How Donald Trump would destroy America (and possibly the world)

Published: The Good Men Project (May 19, 2016)

America is in a “boy who cried wolf” situation right now. We’ve grown so accustomed to comparing our presidents with tyrants, or insisting that a candidate’s ascent to power will result in calamity, that even those of us who see an actual wolf in our midst aren’t being taken seriously. The people voting for Donald Trump are well aware of our concerns but – having grown jaded to polemical hyperbole – aren’t able to recognize that the threat is real this time.

Make no mistake about it, though: The danger posed by Trump is very, very real. One may disagree with the policies pursued by George W. Bush and Barack Obama, but the hysterical response to their presidencies was always grossly disproportionate. Bush was a neoconservative and Obama is a moderate liberal; Trump, on the other hand, is a man driven more by bold stabs in the dark than any consistent ideology. Assuming he follows through on his proposals, it is quite likely that some of them would cause terrible consequences not only for America, but the entire world.

To explain how this is so, though, we need to stop with the inappropriate comparisons to Hitler (which I debunked in this piece for MSNBC) and instead focus on the nitty gritty of what he has said he would try to do:

1. The economy.

Although Trump makes valid points about America’s anti-working class trade policies, his proposed solutions would be disastrous. As president, he would have the power to increase tariffs on Chinese and Mexican goods by as much as 45 percent. If he did this, those countries would almost certainly retaliate with comparable measures targeting America’s products. The resulting trade war would inevitably increase prices and reduce job growth, knocking the American economy back on its heels only a few years after the Obama administration led us to a precarious recovery. Even more troubling than what we know, though, is what we don’t know. The slightest adverse development can have unforeseen ripple effects in our globalized economy, and because America has been a staunchly pro-free trade nation since the 1930s, it is impossible to predict the full impact of an about-face as abrupt as the one Trump is proposing. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t modify our trade policies to be more amenable to the interests of our working class, but we need to do so responsibly.

2. Global warming.

Trump’s is a well-known denier of man-made global warming, a position that perfectly fits in with his other conspiratorial views (he believes the scientific consensus on global warming is a plot by the Chinese to control the world economy). As a result, when he vows to “renegotiate” the Paris deal in which more than 200 nations vowed to curb greenhouse gas emissions, it’s safe to assume that he would not care one whit about slowing our planet’s dangerous overheating. Unfortunately, the science isn’t going to accommodate Trump’s iconoclasm; as the earth continues to overheat, humanity will face mega-storms, droughts, famines, and the mass extinction of countless species. As Peace and World Security Studies Professor Michael T. Klare wrote last October, “Scientists have long worried that climate change will not continue to advance in a ‘linear’ fashion, with the planet getting a little bit hotter most years. Instead, they fear, humanity could someday experience ‘non-linear’ climate shifts (also known as ‘singularities’ or ‘tipping points’) after which there would be sudden and irreversible change of a catastrophic nature.” As Klare notes, there are early signs that this is already happening, and it stands to reason that if Trump torpedoes an international agreement to reduce carbon emissions, that could very well push us past the tipping point.

3. Nuclear war.

Ever since Harry Truman dropped the bomb on Japan in 1945, American presidents have been expected to appreciate the sober responsibilities that come with being a nuclear power. In the 1964 presidential election, when Republican candidate Barry Goldwater was accused of being fast-and-loose about how he’d use our nukes, the threat of nuclear apocalypse helped sink his campaign. More than half a century later, however, Trump has openly discussed using tactical nuclear weapons against the Islamic State, arguing that “I don’t think you’re going to be successful [with Muslim countries] unless they respect you.” Even foreign policy hawks should be concerned by this position, and not merely because Trump has advocated it in places beyond the Middle East (he once told Chris Matthews that he wouldn’t take using nukes in Europe “off the table”). By equating the use of nuclear force with earning respect, Trump reveals an ominous thought pattern – namely that (a) if America is threatened by foreign enemies, it’s because they don’t respect us and (b) we can demand their respect by threatening them with total annihilation. This is the exact mentality that the United States and Soviet Union scrupulously avoided succumbing to during the Cold War, since both superpowers understood that if nuclear nations were permitted to behave this way, the final result would be total destruction.

Regardless of how one feels about Hillary Clinton, there is no sound reason to believe that she poses an existential threat to our future. Trump, on the other hand, has proposed policies that could plausibly result in economic collapse, ecological devastation, and even worldwide nuclear war. Every American voting in the 2016 presidential election is going to have to make one of the most important choices of their lifetime. For once, it isn’t an exaggeration to say that failure here could bring about the end of the world as we know it.

Anyone else worried about snowless December?

Published: The Good Men Project (December 26, 2015)

I’ve lived in Pennsylvania for 18 years and, despite the state’s frosty winter reputation, this is the first time I’ve ever witnessed a snowless December.

My personal observations aside, this has been a big month for global warming. On December 12, nearly two hundred countries signed an agreement in Paris that will help bring global warming under control. Less than two weeks later, a controversial article in an academic journal called Nature Climate Change warned that unless global warming is curbed, 72 percent of needleleaf evergreens in the Southwest will be wiped out. On a less contentious (but more apocalyptic) note, the head of the World Meteorological Society pointed out that our warming climate will thrust 1.2 billion people into ‘water scarce’ areas by 2025, mainly in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. In an ominous foreshadowing of what may come, Arctic temperatures were the highest on record in 2015.

While these data points should be alarming, residents of those northeastern states who have also noticed our snowlessness shouldn’t require them. After all, talk of man-made climate change has been in our public debate for decades. If you’re reading this article, the chances are you’re already roughly aware of the arguments in favor and against the scientific community’s overwhelming consensus that human beings are warming the earth’s atmosphere. At this point, if you haven’t been persuaded by the evidence that this is a real problem, no new information is going to sway you.

Our snowless December, on the other hand, should be different. Even if global warming had been a completely novel concept in the year 2015, it would be reasonable to expect people to at least draw attention to the unseasonably warm temperatures. Our music itself informs us that we should anticipate a white and snowy Christmas (which didn’t materialize) or New Year’s Eve (unlikely to happen). Considering that we do have a widely-known and obvious explanation for what our eyes can see and bodies can feel, though, it’s almost shocking that we haven’t witnessed a major outcry of concern. So why hasn’t that happened?

The answer, I suspect, is that we’ve reached a point where even our own experiences can’t overcome our partisan biases. If you’re a global warming denier, an unprecedented series of natural disasters won’t make you budge, so it’s unlikely that uncharacteristically pleasant late December weather would have that effect. If you support the scientific evidence, you don’t need a snowless December to persuade you. As for the people who don’t know or care about this issue, the chances are that they’ll recognize the debate as so polarizing that they’ll just retain their studied indifference for the sake of convenience.

The net effect is a social climate as dangerous as its meteorological counterpart. We live in the era of anti-proof, in which people can rationalize away facts that literally surround them because “proof” doesn’t count for much anymore. If humanity is going to be saved from destruction, it will be in spite of public opinion rather than because of it… or, even worse, because public opinion isn’t rallied until the devastation has become too terrible to bear. This is a disturbing conclusion to reach, but also an unavoidable one. It has unsettling implications about our capacity for self-preservation as a species, to say nothing of our willingness to utilize empirical logical when the stakes truly matter.

What a bleak note on which to end the year.

Author’s Note: Since I first published this piece, I’ve received several emails discussing the role of El Niño in causing these weather patterns. I stand partially corrected (this is still the longest streak in 116 years without any snow).

An Interview With the Respectful Revolution

Published: Good Men Project (June 11, 2015)

Can a little respect make a difference? The Respectful Revolution believes it makes all the difference.

The term “respectful revolution” may sound like a contradiction, but the site is quite real indeed … and it is already making waves.

“I’ve always resented meanness and wastefulness a great deal,” explained Gerard Ungerman in an interview with The Good Men Project. “I’ve witnessed a lot of that in the military, then covering wars around the world during a decade of doc filmmaking.” As a way of countering this, Ungerman joined Stacey Wear to create Respectful Revolution, which captures short video portraits of people causing positive change from around the world.

The inspiring anecdotes are refreshing antidotes to the cynicism and brutality we regularly see in the news. There is Jurgen Knoller, a German brewmaster in Montana who has found a way to reuse glass bottles, six-pack packaging, and cardboard boxes. Another Montanan, Joshua Slotnick, earned attention by creating an organic farm where troubled teenagers could cultivate local produce … and then sell it to senior citizens for one-third of the normal price. Ron Sciarrillo of New Mexico is described on Respectful Revolution as “the opposite of someone who drags their feet to go to work”—he literally teaches people how to build “Earthships,” or homes that are environmentally friendly.

“We look for stories that have love for the world built in them and that preferably convey a sense that whatever it is that we’re showing can be replicated,” Gerard explained. “We are always delving into the humanity of the person(s) involved to make them more personable, whether or not they have charisma because ultimately we want people to love people who love people.”

Ungerman told The Good Men Project: ‘To us, respect means understanding and caring about the consequences of your actions, and choosing to act with the bigger picture in mind: what’s in it for everybody and the world around me, because if I saw off the branch I’m sitting on, well …’

There is more to the Respectful Revolution than simply documenting positive change. Coiling beneath the various narratives – which you can explore geographically by clicking on an interactive map – is a deeper philosophy about the role of empathy in taking humanity to the next of its collective evolutionary consciousness. “We use the word respect because it is universal,” Ungerman told The Good Men Project. “To us, respect means understanding and caring about the consequences of your actions, and choosing to act with the bigger picture in mind:  what’s in it for everybody and the world around me, because if I saw off the branch I’m sitting on, well…” And why does he refer to his campaign to spread respect as a revolution? “Revolution is a powerful word that’s part of the collective psyche of this country in particular.   The true good word in there is evolution but I feel revolution carries more guts, for a title anyway.”

For Ungerman, the stories that most resonate with him personally are the ones that involve curbing wastefulness, which is why he specifically identified Sciarillo and Rosemary Kent, who created a task force in her hometown to collect and recycle people’s plastic. “Wastefulness to me is a mortal sin, an insult to life itself because nothing comes easy, even if it seems easy,” he argued. “A fruit off a tree? It is a freakin’ miracle! Why should that fruit go to waste ? Have a bird eat it if nothing else. So I love stories where people have taken action against wastefulness.”

Ungerman had much more to say in our interview, but in the end the stories captured at Respectful Revolution—which you can support through their Kickstarter campaign-–speak for themselves. They carry a number of messages about creating a sustainable future for our planet, exhibiting empathy toward others, and simply embracing life to its fullest. These topics may not be trendy, but they’re important, and we’re lucky to live in a world where a Respectful Revolution exists.

7 times Bernie Sanders broke the Internet

Published: Daily Dot (May 19, 2015), Salon (May 23, 2015)

Say what you will about the presidential candidacy of Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), but if nothing else, it has certainly introduced some interesting ideas into America’s political debate. Considering that the most recent polls show Hillary Clinton with a nearly five-to-one lead over her nearest rival, this can only be viewed as a positive thing.

As Reddit’s favorite politician, Bernie Sanders has enormous influence on our political discourse, and his recent policies have been making huge headlines on the Internet. Here are seven ways in which our national discussion on a wide range of issues could be transformed by the Sanders campaign.

1) Guaranteeing free college

In a press conference on Monday, Sanders advocated that the government fund tuition at four-year public colleges and universities through a so-called Robin Hood tax on Wall Street, one that would set a 50 cent tax on every $100 of stock trades on stock sales, as well as lesser amounts on other financial transactions.

While Sanders’ critics are expected to denounce the plan as socialistic, the Vermont Senator is quick to point out that similar proposals are already in effect and successful elsewhere. “Countries like Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and many more are providing free or inexpensive higher education for their young people,” Sanders points out. “They understand how important it is to be investing in their youth. We should be doing the same.”

Although Obama promised free community college for students who qualify, Bernie Sanders’ proposed policy shows that with America’s burgeoning debt crisis, we need to go even further.

2) Addressing income inequality

In an interview with the Associated Press confirming his presidential run, Sanders cited America’s growing income inequality as one of the chief motivators behind his campaign, a well-timed stance given the recent #FightFor15 on Twitter.

“What we have seen is that while the average person is working longer hours for lower wages, we have seen a huge increase in income and wealth inequality, which is now reaching obscene levels,” Sanders argued. “This is a rigged economy, which works for the rich and the powerful, and is not working for ordinary Americans.”

Sanders has proposed a number of reforms to solve this problem, from legislation that would close corporate tax loopholes to raising the minimum wage above $7.25 an hour, a rate Sanders describes as a “starvation wage.” For the working poor, getting by continues to be a daily struggle, and Sanders is fighting to change that.

3) Regulating Wall Street

If you think Sanders’ free college plan has Wall Street concerned, you can only imagine how they feel about Sanders’ proposed bill for breaking up banks that are considered “too big to fail.” In fact, polls show 58 percent of likely voters agree with his basic argument that “if an institution is too big to fail, it is too big to exist,” indicating that merely denouncing Sanders as a radical won’t necessarily work for this measure.

What’s more, banking lobbyists are concerned that anti-bank sentiment within the Democratic grassroots could push Clinton to the left on this issue. “The prospects of it becoming law are nil,” reported one banking lobbyist to the Hill. “But we care about whether this impacts Hillary and whether she’ll try to pander to the far left.”

But for the millions who continue to be affected by the 2008 crash and the effects of the American banking bubble on our Great Recession, it’s not just about pushing Hillary to the left. It’s about pushing America forward.

4) Legalizing marijuana

Although Sanders told Time magazine that he doesn’t consider marijuana legalization to be “one of the major issues facing this country,” his sympathies on the subject are pretty clear.

“If you are a Wall Street executive who engaged in reckless and illegal behavior which helped crash the economy leading to massive unemployment and human suffering, your bank may have to pay a fine but nothing happens to you,” he explained in an AMA session on Reddit. “If you’re a kid smoking marijuana or snorting cocaine, you may end up in jail for years.”

He also supports increased use of medical marijuana and takes pride in the fact that no one was arrested for marijuana possession or use when he was mayor of Burlington, Vt. Given the negative impact of three decades of the War on Drugs on incarcerating urban residents at disproportionate rates, particularly black men, this is a policy that is long overdue.

Although Hillary has vowed to fight the prison-industrial complex, Sanders shows he’s already ready to take the first steps.

5) Fighting free trade

There is another issue in which Bernie Sanders may push Clinton to the left: free trade.

Although hardly a trending topic, Sanders is a longstanding opponent of international trade agreements like NAFTA that he believes work against the interests of average American laborers. His current target is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is being pushed by the Obama administration despite the fact that its provisions have not been made public.

“It is incomprehensible to me that the leaders of major corporate interests who stand to gain enormous financial benefits from this agreement are actively involved in the writing of the TPP,” Sanders wrote in a letter to the Obama White House, “while, at the same time, the elected officials of this country, representing the American people, have little or no knowledge as to what is in it.”

6) Confronting climate change

Sanders’ has made no secret of his contempt for global warming deniers. To embarrass anti-science Republicans, he introduced a “sense of Congress” resolution in January that simply acknowledged man-made climate change was real and needed to be addressed. By voting in favor of the measure, Congress would do little more than place itself “in agreement with the opinion of virtually the entire worldwide scientific community.”

Although the amendment was tabled by a mostly party-line vote of 56-42, Sanders’ reputation as an unwavering advocate of pro-environmental policies when dealing with climate change hasn’t gone unnoticed. Climate Hawks Vote, a super PAC dedicated to addressing global warming, ranked Sanders as the number-one climate leader in the Senate.

7) Criticizing Israel

If elected in 2016, Sanders would be America’s first Jewish president, and that makes his willingness to criticize Israel all the more significant. During a town hall event last year, Sanders got into a shouting match with constituents who were angered by his statement that Israel “overreacted” in its military campaign against Hamas and was “terribly, terribly wrong” for bombing UN facilities.

His stance on Israel could hardly be described as blindly pro-Palestinian, however. In the same town hall meeting, he acknowledged that Israel was in a tricky situation because Hamas was firing rockets from populated areas, but he has no love for Israel’s right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, distinguishing himself as the first Senator to openly refuse to attend Netanyahu’s speech to Congress.

Regardless of whether one agrees with Sanders’ views on these issues, the odds are still far greater than not that he won’t receive the Democratic nomination next year. In addition to being on the far left in his own party, Sanders is a septuagenarian from a minority background who hails from one of America’s smallest states.

At the same time, he is still giving voice to a series of positions that deserve a more prominent place in our political debate. When all is said and done, this can only be a good thing.

5 reasons America needs to support water policy reform

Published: Daily Dot (May 8, 2015)

Right now, more than a billion people live without access to fresh water. When the number is expanded to include those who spend at least one month out of the year without fresh water, it comprises more than one-third of the world population. Even though water covers 71 percent of our planet’s surface, very little of it can be used by humans.

“More than 97 percent of the world’s water is too salty to drink. Another 2 percent is locked up in ice caps and glaciers,” explains National Geographic. “Less than 1 percent is left for drinking, agriculture, industry, and nature.”

For those of us unfamiliar with the science, however, it’s important to understand why water policy reform is so important. Here’s a short list of the reasons.

1) Climate change has made floods and is causing droughts to become longer, more frequent, and more severe

Although climate change isn’t solely responsible for the fact that major floods—which used to occur once every century or so—are now happening every couple decades, it certainly plays a significant role. As the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) puts it, even the restoration of forests and wetlands to absorb precipitation won’t necessarily make a meaningful dent in flooding since “if more intense rainstorms hit a region because of climate change, there will simply be more water—and catastrophic floods will become regular events.”

The disruption in weather patterns has also increased the prevalence of droughts. According to the National Resources Defense Council’s recent report, “Climate Change, Water, and Risk,” 1,100 counties (one-third of those in the main 48 states) “face higher risks of water shortages by mid-century as the result of climate change. More than 400 of these counties will face extremely high risks of water shortages.”

Because much of the United States covers mid-latitude areas, those regions are particularly susceptible to these effects of climate change. “We’re expecting two important things to happen that can contribute to drought,” explains Michael Brewer, a climate scientist from the National Climatic Data Center, in the video above. “First, temperatures are going to increase. As temperatures increase, that means more evaporation, which can mean more drought. The second thing is, we’re expecting precipitation to get more extreme,” which in addition to exacerbating flooding “can also mean a longer time between rains, which can contribute to drought as well.”

2) California has about one of year of water left

“[Californians] have two levels of problems,” explains Jennifer Buckman, General Counsel for Friant Water Authority, in a YouTube video produced by ProtectTheHarvest. “The first is Mother Nature just wasn’t very generous to us. … The second, and more pernicious or damaging level, is that what we got wasn’t managed very well.”

Jay Famiglietti, the senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Caltech and a professor of Earth Science at UC Irvine, recently published an editorial warning that “as difficult as it may be to face, the simple fact is that California is running out of water.” He predicts that the situation will become catastrophic in “about one year.”

California governor Jerry Brown has already mandated a 25 percent reduction in urban water use, but since most of California’s water is used for agriculture, this will only make a small dent in the problem.

3) The water shortage in California will cause major food shortages

There is a reason why farmers use 80 percent of the state’s total water supply. Many of the crops we take for granted are grown primarily in the Golden State, including 99 percent of our nation’s artichokes, 94 percent of its broccoli and fresh plums, and 84 percent of its fresh peaches, as well as other staple vegetables like lettuce, carrots, and celery.

And these aren’t even the state’s top crop. That distinction belongs to alfalfa, which is commonly used as cow feed. Its second most prevalent crop, almonds, will be particularly devastated by the water shortage: Because they require very specific conditions to be effectively cultivated, 80 percent of the world’s almonds are produced in California’s Central Valley.

4) There are potential solutions to the water crisis

However, there is some good news.

Water policy experts are increasingly voicing support for a cap-and-trade system that would promote stable water use through market regulations. Australians have made international headlines by cutting their water consumption in half with various water conservation measures, relieving the parched nation after a decade-long drought at the start of the century (the so-called “Millennium Drought”).

The problem right now is that these solutions, though effective, aren’t necessarily expedient. “When do we purposely hurt our economy in order to save water,” asked Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a professor of public policy at the University of Southern California, in an interview with Politico, “and how do you explain to people that’s what you have to do?”

In a similar vein, roughly 13,000 desalination plants have been constructed to make seawater fit for human consumption—despite concerns that this practice exacerbates climate change—because the increasing water needs of thirsty areas of the world have been trumping long-term sustainability among political and business leaders.

So how can the public be roused to act on this matter?

5) People need to be better informed about the seriousness of our water shortage

According to UNESCO, water education should help public officials and ordinary citizens become familiar with “science, water-fetching, sanitation and hygiene, as well as to develop the relevant knowledge, skills, values and behaviors in a water sustainability-friendly context.”

Another United Nations entity, the Food and Agricultural Organization’s Land and Water Division, has released a video outlining the water crisis that has received over 130,000 views. It encourages viewers to take small steps, like not throwing cooking oil down the drain, closing the tap when brushing one’s teeth, and not buying unnecessary goods (“everything produced uses water”).

The water crisis isn’t unsolvable—solutions range from the large-scale plans proposed by climate and water policy experts to the small eco-friendly actions every of us can perform. We are lucky that the current situation, though alarming, has not yet resulted in massive food shortages or other comparable humanitarian calamities.

That said, both science and current events clearly demonstrate that we can’t wait on this indefinitely. If we continue to use our water irresponsibly, it won’t be long before we find that it simply isn’t there for us anymore.

Why It’s Ethically Wrong Not to Recognize Man-Made Climate Change

Published: Good Men Project (February 5, 2015)

Matthew Rozsa reminds us that man-made global warming is a fact, and we as a species need to grow up and take responsibility.

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The Paris climate summit is showing the early signs of failure. “2C is an objective,” insisted Miguel Arias Canete, the European Union’s climate chief, referencing the dangerous threshold of having the average global temperature increase by more than 2 degree Celsius by the end of the century. “If we have an ongoing process you can not say it is a failure if the mitigration commitments do not reach 2C.”

While I understand that Canete has a tough job, I politely beg to differ.

…the human race has yet to accept its most basic responsibilities. We are like an adolescent who, having tasted the sweet fruits of adulthood, has yet to accept the bitter obligations that go with it.

The problem isn’t simply that the United States, China, and the European Union could always back down from their carbon emission goals (and it’s hard to imagine why they wouldn’t commit to staying below 2C unless they wanted wiggle room to do precisely that). On a deeper level, the issue is that the human race has yet to accept its most basic responsibilities. We are like an adolescent who, having tasted the sweet fruits of adulthood, has yet to accept the bitter obligations that go with it. Although it behooves us to recognize that we share the same planet and need to be mindful of its health, we still insist on disregarding the consequences of our actions until the last possible second.

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Before proceeding with the ethical argument at the heart of this piece, it is first essential to make one point clear: People who are skeptical of man-made climate change are not operating from a place of legitimate and intelligent disagreement. For a variety of economic, cultural, and/or political reasons, they refuse to accept indisputable scientific facts. The problem isn’t that they haven’t been presented with a sufficiently persuasive argument, but that they aren’t open to persuasion.

97 percent [of scientists] accept as concrete that the cause of global warming is man-made.

The mechanics of global warming are simple enough to understand. “Earth transforms sunlight’s visible light energy into infrared light energy, which leaves Earth slowly because it is absorbed by greenhouse gases,” writes Professor Michael Ranney of How Global Warming Works, a website dedicated to making the complexities of this phenomenon as accessible as possible (a more detailed explanation can be found here). “When people produce greenhouse gases, energy leaves Earth even more slowly—raising Earth’s temperature.” The overwhelming majority of scientists agree that the planet is heating up, with NASA listing rising sea levels, warming oceans, shrinking ice sheets, declining arctic sea ice, glacial retreat, a spike in extreme weather events, ocean acidification, and decreased snow cover among the many proofs that the world is getting warmer. More importantly, 97 percent accept as concrete fact that the cause of global warming is man-made. “CO2 has increased by nearly 50% in the last 150 years [since the explosion of fossil fuels] and the increase is from burning fossil fuels,” writes Skeptical Science, adding that the “energy being trapped in the atmosphere corresponds exactly to the wavelengths of energy captured by CO2.”

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The word “persuasive” doesn’t do justice to this evidence. It is so damning that it should be universally regarded as an inviolable scientific truth, akin to our knowledge that a water molecule is composed of hydrogen and oxygen or that the speed of light is a little shy of 300,000,000 meters per second. Not accepting the truth of man-made climate change is more than an erroneous opinion. It is an unforgivable character flaw.

Not accepting the truth of man-made climate change is more than an erroneous opinion. It is an unforgivable character flaw.

For a particularly eloquent explanation as to why, I turn to Adlai E. Stevenson (my political hero), whose last speech warned against the dangers of nuclear war in language that can be applied without alteration to global warming:

We travel together, passengers on a little space ship, dependent on its vulnerable reserves of air and soil; all committed for our safety to its security and peace; preserved from annihilation only by the care, the work, and I will say, the love we give our fragile craft.

Whether we like it or not, our species has reached a point in its collective development wherein we have the power to transform the very planet we inhabit. When Stevenson uttered those words in Geneva fifty years ago, he was discussing the danger that our war-like instincts would trump our better judgment and result in a nuclear apocalypse. Thankfully, so far the nations of the world have succeeded in curbing their belligerence in the name of self-preservation, but it appears that they are struggling mightily to do the same thing when it comes to the cupidity and/or reactionary disdain for science held by many of its citizens.

If the human race is to survive, this mistake cannot continue to be made. Just as it is unethical for an individual adult to continue disregarding his own welfare and that of others when he has every reason to know better, so too is it wrong for those whose words and deeds will impact the future of our species to ignore irrefutable science for … well, for any reason whatsoever.

How GOP obstructionism empowered the presidency

Published: MSNBC (January 11, 2015)

Listening to Rep. Louis Gohmert’s (R-TX) revanchist logic for his failed bid to oust John Boehner as speaker of the House earlier this month, you’d think the tea party wing of the Republican Party had been working with President Obama. “[We’ll] fight amnesty tooth and nail. We’ll use the powers of the purse,” Gohmert vowed in an interview with Fox News during which he repeatedly associated Boehner with Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. “We’ll have better oversight. We’ll fight to defund ObamaCare.”

Unfortunately for any Republican who sincerely wants to curb the power of the presidency, Gohmert’s strategy is as ineffective as the only slightly less obstructionist methods employed by Boehner. Indeed, Obama already has emerged as a particularly ambitious and effective lame duck president precisely because he has been faced with one of the most uncompromising and hyper-partisan Congresses in American history. By forcing him to work outside the legislative branch to pursue his policy goals, tea party Republicans like Gohmert have actually empowered Obama – and with him the office of the presidency – to an unexpected degree.

“Tea party Republicans like Gohmert have actually empowered Obama”

First there was immigration reform. After Republicans in Congress held up Obama’s immigration reform bill until it failed, the president issued an executive order on Nov. 20 that accomplished much of what his original bill had hoped to do. For about 5 million of America’s roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants, it will extend work permits and protect them from deportation; in addition, it ordered law enforcement to prioritize undocumented residents with criminal records or other histories of violent activity, expanded the number of high-tech visas, and loosened restrictions on highly-educated and skilled foreign residents. It was a move that led historian Douglas Brinkley to predict Obama would be remembered as a “folk hero to Latino Americans” – and instead of being able to share credit with the president, Republicans will be remembered as his rigid opponents.Next there was climate change. “The Republican Party had grown increasingly hostile to the science of global warming and to cap-and-trade,” wrote Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker in a piece on the failure of Obama’s 2010 climate change bill to pass the Senate. “By not automatically resisting everything connected to Obama,” Lizza added, “these senators [Republicans who might support the bill] risked angering Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader and architect of the strategy to oppose every part of Obama’s agenda, and the Tea Party movement, which seemed to be gaining power every day.” Consequently, Obama is currently in the process of finalizing a historic agreement with China (which along with the United States is responsible for one-third of all greenhouse emissions) that his administration negotiated in secret and will commit America to reduce its emissions to at least 26% of its 2005 levels by 2025 and hold China to aggressively seek alternate energy sources and make its greenhouse output peaks before 2030. As Jonathan R. Nash of The Hill opined,“the existence of a ratified treaty might empower the executive branch to take broader steps toward national reductions than it could in the absence of a treaty.”

Finally there is Cuba. After more than half a century of diplomatic hostility, Obama announced that the United States would move to restore full diplomatic relations with its southern neighbor, as well as expand trade and travel. Although Republicans have discussed using funding for the Department of Homeland Security as a weapon to thwart Obama’s agenda on Cuba, the reality is that their best weapon on this issue – as with any foreign policy matter involving matters of statecraft, which is constitutionally assigned to the president – was the potential ability to leverage future support for other measures important to him in return for ceding to their wishes (or at least compromising with them) on this one. But by making it clear that there is little chance they will ever work with him, Republicans have left the president with no incentive to consult them on matters that lie strictly within the realm of his prerogatives.

When historians look back at the Obama era, they will be struck by the contrast between the first two years of his presidency – during which, with the 111th Congress, Obama passed more landmark progressive legislation than any president since Lyndon Johnson – and the final six years of his administration, in which the most recent congress reached such heights of obstructionism that they will go down as the single least productive legislative body in American history. Despite this obstacle, Obama is likely to be remembered as a very successful president (as I’ve discussed before), if for no other reason than he managed to meet so many legitimate national needs (ending the Great Recession he inherited from Bush, addressing the crisis in America’s health care system) with so few tools at his disposal.

Yet even that isn’t the most salient takeaway of the continuing battle between the Republican establishment figures like Boehner and more conservative members like Gohmert. Far more important than the leadership of the Republican Party in the House of Representatives, or even of Obama’s legacy, is the precedent they have established for executive leadership. By making it impossible for this president to govern with Congress, Republicans has taught future presidents how to do what they want without legislative sanction. The Grand Old Party, which has so long claimed to fight against the expansion of central power, has created the conditions that essentially guaranteed its growth.

7 things Americans think are more plausible than global warming

Published: Daily Dot (December 18, 2014), Salon (December 20, 2014)

Seventy-seven percent of the country believe in angels. Only 40 percent concede climate change is a reality

In a video that went viral this week, Bill O’Reilly has spoken, not only for himself but (generously) for the rest of America: “It’s easier to believe in a benevolent God and the baby Jesus than it is about some kind of theory about global warming. It’s just easier!”

Is he right? Roughly 73 percent of Americans believe Jesus was born of a virgin, while only 61 percent believe the Earth’s temperature has been warming. Even worse, only 40 percent of the Americans who concede that climate change is happening will admit that it’s primarily due to man-made activity.

For context, let’s compare those polling figures with something Americans are more likely to believe than man-made climate change.

1) 77 percent of Americans believe in angels.

Not only did this AP/GFK poll in 2011 find that more than three out of four Americans believed angels literally exist, but so do more than four out of 10 of those who never attend religious services. A poll taken five years earlier found that 81 percent of Americans believe in angels, essentially meaning the number had gone unchanged.

2) 55 percent of Americans believe that the Founding Fathers established this country as a Christian nation in the Constitution.

In a similar vein, this figure comes from a First Amendment Center survey taken in 2007. I’m sure these Americans would be fascinated to read Thomas Jefferson’s rewriting of the New Testament, which he felt perfected Jesus Christ’s teachings by removing all theological and supernatural elements from his life story. Lest there remain any doubt, we can return to the subject of angels as we review Jefferson’s letter to John Adams opining that “to talk of immaterial existences is to talk of nothings.” Jefferson continued, “To say that the human soul, angels, God, are immaterial, is to say they are nothings, or that there is no God, no angels, no soul. I cannot reason otherwise.”

3) 1 in 4 Americans believe the sun revolves around the Earth.

This comes from a National Science Foundation study conducted earlier this year. Before you accuse me of including a statistic that doesn’t belong on this list—as this statistic and the figure for man-made climate change are, sadly, only fifteen points apart—bear in mind that, whereas evolution and the Big Bang theory are relatively new to our collective consciousness, Copernicus and Galileo cracked our solar system’s biggest secret roughly five centuries ago. It would be no less ludicrous for one in four Americans to believe that the Earth is flat.

4) Only 60 percent of Americans believe in evolution.

According to the 2013 Pew Research poll, 33 percent of Americans believe that “humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.” Among those who believe in evolution, 32 percent believe that modern organisms evolved through natural selection, while 24 percent believe that evolution occurred through the direct intervention of God. By comparison, 97 percent of scientists believe in evolution.
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5) 51 percent of Americans don’t trust the Big Bang theory.

This refers to the scientific theory explaining the origin of the universe. If the statistic referred to the sitcom, I would be wholly sympathetic (I don’t trust Chuck Lorre either).

Kidding aside, according to an AP/GFK poll from earlier this year, slightly more than half of all Americans were either “not too confident” or “not at all confident” that the Big Bang happened. This same survey also found that only 27 percent believe the Earth to be 4.5 billion years old, which is the consensus figure among scientists.

6) Only 44 percent of Americans are confident that vaccines don’t cause autism.

According to a University of Chicago study taken earlier this year, 20 percent of Americans believe “vaccines cause autism and other psychological disorders,” while another 36 percent weren’t sure enough to agree or disagree with that statement. As someone on the autism spectrum who has written on this subject before, it is necessary to reiterate that the only basis for the belief that vaccines cause autism is a single scientific report that has since been universally discredited as a fraud.

7) 48 percent of Americans think the Civil War was about states’ rights, while only 38 percent of Americans believe it was over slavery.

While the 2011 Pew Research survey that yielded this statistic might lead you to believe that there is legitimate debate over the cause of the Civil War, there really isn’t: Over 90 percent of historians with graduate degrees accept that it was prompted by opposition to the election of Abraham Lincoln on the grounds that he would prohibit the expansion of slavery into the Western territories. Although the Southern states argued that they had a legal right to secede because of their sovereignty as states in a federal union, it was their opposition to Lincoln’s policies on slavery that incited them to leave the Union.

While it would take quite a bit of time to provide the full gamut of scientific and historical lessons necessary to correct all of these misconceptions, we can at least return to Bill O’Reilly’s climate change denialism with some measure of hope. As psychologist Dr. Michael Ranney of the University of California, Berkeley discovered, part of the challenge in getting Americans to believe in climate change rests in simply clarifying the process by which it works. He found that straightforward, step-by-step illustrations of the principle frequently changed people’s minds.

Fortunately, there’s a video for that:

If that sounds easy, for the majority of Americans, statistics show it’s anything but.