How Sex, Politics, Money and Religion are Killing Planet Earth

Friday, December 30, 2011

New Year and the Promise of Renewal

2011 has gone out with a bang, both literally and figuratively. Early in the month of December, my husband was in a car accident and suffered a mild concussion and whiplash. The car was totaled. Then my son’s partner was sandwiched between two eighteen-wheelers. Again her car was totaled, although she miraculously walked away unscathed. On December 19th, we lost our beloved friend Prudence the beagle. Her loss still leaves an emptiness in our home. But by far, the worst December happening was on the 21st, when our precious daughter was also in a car accident. She suffered a broken collar bone, torn ligaments in her left ankle and a sprained wrist. All who analyzed the disaster concurred that if she had not been wearing her seatbelt, she would not be with us today. The gratitude I feel for fortuitous fate, unknown realities and responsible progeny is too profound to elaborate upon.

Given the above scenario, the commencement of a New Year is a welcome development. There is something about the prospect of starting over with a clean slate that is eminently appealing. And indeed, nature provides us with myriad examples of death and rebirth and the endless capacity for renewal. The fall leaves and carcasses of the unfortunate nourish the ground from whence they came. Each year the dormancy of winter gives way to sprouting buds and the fragrant breezes of spring. The birds return from their winter holidays. Snow melts. And green sprouts shoot out from a brown and desolate landscape. New Year reminds us of this promise of perpetual renewal.  

Every 365.25 days, give or take, the Earth makes a complete revolution around the sun. Although we mark off days on a calendar and mark each revolution with a successive number, 2010, 2011, 2012, the Earth, sun and universe make no such distinction between one revolution and the next. Sometimes an axial wobble will tilt the Northern hemisphere to a slightly less illuminated trajectory, setting off a chain of reactions that plunge the Earth into an ice age. A correction in the opposite direction will set off an opposite chain of events, causing polar ice caps to melt. The tides ebb and flow, but the constancy of a solitary planet revolving around its sun in a predictable pattern remains timeless.

Nature teaches us that in spite of the eternal need of Western Homo sapiens for solutions, conformity, deeper meaning and happy endings, reality is a harsh affair. Everybody dies, justice is not always served, good people suffer, while the criminally insane prosper, and happy endings are the stuff of Hollywood movies and rarely reflect the real world. Shit happens. Our insistence of making the “best” of the situation obscures our seeing a larger, more fantastic truth.

Everybody dies, but each decaying carcass is the essential fodder for new life. Justice is not always served, but every hardship usually brings profound enlightenment. Good people suffer and bad ones prosper, but the good generally enjoy lives filled with love and friendship, while the sociopath is incapable of appreciating such blessings. By looking for happy endings we miss the bliss of everyday life.
Until the time that the sun implodes upon itself, our beloved home, Earth, will continue to revolve around it, predictably and profoundly, and this miracle should give us hope. Here is my wish for all to enjoy a sentient New Year surrounded by loved ones, community and purpose.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Darkness into Light, Death and Rebirth, Endings and Beginnings – The Promise of Winter Solstice

A Requiem for Prudence

On Monday, we lost a dear friend. Prudence was “just” a dog, an 18 year-old beagle who has been a part of our family for what seems like forever. Our youngest son Arthur was only a year old when we acquired Prudence on a holiday in Colorado Springs. She survived the Parvo virus as a puppy and later an attempt on her life by a temporarily deranged neighbor who clobbered her over the head with a two-by-four when she was 2.

During her short, albeit long dog life, Prudence made an impression on everyone who met her. She had a loving personality coupled with the typical woe-is-me visage that is frequent in canines of the hound persuasion, making her an object of adoration to all but the most hardened of hearts. It’s a good thing she was so lovable, because she was also the naughtiest dog to ever walk the face of the planet.  Prudence never obeyed a command in her life that didn’t suit her own purposes and made a habit of peeing on the floor when it was colder or wetter outside than she liked. She was a woman who above all else, looked after her own interests. Fortunately, she found herself in a family of similar personalities, so she fit right in. She was an independent soul, and unlike other canine companions, who are often submissive to the master, it would seem that Prudence viewed herself as on equal footing with us, as we did her. Our loss is thus one of a true friend and not just the loss of a “pet.”

For 18 years, she persevered, beating the odds and coming back stronger than ever. As she aged, her hearing and then her eyesight began to dim, but still, she never refused an offer of a walk and continued to pursue the scents at the end of her nose with the gusto of a young pup. We were lulled into the belief that she was invincible and that she would be with us for at least another 18 years. Then about a month ago, she started lagging behind on walks, and eventually she stopped joining us completely. Her breathing became labored and eventually, her aged heart and lungs could no longer combat the realities of old age.  Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.

Some Buddhist and Native American cultures have the belief that the soul resides near the body for a period of three days after death. These three days are a period of adjustment for both the living and the dead.  When the three days are finished, the soul is released into the infinite possibilities of the universe. I think it is apt that Prudence decided to leave us on Monday.  According to the above tradition, she will find her final peace tonight, entering the world of the eternal on this longest, darkest night of the year, Winter Solstice. The darkness mirrors the vacuous emptiness that her passing leaves in our hearts and home but also reminds us of the promise of light and rebirth even in the darkest hours.

Tomorrow the night will be shorter and shorter still with each subsequent day. We grieve the loss of our friend, but tomorrow the sun will shine its light once again. The New Year and newly born sun will bring the promise of spring and new life, and so it goes.

For more info on Winter Solstice, see previous post:

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Keystone XL Make or Break Time. Send an Email to President Obama Today

The following is a letter I sent today to the White House, urging President Obama not to cave in to the blackmail being perpetrated by Congress. As you may be aware, today the Senate passed a bill that has tied the payroll tax cut, a measure that will bring dramatic economic relief to millions of Americans, to pressuring the President into signing off on the Keystone XL tar sand pipeline, a completely unrelated issue. You can send your own letter to the President here.

President Obama,

You campaigned on a promise of clean energy for America, and it was based on this promise, in addition to others, that I voted for you.

I am an environmental scientist with 15 years of professional experience studying environmental impact assessment. As you are aware, the scourge of anthropogenic global climate change is the most significant environmental challenge of our lifetime, perhaps of all human history. The nation's leading climatologist, Jim Hansen, has said that if the Keystone XL pipeline is allowed to go through, it will be "game over" for the climate. Do you really want to be the President whose legacy is tied to such a pronouncement?

2008 was a year of unprecedented hope. On election night, I cried tears of joy, watching you, our first African American President, deliver your acceptance address. The Bush years had worn many of us to the point of not believing in a government of, by and for the people. Instead, we were convinced that the welfare of the corporations who sponsored our politicians was now the government's only concern. You promised to rectify this great injustice and restore our democracy to the people.

As you have managed your Presidency over the past few years, it has become painfully obvious to us spectators that taking government back from powerful private interests has not been an easy task for you. Nevertheless, I choose to believe that you were sincere in your promises to the American people and that every concession you have made to corporate interests has been painful for you. Many of my progressive peers do not agree with my sentiment and believe you have sold out.

If the above is true, then  one can only conclude that a democratic United States is a cleverly crafted illusion of propaganda. It means that whomever the citizens of this country vote for, their interests will be secondary to the interests of corporations.

You are an intelligent man and cannot plead ignorance when it comes to the grave threat of global climate change. Thanks to the brave members of the Occupy Movement, 2012 promises to be a landmark election year. This is the year voters will take our country back from private interests. Have no doubt that with your vote on the Keystone XL pipeline, we the voters will know definitively which side you are really on and vote accordingly.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

What the Frack? – Why Deregulation is Turning the United States into a Third World Country

Yesterday, I took my last final exam and turned in my last paper, so I am free again to share some of the information I gleaned this semester from the amazing faculty at Harvard and my fellow classmates, who are also quite an impressive bunch of individuals. In my daily professional life out in the swamps and bushes of the Caribbean counting plants, I am usually blissfully working outside of the U.S. legislative framework, which can be onerous to say the least. On the other hand, working in countries with little regulation also makes clear the need for such requirements. In spite of what right-leaning pundits would have you believe, relieved of any requirements to act in an environmentally responsible way, polluting industries will externalize their pollutants and harm into the environment without thinking twice about it. In the fifteen years I have been doing environmental impact assessment, I have never experienced a single case where a developer simply volunteered to do the environmentally correct thing unless it was going to save him money.

We need regulation. Countries where regulations are lax or non-existent invariably become dumping grounds for toxic waste or the homes of polluting industries that can’t be bothered with the costs of cleaning up their acts. There are several million synthetic chemicals that have been produced by humans. About 70,000 of them are currently being regularly used by industry and at least 35,000 of those have been identified as toxic to humans and/or ecosystems. Without regulation, these chemicals end up in our bodies and environment, many of them, like dioxin, PCBs and mercury, permanently.

But we live in the United States of America, and since the enlightened years of yes, the Nixon Administration, we have enjoyed the protection of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. Over the years since these landmark regulations have been in place, air and water quality in the United States has improved dramatically, even as the population has increased. Most Americans take for granted that industry is sufficiently regulated and cannot pose a threat to people and the environment, and for the most part, this would be true, unless the polluter’s name is Halliburton. In a 2005 ruling known not ironically as the “Halliburton Exemption,” the Bush/Cheney/Halliburton Administration specifically exempted the process of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” from the Clean Water Act on the basis that it posed “no serious threat” to water resources.

The Bush Administration was never known for its transparency or honesty, and since that ruling much information has come to light that shows that fracking not only poses serious threats, but that the impacts of such activities may be catastrophic. Self-promoting ads present natural gas as the “clean” fuel, and it is true that when burned, natural gas produces about 1/3 of the carbon dioxide of coal and oil, but the half-truth of clean natural gas is overshadowed by pesky reality. Several recent studies reveal that impacts to the environment and public health, known in the industry as “externalities,” may occur throughout every phase of natural gas drilling and power generation.

 The contamination begins from day one. To drill a gas well, Halliburton and their colleagues have developed drilling “muds” that are applied to the borehole edge of the drilling rig. These muds are slurries of undisclosed toxic chemical compounds and are applied to the bore hole edge of the drilling rig to facilitate the process. The chemicals are undisclosed because Halliburton et. al. claim they are “proprietary” blends. Like the eleven herbs and spices in Kentucky Fried Chicken, they are a secret recipe. Once the well is drilled, between two and nine million gallons of fresh water are combined with sand and chemical products (also undisclosed under the claim of “proprietary” information) and injected into the recovery zone under high pressures in order to fracture the substrate and release the natural gas contained within.

Since fracking conveniently isn’t regulated under the Clean Water Act, all those proprietary blends of chemicals would be completely anonymous in the environment except residents in communities where fracking is taking place started to notice a few issues like brown water coming out of their faucets that ignites when lit with a match. Fish and wildlife in nearby streams started dying and the smells of water and air started to burn the nasal passages. In response, several heroic scientists took it upon themselves to investigate.

Theo Colborn and associates set out to determine exactly which chemicals were being used and were able to identify 632 chemicals.  75% of these chemicals could have negative skin, sensory organ, respiratory and gastrointestinal effects, 37-50% could have negative effects on the nervous, immune and cardiovascular, endocrine and excretory systems and 25% are potentially carcinogenic (Colborn, Kwiatkowski, Schultz, & Bachran, 2011).

In addition to the toxic chemicals added to the fracking brew,  natural gas is recovered with a host of naturally-occurring contaminants such as hydrogen sulfide, benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene, heavy metals and radioactive materials, to name a few. These contaminants are stored in pits along with used drilling mud and fracking fluids where they can and do leach into groundwater and run off into waterways.

On January 1, 2009, a private drinking water well in Dimrock, Pennsylvania, exploded as a result of methane gas migration from a nearby natural gas drilling operation. Residents reported foul-smelling tap water the color of apple cider, and spills of fracking liquids and drilling mud leached into aquatic habitats resulting in fish kills (Federman, 2010). In Pavillion, Wyoming, residents are experiencing similar effects. These people have had their lives permanently contaminated by fracking. Their once-pristine rural communities are now cesspits for the toxic wastes of the natural gas industry.

The myth of clean natural gas joins a host of other fossil fuel industry lies like clean coal and safe offshore oil drilling. The industry hopes that if it tells a lie often enough people will believe it, and unfortunately their strategy works. In the absence of oversight and public awareness they are free to carry out their dirty deeds in relative obscurity.

The other big lie we get from the fossil fuel industry is that it is the most economical way to meet our energy needs. The lie is reinforced by our electric bills that tell us that coal-fired or gas-fired electricity costs pennies per kilowatt hour. We are told that renewables such as solar and wind cost at least twice as much. But reality isn’t as simple as the math on our electric bills. Fossil fuels are first subsidized by tax dollars, and when all of the health and environmental costs, such as increased rates of asthma in children, ruined water supplies and decapitated mountains in Appalachia, are added up the clean energies of wind and solar are actually cheaper than fossil fuels, much cheaper. In reality, we are paying the fossil fuel industry with our tax dollars, ecosystems and health, for the privilege of lining their pockets. 

Write a letter, a real letter not an email, to your Representatives and Senators and tell them its time for them to represent the interests of people and the environment, rather than the interests of the corrupt fossil fuel industry. Enlighten them about the economic and environmental realities of fossil fuel. Let them know that you know the truth and that all the efforts of industry to hide that truth were in vain. Perhaps in this election cycle, with their asses on the line, they might listen. It's worth a shot.  

Sources Cited

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Giving Thanks and Other Ironies of American Lore

The following is a re-run and minor edit of a post by the same name that I wrote last year. Happy Thanksgiving to all, including the black, red and white humans and non-humans that must endure the legacy of of colonialism.

390 years ago, a group of religious refugees landed on the shores of Massachusetts in the general vicinity of modern day Plymouth. Contrary to popular American folklore, religious persecution was not the primary motive for the emigration of the Pilgrims from Europe. This first wave of Puritans to reach North American was intent on establishing a “holy kingdom” on Earth, while they awaited Armageddon, which they were convinced, was imminent. The Puritans were political as well as religious radicals in their homeland and attempts to overthrow parliamentary rule in the United Kingdom to create a utopian theocracy had repeatedly failed. So they ventured to the New World intent on creating their Shangri-La.

The Pilgrims firmly believed they were God’s chosen people and that others who did not share their version of religious purity were instruments of Satan. While victims of bigotry themselves, they spared no judgment for their non-Puritan fellow men. Being God’s chosen, they assumed God would shelter them on their journey and provide for them upon their arrival in America. One can but imagine their dismay and surprise when as many as half their numbers perished in the Atlantic crossing and immediate aftermath from starvation and disease. God must have been testing them.

Although the Pilgrims were to form the first permanent English settlement in the current territory of the United States (the Spanish had settled Florida more than 50 years earlier), the Pilgrims were not the first Englishmen to arrive on the North American shores. Numerous expeditions and trade ships had preceded the landing at Plymouth, so by the time the Puritans arrived, the native Wampanoag Indian population had already been decimated by a robust slave trade and exotic diseases like measles and small pox.

The Native American star of the Thanksgiving story, Sqanto (who’s real name was Tisquantum), had several years previously befriended an English ship captain and sailed to Europe where he gained employment as a ship builder. Upon his return home however, Tisquantum was apprehended by a slave trader and sold to a Spanish Caribbean colony. While enslaved, he was rescued by a Franciscan monk, who managed to find passage for Tisquantum to Europe. From Europe, he finally made his way back to his familial home in New England in 1619 to find his tribe and people annihilated.

Roughly a year later, the Pilgrims arrived and attempted to make a living for themselves off a landscape they were woefully unequipped to deal with. In the age of year-round produce from around the world, it is difficult to imagine the Pilgrims would have been completely unfamiliar with the native North American flora and fauna. The seeds they brought with them for crops, like wheat, were not suited to the New England climate and soils, and they could not distinguish edible wild foods from toxic ones.

Given Tisquantum’s previous experience with Europeans, and the personal tragedy of his people, our contemporary, individualist, every man for himself mentality might beg the question, “Why on Earth did Squanto help the Pilgrims?” If he had left them to themselves, they all would have almost assuredly, died. But the Wampanoag people were constructed of a different moral standard than the Europeans who displaced them. Tisquantum and his people had an irrevocable tradition of sharing with those in need. Not offering food and support to the starving Pilgrims would have been paramount to murdering them in Wampanoag culture, so Squanto helped them. He taught them how to build shelters (wigwams) from trees and bark. He shared the native seeds of the three sisters, corn, squash and bean and taught them how to fertilize the soil with fish. He taught them to find wild foods and natural medicines and to identify poisonous plants. The Pilgrims survived.

In order to give thanks for enduring the first difficult year, the Pilgrims invited the Indians to a feast of Thanksgiving in 1621. When the Indians arrived en masse, it was evident the feast was pathetically under rationed, so the Indians sent a party to secure more provisions. Consequently, the Indians provided most of the food at this “first” Thanksgiving. The fare would have included wild turkey, but also fish, deer, squash, beans and corn and a variety of wild foods. The feast lasted for three days and was to mark a peace treaty of sorts. The Wampanoag granted to the Pilgrims the land area of their Plymouth colony and presumed that was the end of that.

But the puritanical Pilgrims had other ideas. When desperate, they were happy to accept the help of the satanic savages, but once restored to health and vitality, they were free to pursue their agenda of the spiritual purification of their new holy kingdom. More Puritans arrived in boatloads from Europe. As their numbers increased, the Puritans began a campaign to rid the land of its native people. Colonists repeatedly ransacked and pilfered Indian food stores and established colonies throughout the New England territory driving the native people from the land. Perceiving themselves as God’s chosen people, the Puritans felt entitled to the land and justified in all their unscrupulous actions. Some aspects of American culture haven't changed.

Eventually the perpetual conflict between the different cultures erupted in warfare. The King Phillip’s War, named for the Wampanoag Sachem, Pometacom (derisively named King Phillip by the settlers), ended badly for the Indians and resulted in massive exodus of the native people from their land into the Canadian territories. The rest, as they say, is history.

The ritual of Thanksgiving is as old as the history of the human species and transcends all cultures and places. At the time of the landing at Plymouth, The Wampanoag and other Native American peoples of the region participated in six annual celebrations of Thanksgiving to commemorate the seasons of the year and the bounty of nature. Thanksgiving for America’s indigenous cultures is a ritual of sharing and gratitude.

Sadly, this Thanksgiving, many Americans continue in the Puritan tradition, believing themselves to be a chosen people entitled to all the spoils they can accumulate. Those of us who have ample food on the table, heat for our homes, medical care and adequate finances for our children’s educations should be truly thankful, not just on Thanksgiving, but every day. We are a minority in the world, and we should never forget our wealth comes at the profound expense of others.

‘And a voice said, “All over the universe they have finished a day of happiness.” And looking down, I saw that the whole wide circle of the day was beautiful and green, with all fruits growing and all things kind and happy. Then a voice said, “Behold this day, for it is yours to make…” And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy (Black Elk, The Great Vision).’


Monday, November 7, 2011

Sneeches, Money and the Real Value of Wilderness

I was born into a concrete jungle in South Florida, where sawgrass rivers were dredged, drained and cut into neat quarter-acre, paved and cultivated parcels. Between the grid of asphalt and single-car garages, narrow glimpses of green could be seen, but the only unobstructed view of wide-open, unspoiled space was that of the blue sky. Even then, one had to blot out the overhead wires and frequent jet trails that obscured a clean view of an undegraded world.

Like a wild animal or prisoner in a jail cell, my childhood self always felt trapped by the each of the little human destructions of nature many refer to as “civilization.” I carved out an ecological niche amongst the broken cracks in the sidewalks where the ants and earthworms dwelled. Or in the sodden recesses of an old ficus, where pigeons laid treasure troves of small, white eggs. My home was a leafy, sheltered cave under a cycad or a perch, high up in a friendly tree. Even in the total absence of wilderness, my childish soul craved and sought out wild, natural spaces. Doesn’t everybody?

When my family and I first moved to the Turks and Caicos Islands over twenty years ago, I felt like I had been freed from my captivity. The TCI of those days was a largely naked wilderness. One could walk for miles down pristine shorelines or scramble through endless forest and shrubland, discovering new individual species in a seemingly infinite wilderness of biodiversity. People lived close to the land. The bountiful sea provided ample subsistence for all and a general isolation from the commercial centers of the world meant that consumerism was entirely unknown. We had no television. The tyranny of stuff and money was non-existent, so people simply got on with enjoying their carefree lives.

It wasn’t long before the speculators found paradise. First, Club Med arrived, which wasn’t too bad. Part of the Club Med philosophy at the time was to blend in with the surrounding community. For the most part, they remained relatively unobtrusive, but they opened the door and then every investor with dollar signs in his eyes wanted his own slice of paradise to develop for profit.

As each of the finite pieces of virgin beachfront succumbed to bulldozers, a more insidious change began to transform the land. Televisions now blared the mantras of commerce and large container ships delivered the now much-sought-after things to a land that once only knew seashells and hand-made toys. Instead of simply enjoying life, hearts were now set on procuring dollars and a frenzy of land sales ensued. People who once cooperated as a matter of existence now scrambled over one another to see who could collect the most pieces of the coveted capital pie.

I can’t understand what people are thinking when they survey a perfect, unspoiled landscape and lust for its dollar value destroyed. What do men think when they view a wild beach unobstructed by the inferior constructions of humans and imagine marring them with sterile monuments? How does one reconcile a caribou-swept Alaskan wilderness and imagine it cleared and blackened with the sickening stench of crude. This must be a disease. A disease called money. Money alone has the ability to render people senseless. Its pursuit becomes paramount to the extent that one forgets what is lost in its wake. When nature is converted to dollars, what does one gain but a few meaningless pieces of paper?

Dr. Seuss tells a tale of a group of island birds known as the Sneeches. The Sneeches in Seuss’s tale fall victim to a fix-it-up Chappie, who engages the Sneeches in the meaningless commerce of placing and removing stars from their bellies, convincing them that status is afforded to those who have exactly the right arrangement of stars. The Sneeches fall prey to this lunacy, just as modern humans are convinced that various automobiles or articles of clothing will set them apart from their peers. After the Chappie relieves the Sneeches of all their capital, he laughs as he makes his way to the next gullible consumer with the adage, “you can’t teach a Sneech.”

In Seuss’s fairy tale, the Sneeches actually do learn from their mistake and enter into a new lifestyle where stars or “whether they have one or not upon thars” becomes irrelevant. When will we learn?

With the recent economic global collapse, the Turks and Caicos Islands are enjoying a lull in their development boom. Vast areas of wilderness still remain unscathed. Let’s hope the people of these precious islands gain insight into preserving what is left before the next onslaught converting the priceless into meaningless paper ensues.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

We Occupy Earth – For anybody who is still wondering what the movement is all about, here is a brief explanation.

I have been abhorrently negligent by not posting anything about Occupy Wall Street, which is probably the single-most significant political movement since the Vietnam protests. I apologize. The demands of my continuing education at Harvard are considerable. I wish I had a photographic memory, speed reading skills or some other super-human abilities to help me with the mountain of reading and the crunch of exams and papers that seem to be endlessly due. Alas, I, unlike many of my peers at that fine institution, am a mere mortal of only moderate intelligence. So I plod and manage to keep my head above water, but the time constraints keep me from many of the simple pleasures I usually enjoy like blogging and cleaning my humble abode.

I feel bad for my neglect, yet I also notice that few of our elected “representatives” have much to say on the topic either. Perhaps they are trying to find a way to reconcile the profound conflict of interest they are caught up in, in which they must appease the people who actually vote for them, while at the same time trying to do the same with the corporations who own them. What a conundrum. For a while, this seeming paradox was tempered by some fine propaganda that convinced many members of the voting public that corporate interests also behooved the individual. The poor deluded saps were led to believe that if we let the corporations suck the earth clean of all its wealth they might actually share a few pennies with the rest of us. That one had the corporate masters laughing all the way to their Wall Street banks for decades.

While they pissed on 99% of us, they managed to secure almost all of earth’s resources for themselves via privatization and buy out all three branches of government too. What a coup. But then the shit hit the fan. In nature, unchecked greed and exponential growth only leads to disaster. Because we are such an arrogant organism, we have managed to fool ourselves into believing that we exist outside the laws of nature and that we can bend those laws to our will. Sorry folks. We are just an organism like all the rest, and like all those who exceed the natural carrying capacity of their habitat, we are bound for a rude awakening.

The beginning of that awakening began when the greedy assholes on Wall Street became so enthralled with enriching their own pockets they forgot to care that the crap they were peddling was more worthless than the paper it was printed on. When the world realized that the market's emperors had no clothes, the whole illusion collapsed in on its own empty shell.

It wouldn’t have been too bad, if the corrupt Wall Street bankers and greedy corporate pigs hadn’t decided that their loss was going to be our loss instead. So we bailed them out, following the same stupid logic we had succumbed to in the past, that financing their greed would let a few pennies trickle down on the rest of us. But then something happened. The corporations and bankers almost immediately started recording record profits again, but this time, they didn’t even try to pretend they were going to share any of it with the rest of us. The promised jobs never materialized, and the 99% realized they had been royally screwed.

The corporate media has been trying very hard to make this now global movement seem like the fantasy of a few, disorganized fringe lefties who have no idea what their message is or what they are doing. This is business as usual for Disney-owned ABC, GE-owned NBC, etc. Are we surprised? Do we really expect these corporate mouthpieces to sympathize with a movement that explicitly intends to undermine their hegemony? Of course not. If there is anybody out there still wondering what the Occupy movement is about, I am going to summarize it below in one sentence. Please feel free to share this sentence with anybody who is still wrapped up in the confusion the corporate masters are deliberately spinning.

The earth and all her resources belong to every human and non-human, and we are no longer going to stand for 1% of the humans stealing and ruining it for the rest of us.

Clear enough?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Nut, Squirrel, Hawk

The anticipation in the air is palpable. The fall colors are in full bloom, and I am harvesting the last straggly tomatoes and sweet potatoes from the garden. This past spring, a pair of Cooper’s hawks raised a nest of young in an old pine snag near the pond. Now they are fledged. Their seemingly endless bouts of circling and calling, calling and circling fill me with a feeling of foreboding. When I wake up, their call is the first thing I hear outside my window. They are up with the autumn dawn exerting their dominance over the radius of their powerful view.

The dandelions have all melted back into the earth, and the groundhogs are packing their cheeks with the last few remnants they can scavenge from the salad bowl of the pasture and lawn. It won’t be long until they disappear into their burrows for the winter. I love seeing them munching on the green grass in the sunshine. When they emerge in the spring, they most likely will be toting several baby groundhogs in tow. So there is that to look forward to.
A photo my son Duncan took of a red-tailed hawk at Emory

A doe and her fawn got a late start this year. He was still sporting his baby spots into the late summer. They pass out of the woods almost every day for a drink at the pond and to browse the carpet of wildflower and rye under the black walnut trees on the hill. The fawn seems too small still to face the winter ahead. If he survives the cold, he will have the hunting season to contend with in the spring. I hope they stay here, on this land that they and I belong to, where they will be safe.

Then there are the busy squirrels. The mother lode of walnuts has just tumbled down to the earth, but within a few weeks, they will have all been carted off and buried in remembered and forgotten places. The squirrels never rest. Even in the winter they will take the mild days to review their inventory of nuts. It is for them that the hawks circle.

Nuts, squirrels, hawks, grass, groundhog and doe, and so it goes. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Columbus and the Great American Delusion

“We live our lives as characters in the grand narrative into which we have been socialized as children and conform as adults.  That narrative is the story told to itself by the dominant society of which we are a part.  We internalize narrative as ideology.  Ideology is a story told by people in power…By rewriting the story, we can challenge the structures of power.  All stories can and should be challenged.” – Carolyn Merchant

Today is a National Holiday. Banks and public offices are closed to commemorate the discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus. We celebrate this event in the Western world as the beginning of a new age, and in our collective societal brainwashed state, few question whether or not the event was truly a cause for celebration.
Cultures have myths about themselves that they pass on to succeeding generations. The United States is no exception. Elementary school history books sing with the bravery of the Pilgrims, seeking religious freedom, crossing the ocean, befriending the indigenous people of the Americas, and living happily ever after.  Reality’s more complicated blend of details does include bravery, sacrifice and good deeds, but also a fair share of atrocity and morally reprehensible behavior.
The American mythos echoes with shadows of truth and the harsh light of reality. The United States of America is a great nation, established based on unparalleled ideals, but these principles are not etched in stone like a monument that cannot be toppled, nor were they strictly adhered to at the time of the nation’s founding.  Ideals are simply goals that may never be achieved but must be constantly and diligently pursued. 
As President of a fledgling United States, Thomas Jefferson, a gentleman from Virginia to who are attributed the words “all men are created equal,” personally sanctioned the removal of the Creek and Cherokee peoples from the state of Georgia. While few acknowledged it at the time, “removal” was just a whitewashed term for genocide. Native Americans were forced from their lands under the guise of “civilizing” them, and those who refused to leave were eliminated permanently.
Jefferson advocated, “two measures are deemed explicit. First to encourage them (the Indians) to abandon hunting. Secondly to multiply trading houses among them…leading them thus to agriculture, to manufactures, and civilization .” In other words, Native Americans should only be allowed to stay in the habitat they had maintained for millennia only if they consented to completely abandon their culture and their way of life. For many, death was preferable to living under the new reality of the white man.
Jefferson also infamously owned and had sexual relations with slaves, like many of his “gentlemen” compatriots.
On July 4, 1776, the 56 white men who declared that “all men are created equal” uttered a profound truth, which they did not put into practice during their lifetimes.  For the Founding Fathers, equality did not extend to women or to men not of the Caucasian race, and rights were certainly not afforded to nature. The liberty and freedom they coveted intensely enough to spark revolution, they nevertheless had every intention of denying to the vast majority of other humans and all non-humans. The same men who spoke of inalienable rights expanded their own empires on the backs of slaves while simultaneously exterminating entire cultures from the North American landscape. The conditional nature of the values of these men; however, does not diminish the veracity of their words or ideals. Human actions are often in conflict with stated ideals. The challenge is to unite them.
            On Columbus Day, we can reflect on what is hailed as achievement in Western American civilization, but we should reflect on what has been lost. Thousands of rich cultures in this hemisphere have been annihilated, and a vast, unspoiled landscape has been pillaged for the benefit of a few white men. The casualties: Crow, Mohawk, Cherokee, Creek, passenger pigeon, old-growth forest, native prairie… The list is millions of lives long, yet the delusion continues.
 “The life of white men is slavery. They are prisoners in towns or farms. The life my people want is a life of freedom. I have seen nothing that a white man has, houses or railways or clothing or food that is as good as the right to move in the open country, and live in our own fashion.” – Sitting Bull

 “No European who has tasted Savage life can afterwards bear to live in our societies (Benjamin Franklin).” 

Unfortunately, on a global scale, we no longer have the option of "savage" life, thanks in large part to the legacy of Christopher Columbus.

Recommended Reading
Carolyn Merchant - Earthcare
Howard Zinn - A People's History of the United States

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Life is Good, and it goes on...

I had an incredible opportunity this past week, one which I am profoundly grateful for, and will continue to be, although it did not pan out. A fairly substantial publishing company contacted me regarding the possibility of publishing killing Mother (the book). I was asked to submit a couple of chapters to their editorial committee for consideration for publication in the fall of 2012. I swallowed deeply and submitted a couple of rough chapters.

Today I got a response, “There are many strengths in the work you submitted, but the consensus was that while you eloquently describe the problems we are facing, the balance of material was somewhat more weighted towards describing and deconstructing those problems than to providing the concrete antidotes and strategies needed to move beyond them.” After a sharp jolt to the stomach (I had been trying to avoid getting my hopes up, but they were up nevertheless), I reflected. The acquisitions editor and her editorial board are absolutely correct in their impressions.

Knowing this particular publisher is primarily “solutions based,” I was frankly surprised when they contacted me in the first place. I have worked out pages upon pages of sustainable solutions for our world in crisis, but when I read them back to myself, they always sound shallow and na├»ve because I personally don’t believe them. Being the scientist and avid student of human behavior that I am, in reality, sadly, I do not hold out much hope for our species in the long run. Sure, we have solutions, but we lack the cultural and universal will that will be required to enact them. My authentic self just can’t buy into the rainbows and sunshine and happily ever after.

I do have a bright vision for the future of nature. It is one that involves a Planet Earth with many, many fewer people on it (2 billion maximum), limited technology and cultures that value all life, not just human life, equally. This vision is a solution, but getting there is not going to be pretty. When one looks objectively at the numbers and the science, suggesting a painless and pretty solution is just not authentic.

The timing of my literary rejection was fortuitous nonetheless. The email arrived at 5:45 pm, and at 6, I was off to yoga with the incomparable David Bowen (Turks and Caicos). The class was so phenomenal that I actually did forget about my disappointment completely. By the time class was over, I realized that all had transpired as it should. killing Mother’s message is not intended to be one of false hope. We are probably doomed as a species because of our own arrogant stupidity.

But nevertheless, the sun shines. I went home after yoga with my still-sexy husband of 22 years, devoured him and some black beans and rice that had been simmering in the crock pot all day and read a great and funny book before bedtime. Tomorrow I will go for a walk on the glorious beach of Providenciales before heading north again just in time for the fall colors of the Southern Appalachians.  Life is good, and it goes on. This is the message I know is true.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Dividends of Nature

Man and beast, plant and soil lived on and with each other in mutual toleration, to the mutual benefit of all…[but] the new overlords did not understand this. They did not include soil, plants or birds in their ideas of mutuality. The dividends of such a balanced economy were too modest. – Aldo Leopold in “A Sand County Almanac”

Dearest and long-suffering Readers,
You may have noticed my negligence in blogging lately. I have once again decided to subject myself to a continuing education at Harvard, two classes this time, which is taking up an inordinate amount of my time. When it rains it pours, and I have also found myself gainfully employed with real work in the past few weeks, an anomaly for an environmental scientist in the most-recent, budget-cutting frenzy of political shortsightedness. Hopefully, I will soon have some other exciting news to share with you, but I am keeping that under my hat for now.

Nevertheless, I will attempt to keep posting as regularly as possible. One never knows when the muse will decide to get active, but I will try to keep exercising her, lest she get too complacent. In the meantime, I need to nurture her, rather than expect continual productivity without nourishment for her inspirations. Perhaps this is why she remains reclusive in these times of external stresses of the modern world.

Last week, I was in the Bahamas, working and with my nose pointed to the woodland floor and counting floral species as carelessly as if they were mere numbers on a spreadsheet, when my colleague, who was operating the GIS aspect of the project, pointed out a spider to me. The banana spider (Nephila spp.) was a stunning example of the infinite creative capacity and ingenuity of nature. Downwind from the dump, the clever beast had strung her magnificent web across a twenty-foot span between two pine trees in order to capture the inevitable flying insect that might happen by. If not for the observations of my colleague, I would have missed this tiny miracle.

Perhaps she was a sentinel sent from the cosmos to remind me about what is important in my life. Paying down credit cards is satisfying, but at what cost do we toil for such meaningless purpose?
I hope you all take some time to nourish your own muses this week. Mine should be back on the job soon.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Poisonwood and Other Guardians of the Woods

I am in transit from Grand Bahama Island on my way back to Turks and Caicos, sitting in the Miami Airport, scratching welts on my arms and legs.

While in the Bahamas, I was surveying the terrestrial ecology of an area of Pinus caribaea var. bahamensis woodland. The area is slated for land clearance, and I was hired, as I often am, to catalogue the ecology of a place prior to its destruction. The work is sometimes frustrating.
Grand Bahama is spoiled in terms of pine woodland areas. Almost the entire island is covered with them, with a few other areas of wetlands, coastal habitats, intermittent sandy dunes and tidal mangrove estuaries. The human population is primarily centralized on the western end of the island, leaving much of the remaining areas wild.

Given the predominance of pines, and the fact that they have a nasty habit of catching fire and threatening nearby structures, prescribing conservation of these habitats is a hard sell. But with a little luck and persuasion, the generally conscientious Bahamians are happy to discuss mitigation and relocation of threatened and endangered species, when possible. Life as an environmental scientist is all about the little victories.

As a frequent resident of temperate mountain forests, I have forged a hate-hate relationship with poison ivy (Rhus spp). The Cherokee in my area have a different perspective. They say that poison ivy is the guardian of the forest. It usually grows at the edges of the forest or in areas that have been cleared. Its purpose is to keep out those who would do harm (or not), so they say.  

The Bahamian pine woodlands also have a guardian, Metopium toxiferum or “poisonwood.” While poisonwood is a tree or shrub, not a vine, poisonwood and poison ivy are close cousins, both hailing from the Anacardiaceae family, and they share a similar irritating, oily defense mechanism. Thus my system, made ready from years of exposure to poison ivy, readily welts in the presence of her tropical cousin.
The thing about poisonwood in the Bahamas is that it is the dominant understory species in the pine woodlands. Every square meter sample of every transect counts at least one individual. Apparently, the pine woodlands are in extreme need of protection. Nature clearly wants to keep naked-skinned mammals out of her woodlands.
A pine woodland on Grand Bahama impacted by Hurricane Wilma. Only a few years later, new life emerges.

In the past centuries, the Bahamian pines were cleared relentlessly for lumber, yet they have managed to recover. I wonder if the contemporary pine/poisonwood association resulted from these previous assaults. No quantitative records exist to confirm this hypothesis. Just as animals exposed to hunting become weary of humans, I imagine the pine woodlands are also now wise to the world and are protecting themselves against a hostile new reality. As I scratch and scratch and praise the gods of Claritin and Benadryl, I find solace in these thoughts. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Bronze Age Science – A visit to the Creation “Museum” in Petersburg, Kentucky

Sad. Sad is the singular word that kept popping into my head as I made my way around the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky this past Saturday. While I would normally reject supporting such an institution monetarily, my sister and I were on a road trip to Indiana to visit our uncle, and the “museum” was directly off our route. Morbid curiosity got the best of me.

The Creation Museum should not be called a “museum,” at all. The typical use of that word implies that some scientific method was at some time employed to offer an understanding about the objects held within said museum. No such methodology of science was employed at the Creation “Museum.” Instead, the establishment used a system of understanding that luckily was abandoned by the scientific community centuries ago, along with the Inquisition and the burning of witches at the stake.

In science, nothing is assumed. Natural “laws,” like Newton’s law of gravity, are arrived at through endless repetition and experimentation, yet even when the same result is achieved at every interval, such laws continue to be falsifiable. Nothing is etched in stone or scroll. Science knows no tyranny of text. More can always be learned and even the most paramount of laws are subject to change.

The entire Creation “Museum” is based on perversion of science. As a basic premise, creationists assume that the Bible is inerrant “word of God” and deductively draw conclusions based on that assumption. The problem is that the basic premise from which they draw their conclusions is inherently flawed. There is no scientific data to support the claim that the Bible is literally true. In fact, substantial data suggests the contrary premise: The Bible is a collection of stories, most definitely written by men who had only a Bronze Age understanding of the world.

Sad. And ironic. Throughout the “museum” the creationists have gone out of their way to try and prove that their restricted view of reality is the correct one. Displays contrast “man’s reason” to “God’s word.” Sadly, the “museum’s” developers must have been immune to the reality that the Biblical “God’s word” interpretation of the world pales in comparison to the “man’s reason” version they are contrasting it to. Furthermore, what they are referring to as “God’s word” is also man’s reason, albeit a 2000-3000 year-old version.

On one side of a display, man’s reason recounts the Big Bang, an expanding universe of infinite possibilities, and the phenomenon of life, ever-evolving into unique and diverse forms. On the other side, God’s word confines the miracle of creation to the static imaginings of a tyrannical patriarch on a hierarchical throne, created in six, 24-hour days, unchanging and limited for eternity by a dull, unscientific simplicity.

Here the fossil record decoded by man’s reason reveals a tree of life and a history of myriad organisms springing forth from primordial brine, evolving and entering into extinction in perpetuity. There, all that exists was placed upon an impossibly small ark, leaving the rest to drown in a single, cataclysmic flood. Nothing new will ever be made. The earth, in this view, creates nothing new, ever. Sad.

Children dragged to this “museum” are taught that the world and all its mystery can be explained within the pages of a single book, a book with words penned by men, who had no knowledge of the earth orbiting the sun, of a vast universe or of a spherical earth, 2000 years ago. In the bookstore attached to the “museum,” one can find entire curriculums that reinforce the narrow creationist view and an entire series of books entitled “Kid Answers” which provides scripted responses for those pesky children who insist on questioning everything, lest they actually develop open and inquiring minds.
I really wondered about this display. Why didn't the pterodactyls perch on the ark? And what about the dinosaurs that lived in water? Why didn't they survive?

If they are lucky, these children will learn in public school that the earth and the universe are in fact, much more miraculous than the imaginings of the minds of Bronze Age tribal, desert-dwelling patriarchs. Hopefully these children will learn that the greatest reality humans can enjoy is to seek knowledge, unlimited knowledge that is only constrained by the depth and reach of the human imagination.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Sacred and the Beautiful – It is far better to revere mountains than to blow them up

In ancient Japan, early agriculturists worshiped mountains as the givers of life and fertility. As clouds gathered at the mountaintops, rain filled watersheds carrying nutrients from rich mountain earth downstream to nourish and water life-sustaining crops.

In my neck of the Southern Appalachians, the Cherokee people call the mountains “Kuwah’hi” or “sacred.” For hundreds, if not thousands of years, the Cherokee people maintained this ecosystem reverently, but in the short space of time since the European race has invaded, the landscape has been deforested, myriad species and ecological associations have become extinct, the waterways have been polluted, and the landscape has been sacred with carelessness. The ultimate heresy to this land is the current practice of lying to ruin entire mountains to extract coal.

Mountaintop removal coal mining is the process of blowing up mountains in order to harvest coal to burn in order to boil water, to turn a turbine for electrical production. Not surprisingly, this inherently destructive process is characterized by a number of direct and indirect environmental, social and economic impacts.

The most obvious impacts of mountain top removal are visual impacts to the landscape and the complete loss of all natural communities that happen to inhabit the mountain ecosystems slated for removal. These impacts are irreversible. Although mitigation measures for land reclamation are required by law, in practice, these measures often amount to minor efforts at hydroseeding with grass seed. The mature alpine hardwood climax forest ecosystem with associated diversity of flora and fauna cannot be replicated on a completely decimated landscape.

The process of blowing up mountains to harvest seams of coal necessarily produces a tremendous quantity of overburden material. This overburden is then disposed of in valleys and streambeds, devastating aquatic ecosystems and watersheds. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that as many as 1,200 miles of stream have been buried and destroyed in this fashion.

In addition to overburden, the slurry from the mining process itself is a toxic brew. Slurry heaps are retained with simple earthen dams. These dams are subject to failure and have historically led to the toxic contamination of land, air and watersheds with heavy metals, volatile and aromatic organic chemicals and other toxins injurious to public health and wildlife. Fish kills and reductions in aquatic biodiversity are common in mountaintop removal areas. In Martin County, Kentucky one such dam failure flooded the Big Sandy watershed with 300 million tons of toxic sludge, causing what EPA has referred to as “one of the south’s worst environmental disasters.”

The social and economic impacts of mountain top removal are enormous. Residents in nearby towns are subjected to a number of deleterious effects. Blasting from mining operations often takes place around the clock, causing extreme noise and vibrational disturbances that have been known to crack the walls and foundations of homes. Intense blasting can also lead to fracturing of bedrock in adjacent areas that can disrupt groundwater hydrology, causing the drying up and toxic contamination of residents’ wells. As the vegetation and topsoil are scraped clean from underlying bedrock, mountaintop removal areas are primed for runoff, causing increased flooding in adjacent communities.

While the coal mining industry ingratiates itself into local communities with the promise of “good” jobs, in reality, the process of mountaintop removal is highly mechanized and uses considerably less labor than conventional coal mining operations. The coal industry also claims that traditional mining results in higher costs to the consumer, but what the consumer saves in production costs, he/she pays back tenfold in environmental and public health consequences. Ultimately, towns adjacent to mountaintop removal sites are left with a devastated environment, massive restoration and cleanup costs, which are borne largely by taxpayers, and little to show for their ruined qualities of life. Meanwhile, the powerful corporate entities that have created the havoc emerge with huge profits. 

What does it say about a people who care more for the combustion of a dirty fuel than the sacredness of beauty or the regenerative capacity of life itself?

The view from Wayah Bald, just a few minutes from my home in the Southern Appalachians. We are spoiled for majestic mountains around here. Still, I can’t imagine sacrificing a single peak in this view.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Turning the Tide on Skepticism About Global Climate Change - Overcoming the problems of belief with solutions for policy action

Please find below the write up of my research for the course I took at Harvard this summer on global climate change. For those of you who participated in the survey, I offer many thanks. Your input was invaluable. Be forewarned, the following is quite lengthy.

1.0       Introduction
 “The following tale of alien encounters is true. And by true, I mean false. It’s all lies. But they’re entertaining lies, and in the end, isn’t that the real truth? The answer is no.”
-Leonard Nimoy in Simpsons episode “The Springfield Files” (Harrison, 1997).

When the first Polynesian settlers arrived at Easter Island around 900 C.E., they found a tropical paradise, lush with giant palms (Paschalococos disperta) and abundant hardwoods. Land areas teemed with birds, and nearshore waters were crowded with fish and marine mammals. When the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen came upon the island on Easter Sunday in 1722, however, he found a landscape devoid of mature vegetation, dotted by massive stone statues, with an emaciated population of humans subsisting on a diet of meager crops and rats.  As their natural environment collapsed, rather than conserving the precious natural resources that sustained them, Easter Islanders cut down more trees to build ever more elaborate statues to their gods, thus hastening their own demise (Diamond, 2005). The entire human community now finds itself at a similar crossroads.
Science and reason are losing ground in the global climate change discussion. A recent Harris Poll indicated that only 51% of Americans believe that anthropogenic (effects resulting from human activities) greenhouse gas emissions including carbon dioxide are causing global climate change (Harris, 2009a). This figure is down from a high of 75% in 2001 in spite of mounting scientific evidence and the prevalence of extreme weather events that seem to confirm the hypothesis. Other polls point to similar trends (Leiserowitz, Maibach & Roser-Renouf, 2010; Saad, 2009).
The contemporary discussion of global climate change is no mere ideological exercise. A mounting consensus of extensive data, scientific associations of every major country on earth, and the vast majority of climate research scientists concur that earth’s climate is heating at a rate unprecedented in observable history as a result of anthropogenic activities (Oreskes, 2004). This contemporary alteration of earth’s environment perpetrated at the hands of human beings has the potential to result in the greatest ecological and sociological disturbance in the history of our species’ existence.
Humanity is at a pivotal juncture, and the magnitude of the problem requires unprecedented, concerted cooperation. While it may be too late to undo the climate shift humanity has precipitated, comprehensive public policy measures and global participation for mitigation and adaptation purposes could lessen the impacts. Unfortunately, an increasingly skeptical and polarized public is thwarting efforts to achieve such much-needed policy.
The problem of skepticism is multifaceted. In a 2010 article, public policy academic Jonathon Boston identifies three primary skeptical types, including those who have a personal or economic interest in skepticism, those who are distrustful of the science, and those who have ideological or theological objections (Boston, 2010). While the first type makes a deliberate and perhaps deceitful decision to support a particular opinion, the latter two groups actively reject the findings of science, based on personal beliefs. An issue whose merits should be decided based solely on scientific evidence has become an issue of self-interest and/or subjective belief.

Just as science has established that the earth is not flat and that it orbits the sun, the anthropogenic nature of global climate change (AGCC) is a scientific truth and is not an appropriate object of belief (Weiskel, 2011). Nevertheless, it has become so in the realm of public opinion. By inhibiting policy action on AGCC, scientifically inaccurate beliefs, based on personal biases and fostered by those who profit from manipulating public opinion, threaten to undermine life on earth as it currently exists.

The evolutionary and biological mechanisms of human beliefs and how they are formed and reinforced are a primary cause of the skepticism problem and are explored below. From this biological foundation, the diversity of actual beliefs about AGCC, determined from the opinions of 46 volunteers who agreed to be interviewed for this study, are analyzed. Finally, strategies are outlined for reframing the discussion of global climate change to reduce skepticism and foster cooperation among currently disparate ideological groups.

2.0       The Problem of Belief
In Western democracies, everyone has the right to his or her thoughts, beliefs and ideas and the right to voice them without fear of reprisal. This does not mean that all thoughts, beliefs and ideas are equal, however. Every story does not necessarily have two equal sides, and some ideas represent reality while others do not. One of the great conundrums in Western culture is that many confuse a right to believe with belief’s validity, while in reality there is no correlation between the two.
The propensity for developing beliefs is hardwired into humans (and other animals) by evolution. The human brain develops beliefs based on observations and stimuli in the environment, including those emanating from other humans. As our primordial ancestors traipsed across the African savannah, the environment was littered with threats. A shadow could be a cloud, or a predator. A cloud misidentified as a predator would be a benign false positive. On the other hand, false negatives in such situations often removed one from the gene pool. Thus via natural selection, Homo sapiens evolved with a predisposition for anecdotal associations, often based upon false assumptions (Shermer, 2010).
In The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies, Michael Shermer describes the mechanisms of belief development as twofold. “Patternicity” describes “the tendency of humans to find meaningful patterns in both meaningful and meaningless data” (Shermer, 2010, pp. 166-67). “Agenticity” is “the tendency to infuse patterns with meaning, intention and agency” (Shermer, 2010, p. 168). Once a belief is established, the mind seeks out evidence to support it, discounting or ignoring evidence that disproves the predetermined belief.
Because of these mechanisms, belief is a phenomenon of the human psyche that, once instilled, proves difficult to mutate. Belief frequently ignores reason, and this has proven to be stubbornly problematic for a scientific community intent on conveying the facts of AGCC to a public mired in competing beliefs that defy all reasonable scientific evidence.
This predicament is not unique. A 2009 Harris Poll found that 82% of Americans “believe in God” and only 45% think that Darwin’s theory of evolution is viable (Harris, 2009b). In other words, a large majority of the American public believe in a deity for which there is no substantial evidence, but for a theory for which there is abundant scientific proof and consensus, a majority remains skeptical.
If poll numbers and neuroscience are correct, there is little chance of changing people’s firmly established beliefs, no matter how misguided they may be. Another strategy will be required in order to realize desperately needed policy action on climate change.

3.0       Interview Results and Analysis
To get a grasp on the diversity of beliefs in the general population, the author interviewed 46 volunteers from various backgrounds. Volunteers responded to solicitations online via social networking sites (Facebook and Twitter) and a personal blog, and via friend-to-friend recommendations. All subjects volunteered to be interviewed; therefore, their numbers do not represent a random sample. Proportions of opinions also do not represent a scientific sample of public opinion in the general population. A majority of respondents supported the science behind AGCC. This is likely because this demographic group is more likely to volunteer for a study of this kind.
For the interview process, volunteers were asked several questions regarding their views on global climate change (Appendix A – Sample Questions). Questions were designed to determine the scope of the respondents’ opinions on a range of issues including politics, religion, climate change, alternative energy and environmentalism. Respondents were asked to provide age, level of education and preferred media sources. Volunteers were also asked to describe their familiarity with and opinion of the Intergovernmental Panel on Global Climate Change (IGCC). Finally, they were asked questions to determine the level of their conviction regarding their beliefs and whether they would be amenable to changing their minds if new information confirming global climate change were provided to them.
The brief and informal survey of volunteers revealed patterns of belief within various demographic groups and combinations of demographic groups. In general, age and level of education did not appear to affect beliefs about global climate change. People of all ages and levels of education subscribed to a wide variety of beliefs. In the interest of brevity, these factors are not elaborated upon here. The leading determinants of support or lack of support for AGCC, as determined by the informal survey, were religious beliefs and political views.

3.1       Religious Beliefs and Views on Climate Change
The religious beliefs of interview participants were highly varied and included self-described atheists and agnostics, “spiritual” individuals (those who believe in a higher power, but not the Biblical Judeo-Christian God), traditional Christians (Methodists, Presbyterians and Catholics), evangelical Christians, Muslims and Jews.
Among various religious groups, opinions regarding AGCC varied greatly, with some respondents self-stating a correlation between their opinions about AGCC and their religious beliefs. By a large majority, self-described agnostics and atheists believed the global climate is changing and that the change can be largely attributed to human activity. Two agnostic/atheist respondents did not believe that climate change is caused by human activities, and one of those did not believe the climate is changing at all. Both individuals who refuted the science of AGCC were self-described Libertarians.
Those respondents claiming to be “spiritual” but not religious were vocal supporters of the science of AGCC by a margin of six to one.  One interviewee with spiritual religious beliefs believed that the earth’s climate is changing but that it is not caused by human activities. The same participant is a self-described Libertarian.
Jewish and Muslim respondents unanimously responded that climate change is real and that its origins are anthropogenic.

Belief in Climate Change

Traditional Christian
Evangelical Christian
Figure II - Religious Demographics and Beliefs on GCC
While Christian religious groups have often been tagged as skeptical to science, the interviews revealed other trends. Eleven (11) respondents with “traditional” Christian beliefs including Presbyterians and Methodists were supporters of AGCC theory. The two remaining “traditional” Christians were of Catholic faith, and while they believed the climate is changing, they did not believe the change is anthropogenic. These two respondents were self-described conservative Republicans.
Eight interviewees described themselves as “evangelical Christian,” a group often associated with AGCC skepticism, but support of the theory of AGCC was surprisingly varied within this group and depended entirely on political affiliations. Self-described liberal evangelical Christians supported the science and did not feel that it interfered with their religious views. On the contrary, this demographic group felt a strong sense of stewardship towards the natural environment, with one respondent stating, “I believe our duty to God is to care for His Creation.” On the other hand, self-described conservative evangelicals were skeptical of both climate change and its anthropogenic causes. Many in this latter group cited Genesis 8.22 as their justification for their opinions, with one stating, “God promised he would never again punish man with the climate.”
Contrary to the intentions of America's founding fathers, religion and politics now enjoy a comingling in the United States, and this trend is supported by the results of the personal interviews in this study. A 2006 Pew Research Poll found that two thirds of Americans think the United States is a “Christian nation” (Pew, 2006). This sentiment has increased over time. In the mid 1990s only 60% thought of the United States similarly. The prevalence of this view is actually increasing in inverse proportion to reality. Although the United States has become increasingly religiously diversified, those who view it as a “Christian” entity are on the increase.
In a 2010 article, sociologists Jeremy Straughn and Scott Feld of Purdue University note that the reality of religious diversity, coupled with the view of national Christian identity of one demographic group, is a dynamic that is inherently divisive (Straughn & Feld, 2010, pp. 281-282). If the United States is “Christian” then by extension Christians are “true” Americans, while all others are ideological, if not actual “outsiders.”
Such a schism would not be significant if it were simply the sentiment of a fringe minority but becomes problematic when promoted by an entire political party.  The Republican Party is now an outspoken advocate of this viewpoint. Such polarizing viewpoints have resulted in impacts on public policy (or lack thereof), including policy regarding global climate change (Schecter, 2002).

3.2       Political Views and Climate Change
“…reality has a well-known liberal bias” (Stephen Colbert at the White House Correspondents Dinner, April 29th, 2006).

The results of the informal survey for this report support the contention that when it comes to global climate change, reality does indeed have a liberal bias. Political opinion was the only factor that consistently predicted a volunteer’s opinion regarding AGCC. All respondents describing themselves as either liberal or moderate expressed complete support for AGCC theory, while those subscribing to conservative or Libertarian views unanimously disbelieved in AGCC, with some admitting the climate is changing, but denying human complicity in the change.
Lending further credence to the hypothesis that political bias informs opinions about AGCC, interviewees were asked about their familiarity with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Global Climate Change (IGCC) (the most extensively peer-reviewed scientific body in history). Only seven of the 46 respondents had more than a vague familiarity with the group (three liberals, one conservative and the three Libertarians). The three liberal respondents were employed in scientific, legal and economic fields, respectively and were familiar with the IPCC as part of their day-to-day employment activities. Liberal opinions of the IPCC were enthusiastic and positive. The conservative and Libertarian volunteers were exclusively informed about the IPCC by conservative media sources, and their opinions regarding the IPCC were unanimously unfavorable.

Belief in Climate Change

Political View
Figure IV - Political Views and Belief in Climate Change

The three Libertarians interviewed for the study were very well versed in the arguments of skepticism, getting much of their information from Fox News, conservative sources on the Internet and other right-leaning media. The two who believed that the climate is indeed changing, believed the changes represent a natural cycle and that the human burning of fossil fuels is not contributing. The individual who expressed disbelief that the climate is changing cited obscure data that the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are growing rather than melting (source not available). In general, the Libertarian skeptics had an innate distrust of institutional groups. They were non-religious and suspicious of information from governmental and intergovernmental sources.
Conservatives (Republicans), on the other hand, unanimously described themselves as “Christians.” Many of them believed that the Judeo-Christian Bible is “the literal word of God.” This group was divided as to whether climate change was taking place at all, with all conservative participants disputing the validity of AGCC. The single self-described conservative that was familiar with the IPCC described the group as “a liberal mouth-piece.”

4.0       Results
The science of AGCC has been brushed aside in the fray of partisan politics. In this regard, while Vice President Al Gore was instrumental in raising public awareness, his advocacy for AGCC also has given false credence to the skeptics' argument that the issue is a political conspiracy.
The fossil fuel industry stands to profit by maintaining the status quo and has taken advantage of the polarization of the public, spending millions of dollars on a deliberate campaign to accentuate divisions and manufacture doubt (Hoggan, 2009). One could hypothesize that the campaign of manufacturing doubt has been largely successful because it plays off pre-existing tendencies in human nature based on the evolutionary and behavioral predispositions of the human animal.
            As the informal interviews indicate, individuals whose political and religious views are conservative are more likely to resist the mounting scientific evidence for AGCC. In a 2003 study, compiling data from over 50 years of varied research, psychologists Jost, Glaser, Kruglanski and Sulloway found evidence explaining this phenomenon. The primary attribute of political conservatism is the desire to preserve traditional societal values and structure, including established hierarchies. Jost and associates link this primary conservative value to underlying stress factors, including but not limited to the fear of one’s own mortality. Conservatism, they conclude, arises in part as an attempt to manage anxieties over lack of control. In this regard, political conservatism correlates with religiosity. Several other studies have confirmed this.
In a study of Trobriand Islanders in the South Pacific, Bronislaw Malinowski discovered that increases in environmental uncertainty resulted in an increase of superstitious behavior (Malinowski, 1948). Mark Regnerus and Christian Smith confirmed Malinowski’s hypothesis within the American Christian culture, finding that during times of crisis, Americans tended to become more entrenched in religious ideology (Regnerus & Smith,1998).
When confronted with the reality of mortality, people will gravitate towards ideologies that offer a sense of orderliness and security. In one study, subjects who were first exposed to reminders of mortality were more apt to embrace the scientifically dubious theory of intelligent design as opposed to the scientific consensus theory of Darwinian evolution (Tracy & Hart, 2011, p. 2).
The mainstream media conveys examples of this phenomenon regularly. As unprecedented tornado activity decimated parts of Alabama, survivors standing in front of their ruined homes praised Jesus as the television cameras rolled. Resistant to change by nature, conservatives are threatened by scientific advancements, which in themselves may precipitate landslide paradigm shifts. They will likely resist the science of climate change until it can no longer be ignored. At that point, the uncertainty wrought by the rapidly changing reality will likely push them even closer to conservatism, rather than away from it (Jost, Glaser, Kruglanski & Sulloway, 2003).

5.0       Towards a Solution
The language and culture of science are often intellectually inaccessible to the public at large, and appeal to reason at the expense of alienating the evolutionary, tribal and emotional motivations of society. Rhetorical scholar Leah Ceccarelli argues that the adoption of new strategies of discourse could alleviate many of the problems of skepticism (Ceccarelli, 2011). In particular, the scientific community, frustrated by manufactured doubt and firm in its position of righteousness, is often dismissive of dissenting viewpoints. This blanket dismissiveness gives false credibility to the skeptics' argument that the IPCC is an exclusive, insular enclave that selectively removes dissent from within its ranks.
One consequence of democratic society is the societal embrace of the concept of equality. When it comes to climate change, this means that the media will give equal time to voices of dissent, even if those voices have no rational foundation, and the public at large will value this as “fair.” Dismissing skeptical arguments on the basis of lack of scientific validity while refusing to debate the issues in a public forum is essentially conceding the debate in the eyes of a public audience that is ignorant of the intricacies of the scientific peer-review process (Ceccarelli, 2011, p. 212). Ceccarelli suggests engaging in the debate by swiftly identifying falsehoods as “a political controversy over values masquerading as a scientific dispute" (Ceccarelli, 2011, p. 212), and then rapidly turning the discussion towards public policy.
In spite of broad political division on the topic, in terms of public policy, points of concurrence exist that almost everybody should be able to agree on. If the environmentally conscientious scientific community wants to preserve the biosphere, rather than just to be viewed as correct, then it would behoove environmental interests to reframe the AGCC discussion in such a way as to make it impermeable to polarization.
Even among skeptics, there is considerable agreement that the earth’s climate is warming (Schmidt, 2010, p. A538). Thus, a logical and much needed policy discussion should focus on reducing environmental impacts and adapting to the changing environmental reality.
For example, curbing fossil fuel emissions will be critical if the climate is to have any hope of future stabilization. Skeptics are suspicious and dismissive of this claim and having made up their minds, often refuse to negotiate on the subject. Nevertheless, there is broad consensus within the American population that society would benefit enormously from reducing dependence on these fuels for a variety of reasons. Discussions that focus on other practicalities of fossil fuel use reduction could gain wide acceptance.
From a purely practical standpoint, crude oil is rapidly becoming an uneconomic commodity. Peak production has probably already been realized, which means that greater and greater resources will need to be applied in order to extract rapidly diminishing reserves (Kerr, 2011). As the last drops become scarcer, military actions in areas such as  the Middle East are becoming more frequent, The trillions of U.S. taxpayer dollars already spent on such endeavors in the attacks on Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya could have been spent much more efficiently elsewhere if the need to secure oil had not been of paramount national interest. A mandate to reduce oil consumption based on national security interests would appeal to conservative skeptics as well as advancing the aim of reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
Many economists agree that a carbon tax, offset by income tax reductions, is a feasible way to reduce fossil fuel consumption (Kahn, 2007), and conservative Americans love tax cuts. Framing the discussion in terms of the economic and environmental pros and cons of fossil fuel use (i.e. fossil fuel use is costly in terms of military, public health and environmental impacts) will facilitate an atmosphere in which people might see it is in their personal interest to tax a commodity that has historically cost the taxpayer trillions of dollars to use.
While fossil fuel corporate interests will insist carbon tax will increase costs to the consumers, this argument must be countered with the reality that the consumer pays regardless. We can either pay a carbon tax that reduces emissions at the source (which is the most economically efficient method) or we can pay in public health and environmental costs, which will ultimately cost much more.
While some skeptics are blatantly hostile to values of environmental stewardship, few vocalize these sentiments publicly, as even the most conservative of voters usually maintains some concern for the environment. Public leaders who make derogatory statements regarding AGCC are often quick to follow them up with lip service for the environment. They should be held accountable to their own words:

“In our efforts to conserve the created world, we should not concentrate our efforts on CO2. We should instead focus on issues like damage to local landscapes and waterways by strip mining, inadequate cleanup, hazards to miners, and the release of real pollutants and poisons like mercury, other heavy metals, and organic carcinogens” (Harper, 2011).

The above statement is taken from a conservative website. Focusing on the factors Mr. Harper identifies as “real” pollutants would reduce carbon dioxide emissions as well.
The above strategy for targeting public policy discussion on carbon emissions can be applied across the spectrum of AGCC policy. Much of the impact of global climate change is exacerbated by an already devastated ecosystem. Deforestation, land clearance and sprawling development are considered negative feedbacks for climate change. Addressing this devastation on an issue-by-issue basis as part of a comprehensive AGCC policy could make policy action more palatable to skeptical groups.

6.0       Conclusion
For the most part, the evolutionary adaptations that allow humans to observe patterns in natural phenomena and render those patterns into beliefs have served the species well, with a few notable exceptions. At times when the environmental conditions have changed, civilizations and cultures that could not adapt to the changes have collapsed. The global population must now learn to distinguish between arbitrary, superstitious and imposed beliefs and reality in order to avoid a similar fate.
Divisions craftily imposed by the fossil fuel industry threaten to undermine the welfare of all, and policy makers and those in positions of power are distracted by misinformation and a debate about the credibility of science when attention must now focus on effective policies to mitigate and adapt to the looming global crisis of climate change. Politicians are encouraged in their inaction by a substantial proportion of the population with conservative values that are by nature resistant to change.
The results of the interviews conducted for this study are telling. Political polarization and entrenchment in fear-based conservative values are inhibiting action on global climate change policy. Like the Easter Islanders, people can continue to pay homage to the false gods of the status quo, scrapping it out in energy wars, while the planet burns and remaining human populations are reduced to scavenging for rats. But in the coming years, survival will increasingly depend on cooperation. Scientific discourse must be shaped to encourage partnership rather than divisions if we are to maintain “a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted” (Hansen, Sato, Kharecha, Beerling, Berner, Masson-Delmotte, Pagani, Raymo, Royer & Zachos, 2008).

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