back in late February, the republicans had doubled down on their war on women’s reproductive freedoms. As recently as mid-month, they had waged a disastrous campaign to defund Planned Parenthood. Republican attacks were spear-headed by the Susan G. Komen Foundation which had become a political arm of the republican attack through the actions of its right-wing CEO.

But this action back-fired. Massive internet and media campaigns were waged against Komen for their denial of Planned Parenthood funding. The result was that Komen lost many of its major donors and top execs at the foundation threatened to resign unless the policy was changed.

Failing this avenue of attack, republicans opened a new front, attempting to legislatively deny health care coverage for women’s contraception and reproductive services. In a political insult that is likely to resonate for decades to come, House Republicans called an all-male committee before a Congressional panel to discuss the reasons for rolling back women’s reproductive freedoms. Democrats attempted to call their own witness — Sandra Fluke. But, citing an arbitrary rule, republicans refused to allow her to speak.

This all male panel was a stark and blatant symbol of who was making these critical decisions about women’s reproductive freedoms — old white men. But added to this insult was the fact that even a single female voice was denied testimony. So, for days, Sandra Fluke was the woman who wasn’t allowed to speak.

Speech Draws Bullying

But women and liberals in Congress would not be completely silenced. A few days after the all-male panel testified, Sandra Fluke was called to speak in Congress by democrats who believed it was wrong to only hear one point of view. Ms. Fluke testified eloquently, passionately and openly — describing how valuable contraction and reproductive services were to women of her age. She provided a poignant personal narrative that drew a sharp contrast between the political posturing on the right and the real lives of ever-day Americans. And she made a strong intellectual and compassionate argument for continuing women’s freedoms and not to return to a narrow age of institutional bigotry.

Almost immediately, her testimony drew attacks from the right. They accused her of lying. They attacked her character. And they began to openly call her a slut for wanting access to contraception.

Rush Leads the Attack

Among the most loud in this slut-shaming was Rush Limbaugh. For three days straight, Rush used his massive radio infrastructure as a platform from which to attack Sandra Fluke. He repeatedly called her a slut, a whore, and a prostitute. He baldly stated that she must want contraception because she was having so much sex. He demanded that Sandra post sex videos on the internet in exchange for access to contraception.

Not only was Rush engaging in a most ugly form of character assassination against Sandra Fluke. He was also exploiting the notion of her femininity, rabidly engaging in the most lewd and obscene of sexual fantasies on the airwaves. His show made her the object of a vicious political pornography.

But the most egregious element of this assault was due to the nature of Sandra Fluke herself. She was not a political figure — a persona with the power or platform from which to defend herself from Rush’s abuse and character assassination. She had no individual power to repel or even respond to this level of media assault. She was one of the rest of us, thrust into her obligatory 15 minutes of fame on a slide lined with right-wing razors. And they were tearing her apart.

Women and People Who Love Women Rise Up

Witnessing this terrible abuse, the modern equivalent of an unjust public torture and execution, many people were no longer able to remain silent. For years, bearing the assaults of Rush and other right-wing ideologues, women, feminists, and their supporters rose up. A call for a Rush advertiser boycott rang out, was picked up, and went viral. Thousands of bloggers, hundreds of thousands of social networkers, the Occupy movement, and many, many more all began independent campaigns targeting Rush’s radio advertisers.

And their message was this: you can attack the powerful, those who are strong enough to defend themselves. But if you attack one of us, one of the meek, one of the powerless, one of those who deserve our care, our love, our compassion, then we will rise up. If you do this, we will do everything we can to remove you from power and responsibility. If you cannot exercise your power with decency and kindness, then you will suffer revolt and loss of power.

They say the meek shall inherit… Then do no harm to the meek…


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How Republican Oil Only Strategy Increases Gas Prices

Currently, a massive and ongoing political attack on Barack Obama continues unabated, blaming him for high gas prices. In short, not only is this blame misplaced and misinformed, the republican-proposed solutions to high gas prices are doomed to failure.

Oil Only Not Enough

Currently, republicans are only proposing to expand access and increase drilling as a solution to high gas prices. This proposal blatantly ignores the fact that since Bush ended his presidency oil and gas drilling has increased by 350%. Furthermore, oil and gas companies are failing to use drilling leases they currently have access to on public lands. The best areas have already been leased, so opening new areas would only increase oil supplies at the margins. The best-case scenario for new drilling would result in only marginal gains in supply. This marginal increase would do little if anything to reduce prices on a world market that is now demanding more than 90 million barrels per day at $106 dollars a barrel.

Chasing the Difficult, Depleting Oil Is Expensive

Currently, the cost to produce a marginal barrel of oil is as high as $70. What this means is that gasoline prices won’t drop below $2.90-3.20 per gallon unless demand for those marginal barrels is destroyed. And that means less oil demand. Instead of 90 million barrels per day of oil demand, we’d need about 88 million barrels per day. But there’s no way to do that without alternatives, reduced consumption or increased efficiency.

The reason this marginal oil is more expensive is due to the energy, expense and materials required to break it out of the ground. Marginal oil is locked in rocks that need to be fracked, baked, or crushed. It lies in pools more than two miles beneath the ocean floor, more than two miles beneath the surface of the water. Accessing this oil is a very difficult and costly endeavor. And the oil companies are now wed to this high price in order to keep accessing this oil.

Oil Market Dominance Allows for No Competition

The market dominance facilitated by oil companies results in political pressure that stifles alternative energy development. You can see this directly in republican attacks on all forms of US alternative energy spending, attacks on electric vehicles like the Chevy Volt, attacks on alternative fuels like ethanol and other biofuels, and attacks on energy efficiency. Meanwhile, republicans fight tooth and nail to protect oil company subsidies and prevent oil companies from paying any restitution that results from accidents, spills, and deaths due to oil industry operation. Republicans have long been apologists for the oil industry and this trend seems highly unlikely to change.

World Crude Oil Production Peaked in 2005

The underlying reason behind high oil prices, though, is the fact that world crude oil production peaked in 2005. From that point forward, new oil was forever after bound to be more dirty, dangerous and expensive. In fact, this oil will continue to grow more expensive as time goes forward no matter how much we drill and no matter how many new sources we exploit. The reason behind this increased cost and difficulty is due to the fact that the new fuels called ‘oil’ aren’t really oil at all, just increasingly diffuse and hard to use mineral resources that are mildly interchangeable with oil.

In the end, the combination of these factors means that unless viable alternatives like electric vehicles, more efficient vehicles, and biofuels continue to gain market share, there will be no hope for a long-term solution to high oil prices. For this reason, irresponsible republican policies relying only on oil are doomed to failure in much the same way their irresponsible policies of economic deregulation were doomed to failure. For the American public to continue believing the misinformation both they and the oil companies are spreading will result in America going down a very dark and difficult path. It is a path that is entirely avoidable should we make the right decisions now.

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Advertisers Flying From Rush Misogyny

Just two weeks after Rush slut shamed Sandra Fluke and continued attacks on women across the political and media spectrum, more than 141 advertisers have dropped his program. Furthermore, all national advertising has been suspended from Rush Limbaugh’s program for two weeks.

Rush’s misogynist attacks led to numerous calls for advertisers to drop his show with many angry callers threatening boycotts. Much of the backlash began on the internet and then went mainstream as petitions popped up like March daffodils. If you want to join them, here’s a link to one:

Calls from angry listeners and offended persons alike resulted in the mass exodus which Rush compared to losing a few french fries at the drive through. But, at this point, looks like there’s only a few ‘fries’ left in the bag. Seems advertisers don’t like being compared to junky fast food.

Meanwhile, the Premiere Radio Networks, which provides national syndication for Rush’s show has announced that it is suspending national advertisements for two weeks. Rush’s loss of national affiliates suggests that his sexist comments have done severe damage to the program. Lifelock and Lear Financial, among the few companies still standing by Rush, have been asked to take up the slack for loss of national advertising spots.

It seems an irony that the kind of political free speech and free market choice that Rush claims to champion is resulting in his being removed from the air. This is the result of Rush Limbaugh’s nastiness toward women everywhere — advertisers and listeners walk. No government censorship required.


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The Importance of Women and Why We Should Cherish Their Freedom

Yesterday was International Women’s Day. But you couldn’t tell by the rabid war being waged by a wretched cadre in our political and media systems. All over the country, legislation curtailing women’s reproductive freedoms is currently being pushed by republicans in state and national congresses.

In Georgia, female representatives walked out in protest over the latest insult to women’s freedom passed by republican majorities. Overall, more than 430 bills have been submitted that limit access to contraception and reproductive services this year alone. These arrows of oppression are launching at a higher rate than even last year which saw a total of more than 1100 bills assaulting women’s health. The most egregious bills include mandatory invasive ultrasounds, now the law of the land in Texas. But some are simply quibbling, insulting, and demeaning examples of men attempting to exercise power over women’s sexuality.

The attacks are being driven by an extreme religious institution that has dominated the republican party and the nation’s airwaves. These religious and media attacks have, at their root, an ancient and black tradition of misogyny. For a brief time during the twentieth century, this anti-woman, dominionist world-view was rolled back in favor of liberation. But now anti-enlightenment forces have gained ground and are using their power to roll back the clock on women’s freedoms. The battle we find raging in our systems of power, though not new, is very destructive to our civilization, to our marriages, to our opportunities as individuals and as couples, and to the ability of the poor to climb up out of poverty.

Harm to women’s freedoms is harm to us all. Indeed, our society’s civility can be judged by how we treat the most defenseless among us. And women, who are physically less powerful than men, and are seen as kinder, gentler, are a favored victim of bullies and of institutional bullying.

But there are more practical issues involving women’s reproductive freedoms that impact us all. And we should all, men and women both, think long and hard before we allow them to be removed.

Contraception Prevents Poverty

In the past, women who were poor were often also shackled with unwanted pregnancies. Women already suffering from poverty and finding themselves needing to care for a child or two, or three, or four often had only one option — marrying a man who could provide for them. This constraint limited the role of a majority of women to bearing and caring for children. It also reduced the options of couples. A man was almost universally forced to work to help feed his growing brood. And with each new child, the financial options of families became more and more constrained. On the other hand, families who plan their children are enabled to hold two incomes, to reduce the total number of children, and to increase their quality of life over time. All these options reduce instances of poverty.

Contraception and Family Planning Reduces Population Stress

Worldwide, there are now over 7 billion people. According to almost every scientist who studies Earth carrying capacity, this number is higher than what is sustainable. Over the next 20-50 years, the hope for maintaining a livable world rests, in large part, on civilization’s ability to restrain population. This restraint involves reducing the birth rate to bring population back into balance with resources. Most systems researchers show a sustainable civilization is one in the range of 2-4 billion individuals. There is absolutely no chance to reach this number without access to contraception and family planning services.

Though these numbers and notions may seem academic, they have absolute impacts. There are limits to the amount of arable land, materials, fossil fuels, food, fish, and pollution sinks in the world. High population rapidly depletes all of these resources. And since Earth is the only planet we know able to support human life, once these resources are depleted or destroyed, they are gone for good.

So population restraint is about poverty, death, and war restraint. It is about preventing famine. It is about giving the world time to transition to renewable energy. It is about reducing the impact of climate change. It is about increasing access to material resources and opportunities for each individual.

Equality Multiplies the Power of Civilization

Imagine what would have happened to England had Elizabeth never been queen…

Women are intelligent, clever, compassionate, kind, able to navigate social difficulty, able to compromise, and enable systems of cooperation and personal development. They possess unique qualities that provide powerful and intangible benefits to the civilizations that elevate them. Art, knowledge, science, all multiply in societies in which women are sexually liberated. But societies that sexually repress women tend to be more narrow, war-like, and poor.

At risk in the current war on women is the dream of a vital and civil society. Those currently leading the assault on women, the contraception and family planning denying, the slut shaming, the bitch calling, and all the other nastiness, are an existential threat to the true system of liberty and equality that has flowered throughout the development of our nation.

Some have said ‘the American experiment is over.’ And it is those same cynical, narrow souls that are fighting a broad war to end the greatest experiment in liberty and equal opportunity the world has ever known. We should be all be shamed that we have allowed this cancer to grow on our soil. We should be terrified that we have let it mar our beloved. The fair ladies who have helped us so much and have elevated America to such a position of greatness.

The moment we let these freedoms die is the moment we have allowed them to cut out the very heart of America. The very heart of us. Will we allow them? Will we let them continue to advance this darker America? A place of struggle that only creates opportunity for an increasingly narrow and mean-spirited elite? A place where the fairest among us are once again only consigned to the shadows?


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Seven Dark Truths About High Gas Prices

Over the past few weeks, politicians have made much hay over high gas prices. Republicans blamed Obama. Obama fired back. And much misinformation flew back and forth. The sad truth is that there are a number of hard realities keeping prices high and the only viable solution is weaning ourselves off of oil over time.

Truth #1 Conventional Crude Oil Peaked in 2004                                                                              

In 2004, production of the stuff we all think of as oil peaked. It topped off at around 70 million barrels per day. And since that time, no matter how much prices increased, conventional crude oil would not significantly exceed 70 million barrels per day. It is a sad fact that the world has struggled to increase crude oil production and failed. $100 oil is proof enough of that.

Truth #2 Increases in Production Have Come From Fuels That Aren’t Oil                                                   

There are many fuels called oil that really aren’t. They include: condensate, natural gas liquids, tar sands oil, oil shale, and bio-fuels. Condensate is a product of gases turned to liquids during the refining process. Natural gas liquids are condensed from wet gasses. Tar sands and oil shales are low energy fuels that have been enriched through a process called hydrogenation. And bio-fuels are liquid fuels interchangeable with oil but produced from crops.

The total production of all these fuels is now more than 18 million barrels per day. All are less energy dense than traditional oil. Most of them cost more to produce. In short, these fuels are simply less economical. This lack of economy makes them more costly, harder to access, and less useful. For example, tar sands cost between 50-60 dollars per barrel to produce. And this increased cost pushes up the overall cost of oil by setting a bottom on prices equal to the cost of the most expensive fuel produced. The reason these new fuels put a bottom on prices is that this marginal oil won’t be produced for very long if prices fall below the cost of production.

Of these 18 million barrels of non-oil, 2.5 million barrels come from tar sands and 2 million barrels come from bio-fuels that require oil to remain in a price range of 50 dollars per barrel or more. These high costs, in turn, push up the price of oil.

Truth #3 Depletion is Increasing the Cost of Crude Production       

Returning to conventional crude, it’s important to note that the cost of production is rising for it as well. The reason is that most of the new crude comes from special wells that require enhanced oil extraction techniques. One example of enhanced extraction is oil fracking. Fracking breaks rock in order to liberate both oil and gas. And the fracturing techniques require more expensive machinery, chemicals and water which increases the cost of production. With oil fracturing, the price of oil needs to also stay above about 50 dollars per barrel. New oil derived from fracking represents about 1.5 million barrels per day. So this flow of oil is also putting a bottom on prices.

Truth #4 World Oil Exports are Declining 

As oil exporting countries make economic gains by selling their costly product, economic activity along with oil consumption in-country increases. This results in net losses in the amount of oil available for export. Among top oil exporters Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Mexico, and Norway, exports are going down. Other countries who were once exporters, including the UK and Indonesia, have now turned into net oil importers. Reduced flows of exports means less oil is sloshing around in a world full of buyers. So demand, long-term, is increasing while supply, long-term, is going down.

Truth #5 Speculators Matter                                                                                                             

Recent estimates from economists indicate that speculators have pushed up oil prices enough to increase the cost of gasoline by 50 cents per gallon. Speculators trade in paper barrels of oil and manipulate floating stocks to increase costs and profit at the margin. That said, unless oil markets were tight, speculators wouldn’t have this ‘opportunity.’ Oil scarcity and fear keep the speculators preying on high prices by making the cost of oil and, therefore, gas even higher.

Truth #6 Current High Prices are Supported By Fear                                                                                      

Recent fears that Iran will mine the Persian Gulf and use military force in an attempt to close the Straights of Hormuz have helped to keep oil prices above $105 per barrel in the US. Currently, fear is probably pushing the price of oil up by about ten or fifteen dollars per barrel. Likely, without such a geopolitical constraint on oil, prices would fall to the low 90s as 100+ dollar per barrel oil has caused demand destruction in various markets worldwide over the past year.

Truth #7: 80 million New Cars are Produced Each Year                                                                                    

There are more than one billion automobiles in this world. And each year one is produced for every person born. These vehicles require energy to operate and the vast majority of them require oil. This reality places a very high demand on depleting oil. The only way to curtail this demand and still rely on oil is to, at times of scarcity and high price, reduce the amount of driving. The result in this reduction is a curtailment in economic activity resulting in slower growth or recession. So you have tightening, more difficult to access supply pushing directly against rapidly increasing demand in the form of a broad swath of new vehicles and machines produced each year.

Prognosis: Without Alternatives, Increased Efficiency Oil Prices Will Keep Rising Long Term                        

The combined realities of a plateau in conventional crude oil, the increased cost of producing new oil, rapid depletion in existing oil fields, and the contentious geopolitics of oil mean that over the long-term oil prices will continue to rise or remain high. The only way out of this depletion price trap is to drastically increase efficiency and to shift vehicle, machine, and industrial systems to fuels that are not depleting, preferably alternative fuels and renewable energy. These changes require long-term efforts and large investments. The alternative pushed by political forces aligned with the oil industry — relying only on increased drilling — is a short-term fix that will only more rapidly deplete the remaining, meager and difficult to access stores of oil.


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Rush, Romney in Denial over Renewable Energy

Mitt Romney, in a recent tirade against the clean energy industry, gave progressives another gift today.  “You can’t drive a car with a wind mill on it,” he said, clownishly. One wonders what Romney’s fixation with cars sporting various things strapped to the top is. I suppose the dog wasn’t enough for him and now he’s trying wind mills? If he were smart, he might have first tried a solar panel:

Behold, Romney, your worst nightmare — a solar Prius. Dog kennel not included…

Romney’s own tirade follows directly on the heels of Rush Limbaugh who, after losing many of his advertisers for his mad dog slut-shaming of Sandra Fluke, has shifted his eyes to fresh meat — the U.S. renewable energy industry. But this particular attack involves a rhetorical disappearing act.

The problem with the Volt is just like all of Obama’s green energy, there’s no business there yet. There’s no solar energy business yet. There’s no wind energy yet,” Rush said on his radio show today.

I suppose Rush missed the 50 gigawatts of wind energy capacity the US now boasts. Or, perhaps, Rush is unaware of the 5 gigawatts of solar energy systems now in place? That 71 billion dollars worth of solar power sales in 2010? Nada, according to Rush. Or the Chinese dumping of solar panels in an attempt to bankrupt a rocketing U.S. alternative energy market? Rush says it all never happened.

As for no business for the Volt — it sold more than 1000 units last month, more than the comparatively priced Corvette. Rush must also have missed the millions of hybrid electric vehicles on the road worldwide or the 150,000 all-electric vehicles now on highways in California.

It seems that Rush and Romney would both like to deny the existence of an industry that now produces more energy than all the nuclear power plants in the world. Much like climate change, they’re trying to hide something that is undeniably real with another smoke and mirrors act.

Pay no attention to the oil man behind the curtain…


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Oceans Turning Acidic at Fastest Rate in 300 Million Years

According to recent reports from the Journal Science, the world’s oceans are becoming acidic faster than at any time in the past 300 million years.

Increased levels of carbon dioxide, now at 394 ppm, are causing the world’s oceans to grow more acidic. A 2010 study from the scientific journal Nature showed that the oceans were becoming acidic at a rate ten times faster than at any time in the last 55 million years. Now, the new study shows that ocean acidity is growing at a rate most current sea creatures have never experienced.

The Science study collected data from sediment cores in order to gain information on past ocean acidity. The lead researcher, Bärbel Hönisch, a paleoceanographer at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, noted that past spikes in ocean acidity resulted in major losses of marine species. Barbel seemed concerned about species key to fishing and tourism saying “if industrial carbon emissions continue at the current pace, we may lose organisms we care about—coral reefs, oysters, salmon.”

Acidification causes stress to ocean creatures that build shells out of calcium, which the increasing acidity dissolves. This threatens creatures who serve as food and habitat builders for many ocean species. Of prime concern is the threat to ocean reef systems. Corals build their reefs out of calcium carbonate and rising levels of atmospheric CO2 put stress on these key species. It is estimated that more than a million species rely on ocean reefs for habitat. Stress to and loss of reefs would put most, if not all, of these creatures at extreme risk of extinction. Ocean researchers believe that it will not be possible for any corals to survive if CO2 levels reach 600-650 ppm. But current levels are already causing stress.

A combination of rapidly warming oceans, spiking ocean acidification, and reduced oxygen levels are creating a situation where an ocean mass extinction is inevitable if carbon dioxide emissions don’t stop soon. Since more than 1 billion people are fed by the world’s oceans, it is important to dramatically reduce these emissions soon.


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Rush Stops Bullying Sandra Fluke, Issues Meager Apology

After spending more than three straight days bullying Sandra Fluke and losing eight of his advertisers for the attacks, Rush Limbaugh finally issued a meager, quibbling apology today. Here is his ‘apology’s’ intro:

“For over 20 years, I have illustrated the absurd with absurdity, three hours a day, five days a week. In this instance, I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke. I think it is absolutely absurd that during these very serious political times, we are discussing personal sexual recreational activities before members of Congress. I personally do not agree that American citizens should pay for these social activities.  What happened to personal responsibility and accountability? Where do we draw the line?”

Rush begins with a self-congratulatory statement as a backward way to remind the listener of his importance. He continues by saying that he made an error of word choice and didn’t intent to harm Sandra. Then, he continues along his original line of argumentation, restating the ideological line of thought that resulted in the personal attack on Sandra in the first place. He then pontificates about accountability. The real apology? We’re still waiting for it…

“If this is accepted as the norm, what will follow? Will we be debating if taxpayers should pay for new sneakers for all students that are interested in running to keep fit?”

At this point, Rush descends into babbling and making false comparisons in an attempt, once again, to re-assert his argument. Is this ‘apology’ starting to look like another rant from an ego-maniac to you? You’re not the only one. After listening to all this nonsense, one wonders if Rush even has the capacity to make a full-hearted apology. And so we continue:

“In my monologue, I posited that it is not our business whatsoever to know what is going on in anyone’s bedroom nor do I think it is a topic that should reach a Presidential level.”

At this point, one has to comment on how disingenuous Rush is being here. He lead the attack on President Clinton’s own embarrassing personal/bedroom story. He talked for weeks and weeks about the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Where was his sense of propriety then? But now it suddenly crops up when republicans are waging an all-out war to deny women reproductive freedom. Now we shouldn’t hear about how important those services are to women?

After listening to another monologue, it becomes obvious that Rush isn’t apologizing at all. He is simply using a fake apology as another platform from which to launch political attacks. Obviously, Rush’s statement isn’t worth listening to, since he’s using it in an angling and purely self-serving fashion. But since we started this, we might as well finish:

“My choice of words was not the best, and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir. I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices.”

And at last we come to the ‘apology.’ By itself, it is pretty pathetic and lame. Like the apology of a man who is too egotistical ever to admit he’s wrong and needs such qualifiers as ‘my choice of words’ and ‘attempt to be humorous’ and ‘insulting choice of words.’ All these qualifiers serve only to distance himself from ‘I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke’ and further lessen these paltry six words — offering only a glimmer of contrition in a 150+ word self-congratulatory, political, and quibbling puff piece.

After such a vicious and long-lasting attack, this back-handed apology is hardly worthy of reply much less, acceptance.

UPDATE:  Rush is once again escalating his attacks on Sandra Fluke saying her response to his ‘apology’ was ‘uncalled for.’\


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Tornadoes Not Normal. It’s Climate Change. Really.

“Storms. That is the one word that will best characterize twenty-first century climate…” NASA scientist Dr. James Hansen.

First Joplin. Now Maryville. How many towns have to be wiped off the map before we realize things are most certainly not normal?

Today a major tornado outbreak ripped through the heart of the US, causing massive damage and claiming many lives. In the bull’s eye lay the town of Maryville, which now no longer exists. Initial reports showed 9 killed, an unconfirmed number injuries, and many, many homes and buildings destroyed.

2012 has so far shown highly unusual outbreaks of tornadoes in both January and February. The March outbreak has been exceptionally strong. Now forecasters are warning that the height of the tornado season is still ahead and that it is likely more powerful storms are on the way.

Fuel for the storms is provided by the Gulf of Mexico which has reached and maintained record levels of warmth in recent years. Temperatures worldwide that are more than 1 degree Fahrenheit above the twentieth century average also increase the moisture and heat energy in the atmosphere. The changes in the world weather system are a direct result of human caused global warming.

Though scientists may argue if a specific storm was or was not caused by climate change, the new conditions result in increased chances for severe storms. Many climate scientists, including James Hansen, (quoted above) have made warnings to the effect that climate change and increased heat energy in the atmosphere would result in increasingly severe and deadly storms.

UPDATE: Weather Channel shows extreme weather and heat wave were likely impacted by climate change.

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