Earth Works

Imbolc                                                                         Valentine Moon

John Ackerman died recently. He was my last spiritual director. As I described to him earth workduring one session my growing passion for matters earthly and Celtic, he said, “Well, maybe you should be a Druid.”  John had a bit of a cynic’s edge to him and I was well outside the fold of our mutual Presbyterianism, but his offhand, perhaps sarcastic thought stuck with me.  That was 1986, 1987.

When Kate and I married and I left the ministry, I focused on Celtic thinking and history, especially finding the idea of the great wheel a powerful tool for organizing my life. As gardening/horticulture came to occupy more and more of my time, the merging of the Celtic work with the earth work called John’s quip to mind.

No, I didn’t want to be a Druid, but I did begin to understand my faith journey, my religious journey as more informed by the soil, by the plants than by the Bible or any other sacred text. The evolution of that realization has now had over 25 years to grow deeper and more clear.

See the newly added About material here for information about how Great Wheel will continue and, I hope, expand that work.

Earth Works





In Case Minnesota Cold Has You Wondering About Climate Change

Imbolc                                                       Valentine Moon

In case you have lingering doubts about climate change, listen to the portion of this lecture by former Scripps Institute Director, Professor Charles Kennel that begins at approx. 7:20.  I post this because it is -14 this morning on the next to last day of February when our normal temperatures would be 33/18.

Looking at Minnesota

Imbolc                                                                       Valentine Moon

The climate change course has used professors from UC San Diego and the Scripps state lineInstitute so it has a distinct California bias.  Which is a good thing.  The benefit of close co-operation among government, academic and corporate interests becomes obvious when reading the three climate adaptation documents the state has produced since 2006.

When I look at the Minnesota equivalents, we have a 2013 climate adaptation plan but it lists only government agencies as actors.  While this is, of course, necessary and good, it is not sufficient.  The policy makers need to have a continuing base of scientific analysis since the data useful for adaptation will change constantly and needs to be calibrated at local geographic and political levels.  In addition, the corporate and business community must be involved, too, since the plans for adaptation will be only useful in so far as they can produce action.  The probability of action increases when major stakeholders have a role in the planning and decision making.

In other words scientists at the U and in other Minnesota colleges and universities, plus those in the various federal agencies at work in Minnesota, need to form a high level action team to create ongoing climate adaptation analysis.  If this exists, my current research has not located it.

The corporate and business elements will suffer when the climate changes, too, and their input is necessary.  Just how best to involve them, I don’t know.

This is an ongoing learning curve for me.  That is, just where is Minnesota in planning for climate change?

Water, Water

Imbolc                                                                Valentine Moon

We’re moving into the meat of the climate change course.  What can we do now?  Thatwater cycle applies both to mitigation (curbing co2 emissions and short-lived green house gases like methane and nitrous) and adaptation.

The first two lectures focused on ice and snow.

The development of regional assessment work is furthest along in areas of high vulnerability. Work in these areas can serve as prototypes for regional assessments all over the world. An example comes from a conference on the Himalaya/Hindu Kush, the Third Pole, site of the water-towers-of-asia-glaciers-water-and-population-in-the-greater-himalayas-hindu-kush-tien-shan-tibet-region_14b9headwaters of the top eleven of Asia’s large rivers.  Part of the science done in advance of this conference involved working out how much of a river’s flow depended on snow melt. The Indus was high at 45%, the Ganges lower at 9%. This helps those doing assessments to predict how much impact changes in weather patterns in the mountains will have on communities dependent on certain of Asia’s largest rivers.

How do you do an assessment on a river?  First you have to consider that it flows through different sorts of terrain with different ecosystems.  Second it also flows through regions with differing cultural and habitation patterns.  There are innumerable data sets that have to be generated. The lesson is that assessment in itself is complex and the implications for policy, which has to go through a policy development cycle before execution can even begin, will prove even more complex.

The work with rivers is only one facet of the water-related work. There is also adaptation to sea-level rise.  The most work in climate change adaptation has been done in this area.  Sea level rise is easy to visualize.  It’s already happening and it impacts wealthy coastal cities like NYC, London, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Miami. Charles Venice-Dams-web_1154740cKennel, the lecturer again, says city planners are the most climate adaptation aware professionals there are.

Sea level rise also offers the most advanced example of adaptation planning and execution, first in the Netherlands which recently passed a 100 year sea level rise protection program, but most of all in Venice.  Venice has been controlling the waters of the lagoon since 1505.  It’s been since 1966, the worst instance of the acqua alta, the high water that plagues this city built on wood pilings, that the big, global work has been done.

The next set of lectures focuses on California’s climate adaptation program.  I’m very interested in this and have printed out a copy of Minnesota’s 2013 effort and plan to read it, too.  Lots of reading.  Good thing I like to read.


The Long Game

Imbolc                                                                Valentine Moon

In case you read Great Wheel and wonder where the postings are, here’s a short one. I march hare  levon hackensawplan a post on March, that is the month name and its history.  In between I’m digesting the considerable material from the Climate Change course, pushing out here what seems immediately relevant, but also what might be the shape of a blog (either this one or a third) focused on Minnesota and climate change.

(March Hare, Levon Hackensaw)

I’ve also begun a new period of my relationship with the Sierra Club as I’ve mentioned, representing the Northstar Chapter at the America Votes table.  This will skew my thinking about climate change toward the political, the policy development process, so there may be more writing on those matters, too.

There is a long game here.  As climate change begins to press upon us with greater and greater obviousness to the average citizen, demand for policy development and action humorwill grow along with it.  So our continued presence in those places where progressive voices debate retail politics will only grow in importance.  Our presence there and our thoughts on all this now will dramatically inform that inevitable future moment.

Great Wheel (or a third blog) will try to insert itself right into that moment though it may be 5-10 years off.

How About That Winter of 1874-75?

Imbolc                                                                  Valentine Moon

Meteorological winter runs from December 1st to March 1st, statistically the three coldest months of the year.  Here’s where this one stands against other winters through February 19th.  from the Minnesota Climatology Working Group.

Coldest Winters in Twin Cities History: 1873-2014cherry snow

The winter of 2013-14 has been the coldest in years. So far the average temperature of Meteorological Winter (December-February 19) is 10.0 degrees. If cold weather returns for the rest of February, the winter of 2013-14 would  finish in the top ten coldest winters on record.

1981-2010 Normal: 16.9 degrees F

Winter     Avg Temp (F) Rank
1874-1875	4.0	1
1886-1887	5.7	2
1935-1936	7.3	3
1872-1873	7.9	4
1903-1904	8.4	5
1916-1917	8.5	6
1882-1883	9.2	7
1978-1979	9.4	8
1887-1888	10.0	9
2013-2014       10.0*   9
1884-1885	10.1	11
1917-1918	10.4	12
1977-1978	10.5	13
1962-1963	11.2	14
1961-1962	11.3	15

*as of February 19

Coda: Freedom for What?

Imbolc                                                                        Valentine Moon

Most important of all, freedom and liberty should give us the range of action, the agency to challenge those things that would re-enslave us.  If you think England or the plantation owner or Hitler was cruel, imagine a world where the weather becomes hot enough to be a prison, where the storms rage with more destructive power than any despot and where the sea rises to engulf millions.  Does that sound like freedom to you?

Examples of the often strange distortions of freedom and liberty in our culture:

the right to bear armsChristian_protestor_at_Tea_march_2009

the need to define marriage as between a man and a woman

making decisions about women’s bodies

willingness to impose religious beliefs while demanding less government intervention

refusal to accept the commonweal

reifying of the holy individual (which I admit is complicated, so let me add a bit here. Existentialism reveals our aloneness, our separateness, our irreducible otherness.  But.  It does not go on to conclude that we make the individual a shrine or an altar on which we sacrifice our neighbor.  No, it emphasizes the plight each of has as isolated beings and makes even more sensible reaching beyond our Self toward the self of others.  So existentialism recognizes individuals, but for the sake of empathy not rejection.)

using apparent threats to personal freedom as an excuse to not consider certain matters, especially the implications of science like climate science or stem cell research.

All of these are caricatures of freedom and liberty.  Freedom and liberty do not point us away from the other, rather they point us toward them.  In our freedom we can choose to act for the common good, not only in our own self interest.  When no longer under the master’s whip or the tyrant’s boot, we can recognize our common cause with those also now free, a common cause masqued by their interests until our freedom.  I suppose you can use freedom and liberty in the narrow sense of only doing what you want, I suppose you can.  But why would you want to?  Being freed from bondage ought to bring a sense of the intolerable when confronted by the bondage of others.  Being free ought to mean wanting others to enjoy the same liberty.




Freedom For What?

Imbolc                                                                Valentine Moon

Been considering, as I often have, the role of politics in those things that matter.  If you don't treadread my longer post below, it considers the roots of climate change doubt mongering in free-market fundamentalism (George Soros) or neo-liberalism.

These ideas give a further twist to liberty and freedom which already have a strange role in our culture.

They are incendiary words in the American psyche, e.g. The tree of liberty is watered by the blood of patriots. (to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson)

When I did some dictionary work in the OED with free, freedom and liberty, I was struck by their origins. Free essentially means dear, as in those dear to you.  It originally meant those who were directly related to the head of a house, that is, who were not servants in the house.  They were, in the Christian_protestor_at_Tea_march_2009contemporary sense, free.  When I looked at freedom, the first definition was: “exemption or release from slavery or imprisonment.”  Likewise, definition number one under liberty:  ”exemption or release from captivity, bondage or slavery.”

Of course, we know at some intuitive level that freedom and liberty mean, first and foremost, out of slavery or prison or captivity, but we rarely consider it.  We consider them independent noble truths, self-evident virtues for which our revolution was fought and which stand enshrined in our founding documents.  They are these things, yes, but their original meanings made me think.

They define a negative condition:  no longer captive, no longer enslaved, no longer imprisoned, not a servant.  Liberty and freedom, in their first meanings, have the flavor of immediacy, of something recently achieved.  That expansive and wonderful feeling experienced by embracing those words now relates to a vague cloud of past euphoria, rather than a powerful experience in the present.

That is, the deeply held allegiance to these feelings has a borrowed nature, a historical echo you might say, rather than lived content. It defines these core American values as the contrasting state to being held against your will.  Their felt meaning is one of release, of gained control, of unfettered will.  In fact, the third definition of liberty catches just this nuance: “the condition of being able to act in any desired way without hindrance or restraint; faculty or power to do as one likes.”

No wonder these heady words show up on Tea party signs and conservative bumper stickers. These are fightin’ words.  Except they really say only what freedom and liberty feel like, important, yes, powerful, yes, but this grand feeling is insufficient for understanding them in their civic meaning.

Why?  When these powerful ideas are understood largely in their negative, free-at-spiritlast senses, not in the more difficult and challenging sense of what they mean in community, they lose their necessary relationship with responsibility. Yes, freedom from is a good thing no doubt, but what is freedom for?

What can we do with our freedom? Now that the prison door has swung shut behind us, what kind of life shall we live?  The tyrant’s foot is off our neck, what kind of society will we build?  It is these questions that need to be in the public square.

Do we choose to use our freedom and our liberty to force on our children and grandchildren a climatologically unstable and overheated future?  Does that make sense? I don’t think anyone really thinks it does.  An important question then becomes, how can we both ensure carbon emissions decline and maintain a powerful sense of freedom and liberty?



Imbolc                                                             Valentine Moon

Tomorrow or the next day I’ll post a long piece summarizing Naomi Oreskes’ explanation of why climate change denial has had some scientists defending it and, more importantly, why they and their compatriots are clinging so strongly to it.

The reasons surprised me, but they make sense and might offer a way through the necessary politics of the next few years.  Spelling it out clearly requires more time than most posts I do, so I haven’t done anything else here the last couple of days.

Climate Doubt Mongering: Why Do They Do It?

Imbolc                                                               Valentine Moon

NB: The citations for material referenced are in the Oreskes’ book.  Much of the content in this post is recapitulation of her excellent lecture material on the same topic. This is not original material.

If you want to read the whole story, go to Naomi Oreskes’ book, Merchants of Doubt. merchants of doubtI’m gonna give you the shorthand version.  How climate change denial got traction. And why.  It’s not what you think.  At least I imagine it’s not what’s you think.

Things to consider.  Teddy Roosevelt, Republican, established environmentalism and environmental protection as a national good.  John D. Rockefeller saw to the creation of Grand Teton National Park.  Not a communist.  George H.W. Bush, in 1992, called on world leaders to take action and signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Lyndon Johnson, in a 1965 special message to congress, said that the increase in CO2 in the atmosphere came from burning fossil fuels. He was the first president to recognize a problem with fossil fuels. In the 1970′s scientific attention to booksclimate change began to increase, ending in a 1979 report by the National Academy of Science that said:  ”A plethora of studies from diverse sources indicates a consensus that climate changes will result from man’s combination of fossil fuels and changes in land use.”  There was, too, agreement that climate change would probably be discernible by the year 2000.

In 1998 Jim Hansen, a NASA scientist, declared climate change signals had been detected in a report to congress. The IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change came into being that year.  Emerging and disturbing evidence provided justification for it. So by the turn of the millennium there was ample scientific evidence and an emerging political will to do something.

What happened?

In the early 1980′s a small group of scientists: Robert Jastrow, Frederick Seitz, and William Nierenberg, all physicists, were tapped for their cold war expertise in weapons development.  They served together on an advisory panel for Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars initiative.  As I wrote today on Ancientrails, this initiative became the subject of an unprecedented and wholesale rejection by scientists.  6,500 scientists signed a petition refusing to consider work funded by Star Wars programs.

In 1984 these Jastrow, Seitz and Nierenberg created the George C. Marshall Institute. It’s purpose was to counter the misinformationBlitz_1024w_medconsensus view of the scientists who opposed the Star Wars program.  The Institute and its founders were apocalyptic in their perspective, declaiming that the Soviet Union would pass us by and that we had only five years in which to act. The irony is that in five years it was 1989 and first glasnost and perestroika came, then the dissolution of the Soviet Union itself. The urgency of the Marshall Institute scientists’ rationale evaporated.

They did not, however, fade away or accept with good feeling the cold war victory.  Instead, they found new enemies: environmental extremists.  One of their number, Seitz, worked over some of this time as a consultant to the RJ Reynold’s tobacco company. While there, he became familiar with the tobacco industries principal strategy: doubt mongering.  This took the form of declaring the science unsettled and therefore taking any action was premature.

In a famous 1969 tobacco industry memo, Doubt Is Our Product, the organized, Doubt-is-our-product2deliberate and carefully orchestrated character of doubt mongering is laid out.  A key learning mentioned in the memo was how important it was to have scientists on their side.

It was not much of a leap for these former cold warriors to take their umbrage against anti-Star Wars science into the environmental arena.  In due time, led by Seitz, they took on:  acid rain, nuclear winter, the ozone hole, DDT and the human causes of global warming.  Their trademark claim, identical to the tobacco industry:  the science is uncertain.

In the George C. Marshall Institute line of thought, American liberty was at stake in the Stars Wars case. As we will see below, they began to believe was at stake with the environmental extremists, too.

A big question. Why have scientists like Jastrow, Seitz and Nierenberg participated? Scientists are not expected to lie.  You would also reasonably expect them to be pro-science.

Must be about money, right?  Well, not necessarily. Or, at least not only about money. Remember G.H.W. Bush signed Milton Friedmanthe climate convention.  Remember that traditionally, since T.R., Republicans had been pro-conservation and environmental safeguards.  Also, money does not explain the high percentage of ordinary Americans who are climate change deniers.

(Milton Friedman)

So what else is there?

Here’s what Oreskes found.  The true roots of climate change doubt mongering lies in what George Soros calls free-market fundamentalism.  This is a belief that the market is not only the best way for an economy to function, it is the only way that doesn’t threaten personal freedoms.  Mess with the economy and you mess with personal freedom.

Here’s how free-market fundamentalism got linked with anti-environmental doubt mongering.

Free-market fundamentalism became known as extreme neo-liberalism. Neo-liberalism road to serfdom emphasizes deregulation and “releasing the magic of the marketplace.”  This political philosophy, really an anti-government political philosophy, got its big boost in the Thatcher-Reagan era of the 1980′s. Unfortunately, the Labor Party in Britain under Tony Blair and the Democrats in the U.S. under Bill Clinton also followed what became known as the “Washington Consensus.”  Regulation was bad.  This deregulatory emphasis had begun in the Jimmy Carter presidency, but gained real power under Thatcher and Reagan.

What are neo-liberalism’s philosophical and theoretical roots?  Milton Friedman’s book, Capitalism and Freedom, published in 1962 (the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis) pushed forward an argument against a soviet-style planned economy.  Civic freedom and free markets are inextricably linked:  to control markets, states have to control people.  In Friedman’s view even modest interventions in the market, such as environmental protections, threaten personal freedom and put us on the road to socialism.  Protecting the marketplace, in other words, maximizes freedom.

The climate contrarians push Friedman’s argument:  environmentalism is a slippery slope to socialism  Any regulation is a small step toward general governmental control and the loss of personal freedom.  Thus, regulation is seen as a backdoor to socialism.

Fred Seitz, in the Wall Street Journal of June 12, 1996 said:

“IPCC reports are often called the consensus view, but if they lead to carbon taxes and restraints on economic growth, they will have a major and almost certainly destructive impact on the economies of the world.”

GOP political consultant Frank Luntz, asked, in the August 8, 2003 WSJ, “Why reject climate science?”

“Once Republicans concede that greenhouse gases must be controlled, it will be only a matter of time before they end up endorsing more economically damaging regulation.”

I’ve posted part of a Manchester Guardian article on Luntz recommending doubt mongering to Republican candidates.*  See here for the full article.

As Orekses says, this amounts to:  if we don’t like the implications of science, we reject it.

Here’s the payoff to this long post:  the climate mongering debate is not about science, but about governance.  The fear is not about “bad science”, but about the science’s implications for public policy.  As they see it, these potential constraints (regulation or tax policy) on economic activity will be lead to diminished personal freedom.  In essence this means that neo-liberalism is willing to trade a dangerously warm and climatologically unstable future for perceived personal freedom now.

In my next post on this matter we’ll investigate the intellectual history of the neo-liberal philosophy and economics, hunting for a way to find common ground with them.



*Memo exposes Bush’s new green strategy

 in Washington

The Guardian

“The US Republican party is changing tactics on the environment, avoiding “frightening” phrases such as global warming, after a confidential party memo warned that it is the domestic issue on which George Bush is most vulnerable.

The memo, by the leading Republican consultant Frank Luntz, concedes the party has “lost the environmental communications battle” and urges its politicians to encourage the public in the view that there is no scientific consensus on the dangers of greenhouse gases.

“The scientific debate is closing [against us] but not yet closed. There is still a window of opportunity to challenge the science,” Mr Luntz writes in the memo, obtained by the Environmental Working Group, a Washington-based campaigning organisation.

“Voters believe that there is no consensus about global warming within the scientific community. Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly.

“Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate.”

The phrase “global warming” should be abandoned in favour of “climate change”, Mr Luntz says, and the party should describe its policies as “conservationist” instead of “environmentalist”, because “most people” think environmentalists are “extremists” who indulge in “some pretty bizarre behaviour… that turns off many voters”.”  Manchester Guardian.