Rutland Herald and Montpelier (Barre) Times Argus

Sunday May 25th, 2014

By Barrie Dunsmore


I had the occasion to sit beside a well-educated, professionally successful person at a dinner recently. Everything was fine, until I happened to raise the issue of climate change- and then it was as though I had turned on Fox News. Scientists disagree!  Climate change is a normal/natural phenomenon! Humans are not responsible! (And this was a new one on me – All this talk of climate change is simply a fad started by Al Gore to make himself rich!) I have to admit I did not just graciously change the subject. But I did hold back some of the choice, unprintable phrases I normally use in response to such oil industry brainwashing.

But that conversation demonstrated once again, what an uphill battle it is to get Americans to take climate change seriously. It may seem strange, that even as we witness historic patterns of extreme weather, in this country and around the world, the number of Americans dismissing climate change as a man-made phenomenon is actually rising - now to about thirty percent.

One of the reasons for the skepticism is the fact that the rise of surface temperatures around the globe has indeed slowed down since 1998. But that has to be seen in context. Current atmospheric temperatures are higher than any time in the past 4000 years, and the planet itself has gotten warmer in the past decade. Yet climate change deniers have used this pause in surface temperature increases as evidence that climate scientists’ dire predictions are wrong.

They aren’t. And there is important bad news/ good news on this front. Both were included in a report this past week in the New York Times. It begins:

 “El Nino is coming. Above average sea surface temperatures have developed off the west coast of South America and seem poised to grow into a full- fledged El Nino event in which usually warm water temperatures spread across the equatorial East Pacific. Models indicate a 75% chance of El Nino this fall, which could bring devastating droughts to Australia or heavy rains to the southern United States.”

Obviously that’s part of the bad news, as is the calculation, according to the Times report, that this round of El Nino, “will probably increase global temperatures, perhaps to the highest levels ever. It could even inaugurate a new era of more rapid warming.”

So what’s the good news? In the Times’ words, “A sustained period of faster warming won’t convert skeptics into climate change activists. But the accompanying wave of headlines might energize activists and refocus attention on climate change going into the 2016 presidential election. Those headlines could include landslides in Southern California and widespread floods across the South.” In other words, El Nino may prevent climate change deniers from continuing to use the pause in the rise of surface temperatures, to discredit climate scientists’ virtually unanimous conclusion that the real consequences of global warming are already upon us.

I know there are Democrats who are not yet convinced of global warming. But I am totally confident that being a climate change denier will not be mandatory to win the Democratic presidential nomination for 2016. That cannot be said with conviction about the Republicans. As evidence I submit the Washington Post’s Paul Waldman’s update of his “Where the GOP contenders stand on climate change.” (05/12/14)

Some highlights:

Florida Senator Marco Rubio, has lately offered vigorous climate denialism. “Our climate is always changing” he said, noting that human activity has nothing to do with it and that efforts to do something about it, “will destroy our economy.”

Texas Senator Ted Cruz is emphatically convinced the whole thing is a hoax. He told CNN this year, “Contrary to all the theories they are expounding, there should have been warming over the past 15 years. It hasn’t happened.” (Actually it has, as explained above.)

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul said in a recent interview that the earth goes through periods of time when the climate changes but he’s “not sure anybody knows exactly why.”

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed, advocating more production of fossil fuels, saying that President Obama “must put energy prices and energy independence ahead of zealous left-wing environmental theory.”

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed a “no climate tax” pledge, promising not to support any legislation that would raise taxes to combat climate change.”

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has in the past, cast himself as a skeptic if not outright denier. “I think global warming may be real” he said in 2011, but added, “It is not unanimous among scientists that it is disproportionately man-made.”

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rich Santorum says global warming is “a beautifully concocted scheme” by liberals.

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee once supported the Republican created market based cap and trade system, which successfully reduced acid rain. He now strongly denies ever having done so.

Of all the potential presidential nominates, only New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has not disavowed his earlier unequivocal position. He said in 2011, “When  you have over 90% of the world’s scientists who have studied this, stating that climate change is occurring and that humans play a contributing role, it’s time to defer to the experts.”

Now just why is it, that nearly every Republican presidential wannabe has decided that climate change is not real? It is very hard not to conclude- it’s all about the money. Since the Supreme Court opened the floodgates to virtually unlimited campaign contributions often secretly donated, significantly more than a billion dollars will be needed to get elected president in 2016.  And Republican candidates expect to receive much of their money from the oil, gas and coal industries – who by curious coincidence, just don’t happen to recognize climate change either.

Yet it seems to me, that given the scientific evidence, and with the future of the planet at stake, anyone denying the existence of man-made climate change, is demonstrably not fit to be president.

Rutland Herald and Montpelier (Barre) Times Argus

Sunday May 11th, 2014

By Barrie Dunsmore

This Just In 242


I do not pay any attention when Fox News attacks President Barack Obama for almost any reason, but especially over his foreign policy. When the neo-conservatives who brought us the Iraq War (John Bolton, the arrogant former United Nations Ambassador comes to mind) offer their strident critiques of what the president is doing wrong, I assume Obama must have it right. When Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham are on the Sunday talk shows decrying his “feckless” foreign policy, which they do almost weekly, I find that an appropriate time for a bathroom break.


All of the above are partisan rants by those, given their history, who have close to zero credibility with me.


But, when criticism comes from those who are thoughtful, knowledgeable and often supportive of this president, I pay it heed. This past week there were some notable such cases. 


Most, if not all, were evidently set off by an unfortunate choice of words in an Obama news conference in Manila during his recent Asian trip. The president was clearly defensive, frustrated and probably jet-lagged when he unwisely chose this baseball metaphor to describe presidential limitations in coping with such crises as Syria, Egypt and the Ukraine. “You hit singles, you hit doubles; every once in a while we may be able to hit a home run.”


That prompted this reaction from my good friend Richard Valeriani, a long time NBC diplomatic correspondent, in his blog for the Huffington Post:  “Poor choice of metaphor, Mr. President, since it makes one think you also strike out. While much of the criticism may be unfair or unfocused, you’re elected to be the clean-up hitter, not to lead off.  Nor do we expect you to wait for a walk.  Swing for the fences, Sir.  You’ll hit more home runs that way.”

David Ignatius, foreign affairs columnist for the Washington Post, took a  somewhat different tack. “In the realm of power politics, U.S. presidents get points not for being right but for being (or appearing) strong. Presidents either say they’re going to knock the ball out of the park, or they say nothing. The intangible factors of strength and credibility (so easy to mock) are, in fact, the glue of a rules-based international system.”


The New York Times editorial board, devoted its entire space last Sunday to “Obama and the World.” It too, worried about the weakness implied in the baseball comparison. “You don’t inspire a team to go out and bloop a single over an infielder. American presidents who stood as strong global leaders did so by setting high expectations in clear, if sometimes overly simplistic, ways. Mr. Obama’s comments last week fanned the anger of people on the left and the right who find him unfocused, weak and passive.”


If not just partisans, but even those who often support him think President Obama is projecting an image of weakness, then that is a serious problem. Although as the Times editorial went on to say, “It is paradoxical that, in key respects, Mr. Obama is precisely the kind of foreign policy president most Americans and their allies overseas wanted. He rejected the shoot-first tendencies of George W. Bush, who pretended to have all the answers, bungled two wars and asserted an in-your-face American exceptionalism that included bullying allies. We know where that got us.” We should. But it’s questionable how many Americans still remember.


Critics are quick to point out that Obama has now been president for five and a half years and he “owns” the problems he and this country face today. True. Yet the reality is that America’s economic problems were not of his making. And most foreign policy problems tie directly to the 2003 invasion of Iraq - a war of choice that was started under a false premise if not an outright lie. Iraq today is once again engaged in virtual civil war between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. Its wide open border is feeding both sides of the civil conflict in Syria. And its Shiite government is linked closely to Iran, one of America’s most troublesome adversaries. After having squandered more than a trillion dollars with the loss of 4600 Americans killed and tens of thousands wounded, that’s what the U.S. accomplished in Iraq.


I would argue that the decision to attack Iraq and that war’s final outcome, says much more about American impotence than anything Barack Obama has said, done or not done. And when Russian President Vladimir Putin calculates that he can get away with annexing Crimea from Ukraine (or more), you can be sure that he has also seen the polls showing that after the decade of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the vast majority of Americans have no stomach for another one.


Still, like most people, if there is one area of Obama’s policies that I have found troubling it is in Syria. With a death toll now at 150,000 and the additional human tragedy of millions of refugees, it is enough to make any hard heart bleed. Surely the United States could have made a difference? Perhaps. But bear this in mind. This is not just a civil war in Syria. It is a proxy war involving numerous countries, between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia, over who dominates the entire region. It has also become a war for al Qaida in Iraq, which has used the wide-open Syrian/Iraq border to assert itself in Syria and expand its malevolent influence on a grander stage - so far with some success.


Also consider this. According to an official Iraqi publication in 2012, based on official reports, the commercial news media and non-governmental organizations, there were over 162 thousand civilian and combatants killed during the conflict which followed the American intervention of 2003. Other independent estimates range much higher. But that death toll alone is a compelling reason to keep the United States out of another unwinnable Middle East war. As it applies to Syria, doing so may still be the right decision.

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