Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

Filtering by Category: Climate Change

The Death of Biodiversity

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Just this past week, the United Nations issued a sweeping 1,500-page report detailing how humans are transforming Earth’s natural landscape so dramatically that as many as one million plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction. Compiled by hundreds of international experts and based on thousands of scientific studies, this report is, without question, the most exhaustive - and deeply chilling - look yet at the decline in biodiversity across the globe and the dangers this decline creates for human civilization. A summary of its findings, which was approved by representatives from the United States and 131 other countries, was released Monday in Paris. The full report is set to be published later this year. And yet, in the same week we joined in on approving the UN biodiversity report, U.S representatives pressured the Arctic Council to issue a short joint statement that excluded any mention of climate change whatsoever.

In covering the Arctic Council’s summary communiqué, the New York Times reported: “It was the first time since its formation in 1996 that the council had been unable to issue a joint declaration spelling out its priorities. As an international organisation made up of eight Arctic countries and representatives of indigenous groups in the region, its stated mission is cooperation on Arctic issues, particularly the protection of the region’s fragile environment. According to diplomats involved in the negotiations, at issue was the United States’ insistence not to mention the latest science on climate change or the Paris Agreement aimed at averting its worst effects. The omission is especially notable because scientists have warned that the Arctic is heating up far faster than the world average because of rising greenhouse gas emissions.” 

The illogic of signing on to the U.N. report - which begins with “The main message of our report is that transformative change is urgently needed. There are no other options” - while virtually in the same breath grossly narrowing the focus of the Arctic Council’s summary conclusion, is emblematic of an Administration that does not know its gluteus maximus from its rectus femoris.

Getting back to last Monday’s U.N. report, the 145-plus scientists/authors who contributed to the massive report say they found overwhelming evidence that human activities are behind nature’s decline. They ranked the major drivers of species decline as land conversion, including deforestationoverfishingbush meat hunting and poaching; climate change; pollution; and invasive alien species. Their report - the full version of which will be published in late Summer/early Fall - also contains innumerable approaches and projects which must be undertaken by every nation on earth if humanity expects to ever reverse the all but certain death of biodiversity. Make no mistake about it: a planet bereft of millions upon millions of arable acres; of species of trees, plants, quadrupeds, birds, bees, butterflies, fish, mammals and insects is a planet which one day will no longer be able to sustain human life. And when we pass the “point of no return,” it won’t matter how rich, powerful or famous anyone is: a billionaire can drown, starve or broil just as easily and with equal certainty as a poor, backward illiterate.

What possible reason (or reasons) could any cult, country, or corporation have for turning a blind, unbelieving or hostile eye towards the overwhelming evidence of science when it comes to drastic climate change and the ensuing death of biodiversity? Several thoughts come to mind:

  • Many religious fundamentalists and creationists really, truly believe with every fiber of their being that anything and everything which occurs in this life and on this planet is part of God’s plan - whether we understand it or not. Among these, one will find folks who believe that the world is less than 10,000 years old; that dinosaurs and homo sapiens were contemporaneous; and that the death of various species has nothing to do with human action, but, once again, with Divine Will. To my way of thinking - and with all due respect, one simply cannot love God and and ignore the earth. Then too, there are those who have lapped up the Kool Aid and simply believe that scientists are all part of the “fake news” conspiracy.

  • Within the realm of politics, many oppose the findings of science not because they are intellectual pygmies, but rather because they fear the so-called “New World Order,” a cabal, working in secret as well as through official-­seeming, above-­ground means, seeking to establish an all-powerful, possibly Luciferian, one-world government. The very thought of signing on to such international pacts as the United Nations-backed Paris Agreement on global warming - to their way of thinking - merely opens the doors to other countries or international bodies telling us what we may or may not do. While this may well be a sop to a more America-central version of foreign policy, it may also an obedient response to those who fund reelection campaigns and fear losing market share.

  • One also suspects that opposition to the conclusions of science has little - if anything - to do with either religious scruples or political philosophy, but rather the bottom line. Let’s face it: in order to stem the tide of gross climate change and the incipient shrinkage of biodiversity, corporations will have to spend trillions of dollars. Retooling industry - moving from nonrenewable sources of energy to solar, wind, geothermal and other forms of energy - is not cheap. Success cannot be measured in terms of fiscal quarters or years; rather, success can take decades, if not more. Unfortunately, corporations are far, far more concerned with the next quarter than the next generation. The same goes for government: keeping taxes low today makes reelection a greater possibility tomorrow. The senator or representative who votes to raise taxes for the sake of tomorrow is going to run afoul of those who provide the majority of campaign dollars.

Research shows that every day, we use - and then toss out - over 500 million plastic straws here in America, most of those end up in our oceans, polluting the water and killing marine life.  In response to this obscenity, many cities, towns and counties here in Florida passed local ordinances banning their use in restaurants and fast-food joints. In response to an avalanche of lobbying by cash-wielding representatives of the plastics industry (who contribute tons of $$$ to politicians) the Republican-led Florida legislature caved and passed by a vote of 24-15, HB 771, which would have barred any local government from adopting or enforcing a ban on plastic straws until July 2024. Their reasoning?

  • That banning single-use plastic straws is beyond the scope of municipal governments, and

  • That there is yet insufficient proof that all the trash emanating from these millions upon millions of straws is harmful to marine life . . . that a thorough-going study by a committee of the legislature must first investigate the situation . . . which many legislatures declared “bogus.”

  • During floor debate, one legislator actually said ‘Straws make up a tiny portion of America's plastic litter, which in turn makes up a tiny portion (about 1 percent) of global plastic pollution. Banning them will have approximately zero impact on the world's oceans.

I’m happy to report that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis - a conservative Republican who is a stalwart Trump supporter - vetoed the measure. Good for you Governor!

OK, banning single-use plastic straws isn’t going to solve the worst of all possible crises . . . which we may dub geo necrosis (the death of the world). But hey, a journey of a billion miles does begin with a couple of steps.

The Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) is, perhaps, the greatest pro-environmental text in all Human history. For in very first chapter of the first book of that mighty tome, one finds God’s very first commandment. If one will thumb their way to Genesis 1:28, one will find:

. פְּר֥וּ וּרְב֛וּ וּמִלְא֥וּ אֶת־הָאָ֖רֶץ וְכִבְשֻׁ֑הָ וּרְד֞וּ בִּדְגַ֤ת הַיָּם֙ וּבְע֣וֹף הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וּבְכָל־חַיָּ֖ה הָֽרֹמֶ֥שֶׂת עַל־הָאָֽרֶץ

(Pronounced p’ru ur’vu umel’uh et ha-aretz v’khib-shuha; u’rdu beeg-daht ha-ya u’va-ofe ha-shamyim, u’khol khayah ha-romeset ahl ha-aretz)

Translated from the original Hebrew, God’s very first commandment states: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky and all the beasts which walk the earth.” It all seems pretty straightforward . . . with one exception. That is the Hebrew term וְכִבְשֻׁ֑הָ (v’khib-shua), normally translated as “conquer it.” Sorry, but without access to commentary, people have long mistranslated what God expects of us with regards to the Earth and all its gifts. No, it does not mean “conquer,” which has long given humanity license to do whatever they bloody well please with the world and its wonders - and with Co’s Divine imprimatur. But digging into commentary, one learns that v’khib-shuha means something far more akin to act as “protectors” than as “conquerors.”

To oh so many of you who contort and pervert the original meaning of this, the very first commandment, I say “If you really, truly want to do God’s will and fulfill Co’s (“His/Her”) word, protect and mentor the earth and its many, many creatures. Come to grips with the fact that In order to safeguard a healthy planet, we need to shift from a sole focus on chasing economic growth and doing what is best for corporations to doing what is best for all that which God has created. And if it costs hundreds upon hundreds of billions of dollars, Euros, Yen, Rubles and Shekels, so what? Saving the world God created; rescuing the creatures co created . . . these acts can also create an awful lot of new employment. Saving the earth; protecting as much biodiversity as we can - it’s as religious an act and can be imagined.

While it is crystal clear that ‘45 and a majority of his acolytes are more interested in cutting taxes, overturning Roe v., Wade and propping up the Second Amendment than in saving the bees, butterflies and the biosphere, the 20-odd Democratic candidates for POTUS are all deeply concerned. To get a sense of where they stand and what they propose, check out what the various candidates propose. It might just give you a modicum of hope.

Remember: This planet is our one and only home. We have no other choice; we must care for it.

541 days until the next election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

 

Baby It's Been Cold Outside . . . and Inside Too

                                       Walking Across Lake Michigan

                                       Walking Across Lake Michigan

Less than a week ago, parts of the United States registered temperatures (including windchill) of minus 60˚ - even colder than Antarctica. And thanks to the meteorologists and climatologists standing and explaining in front of their computerized screens, we learned a new term: polar vortex. As explained by AccuWeather.com Senior Meteorologist Bernie Rayno:

A polar vortex is a large pocket of very cold air, typically the coldest air in the Northern Hemisphere, which sits over the polar region during the winter season. The frigid air can find its way into the United States when the polar vortex is pushed farther south, occasionally reaching southern Canada and the northern Plains, Midwest and northeastern portions of the United States. The vortex is capable of delivering subzero temperatures to the United States and Canada for several days at a time.

And by the way, the polar vortex and inhumanly sub-arctic temperatures have a lot to do with climate change, aka Global Warming. But leave it to ‘45, Rush Limbaugh, the Washington Times and billionaires everywhere to proclaim that last week’s weather event proves that there is no such thing. As our science-challenged POTUS sarcastically Tweeted:

In the beautiful Midwest, windchill temperatures are reaching minus 60 degrees, the coldest ever recorded. In coming days, expected to get even colder. People can’t last outside even for minutes. What the hell is going on with Global Waming [sic]? Please come back fast, we need you!

By this point in time, it should come as no surprise that ‘45, his temporary advisers and a majority of Republicans on Capitol Hill refuse to publicly admit that scientists have any idea what they’re talking about when it comes to climate change. To do so might lose them the support of deep-pocketed contributors who place the Bible above science and wealth above fact.

Of course the avoidance and disregard for provable fact is built into the Trumpian genome. Case in point: The president’s recent lashing out at the government’s most senior intelligence leaders. Testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee, leaders of the various intelligence agencies - among others, CIA Director Gina Haspel, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray and former Senator Dan Coats, now the president’s hand-picked Director of National Intelligence - testified that:

  • Iran, while still a global menace, is complying with an international agreement designed to prevent the country from acquiring nuclear weapons.

  • The Islamic State was degraded but not defeated, as the president has claimed.

  • It is highly doubtful that North Korea will ever give up all of its nuclear weapons, a sobering assessment ahead of next month’s planned summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

  • China and Russia are working together to challenge U.S. leadership in the world, undermine democratic governments and gain military and technological superiority over the United States.

Interestingly, none of the officials said there is a security crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, where Trump has considered declaring a national emergency so that he can build a wall. Coats noted that high crime rates and a weak job market are likely to spur migrants from Central America to cross into the United States. But he also sounded optimistic that Mexico will cooperate with the Trump administration to address violence and the flow of illegal drugs, problems that Trump has said Mexico isn’t addressing sufficiently.

And yet, despite a welter of facts carefully drawn from the best spies in the business, the president angrily denied their assessment of what the most serious challenges facing the United States are. In a frosty, angry Tweet, ‘45 pushed back on their intelligence assessment, stating: The Intelligence people seem to be extremely passive and naive when it comes to the dangers of Iran. They are wrong! When I became President Iran was making trouble all over the Middle East, and beyond. Since ending the terrible Iran Nuclear Deal, they are MUCH different, but.... a source of potential danger and conflict. They are testing Rockets (last week) and more, and are coming very close to the edge. There [sic] economy is now crashing, which is the only thing holding them back. Be careful of Iran. Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!

As with the welter of scientific fact surrounding climate change which ‘45 summarily rejects, so too has he spurned his intelligence chiefs’ assessment of the international dangers and challenges facing the United States. Indeed, when facts - no matter how well vetted - go against his personal understanding of how the world works, facts are left by the side of the road. For an uneducated child, it is perhaps understandable. When one is in their mid-70’s and President of the United States, it is both chilling and fraught with danger.

In just a few hours, ‘45 will deliver his second State of the Union Address. One can only wonder what he will say when he stops reading from the teleprompter and begins speaking off the top of his head. Will he at that point be speaking to the nation . . . or his beloved base? Will any of the dozens of pressures attaching themselves to his daily life - like the Mueller investigation, the new inquiry into potential crimes committed by his inaugural committee, his waning numbers, the very real possibility of being impeached - will any of these become sub- or unconscious fodder for his off-the-cuff remarks? And what of the politically dexterous woman in his rear view mirror . . . Madam Speaker? She will likely have the most difficult job of the night; keeping a straight face while Hell freezes over.

637 days until the next presidential election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone














Notes From the Underground Or, Apropos of the Coming Storm

This essay was in the process of  contemplation and composition when, thanks to Hurricane Irma, all the lights, air conditioning and internet were lost. Consequently, it has had to be put off until just how. It's weird going a week without posting an essay.  So far as I know, this is the first week I've missed since February 2005.  In any event,  I am delighted to report that we are all well, suffered precious little damage, and now find ourselves with cool air, cold water and hot WiFi.  Who could ask for anything more? And by the way, if the title of this piece doesn't make a lot of sense, do familiarize yourself with the Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky, the father of Existential literature . . .  

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Waiting for a hurricane to arrive exacts a crushing toll on one's nerves and psyche, not to mention putting one's kishkes into painful twisted knots.  As a Californian who has gone through several major earthquakes, I can tell you a simple truth: I greatly prefer severe quaking to interminable waiting. Earthquakes happen when you least expect them; one is spared the dozens upon dozens of hours of continuous television and radio coverage - of the countdown to  climatologic Armageddon.  True, one can take precautions and make preparations for Andrew, Wilma, Harvey or Irma; but in the long-run, they're going to exact whatever vengeance they choose.  There are also any number of precautions one can take against earthquakes (most in terms of construction), but again, in the long-run they're going to exact as much vengeance as they please.  The big difference, as stated, above, is in the waiting.  Waiting for Irma reminded me of the scene in Casablanca when Rick, Ilsa and Sam were hanging out at La Belle Aurore, waiting, waiting for the Nazis to reach Paris.  All they could do was wait, listen to the cannons, and drink champagne . . .

Even before Irma arrived, there were interminable tornado warnings . . . each extended by fifteen, thirty, sixty minutes or more.  In comparison to the bear which is a category 5 hurricane, a tornado is a mere bee sting.  When Irma finally arrived, we were hunkered down, listening to what sounded like a 10,000-mile long freight train whizzing past our the house at lightening speed for hours on end. This was, to say the least, both a frightening and a deeply humbling experience.  Frightening for obvious reasons.  (Heck, the only folks who wouldn't have suffered from fright were, like Rick, Ilsa and Sam, probably indulging in a bit of the grape). Humbling, to realize in CAPITAL LETTERS how utterly powerful and destructive the forces of nature and nature's God, can be.  

This show of immense, ineffable power makes all our petty pride and status-filled striving seem as utterly insane as the rantings of Dostoevsky's Raskolnikov.  Nothing - not wealth, nor status nor connections - can  every hope to overpower the forces of nature.  And anyone who causes us to believe they can is an utter fool . . . and even worse, a self-deluded idiot. 

Coming on the heels of Hurricane Harvey, I thought to myself (while sitting in the dark near my wife and dog) "who in their right mind can still deny climate change and its role in creating not one but two massive blows in a single week?"  Well, in the weeks leading up to these latest hurricanes, Rush Limbaugh and his buds-with-mikes were coming across like Irma truthers. Limbaugh the loon actually had the errant chutzpah to tell his devoted fringe that hurricanes and massive tropical storms are simply part of a liberal conspiracy solely aimed at furthering the discussion on climate change,   And then, within 24 hours, he announced that he was evacuating South Florida . . . for reasons of "security."  Ah consistency; the hobgoblin of little minds! 

For those who are not aware, there is a single street in Palm Beach (S Ocean Blvd, Palm Beach, 33480 to be precise) on which live (at least during the winter) four of the world's biggest, baddest, boldest climate change deniers: Ann Coulter, the increasingly irrelevant Flush . . . eh, Rush, '45, and the Brothers Koch. These aren't just homes; they are palaces ranging in size from 20,000 to more than 62,000 square feet - not to mention the beach-front acreage.  One has to wonder if all that has happened to their princely abodes will change their minds about the state of the weather.  One can only hope.

So now we dig and dry out, decide whether or not to finally install those hurricane-proof windows and shutters, and await the next storm (perhaps Hurricane Melania?).  It all makes great fodder for the High Holiday sermons I shall begin delivering in less than a week.  One of points I shall do doubt be highlighting is how disasters such as Harvey and Irma tend to bring out the best, most humane aspects of an otherwise disparate and divided folk. One can see it in the patience and consideration that drivers show in going through intersections one car at a time; of neighbors going door to door to see if there's anything they can do - and then extending a hand, arm or leg in the cause of community. I've read and heard of Muslims helping Jews and rock-ribbed conservative Christians lending assistance to same-sex  couples.  It is, without question, a very, very good thing to learn that the folks next door are just as human, just as vulnerable, just as loving as you are.  

We will, without question, long remember Harvey and Irma - their power, their destructiveness and terrifying ability to totally destroy and uproot.  May they also be long remembered as having been the cause for us reaching out to our neighbors as if they were the closest of kin.  And may Harvey and Irma also teach the naysayers that hurricanes, tornadoes and tropical storms have as much to do with the misdeeds of man as with the power of the Divine. 

Be safe, be proactive, but above all be kind . . .

Copyright©2017 Kurt F. Stone

'45's Null Hypothesis & the Future of Planet Earth

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Last week I attended - via teleconference - a daylong medical ethics workshop held at the University of Kentucky.  The topic for this year's gathering was "Human Subjects Protection: Changes." It was a phenomenal, mentally challenging day.  The first speaker was Dr. Craig Kundrot, a Yale-trained molecular biophysicist who is currently Director of the "Space Life and Physical Sciences Research & Applications Division" at NASA.  In other words, he's the person in charge of figuring out the long-term physical and psychological effects that long-term space flight has on the human body. Currently, NASA is working on our Mars venture, which will take astronauts away from planet Earth for a minimum of 18 months. The case study Dr. Kundrot presented dealt with our only set of twin astronauts, Scott and Mark Kelly.  Because the Kellys have virtually the same genetic material, NASA can study how long-duration space flight affects the body and mind, using Mark - who is now retired from NASA -  as the control.  

Needless to say, Dr. Kundrot's presentation had all those in attendance flying high with thoughts of Mars, the vastness of the universe and the courage and brilliance of those charged with turning this fabulous dream into an even more fabulous reality.

And then, 24 hours later, '45's announcement that he was pulling the United States out of the Paris Accord brought us all down to his version of reality.  In '45's view, the historic, non-binding 195-nation accord was agreed to for one reason and one reason only: to stick it to the United States. Or, as he described it, "The agreement is a massive transfer of United States wealth to other countries."  In his mind, the Paris Accord has nothing to do with saving the planet from the ravages of climate change; it is all about money, lost jobs and his "America First" brand of isolationism.  This should come as no surprise, and for two reasons:

  • Our President sees reality through dollar signs, and
  • He contends that climate change (global warming) is a hoax.

In the words of my former boss, California Governor Jerry Brown, " . . . Trump is the null hypothesis; he's demonstrating that climate denial has no integrity and no future.  And the exact opposite, that climate activism is the order of the day."  Governor Brown is, without a doubt, the best-educated, most philosophically adroit office holder I've ever worked for.   I mean, who else could use the term "null hypothesis" as if he were speaking about today's grocery list? [n.b. During his first stint as governor back in the 1970's, I worked in his Office of Planning and Research where I specialized in environmental ethics.]

Now, just to keep us up to date, a "null hypothesis" is  a commonly accepted fact that researchers work to nullify or discredit. Of course, what is the "commonly accepted fact" today, might become tomorrow's universally rejected twaddle.  That which nullifies or discredits a null hypothesis is referred to as "the alternate hypothesis."  

An example:  In centuries past, several scientists, including Copernicus, set out to disprove their contemporaneous "null hypothesis" that the earth was flat. This eventually led to the rejection of the "null" and the (almost) universal acceptance of the "alternate" - namely, that the earth is round. Most people accepted the alternate — the ones that didn’t created the Flat Earth Society! What would have happened if Copernicus had not disproved it but merely proved the alternate? No one would have listened to him. In order to change people’s thinking, scholars first had to prove that their thinking was wrong.  

In retrospect,  believing  the world to be flat way back when, was about as inane as the "climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese" lyric constantly chanted by '45 during the 2016 campaign.  

Today, although the vast, vast majority of scientists have thoroughly discredited the null hypothesis (that pernicious climate change is a hoax), there are still those (apparently including our POTUS) who think the vast majority of scientists are full of it.  (Never forget that more than 8 years ago, the future '45 and 3 of his children signed a letter to President Barack Obama calling for a global climate deal. Today,  no one working in '45's White House will answer the question "Does the President believe there is global warming?"  Oops!

Over the last several days, numerous "fact checked" transcripts of the president's climate change speech have appeared on the web. The number of untruths, misstatements and outright whoppers are numerous, to say the least.  But then again, the audience before whom the POTUS was speaking in the Rose Garden that day, was predisposed to believe that everything he says  is a pearl of truth.  Among the alternate bits of reality which escaped the fact checkers' attention were  the dire predictions of an organization called "The National Economic Research Associates" [NERA], whose chilling statistics and "what-ifs" of economic catastrophe '45 used to bolster his case for pulling out of the Paris Accord. To listen to '45, his decision was based on economics, his love of coal, and strong desire to keep the world from "laughing at us."   Turns out, NERA, an economic consulting firm founded by the neo-conservative Hudson Institute's Irwin Stelzer (known as "Rupert Murdoch's right-hand man) has long been a shill for the coal industry. Its statistics and warnings of doom have been used by climate change deniers for years . . . including the densest of all deniers, Senator James Imhofe (R-OK).  In other words, '45's null hypothesis - that climate change is a hoax - is itself a hoax backed up by "facts" and statistics which are full of - as Granny would have it- "canal water." That is to say, one hoax backed by yet another.

While '45 was correct about not wanting other countries "laughing at us anymore," his resolve was misplaced: they are laughing . . . at him.  This has been '45's modus operandi from the moment he entered politics: to convince a certain segment of American society that we are victims; that the world hates us, is taking advantage of us. and we should all be afraid. This is what an aged British friend of mine used to refer to as "the Poor Pitiful Pearl syndrome."

Despite all the negativity and predictions of doom the president used to justify pulling out of the Accord (and potential ceding of international leadership to the Chinese),  we are happy to report, that 45's political tone-deafness could actually prove to be a boon for both democratic activism and the future of planet Earth. Again, we return to Governor Brown and  the State California, which has the planet's 6th largest economy (just ahead of France).  The day after '45's speech in the White House Rose Garden, Governor Brown announced that he was leaving for China, where he would work with high-ranking Chinese officials to work on joint carbon-reduction projects.  Moreover, Governor Brown is already putting together a coalition of countries, states, cities and corporations that will work together towards the creation of new energy-efficient projects, millions of renewable energy jobs, and a universal lowering of greenhouse emissions.  He has more knowledge and experience about what we used to call the "theology of ecology" than any elected official in America. 

Already, some of America's most populous cities and states, most profitable corporations and countries around the globe, have shown a deep and abiding interest in joining this movement - regardless of whether or not '45 and the federal government will be a part of it. This is the living, breathing definition of "people power" - a force which has historically disproved more than one null hypothesis.  

Fear ye not. Do not give up.  For together we, the residents of Earth can and will save our planet from degradation. One day soon, humans will land on Mars, thus creating an alternate hypothesis:  that when people of good will, high ideals and abundant creativity work together, dreams can become reality.

138 days down, 1,319 days to go . . .

Copyright©2017 Kurt F. Stone.