Archive for August, 2012

Uncertain Future for the Gray Wolf


Again, An Uncertain Future for the Gray Wolf

By Ken Fischman, Ph.D.

August 23, 2012


It looks as though Interior Secretary Salazar has struck a deal with Wyoming to end its Endangered Species listing for wolves in that state. According to the New York Times, the arrangement will be similar to that now in force in Idaho and Montana, with a minimum number of 150 wolves and 15 breeding pairs. However, wolves will still be treated as vermin, to be shot on sight year round in 4/5s of the state. Thus, Wyoming has apparently received from the Obama administration most of what it had held out for.

The New York Times August 21, 2012 Editorial, “Uncertain Future for the Gray Wolf, “ (c f.) questioned whether 150 wolves/state would be a viable population for Wyoming, Montana, or Idaho. If you consider that my state, Idaho, contains about 1.3 million people, 20,000 black bears, and over 100,000 elk, the number 150 stands in stark contrast to these populations. No reputable biologist that I know of believes that such a number would be anything but a relict population, genetically threatened by inbreeding, and possibly extinction.

Even Ed Bangs, who was US Fish & Wildlife Wolf Recovery Coordinator, recently admitted that this number of wolves “is not defensible.”
Interestingly enough, the lead article in Science, September 2011, “Trophic Downgrading of Planet Earth”, emphasizes the value of wolves and other top predators in keeping a healthy balance in our ecosystems. It was authored by some of the world’s leading Conservation Biologists. The article is excerpted on the Ancient Pathways web site under the title of  “Trophic Downgrading or Where Have All the Predators Gone,?” and contains a lot of valuable information on the effect of apex predators.

Additionally, Times readers should know that the wolf hunting season in Idaho is now year around, if you count private land, which is about 40% of the state. Any land owner, with a valid wolf tag can shoot wolves on sight. When you consider that the southern third of the state is desert, in which wolves are rarely seen, the territory safe for wolves shrinks considerably more. Also, the number of wolves that can be killed in 8 out of 13 “Wolf Zones” is unlimited.

Obama promised that he would reverse the Bush administration’s politicization of science. This does not appear to be true for wolves. I guess that it is because they do not vote.


New York Times


Uncertain Future for the Gray Wolf

Published: August 21, 2012

A Wolf Pack in Isle Royale NP

Wolves In Isle Royale National Park

Wolves in Montana and Idaho lost their endangered species status last year. Interior had concluded that both states had developed management plans that would keep wolf populations at healthy levels.

The delisting has led to the death of hundreds of wolves in sanctioned hunts. But at least Montana and Idaho established limits on hunting seasons and on the number of wolves that can be taken across the entire state. In Wyoming, by contrast, wolves in four-fifths of the state will be essentially treated as vermin that can be killed at any time, and for almost any reason.

Interior says not to worry. Most of Wyoming’s wolves are in the state’s northwest corner, it points out, and can be shot only during a defined hunting season. Further, the state has agreed not to reduce the statewide population below 150 wolves and 15 breeding pairs.

This is a more protective plan than Wyoming’s politicians, ranchers and hunters wanted a year ago. But whether it’s enough to guarantee a sustainable population is far from clear. Interior has promised to review its deals with Montana and Idaho after five years. It must demand the same of Wyoming. The question there is whether, after five years, there will be any wolves left to review.



How Our Cultural Beliefs Effect The Way We Treat The earth




How Our Cultural Beliefs Affect the Way We Treat the Earth

Lanie Johnson, M.A. and Ken Fischman, Ph.D.

March 25, 2007(rev. 10/3/11)

Our cultural values, customs and beliefs affect the way we treat the Earth, and they have led to the twin crises of Peak Oil and Climate Change

                                                          1.  The Man Who Hated Bees

                                                                     by Lanie Johnson

         Ten years ago Ken and I left New York City in a truck camper and headed out West. We‘d intended to take about a year to look over a few towns and decide in which one we wanted to settle.

Seven years later we were still wandering in that truck camper. We had many adventures before we came to Sandpoint, some of them even good. But our most important adventure was our change of perspective.

We were able to see our culture with fresh eyes because for the first time, we were living outside it, wandering over the landscape but not being part of it.

For example, I remember the day we met the man who hated bees.

It was an early spring day, and we decided to ride our bikes in a marvelous park, along the Platt River right in the middle of the Denver.  There they had planted what seemed like millions of colorful wild flowers.

It was heavenly, and as we rode along we fell in with another biker. He told us that he was a retired engineer, living in the Denver suburbs and that he often rode his bike through that park.

Now, we were passing through the fields of magnificent and variously colored wild flowers that gently waved in the breeze.

But without warning, that man’s demeanor suddenly changed. He waved his arms around desperately as he rode.  “Those damn bees! Those damn bees,” he shouted. “They might sting me!”

As we passed out of range of the bees, he calmed down somewhat, but still agitated, he turned toward us and said angrily, “It’s those damn flowers! They’re attracting the bees. I wish they would cut them all down. That would get rid of the bees!”

b. How Our Culture Treats Others

The memory of that man still haunts me.  He had seemed like such a nice person, and probably was, under other circumstances.  Still, I’m grateful to the man who hated bees because I learned a lot about our culture from his behavior.

Never mind the question of whether or not bees and wild flowers are useful to us; that’s not the point. Do they have a right to be here on their own? Many people seem to believe that only man has a right to be here  – because he is special and clearly superior to everyone and everything else. If something is in your way – if it merely inconveniences you, get rid of it. Move it, destroy it, annihilate it if you see fit. From self-centered beliefs like these has come enormous environmental destruction.

Ken and I have read extensively about the lives of Hunter-Gatherers, both contemporary and ancient. I could not imagine a Hunter-Gatherer demanding that we annihilate all the wild flowers so that he could be bee-free.

We have come to another conclusion, too: attitudes like those of the man who hated bees are not necessarily due to inherent human nature. We believe that they come right out of our culture. And, that is what I want to address next.

2. Cultural Beliefs

a. Power, Role, & Invisibility

Culture can be extremely powerful in forming our ideas about how to live in this world. Every culture instills deep-seated beliefs that act as beacons, showing people the way they should organize their lives.

A society that has beliefs that do not work for them because they do not conform to the way the world really works, is in deep trouble.

Most of the time we are not even consciously aware that we have such beliefs. There is an old saying that if you want to know the nature of water, do not ask a fish.  Our culture is all around us, but because we are immersed in it, we do not feel or sense it. “Mother Culture is always whispering in your ear.” (Daniel Quinn, in Ishmael)

b. How Beliefs Arise

How do cultural beliefs arise?  They usually come out of the lifestyles of people.  Let’s look at a few examples:

Hunter-Gatherers place a great deal of importance on the natural cycles of Nature that they see all around them, as well as of their own bodies. They undoubtedly came to these ideas from their keen observation of the monthly waxing and waning of the moon, from the seasonal cycles, and from women’s menstrual cycles.


[ Image - Venus of Laussels ]

These HG beliefs go back a long way. The Venus of Laussels is a 22 – 30,000 year old image of a woman sculpted on a rock ledge in Western France. Her sexual features are exaggerated. Her left hand is on her belly.  Is she pregnant?  Perhaps. In her right hand she holds what appears to be a Bison’s horn, but which may also represent the moon in its fourth quarter.  It has fourteen parallel lines incised on it.  Fourteen is of course the midpoint of both the menstrual cycle and the monthly lunar cycle. So, we suspect that even back then Hunter-Gatherer cultures were thinking and organizing their lives in terms of these cycles.

Our own linear culture and its thirst for progress is very different from the ancient H-G traditions which are cyclical – reflecting and celebrating the cycles of Nature.

Ojibway Story

There is a story attributed to the Ojibway Indians of the Great Lakes region.  A young son of the tribe has the responsibility of hunting for game to keep his aged and weak parents alive.  One particularly severe winter, he has trouble finding sufficient game and becomes quite desperate.

One snowy morning, a handsome young chief walks into the young brave’s hunting camp, and challenges him to a wrestling match, promising a special reward if the boy wins.

The boy does win, and the chief instructs him to cut off his head, bury it, and periodically water it.  The boy does so reluctantly, and the next spring, a corn plant grows from that very spot.  The boy is overjoyed.  From now on, he will plant corn and will be able to feed his parents.

This story illustrates how that Indian tribe dealt mythically with their transition from a Hunter Gatherer society to an agricultural

Nature/Nurture Controversy

Let’s consider how we can distinguish between Inherent and Cultural Behavior.  Ken and I used to discuss the more destructive aspects of human behavior with some friends in the field of psychology. One, a psychotherapist, would simply shrug and say, “well, that’s just human nature.” We’d argue instead that it was our culture, “whispering in our ears.” Two other friends, a Developmental Psychologist and an Experimental Psychologist, both had the opposite view: they insisted that human beings are a “tabula rasa” – or a blank slate upon which culture writes behavioral instructions. Here was the old ‘Nature/Nurture controversy’ in living color.

A classical way of distinguishing environmental from inherited factors in human traits is to study these traits in identical twins, who have been reared apart.  Because their biology is the same, any differences can be attributed to their environments. These types of study have consistently shown that behavioral traits in humans are only 60-65% inherited.  This is not surprising.  We have long known that learning plays a large part in our development.

Well, why should all this matter to us?  It matters, because if a behavior is considered “just human nature,” that is, if it is inherent, then there is nothing we can do to change it.  However, if the behavior is produced by a combination of biology and cultural belief, it can be changed.

Recently, Psychologists set up a study in which participants played a game during which they could from time to time decide to be either competitive or cooperative with each other.  The brain activity of the players was monitored with an MRI.  The pleasure centers of their brains consistently lit up whenever they chose to cooperate, but not when they chose to compete.  Is it possible then that mankind is hard-wired to derive pleasure from cooperation?

Then, what are the consequences of our having created a society that emphasizes competition instead?   Just look at the front page of your daily newspaper or listen to the eleven O’clock news. This is something for all of us to think about.

 How Circumstances Changed the Lives of the Kalahari Bushmen

        I have a sad tale to tell.  Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, an Anthropologist, lived with some South African Bushmen in the Kalahari desert for several years and wrote a book about her adventures, called “The Harmless People. ”  In it, she describes their idyllic lives as Hunter-Gatherers in a physically challenging environment.


(Image child offering grub) Here’s a photo of Thomas, being offered a special treat by a Bushman child. Can anyone tell what it is?


She got to know and like them on an individual basis. But, I must warn you that if you read the last chapter, it will break your hearts.

Ten years later she revisited them. White South African farmers had penetrated into the Kalahari in their perpetual search for more land, and had taken over and fenced off the few water holes that the Bushmen had depended on for their very existence.  This forced the Bushmen to come in from the desert and become virtual serfs to the farmers.  The social fabric of these sweet, gentle people had been almost totally destroyed.  People whom Thomas had known previously had now become wracked with alcoholism, drugs, wife beating, and all the rest of the antisocial behaviors that plague our own society.

Does Our Culture Have Myths?

Does our contemporary, world-wide culture have unexamined beliefs?  Jared Diamond has written a terrific book, entitled ‘Collapse.’ In it,  he examines several civilizations around the world to see which have vanished and which have endured. He concludes that the answer lies in the ways in which each civilization has reacted to environmental challenges.

For example, Diamond tells of the Europeans who settled in Greenland around 1000 A.D. Greenland‘s rivers and surrounding ocean teemed with seals and fish, and the Inuit who lived there were experts at hunting and fishing.

However, the European Greenlanders, when faced with a change to a much colder climate during the Little Ice Age (1300 – 1800 AD) refused to learn how to fish and hunt for seals from their Inuit neighbors, whom they called “Skraelings” Translation – “dirty pagan wretches.”

Instead, the Europeans persisted in continuing to farm and raise cattle despite Greenland’s poor soil and short growing season, and most of them eventually starved to death.

The settlers were in the grips of a cultural belief that we call “there is only one right way, and it is ours.”

(Enter Culture Fairy.  He is a hairy guy, dressed in a tutu & he talks like Gus, the truck driver)

C.F.  “Hey, watcha gettin so upset about?  Nothins wrong with da Woild.  I’ve come to tell ya dat everythings gonna be O.K.”

LJ – “Who are you?  Are you one of those ridiculous fairies?  Look, I resent your breaking in on us like this. We reserved this room for a discussion of the serious situation that mankind faces from the decline in cheap energy and …

C.F.  – “Dat’s exactly what I mean.  Now, don’t getcha knickers all in a twist Girly, will ya!  I’m da Culture Fairy, see.  Ya know, dis is da best of all possible woilds, and we’re gonna come out fine.  Ya know why?  Because da woild was made for Man. Humans are da pinnacle of evolution, see?

LJ  “No, I do not see!  We are using up the finite resources of the Earth, killing off other life forms, and eventually we are going to cause our own extinction if we continue to believe nonsense like that”!

C.F. – “Hey, no problema.  Don’t ya know us humans are exempt from da rules a Nature? We can do stuff that would get any other creature in deep doo doo.  And besides, everybody knows da resources of da Universe are inexhaustible, and if we use up this planet, hey, we can go to Mars.

L.J.  “Now, that is a great idea.   I hear there’s a rocket leaving for Mars shortly.  Why don’t you take it, and establish a colony there?

C.F.  Hey, not a bad idea!  After all, Man was born to rule da Universe, wasn’t he? And in order to do it , he’s gotta conquer Nature, right?   So, Mars, here I come! (he dashes out the door)

The Importance of Cultures’ Alignment with the Earth

As I see it, the main problem is that our culture is not in accord with the way the World is organized.  In fact, it has put us on a collision course with these principles.

If instead, we were to become more grounded in the Earth (if you will excuse the pun), we would gain a deeper understanding of the laws of nature, and the fact that Mankind is not exempt from them.

How Do Myths Come About?

A recent poll showed that 60% of Americans believe that the Sun rotates around the Earth. If you asked these same people whether the Earth is flat or spherical, what do you suppose they would say?  Would they tell you that if you were to drive to New Jersey, you would fall off the end of the Earth?  I don’t think so.

However, if people believe that the World was made for man, and he was made to rule it, then it follows that we are the most important thing in the Universe.  It is possible then that so many Americans believe that the Sun rotates around the Earth because they believe mythologically that we are the center of the Universe and therefore the Earth is also at the center.

Looking at it this way, it seems clear to me that this human-centered view comes right out of the deepest beliefs of our culture.  Regarding another belief, my psychotherapist friend told me some time ago that all humans are competitive, and that is just human nature.

Well, try explaining this idea of competition to a South African Bushman or a Congolese Pygmy.  One of my favorite stories is of some Australian Aborigines who were being taught the rudiments of soccer by European missionaries.  After each side had scored a goal, they all walked off the field together, thinking they had achieved the object of the game.

We’ve just looked at some different cultural beliefs-Now, let’s look at an example of how cultural beliefs can be changed. 

                                              Can We Consciously Change our Beliefs?


Some scholars believe that a society cannot consciously change its beliefs – that such beliefs come out of some sort of collective unconscious interacting with millions of bits of information and experiences.

If I believed this, I would not be addressing you right now.  How else do you explain how a hitherto obscure southern black preacher, named Martin Luther King, Jr., changed the face of America back in the 1960s?

Now, instead of extreme racial inequality, we face the end of cheap oil and a changing climate. Both situations have come about because we have extracted and used so much oil However, the end of oil offers a ray of hope. If we can learn to limit CO2 emissions, as well as limit ourselves, that is. How? We think we can do so by not only changing our lifestyle but changing its underlying beliefs as well – such as the cornucopia of endless natural resources and the human right to do whatever we please with the Earth.

Well, so how do we go about changing the beliefs of our culture?

We do not have all the answers but, here’s one thought. We don’t have to throw out our birth religions in order to change our cultural beliefs.

The most holy day of the Jewish calendar is the Day of Atonement.  It is called Yom Kippur.  On that day, you are supposed to fast and to think about the offenses you have committed against others and their offenses against you.  You try to forgive them, and also yourself for your own failures.  Every year, for most of my adult life, I, Ken, would mark that day by fasting and sitting in a Synagogue all day long, chanting prayers in a language with which I was barely acquainted.  Most of the time, quite frankly, I was not spiritually uplifted. I was bored to death.

One Yum Kippur, I could not stand the thought of another dreary day like that, and instead went kayaking all by myself in a lovely little stream.

That turned out to be one of the most unforgettable days of my life.  As I floated down the stream, gazing at the ripples and waves, with the breeze in my face and the sun shining out of a clear blue sky, I never felt more spiritual and in tune with the Universe.

Ever since then, I have gone off by myself on that special day, to fast, and to be alone with my thoughts in some beautiful and sacred natural spot.

One December, Ken and I celebrated the Solstice with some friends.  Two of them, Phil and Sandy Deutchman, suggested that we celebrate it in different way this time, the way Sandy’s Finnish ancestors did over 10,000 years ago. In Finland, people still make candle lanterns of ice to provide light and hope for the return of light in the Spring. During this season, an ancient pagan tradition has it that a goat (the “Joulupukki”) comes out of the woods and gives people presents – if they’ve been good, that is. If they’ve been bad, he gives them a butt!


• ice candles

• here are Sandy with a flashlight (the Sun) and physicist Phil – dressed as the Joulupukki – with an orange (the Earth) showing the modern Astronomy behind the ancient Solstice celebration.


Other people around the little town in which we live, Sandpoint, Idaho, have adopted various Native American practices, the purpose of which is to re-connect people to the Earth.

Tim Corcoran and Jeannine Tidwell, founders of the Twin Eagles Wilderness School in Sandpoint, have studied with native teachers across the country, including elders from the Lakota tribe. Their school is a center for learning nature awareness and wilderness skills, in order to reconnect children with the Earth. They have also started a local Lakota Inipi, or sweat lodge group.

Randy Russell, who has Choctaw heritage, and is an adopted Lakota, has started a monthly Waneeshpa, or Gathering of Elders.  Randy runs the Soul Lore program, designed to bring back ritual, rights of passage, and other paths to true adulthood for young people.

 Mother Culture Meets Mother Nature

by Lanie Johnson(Rev 3/1/07, 3/6/07

MC         My son, the Culture Fairy had it completely right and you are a lot of hysterics, carrying on with a lot of pointless worry about the world coming to an end.  And, what’s more, you’re wallowing in guilt about the silly idea that humans are responsible for what you think a mess.

LJ         Who are you? I’ve never seen you around Sandpoint.

MC         I don’t ordinarily identify myself with a name, but rather by my wonderful contributions to the world. Some choose to call me “Mother Culture.” I am in charge of designing human society, and if I do say so myself, I have done a splendid job of it.

LJ         I’ve never heard of you. Is there anyone here who can answer her objections?

MN         I can.

LJ         And who are you?

MN         I am Mother Nature. I’m sure you’ve heard of me. I am painfully familiar with Mother Culture’s ideas. Her objections basically target me and my laws.

MC         Of course I object to you. And for many 1000’s of years I have been teaching humans to overcome you. They have learned well, if I do say so myself. Little by little they have come to understand that they are exempt from your annoying and inconvenient laws, and that there is no limit to what they can achieve.

MN         Really? How interesting! You call it progress, but at what price?  Your cleverness has caused a lot of damage to the Earth, and Mankind needs the Earth in order to live. Why don’t you teach them instead to use their cleverness to save the Earth?   They’ve used up most of the Earth’s oil and now the climate is changing –

MC   Now, there you go again, exaggerating a little change in temperature.  My goodness, the culture that brought you leaf blowers, SUVs, and YouTube will easily be able to conquer the Universe and make it ours!

MN  The Universe is a mystery to be celebrated, not solved.  Humans lived in harmony with the Universe for hundreds of thousands of years, and they can learn to do so again, and have more time to experience life.

MC  Ugh!  If they just enjoy life and let everything go, they will never make any progress.  The Culture that brought you Chicken McNuggets, Botox, and American Idol will really get them somewhere even more wonderful.

MN  Well, the way I see it, they are already somewhere.  They are here.  They are surrounded by life in all its many forms.  You could teach them that all other beings are their brothers and sisters, who are to be respected and treasured instead of exploited in your never-ending search for more stuff.

MC  Lower forms of life are not my relatives!  The world was made for Man, and no other life forms have any rights.  It’s pointless to talk to you, Mother Nature.  You are hopelessly old-fashioned.

MN  The Earth is dying, Mother Culture, and I will not let that happen to it.

MC  You couldn’t be more wrong.  Mother Culture will fool you yet.

MN  In that case, I have only one more thing to say to you.

MC  And what is that?

MN  Its not nice to fool Mother Nature (Thunder & exit)



                                    10. Finale (de Nile) and Bows

Climate Scientist Stirs Up A Storm


Climate Scientist Stirs Up A Storm

Stranded Polar Bear – Arctic Ice                                    by Ken Fischman, Ph.D.

       James Hansen, the NASA scientist, was among the first persons to bring Global Climate Change to the attention of the general public.  Near the end of his 2009 book, “Storms of My Grandchildren,” he states “Our culture has notions that humans are godlike & can produce miracles.”

Along about this time, the reader may be hoping for a miracle because Hansen has presented such a compelling picture of how and why we have put ourselves in a global fix, that our ability to get out of it seems greatly in doubt.

It is not that we do not understand the nature of the problem. Hansen lays out the evidence in a very convincing fashion. It is not that there are no remedies. Hansen explains clearly what we need to do and has excellent suggestions of how to go about it.

No, the main problem is, does mankind have the courage to face the truth about climate change and the willingness to make adjustments to avoid the consequences he describes?

I think that a few words about why Hansen chose the title, “Storms of My Grandchildren, “ would be appropriate here. Indeed, to understand his impetus for writing the book, it is necessary to know that beyond being a scientist, Hansen cares about what kind of world his grandchildren will face if we do not mend our ways.

In fact, despite sounding like a present day Cassandra a lot of the time, Hansen is an optimist, both about finding ways to slow down global climate change and in his belief that humans are not inherently deniers of painful truths, but are willing to look at the situation with unflinching eyes, and do whatever it takes to save ourselves. Otherwise he would not have bothered to write this book.

If Hansen’s predictions fail at all, it is in assuming that it will be our children and grandchildren, and not ourselves, who will suffer the consequences of climate change. In fact, he lays out a good deal of evidence that many of the predicted climate changes are happening sooner and proceeding faster than most scientists, being basically cautious souls, had anticipated. One of his most important messages to us, although it is in my opinion, one he does not emphasize enough, is that climate change is not something in our future. It is happening now, and it is we, who have to do something about it.

How do we know that Global Climate Change is occurring and that humans are mainly responsible for it? If you really want to know, this is the book for you. It is a fact-based examination of the evidence for GCC, the dangers that it holds for humankind and other life, and a blueprint for what we can do about preventing this incipient catastrophe.

“Storms” is loaded with graphs, tables, and definitions of technical terms. It could be a challenge to the casual reader, although Hansen has gone to great lengths to explain these concepts in plain language.

In order to make his important message as accessible as possible, I have written a comprehensive summary of the book, emphasizing facts and evidence just as Hansen does.

Of course I could not resist adding my own two cents every once in a while. For the purpose of  distinguishing my comments and ideas from those of Hansen, I have italicized mine.


Summary and Comments about “STORMS OF MY GRANDCHILDREN”, James Hansen, 2009, Bloomsbury Publishing, London

By Ken Fischman, Ph.D.

 In examining Global Climate Change (GCC), there are certain key quantities to look for and potential tipping points (points at which the buildup of minor changes or incidents reach a level that triggers a more significant change) to watch: (1) continued and faster melting of the West Antarctic & Greenland ice sheets; (2) the % of CO2 emissions in the atmosphere; and (3) an increase in atmospheric methane

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Global CO2 Emissions

Hansen explains that his reasons for concentrating on these aspects are the following sobering facts: (1) Deterioration of ice sheets is leading to an increase in sea level and the number and intensity of storms; (2) an increase in atmospheric CO2 will increase Global Warming (GW) and trigger positive feedbacks (a response to an activity which increases the activity, spiraling out of control); e.g. increases in atmospheric methane also warm the biosphere, which in turn causes release of more methane from continental shelves and arctic tundra, which further warms the biosphere, etc. (Methane, although there is less of it in our atmosphere than there is of CO2, is a 20 – 30 X times stronger warming agent, molecule for molecule.)

In global warming, politics and science are inextricably intertwined. Hansen pulls no punches and plays no favorites, excoriating both Democrats and Republicans  for their unwillingness to deal with it., He first tells of his meetings with Republican VP Cheney and others in the Bush administration, describing his frustration in trying to deal with them.

Keystone XL Pipeline Route

He then goes on to accuse President Obama of failing to combat GCC in several ways: Obama has approved the concept of a tar sands pipeline, although tar sands are an even worse source of GW than are coal and oil.  He has approved new coal plants, despite their spewing large amounts of CO2 into the air. (Hansen makes the point that the consequences of GW are already so advanced, that any new sources of CO2 would be dangerous to the health of the planet).

Obama has also advocated Cap and Trade, a type of law that would put a ceiling on the amount of CO2 that can be emitted. The problem with this approach is that it rewards CO2 pollution, by allowing the polluter to sell the right to pollute to others. This only insures that its level will continue to increase.

Our government is also funneling billions of dollars to energy companies to produce “clean coal” The only problem with that, is there is no such thing. All coal burning releases more CO2 into the atmosphere.

Hansen also says that appointed high government scientists cannot contradict the President. Therefore honest criticism of governmental scientific policies can come only from career scientists or from outside the government. That is one of the reasons Hansen gives for writing this book.

Hansen states boldly that “Our planet … is in imminent danger of crashing.” and  that “It may be necessary to take to the streets to draw attention to [social] injustice.” He also states that “It is our last chance.”  There are warnings like this sprinkled liberally throughout the book, probably to make sure that the readers do not miss them. They will not.

Many environmental organizations urge people to reduce their “Carbon Footprint.” (the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by a particular person, group, etc. due to the consumption of fossil fuels). Hansen says that the problem with individual attempts to reduce Carbon Footprints is that this would lead to a reduction in energy prices, which in turn acts as an economic incentive for others to use more fossil fuels, ultimately putting more CO2 into our atmosphere. For this reason Hansen believes that only government action and international accords can be effective in  reducing atmospheric CO2.

Here is a crucial point to remember. When Hansen wrote his book in 2007, there were 275 Parts Per Million (PPM) of CO2 in our atmosphere.  Now, five years later, in 2012, there are already 295 PPM. Using all of our fossil fuel reserves(2,795 Gigatons) would lead to an additional increase of 30 PPM in the atmosphere, pushing CO2 to well over 300 PPM, a level never before reached.

Global Carbon Emissions

Sea level rise will be one of the most devastating effects of climate change. Hansen and others have calculated that further ice sheet disintegration would lead to acceleration of changes that will take place, not in a hundred years, but within decades, and a rise in sea level of about 80 M (250 ft) is possible. One billion people would be effected.  A sea level rise of even 1 – 2 M would adversely effect hundreds of millions of people. Yet, loss of the West Antarctic ice sheet alone would result in a rise of 6 -7 M in sea level. He states unequivocally that “Ice sheet collapse and a sea level rise of several meters is a dead certainty.”

For comparison purposes, 14,000 yrs ago, at the start of the Holocene (the present geological epoch), the sea level changed 1 M (3.2 ft.) in 20 – 25 years, making a considerable change in the planet’s ecosystems

Hansen then tackles the effect of GCC on storms: He tells us that they will certainly be more powerful (and perhaps more frequent) in this century. Storms like tornadoes, thunderstorms, hurricanes, and typhoons will become more common and powerful. (a 10% increase in wind speed increases damage by 33%).  The region subject to tropical storms almost surely will expand (e.g. until Catarina hit S.E. Brazil in 2004, no cyclone had ever been recorded there). There will be more destructive mid-latitudes Frontal Cyclones.  The intensity of superstorms (like “The Perfect Storm” that hit New England in 1991) will increase.

Scientists studying Ice Sheet Disintegration have warned that due to their rapid melting and destruction, there will be a rapid sea rise within generations i.e. within the lifetimes of our grandchildren & perhaps our children.

Increases of only 1 M in sea level, together with more powerful storms, will have horrendous consequences. e.g. they would hit 1-2 magnitudes (each magnitude is a 10-fold change) higher population than Hurricane Katrina, which struck New Orleans in 2005.

 It is not a question of whether, but of when. As I read this, the effects of the 2012 “derecho” superstorm (a widespread, long-lived, straight-line windstorm that is associated with a fast-moving band of severe thunderstorms), were still being assessed. It killed at least two dozen people and left millions in the Mid Atlantic states without electricity for up to a week during a record breaking heat wave (114° F in Washington, D.C.).

Some changes caused by GCC have already taken place faster than were anticipated: (1) It has caused the disappearance of Arctic sea ice in the summer, and with it, a rise in sea level and ocean temperatures; (2) It has brought about the expansion of subtropical climate to more northern latitudes, bringing a change in flora and fauna e.g. cases of Nile Fever, a viral disease in which mosquitoes, formerly found only in the tropics, are the vectors (or carriers) were reported in Southwest Idaho in July, 2012; (3) It is causing melting of mountain glaciers all over the world. This loss of glaciers will bring about a water crisis for  millions of people dependant on them for their drinking and irrigation water. Not far from my home in Northern Idaho, the glaciers of the eponymously named Glacier National Park are disappearing.

Hansen has an additional warning about methane. If methane hydrates (The form in which most methane is sequestered in ice, tundra, and along the Continental Shelves) are released in large quantities, these changes will accelerate. This  may already be occurring. _Igor Semiletov of the International Arctic research Center has reported finding large holes in Arctic ice in the Spring of 2012, through which escaping methane was detected .

We may have as much methane hydrate as that which drove the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), an event which occurred 54 million years ago and increased global temperatures 5 – 9 °C. (that amounts to about to 16° F, an increase I believe to be incompatible with life, at least as we know it). If ocean circulation changes so that warm Pacific currents sink, releasing those methane hydrates from the Continental Shelves, we have no known way to reverse the process.

Some climate skeptics insist that the predicted temperature changes in the Earth’s climate can cause little damage. In retort, Hansen points out that on the contrary, the Little Ice Age (1600 – 1850) was caused by a decrease of only ½ degree Celsius.

Hansen goes on to point out that this increase in methane is also one of three probable Ratcheting Effects (effects that trigger other similar and more powerful ones). These are as previously mentioned: (1) Intensification of storms; (2) Disintegration of ice sheets; and (3) Further melting of methane hydrates.

He anticipates that there will also be amplifying or positive feedbacks (cf.) e.g. If ice and snow melt, the Earth absorbs more sunlight, which, in turn, warms the Earth so that more ice and snow melt, etc. etc. What such feedbacks lead to is not only increase in amount, but also acceleration of the rate of increase. Increases in methane and nitrogen oxides produce such amplifications.

Some critics of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), the main scientific body studying GCC, fault it for relying too much on computer modeling. These critics will find an unexpected ally in Dr. Hansen. In his opinion, Global Climate Change Models are not as accurate as Paleoclimate data. e.g. they failed to predict the recent Arctic sea ice loss. Why? The Earth is too complex a system to anticipate & include all relevant factors. Nevertheless, the predictive abilities of climate  science are pretty good. For example, forecasts of the temporary cooling effect of Mt. Pinatubo’s (Philippines) eruption in 1991 on world climate turned out to be accurate.

Fortunately, Hansen points out, we do not have to guess about these complex factors. We have records of past climate changes in glacial ice cores, as well as mountaintop  and antarctic snow, that we can compare with present and anticipated climate alterations. These findings give scientists a pretty good idea of what conditions to expect in the future, under similar circumstances.

The IPCC comes in for additional criticism from Hansen despite their extensive research and detailed reports.  He believes that they do not give sufficient warning of the dire consequences of GCC.  He says that the IPCC reports minimize the dangers of the likely sea level rise, and that their estimate of the highest level of GW is not high enough. He also faults them for not presenting scenarios and strategies to avert the dangers that would be brought on by continuation of present climate policies.

Hansen points out that one of our biggest problems in convincing people of the reality of GCC is one of perception. The changes brought about by Global Warming so far, are usually much less than the daily fluctuations in weather with which people are familiar.

Global Temperature Index




It is instead the frequency, persistence, and location of these perturbations that will make them so dangerous. Mankind and the rest of life can survive occasional big storms, heat waves, droughts, etc. but, what will happen when they become the norm instead of anomalies?

Among the questions that scientists have not yet been able to solve are the effects of Aerosols (fine particles in the air, e.g. soot) on the climate.  Aerosols cause cooling, and this can at least partially offset effects of Global Warming. The main problem is that we cannot measure future amounts of aerosols in the atmosphere because many of these are man-made and others come from unanticipated natural causes (cf. the eruption of Mount Pinatubo). So, aerosols may be masking Global Warming, but scientists have difficulties in measuring the extent of their effects.

Some engineers have actually advocated deliberately injecting aerosols into the atmosphere to offset effects of climate change. There would be one big difficulty in doing this. Aerosols are health hazards, causing particulate pollution.

Next, Hansen tackles the question of what changes GCC is causing at the present time. He lists a number of those that can readily be measured: (1) Melting of mountain glaciers; (2) Shifting climate zones; (3 Increasing fires & flooding; (4) Loss of Arctic sea ice; (5) Loss of coral reefs (& biodiversity); (6) Shrinking of Greenland & Antarctic ice sheets;  (7) Rising sea level; and (8) Extinctions.

One of the most important things that a scientist can do, to show that his/her studies or theories are correct, is to use them to make accurate predictions. Being able to do so, solidifies the previous findings. Hansen does this, and it is eye opening. Storms was written in 2007, and in it Hansen states that as oceans move into a positive El Nino phase in 2009, expect global temperature increase in the next few years.

March 2012 State Temperatures

2009 turned out to be the 2nd hottest year on record,  2010 was the hottest year on record. (2012 is now on track to surpass both of these years).

Even scientists have feelings, and occasionally they are willing to talk about them. Hansen tells a story of driving to yet another meeting, where he was desperately trying to convince people of the reality and dangers of GCC, when he hit a deer unexpectedly dashing on to the highway. Of course, most people would be upset by such an accident, but Hansen started weeping uncontrollably. He realized only later that he was not only crying for the deer, but for the planet.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Global Temperature Change 1881 -2009

There is no question in the minds of scientists what the main factor is that is driving climate change. It is CO2 Emissions. There is a global natural carbon cycle, involving plants and animals. This cycle has now been altered by humans, mostly through burning of fossil fuels and deforestation. Among the worrisome things about this change is that human driven emissions increased from 2003 – 2008 by 3.5%, and an industrially booming China has passed the USA as the chief CO2 emitter.

In another example of a positive or amplifying feedback, Global Warming will increase drought & forest fires in the Amazon Forest and turn it into a large source of CO2 emissions. If we continue our business as usual scenario, this will result in increasing these amplifying feedbacks, and they may spin out of control.

A sobering story that Hansen tells is about a time that he talked on TV with the famed interviewer Larry King.  When he told King that some of the effects of GCC will appear in the next 50 years, King replied that “Nobody cares about 50 years from now.”

King was telling the bitter truth. Humans seem to be programmed by evolution to react to immediate dangers, and ignore future ones. Perhaps this enables us to concentrate our energies and focus on the task at hand. (see Jared Diamond’s book, Collapse) This tendency however, to ignore future dangers is particularly unfortunate with reference to GCC because by the time some of these predictions come true years from now, we will probably have reached the point of no return. We will have no good solution to them.

The IPCC typically presents low and high estimates of their predictions. What will happen to life on earth if temperatures hit the high end of the IPCC’s predictions, around 8° C ?   The last time our planet’s temperature was 2 – 3 ° C  higher than now was the Middle Pliocene, 3 million yrs ago. The sea level was 25 M (80 ft) higher and Florida and many other areas were under water. One billion people now live in those formerly under-water areas. Anyone want to buy some seaside property?

Hansen tells us that paleontologists have identified five time periods in the Earth’s history when mass extinctions took place. The 5th Extinction was called the End Permian Event, and it happened 251 million yrs ago. 90 % of all species became extinct and nearly all life was wiped out. The causes of the Permian Extinction were acidification and warming of the seas, the same processes that are now occurring. The 6th Extinction is now under way. It is man-made, and the current extinction rate is 100X the natural rate.

As Hansen previously stated, one of the best ways of understanding the climate changes awaiting us is to look for and examine the effects of similar events that have already occurred. The Paleo Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) occurred about 56 million yrs. ago, at the boundary of the Paleocene & Eocene epochs. The changes then were comparable to the anticipated ones now, but they took place over millennia, not in less than 100 years. Will we and the rest of life be able to accommodate to such large changes, taking place at least ten times faster? Recovery from PETM took about 100,000 yrs.

         The present manmade emissions of CO2 when compared with similar but natural phenomena – are 10,000X greater.(e.g. a man strolling thru a park at 2 MPH compared with the Space Shuttle leaving Earth at 17,500 MPH). Also, humans are simultaneously stressing the planet in other ways – overharvesting of fisheries, deforestation, taking over much of the planet for our livestock (Stephen Augustine, Spokesman for Sandpoint Vegetarians, informed me that we and our animals and plants now occupy 95 % of the arable land on earth!). Our population is continuing to increase.

Doctor Hansen, along with author and environmentalist Bill McKibben, head of, have said that we should have a ceiling of 350 parts/million (PPM) for CO2 emissions. Why should the target be 350 PPM when CO2 concentration in the earth’s atmosphere is already high?

The reasons Hansen gives are compelling. Climate change events are already exceeding safe levels and we may not be able to role back or even stabilize these levels. For one thing, Arctic sea ice is already declining at a rate beyond scientists’ expectations.  He also points out that most mountain glaciers will disappear within the next 50 yrs, and as previously stated, these glaciers are a source of water for millions of people. Furthermore, the Greenland & West Antarctic ice sheets are now losing 100 cubic Kms per year.

(Just to give you an idea of the magnitude of this loss, it is 5X the volume of the Great Salt Lake in Utah, and we do not know how to reduce or stop it,  Two pieces of the Greenland Glacier, one the size of Manhattan Island and the other twice that size, have broken off within the last few months).

Ice Island Breaks Away

         The bad news continues. Subtropical regions are now expanding northward at a rate of 4 degrees of latitude/yr. (that is 280 miles), changing the ecosystems (cf. the spread of Nile virus into Idaho, an unprecedented northward sweep of a hitherto tropical disease). Dry regions are expanding in the southern US, Australia, and the Mediterranean region. Fire frequency and area in the southwestern US have expanded 300% in the past several decades.

Colorado Springs Wildfires




350 homes were destroyed in Colorado Springs a month ago and many parts of Texas are burning up as I am writing this in the summer of 2012. Lakes Powell & Meade are inexorably shrinking (they are now half full). Where will drinking and irrigation water for large parts of the Southwest and Southern California come from in the near future? Dr. Hansen has recently published a paperthat directly attributes the Texas heat wave last year, the Russian heat wave of 2010, and the European heat wave of 2003 to GCC. 

The scientific culture is a hypercritical one. Even fledgeling researchers quickly learn that fellow scientists will look for things in their publications that can be challenged. One of the more consistent criticisms of climate science publications has been that no single catastrophic event can be attributed to GCC because such events have also occurred at other times and places. For example hurricanes as powerful as Katrina, which devastated New Orleans, have occurred previously. Therefore climatologists look for trends and repetition of these events. For example, an increase in atmospheric CO2 in a single year or in one month’s temperature would not be considered significant. However Hansen, and other climate scientists have reported such alarming trends as consistent yearly increases in CO2 and month after month and year after year of record high temperatures. Such evidence is extremely impressive. To ignore its implications would fly in the face of critical thinking and common sense.

Coral reefs are being highly stressed. They contain a majority of marine organisms and are a major source of our planet’s biodiversity. This stress is caused by ocean warming and acidification, both due to increased CO2 concentrations in the water.

Hansen puts special stress on the melting of Arctic ice. The bottom fell out in 2007. As stated previously, the ice is melting much faster than climate models predicted. It is now at the point that models predicted for 2050, 38 years sooner than expected. There are two factors at work here: (a) the processes themselves, and; (b) the rates at which the processes occur. We know what is happening with great certainty but when they will occur depends on future events, which cannot always be known until they happen e.g. CO2 amounts that we put into the atmosphere.

Back on the human side of all this bad news, Hansen tells of his many frustrating encounters with US government agencies and highly placed individuals, like Vice President Cheney. He accuses these officials of trying to cover up their unwillingness to do much about climate change, and still claiming that they are in favor of limiting CO2 emissions. He calls this tactic “Greenwash” ( a form of “hogwash”?), and gives various examples of it:

  1. Allowing construction of new coal-fired power plants
  2. Allowing construction of coal to oil conversion plants.
  3. Allowing production and use of unconventional fuels, like tar sands.
  4. Leasing public lands and remote areas for oil and gas exploration
  5. Allowing Hydraulic Fracturing.
  6. Allowing Mountain Top Removal and Long Wall Coal Mining.
  7. To this list, I would add the possible approval of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline from Canada to Port Arthur and Houston, Texas, a decision that would come up in early 2013. ( By the way, if these tar sands were destined for domestic consumption as claimed, why not terminate the pipeline in Oklahoma (cf.), where there is plenty of oil refining capacity. In reality, this fuel is destined for overseas markets, thus fattening the pocketbooks of energy companies, but doing little or nothing  to make the US  energy self-sufficient). The key to this decision is the question as to whether the State Department will consider the effects of GCC in their evaluation. Duh!

Next, Hansen tackles the question of how can fossil fuels be reduced and phased out.  He believes that there are two efficient tools for accomplishing this crucial task. One, would be the use of energy efficiencies, prodded by increasing taxes on fossil fuels. The second is through the use of renewable energies with the use of tax incentives and requiring utilities to use renewable energy.

Perhaps the greatest impediment to reducing CO2 emissions is the increasing industrialization of the two most populous countries in the world, China and India. Yet, Hansen sees a ray of hope in this part of the world because both these countries would suffer from Global Climate Change:

  1. There would be over 100 million Bangladeshi refugees because their homelands would be under water. And, where would these refugees go, if not to India?
  2. In addition, 100 million Indians themselves live near the sea, and would be subject to storms and floods.
  3. Finally, three million Chinese live within the 25 M zone (c f.), and would also be flooded out.

Next, Hansen tackles some of what he considers bogus ideas that governments and environmental organizations have suggested for slowing down or alleviating GCC One is carbon capture at coal power plants. He states that doing this would increase costs 25%. It would cost trillions of dollars to retrofit Indian and Chinese plants. He states bluntly that this will never happen, and I believe him.

Another panacea proffered is  so-called carbon offsets, such as planting trees.  Hansen compares offsets to Medieval Indulgences, in that they allow polluters to continue to pollute. This is of course reminiscent of the problems inherent in Cap and Trade, which were discussed earlier in the book. His conclusion is that there is no free lunch. If we are going to stop or even slow down GCC, we cannot allow more CO2 to enter our atmosphere.

Winding up his evaluation of suggested methods for combating CO2 emissions, Hansen again compares Cap and Trade with Fee and Dividend: In Cap and Trade, a ceiling would be placed on the annual emission of CO2 in various industries, which would decrease in future years. Any company that was able to operate below its assigned emissions, could sell the rights to the unused emissions to another company. In Fee and Dividend, all CO2 emitting entities would be charged a fee for doing so, and the fee would be reimbursed to the citizens on an equal basis, perhaps as a tax reduction, to be used as the citizen wishes.

Hansen says that Cap and Trade would be a disaster for the planet because it is extremely complex, can be manipulated to keep pollution high, allows Congress to do whatever it wants with the money, and enables Wall Street to speculate with it, making a great deal of money for them with little effect on CO2 emissions.

On the other hand, Fee and Dividend is straight forward, does not allow the government to play with the money, and puts it right back in the citizen’s hands to do with as they please. They can use it to reduce their energy costs or to take a vacation in Tahiti. It is their money and their choice. He believes that it will definitely reduce CO2 emissions.

In 2008, British Columbia adopted a Fee and Dividend plan, using a carbon tax and pairing it with an equal reduction in payroll taxes. Five months later, it was in place and working. The effect has been a 4.5 % reduction of CO2 emissions in B.C. 

Hansen ends with the following conclusions:  (1) Government agencies accept as a god-given fact that we will burn all fossil fuels; (2) The biggest problem for democracy and the safety of our planet is the role of lobbies and flood of corporate money and influence on government; (3) Our culture has notions that humans are godlike & can produce miracles I call this belief technophilia. It is the contemporary version of a belief in miracles, which I referred to in the first paragraph of this Summary.

Hansen concludes his assessment by saying that if we destroy our planet, we destroy ourselves. What should we do? Keep atmospheric CO2 below 350 PPM. For a brighter future, we must move beyond fossil fuels and energy, and reduce human population.

Hansen’s final recommendations are (i.e. showing the radicalization of a scientist):

1. We must draw a line in the sand – no new coal plants.

2. “I am now studying Gandhi’s concepts of civil resistance.”


Some questions for the reader to consider:

• Do scientists have an obligation to become politically involved?

• Does Obama support control of Climate Change?

• What actions should we take? Change light bulbs or adopt civil disobedience?

• What do you think we should do about Climate Change contrarians & deniers? Hint: Iran just sentenced to death three bank officers involved in a two billion dollar fraud scheme. Perhaps Iran is not all bad. Think of what a salutary effect a similar policy on the part of this country would have on Wall Street attitudes .


 What would you ask Obama to do?

         •Disapprove the XL Pipeline?

         •Freeze coal extraction?

         •No new coal plants?

         •Reinstall Carter’s solar panels?


       I personally like the idea of Obama asking the National Academy of Sciences for a report on what our present climate change policies are doing, and what government policies on climate change should be in the future. This might create a ground swell for changing those present government policies.

Should environmentalists support Permitting of 4th Generation (or Fast-Reactor) Nuclear Plants? Just what is a 4th generation nuclear plant? I recently listened to a full hour discussion on NPR by nuclear experts about how to make nuclear power plants safer, and this topic was never mentioned. Is it merely a pipe dream?

         We have had: Three-Mile Island, Chernoble, and now, after the publication of Hansen’s book, Fukushima. Would Hansen still champion Phase IV Nuclear Fission plants? Did he convince you?

How would you respond to a person who says that he just had the coldest winter in many years in his town and therefore Global Warming is bunk?

As I am writing this post and trying to finish it, new reports on recent dire effects of GCC seem to be coming in daily. The latest one pinpoints July 2012 as the hottest month in the US since they started keeping such records 117 years ago. Is anybody out there listening?