Education environment: ethics false equivalency journalism media irresponsibility
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The NYT tries to make itself look good, and doesn’t do very well at all:
EARLY this year, The Times came under heavy criticism from many readers who care deeply about news coverage about the environment — especially climate change.
In January, The Times dismantled its “pod” of reporters and editors devoted to that subject. And in March, it discontinued its Green blog, a daily destination for environmental news.
Times editors emphasized that they were not abandoning the subject — just taking it out of its silo and integrating it into many areas of coverage. The changes were made for both cost-cutting and strategic reasons, they said, and the blog did not have high readership. Readers and outside critics weren’t buying it. They scoffed at the idea that less would somehow translate into not only more, but also better.
In the Corporate States of America, discussion of an existential threat to capitalism is a grave error of etiquette. November 24:
Discussion of the Times’ handling of climate change usually tries to cast it as a matter of priorities, with environmental advocates justifiably pointing out that climate deserves more (much more!) coverage. Others note that when the NYT continues to provide a forum for climate-change denialists like columnist Ross Douthat and other apostles of the specious journalistic doctrine of false equivalency, it undermines its own reputation for veracity and integrity.
Here’s another way to think about it. Just as newsprint is the medium for the Times’ journalism, opinion, and advertising, the climate is the medium for the world’s culture. Civilization’s varied accomplishments, discontents, aspirations, joys, and tragedies are only possible because of the climatic stability which has allowed our complex culture to flourish. While newspapers may be able to shift their readership online, Earth’s ecosystems have no analogous option. Lose the climate, and we lose it all.
That’s why good reporting and analysis of the climate crisis is so important.
Education environment Politics: 350 heroes sustainability
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The Rutland Herald reminds us that, as usual, Bill McKibben is ahead of the curve:
Watching changing weather patterns from his window, McKibben felt compelled to organize students and then neighbors into 350.org, now a worldwide grass-roots organization campaigning to stop the proposed cross-country Keystone oil pipeline and encourage financial divestment from fossil fuel companies.
During a summer and fall bookended by two headline-grabbing White House protests in 2011, McKibben spent more nights in jail than at home. Read his new book, “Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist,” and you’ll learn such efforts are having an impact — on him.
“Shaky. Unnerved by it all. Overwhelmed. Frustrated and a little resentful,” he reveals in the 272-page hardcover by New York publisher Times Books. “A writer, if you think about it, is someone who has decided their nature requires them to hole up in a room and type. You can violate your nature for a while, but eventually it takes a toll.”
A hero of our times. November 11:
Bill McKibben is exemplifying in his own life something that all of us are going to find out within our lifetimes: our version of “normal life” is one that takes a stable climate for granted. What we can all anticipate for ourselves, our children, and their descendants in turn is that as the greenhouse effect’s consequences intensify, the routines, privileges and perquisites of civilization will come increasingly under threat.
When he talks wistfully of how his life as a climate activist has “violated his nature” as a writer, Bill speaks for any of us who can see beyond the immediate future. The threats looming over the coming centuries are going to force us to abandon the people we’ve worked so hard to become, instead focusing our energies on the single massive global struggle to halt the next great extinction before it halts us.
Like Mr. McKibben, we’re all going to have to put aside many things we love doing if we are to save our species and the web of life in which we are embedded.
The world doesn’t owe us a living — but we owe the world our lives.
Christopher Hitchens, in his critique of Mother Teresa, articulated a phrase that’s been running through my mind a lot recently. The full quote runs like this:
“MT [Mother Teresa] was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction.”
But it’s that last clause that concerns me today, in our climatically-transforming world.
We are finally beginning to take planetary climate change seriously — not seriously enough, but we’re at least looking in that direction, anyway.
Notice, however, that when it comes to preparing for the shitstorm on the horizon, our collective responses have all been along the lines of, “we’ve got to strengthen our grid so the power won’t go out,” or “there needs to be more diversity in our food grid so we’ll have less danger of crop failure,” or “medical systems need to be more robust to cope with disasters and the migration of disease-carrying pests.” You know the drill; among reasonably forward-thinking science-aware people there is plenty of thought about the physical impacts of climate change on the physical aspects of our civilization.
I must say, I sometimes wonder whether those physical aspects really represent the parts of our civilization worth saving. We’ve created a technological society which has made possible the survival of far more humans than the Earth can reasonably support; why this a good thing?
As a bleeding-heart liberal who weeps at the slightest hint of any sentient being’s misery, I feel weird saying this, but it’s not a bad thing that humanity’s numbers are going to be drastically reduced by the consequences of climate change. We’re confronting an evolutionary bottleneck, and there’s no way all seven billion of us are going to fit through that narrow opening.
I’m less concerned about the physical manifestations of our civilization than I am about the “cultural infrastructure” which we have developed over many thousands of years.
This gradually evolving and self-transforming cultural infrastructure is why we (not always, but more and more often) resort to diplomacy instead of wars.
It’s why we (not always, but more and more often) no longer regard slavery as a viable economic strategy.
It’s why we (not always, but more and more often) are more and more prepared to recognize the notion of the common good in our thinking about society.
It’s why we (not always, but more and more often) don’t just think of our children as a source of free labor.
It’s why (not always, but more and more often) xenophobia is diminishing.
It’s why we (not always, but more and more often) are learning to reject simple classifications of gender and sexuality.
And it’s why we (not always, but more and more often) have accepted the notion that women are fully human beings.
International understanding, human rights, environmentalism, children’s rights, gender equity, and feminism are part of the cultural infrastructure which humanity has developed over many thousands of years of pretty easy living — made possible by a stable climate, a robust agricultural system, and a rapidly developing technological society.
What happens to all this when we face the all-but-certain evolutionary bottleneck?
We’re getting a picture of what’s going to happen to our physical infrastructure as climate change gets more severe, and it’s not pretty. Just look at the Philippines right now, in the wake of the biggest storm anyone’s ever seen. Coastal cultures are going to get hammered; lots of property damage, lots of refugees, lots of death and misery. Look at farmlands under the strain of massive drought; more hunger, more deprivation.
But relatively little thought is given to the impact climate change is going to have on our cultural infrastructure.
Diplomatic mechanisms can be strengthened, as I suggested in this paragraph in a letter I got published in the Pakistani paper Dawn:
Analysts predict that as water shortages intensify and agriculture becomes less predictable and productive, climate change’s strategic impact will include bitter resource wars, a catastrophic development. While morality demands that industrialized nations take immediate steps to reduce atmospheric carbon output, it’s equally imperative that the countries currently suffering the most from this human-caused destabilization strengthen their infrastructure to prepare for times of shortage and privation, while reinforcing diplomatic and cultural systems to ensure that the likely humanitarian crises can be peacefully resolved.
What does an ongoing extinction event and the concomitant drastic winnowing of humanity’s numbers have to do with feminism?
Here’s the last clause of that Hitchens quote again: “…a livestock version of compulsory reproduction.”
Which is why climate change is a feminist issue.
Feminism grew in our civilization as our population increased and our infant mortality decreased, allowing women’s lives to separate from the livestock model which may well have been a species-wide imperative at times when extinction threatened.
Yes, I want our species to survive.
Yes, I want humanity to reach the stars; to sing more beautiful songs; to solve the problems of interspecies communication; to create artificial intelligences; to accomplish all that we can.
We’re not going to do that if we’re struggling to pass on our genes in the face of howling climatic disorder and an ecological system gone mad. We’re just going to keep hunting for food while making babies and watching most of them die.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to go back there.
We progressives have a variety of important social issues to organize around — but underpinning the notion of social progress is the critical role of an environment which does not actively threaten our survival as a species. Change the planetary ecosystem to one in which our struggle to perpetuate our DNA dominates our collective thinking, and many positive social developments could well be sacrificed in response to the short-term exigencies of existence. A stable climate has formed the stage upon which we’ve acted out our self-improvement.
What will we do when the old theater no longer stands? How can we keep the good we have created in ourselves?
I welcome your thoughts.
Education India Indian music music Personal: autodidacticism heuristics learning lecture-demonstrations
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This is a rough approximation of the content of my lecture-demonstration on raga. This is how I introduce students in a university classroom to the underlying conceptual structure of raga-based melody:
With a simple recipe for making our own raga.
Here’s what we do:
Start with a tonic – fifth drone. Choose a second degree – either natural or flat. Choose a third degree – either natural or flat. Choose a fourth degree – either natural or sharp. Choose sixth and seventh degrees – either natural or flat.
For example, let’s say we choose: 1, b2, 3, #4, 5, 6, b7, 8.
Play or sing this for a few minutes over the drone to experience the intervals.
Now, pick a number between 2 – 4. For example, 4.
Pick a number between 5 – 7. For example, 7.
Now we play/sing the original scale, but this time OMIT 4 & 7 on the way up, and include them on the way down. Thus:
1, b2, 3, 5, 6, 8 — 8, b7, 6, 5, #4, 3, b2, 1.
We play or sing this for a few minutes over the drone so we can learn the interval structure…the diminished triad ascending from the 2, the juicy diminished fourth that emerges on the way down between the b7 and the #4…all kinds of goodies are there to be found. Notice that certain phrases evoke ascent and others descent, giving improvisation a lot of motion.
Just going this far generate a ton of beautiful material. But there is one more refinement we can make on the process which will make our “raga” hang together even better.
Pick a group of three adjacent numbers. Any three; doesn’t matter. Let’s say we pick 5,6,7. Now…take those three notes, and make up a special tweak — just a little phrase, or a small shift in the sequence. For example, we’ll make the descent from the upper octave ALWAYS follow the rule 8, 6, b7, 5 — expressly forbidding a straight pathway.
Mess around with this for a while and we’ll start generating melodies automatically.
There is nothing special about this particular combination of intervals.
There are many ragas in the Hindustani system which are entirely built from an ordinary major scale.
In general, inside any raga, the more complex the intervals, the harder it is to *hear*; the more complex the rules of ascent/descent/tweaking, the harder it is to *think*.
Mess around. See what you can come up with.
atheism Education environment Personal Politics: collective intelligence denialism eschatology religion
This post dates from 2011, but I think it deserves to be front-paged again.
For many years I have been thinking a lot about group minds and collective intelligence, with influences ranging from Thomas Malone (of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence) to E.O. Wilson’s detailed examination of insect colonies and the nature of the “superorganism.” As I tried to extend the “group mind” concept across larger timespans, I found myself both depressed and elated. Elated because I was understanding more about why the “powers that be” didn’t seem to give a shit — and depressed for the same reason.
Thinking About Collective Intelligence
Accepting the reality of collective intelligence is not as big a leap as James Lovelock requests of us when he posits the Gaia Hypothesis, but it’s still a leap.
atheism Education environment Politics: assholes denialists idiots media irresponsibility
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The Los Angeles Times has stirred a dust-up over global warming with a newly announced policy barring letters to the editor that deny the existence of man-made climate change.
“Simply put, I do my best to keep errors of fact off the letters page; when one does run, a correction is published,” said Paul Thornton, letters editor of the editorial page, in an Oct. 8 column. “Saying ‘there’s no sign humans have caused climate change’ is not stating an opinion, it’s asserting a factual inaccuracy.”
On the surface, climate-change skeptics say they have no problem with the policy, because nobody with any substance is saying that humans don’t cause climate change. Cutting down a forest causes climate change. Planting crops causes climate change.
“Obviously, humans do have an impact on climate,” said Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and a leading global-warming skeptic. “The question is whether burning fossil fuels like coal and natural gas is leading to the rapid warming of the planet, and notwithstanding the Los Angeles Times‘ position on the issue, the evidence is that it isn’t.”
Whether that’s enough to get Mr. Ebell bumped from the letters-to-the-editor page is unclear, but he says the newspaper’s policy is emblematic of a broader debate.
In his column, Mr. Thornton also states that many letter-writers insist “climate change is a hoax, a scheme by liberals to curtail personal freedom.”
I don’t usually write the WT, but when I do, I have fun. This one was a blast. October 14:
The Los Angeles Times’ decision to ban letters rejecting the science of climate change is an example of liberal fascism at its worst. This tendency to ban ideologically inconvenient opinions can also be seen, for example, in the policy of many American newspapers to ignore letters asserting that medicine must acknowledge the theory of Humours, a comprehensive approach to human health which was accepted doctrine for far longer than the unproven accomplishments of modern medicine. It can be seen in a similar policy silencing the voices of those who cast doubt on the inverse-square law’s ostensible connection with gravitational attraction, and those who likewise recognize the fact that acquired characteristics can be inherited across generations. The liberal hegemony in our nation’s press even conspires to silence those who rightly reject the veracity of NASA’s account of the moon landings. The American people need to hear both sides of the argument!
Education environment: activism divestment heroes IPCC
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Emily Tucker, in the Bowdoin Orient (college paper, Bowdoin college, Maine) discusses the IPCC report:
For example: climate skeptics often point to the slowdown in global temperature change over the past fifteen years as evidence that climate change has stopped.
This, however, doesn’t account for the abilities of oceans and glaciers to absorb heat energy up to a certain point.
Beyond that point, though, the effects of absorbing all that heat will become eminently clear.
About half a trillion tons of carbon have been released into the atmosphere since the late 19th century. In some ways, this is good news.
We haven’t hit the tipping point yet, and there’s still time to change our trajectory.
But let’s not get too comfortable. If we (speaking globally, since most new emissions come from developing nations that rely largely on coal power) stick to our current rates of energy consumption, we’re set to hit the trillion-ton mark around 2040.
By that time, current Bowdoin students will be between the ages of 45 and 50, slightly younger than most of our parents are right now.
It’s interesting to note that the earth’s crust still contains an estimated three trillion tons of carbon-rich fuels.
If we’re to observe the trillion-ton limit, most of these reserves will have to either remain untapped or be harnessed in a way that does emit greenhouse gases or other pollutants.
From the right point of view, this situation can be seen as a gateway to revolutionary technological innovations in renewable energy production, greenhouse gas sequestration or (hopefully) both.
The 2013 IPCC report includes very little in the way of new discoveries.
The authors simply note that, as opposed to being 90 percent confident in human-caused climate change in 2007, they are now 95 percent confident.
If this can’t end the so-called “climate debate” and usher us into an era of groundbreaking new green technologies, I don’t know what will.
After all, there are no 100 percent guarantees in science, and we probably aren’t going to get much closer.
All good stuff. October 6:
In the sixties, college students were at the forefront of protests against the insanities of war and racial bigotry. In the eighties, it was the campaign for divestiture from the racist apartheid government of South Africa that galvanized campuses across America. While college students today may seem to have a wide menu of possible choices for their activism, ultimately there is only one central cause.
In the final analysis, all human progress has been made possible by the fact that our Earth’s climate is relatively benign, providing us the ability to feed ourselves and others while still having time left over to figure out ways to make things better. Our social advances — expansion of the franchise, the gradual elimination of slavery, the emancipation of women, the once-radical idea that children had rights, an end to the marginalization of LGBT people — are all contingent on environmental stability.
If we fail on climate, we fail on everything.
Education environment music: climate change cultural extinction extinction music
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I am not a climate scientist. I’m a scientifically literate musician. Climate change scares me for dozens of reasons. And it makes me deeply and terribly sad.
With rising sea levels, many island nations will lose much of their land, or even cease to exist. Which raises the question:
What music will become extinct?
A look at the list of island nations gives you a sense of what’s at stake. A large nation, like Indonesia, will experience incredible economic impacts and the forced inland migrations of entire regional populations. Perhaps millions of people will be forced by rising sea levels to abandon their homes and their traditions. A small island nation may find its land area reduced to the point of unsustainability; its culture and population forced into refugee status.
Languages will become diluted and eventually dissipate. Cultural forms (like dance, drama, traditional storytelling, and music) will lose much of their context and setting, eventually becoming preserved by a few interested afficionadi as “museum pieces” — no longer embodied as living, breathing traditions.
There are a lot of island nations. Each one has its own music.
For example, in Indonesia, there is an ethnic group called the Sunda:
The Sundanese are of Austronesian origins who are thought to have originated in Taiwan, migrated though the Philippines, and reached Java between 1,500BCE and 1,000BCE.
According to the Sundanese legend of Sangkuriang, which tells the creation of Mount Tangkuban Parahu and ancient Lake Bandung, the Sundanese have been living in the Parahyangan region of Java for at least 50,000 years.
Inland Sunda is mountainous and hilly, and until the 19th century, was thickly forested and sparsely populated. The Sundanese traditionally live in small and isolated hamlets, rendering control by indigenous courts difficult. The Sundanese, in contrast to the Javanese, traditionally engage in dry-field farming. These factors resulted in the Sundanese having a less rigid social hierarchy and more independent social manners. In the 19th century, Dutch colonial exploitation opened much of the interior for coffee, tea, and quinine production, and the highland society took on a frontier aspect, further strengthening the individualistic Sundanese mindset.
Court cultures flourished in ancient times, for example, the Sunda Kingdom, however, the Sundanese appear not to have had the resources to construct large religious monuments similar to those in Central and East Java.
Wikipedia says around 27 million people speak Sunda. That’s a lot of people.
Here’s some of their music. It’s beautiful.
This music is called Kacapi Suling, a style which developed in the 1970s. The name simply refers to the instruments involved. There are two stringed instruments (kacapi) and a flute (suling):
The Sundanese zither (kacapi) often serves to represent Sundanese culture. It plays as either a solo or an ensemble instrument, associated with both villagers and aristocrats. The instrument may take the form of a boat in tembang Sunda, or the form of a board zither in kacapian.
In a typical performance (still primarily in recordings, as kacapi-suling is rarely performed live), the kacapi player outlines a cyclic structure of a song and the suling player improvises a melody based on the original song from the tembang Sunda repertoire. Kacapian refers to a flashy style of playing a board zither, and it is known as one of the sources of Sundanese popular music. It can be accompanied by a wide variety of instruments, and can be played instrumentally or as the accompaniment to either a male or female vocalist.
What will rising sea levels, an acidified ocean, and drastically increased heat do to Sunda, and to the rest of Indonesia?
Climate Change in Indonesia:
The devastating impact of global warming is already evident in Indonesia and will likely worsen due to further human-induced climate change, warns WWF.
The review from the global conservation organization, Climate Change in Indonesia – Implications for Humans and Nature, highlights that annual rainfall in the world’s fourth most populous nation is already down by 2 to 3 per cent, and the seasons are changing.
The combination of high population density and high levels of biodiversity, together with a staggering 80,000 kilometres of coastline and 17,500 islands, makes Indonesia one of the most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change.
Shifting weather patterns have made it increasingly difficult for Indonesian farmers to decide when to plant their crops, and erratic droughts and rainfall has led to crop failures. A recent study by a local research institute said that Indonesia had lost 300,000 tonnes of crop production every year between 1992-2000, three times the annual loss in the previous decade.
Climate change in Indonesia means millions of fishermen are also facing harsher weather conditions, while dwindling fish stocks affect their income. Indonesia’s 40 million poor, including farmers and fishermen, will be the worst affected due to threats including rising sea levels, prolonged droughts and tropical cyclones, the report said.
“As rainfall decreases during critical times of the year this translates into higher drought risk, consequently a decrease in crop yields, economic instability and drastically more undernourished people,” says Fitrian Ardiansyah, Director of WWF-Indonesia’s Climate and Energy Programme. “This will undo Indonesia’s progress against poverty and food insecurity.”
WWF’s review shows that increased rainfall during already wet times of the year may lead to high flood risk, such as the Jakarta flood of February this year that killed more than 65 people and displaced nearly half a million people, with economic losses of US$450 million.
Climate change impacts are noticeable throughout the Asia-Pacific region. More frequent and severe heat waves, floods, extreme weather events and prolonged droughts will continue to lead to increased injury, illness and death. Continued warming temperatures will also increase the number of malaria and dengue fever cases and lead to an increase in other infectious diseases as a result of poor nutrition due to food production disruption.
Sunda Islands Part of the coral triangle, one of the most diverse coastal areas. Already at threat from destructive fishing and reef fish trade.
Education environment Politics: Arctic ice melt assholes denialists idiots
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Syndicated columnist Cal Thomas is a moron, and he does it for a living. Here’s his column printed in the Clarksville, TN Leaf-Chronicle:
Most bad weather – from hurricanes, which have been few this season, to tornadoes – are unwelcome by those in their paths, but these weather phenomena have existed for centuries. Both sides seem to agree that CO2 levels are elevated, but they don’t agree on whether that will cause dangerous climate change, including rising temperatures and turbulent weather. The Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) argues, “The human effect is likely to be small relative to natural variability, and whatever small warming is likely to occur will produce benefits as well as costs.”
Yet the climate change cultists continue to focus on melting polar ice caps and “displaced” polar bears as part of their emotional appeal for government to “fix” the problem. Now comes a report in the UK Daily Mail that “eminent scientists” have observed a record return of the Arctic ice cap as it grows by 60 percent in a year, covering with ice almost 1 million more square miles of ocean than in 2012.
In 2007, the BBC reported that by 2013, global warming would leave the Arctic “ice free.” Oops!
Useless. The present-day commentariat is useless. September 20:
Ignorance is excusable, for it can always be corrected. But professional ignorance — deliberately choosing to stay uninformed for purely financial reasons — is both intellectually and morally beyond the pale. Cal Thomas’ attempt to discredit climate scientists by citing an increase in polar ice coverage over last year is a perfect example of the latter; if Mr. Thomas was really interested in understanding the mechanisms by which Arctic ice expands and contracts over time, he could have informed himself with a few minutes’ research — but he’s well-paid to remain ignorant, and we are all the losers thereby.
Two simple points need to be made about polar ice. First, while the surface area covered by ice has indeed grown since last year, the overall trend has been steadily downward. A cancer patient who’s losing weight may gain a few pounds occasionally on a good day, but that doesn’t mean the disease is cured. Second, that expanded surface area is much, much thinner than it’s ever been; like ice cream on a hot sidewalk, it spreads out over a wide area.
Mr. Thomas does his readers a disservice with a simplistic misrepresentation of a genuinely dangerous planetary reality.
atheism Education environment Politics: assholes conspiracy theorists denialists idiots paranoia scientific literacy
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David Suzuki takes apart the conspiracy theorists, in the Timmins Press (Ontario):
TIMMINS – I recently wrote about geoengineering as a strategy to deal with climate change and carbon dioxide emissions.
That drew comments from people who confuse this scientific process with the unscientific theory of “chemtrails.”
Some also claimed the column supported geoengineering, which it didn’t.
The reaction got me wondering why some people believe in phenomena rejected by science, like chemtrails, but deny real problems demonstrated by massive amounts of scientific evidence, like climate change.
Chemtrails believers claim governments around the world are in cahoots with secret organizations to seed the atmosphere with chemicals and materials — aluminum salts, barium crystals, biological agents, polymer fibres, etc. — for a range of nefarious purposes.
These include controlling weather for military purposes, poisoning people for population or mind control and supporting secret weapons programs based on the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program, or HAARP.
Scientists have tested and used cloud and atmospheric seeding for weather modification and considered them as ways to slow global warming.
With so many unknowns and possible unintended consequences, these practices have the potential to cause harm.
But the chemtrails conspiracy theory is much broader, positing that military and commercial airlines are involved in constant massive daily spraying that is harming the physical and mental health of citizens worldwide.
I don’t have space to get into the absurdities of belief in a plot that would require worldwide collusion between governments, scientists and airline company executives and pilots to amass and spray unimaginable amounts of chemicals from altitudes of 10,000 metres or more.
Well, that was fun. September 8:
Even as the factual evidence for catastrophic climate change piles higher and higher, conservative zealots continue to reject its existence, severity, and causes. This dismissal of expertise, insight, facts and physical reality is a long-standing feature of the kind of paranoia which flourishes at the intersection of religious fundamentalism and scientific illiteracy. Those asserting the literal truth of ancient scriptures are trapped at the outset in a web of contradictions, gaining lots of practice in the White Queen’s ability to believe six impossible things before breakfast — while those who reject scientific method are ready to embrace superficially plausible notions at the expense of logic and data.
In the paranoid’s world, the more complex an explanation, the better: climate change is not a result of the greenhouse effect, a physical phenomenon first documented over a century ago, but the fabrication of an international cabal of scientists secretly in league with either the Lizard People or the Illuminati. The fact that there is no evidence for such bizarre assertions is proof that “the conspiracy goes all the way to the top.”
In any other context such delusional thinking would be the stuff of comedy. When the long-term future of Earthly life is at stake, however, it’s no longer a laughing matter.