Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Logic of Denial

After spending some time trying to understand where skeptics of climate change are coming from, I think I am starting to see the light.

The arrogant scientists who think humans can influence climate remind me of all those scientists around the world claiming that too much fast foods and junk foods high in fat, sugar and calories are unhealthy and bad for you. I am guessing they are paid to come up with such conclusions. Fortunately, there are a few smart folks working on behalf of the Junk Food and Fast Food Industry Association proving just how wrong all those scientists are. They have assured me that junk food and fast food is healthy. I believe them. I know a guy who eats at McDonalds a lot and he is pretty skinny. I think these "health nut" scientists are involved in a plot, a hoax, to harm the American food service economy.

Similarly, there are scientists all over the world claiming cigarettes are bad for us. I have no doubt they are paid to come to such ridiculous conclusions. They are obviously part of a hoax out to destroy the American tobacco industry and hurt the poor, hard-working farmers who grow fine, healthy tobacco. Fortunately, there are a handful of good, smart folks working on behalf of the tobacco industry to show us how wrong most of the world’s scientists are. I trust them. After all, I knew a guy who smoked nearly two packs a day and lived to be 90.

Now the liberal elitists are out to control Americans and destroy the fossil fuel industry. They are wealthy, powerful and influential enough to have paid a majority of the world’s scientists to fabricate so-called peer-reviewed research and cooperate in a massive, world-wide conspiracy and hoax claiming that human emissions of C02 and other so-called “greenhouse” gasses are causing our planet to warm, melting glaciers and icecaps, changing ocean temperatures and currents and thereby altering regional and global climate. They have even managed to manufacture actual, observable changes in temperatures, weather and related impacts to land, water and wildlife which they pretend to have predicted. Fortunately, there are a handful of smart people working on behalf of the fossil fuel industry who have proved that the overwhelming majority of the world’s scientists are wrong. Fortunately, they have exposed the hoax. I trust them. After all, we had a couple cold days and big snowstorms this year and Senator James Inhofe was able to throw a snowball on the Senate floor in Washington DC in February.

What’s next? Is some liberal, elitist scientist going to try and prove to us that the world is round?

Monday, July 27, 2015

Skeptics and Deniers are Dangerously Wrong (The Science Is In)

"Global Warming" by Fernando Agudelo
There is a deceptive, disingenuous video circulating the cyber world called "What They Haven't Told You About Climate Change" produced by Prager University, a nonprofit organization that claims to offer "knowledge and clarity on life's biggest topics at no cost" through "awesome five minute videos" from a "conservative perspective." Even their name is deceptive. "We are not an accredited academic institution," reads the disclaimer on their website, "and we don't want to be." The so-called “University” was created by nationally syndicated conservative talk radio show host Dennis Prager. Their recently-released climate change video features Patrick Moore, who left Greenpeace years ago to become a paid spokesman for corporate polluters and is now a consultant for the nuclear and fossil fuel energy industry. (During a recent interview with  a French television station, Moore was asked about the safety of the herbicide glyphosate. He told the interviewer that one "could drink a whole quart of it" without any harm. When Moore was challenged to drink a glass of the weedkiller, he refused and ended the interview.)  In the Prager climate change video -- in a excruciatingly monotone voice and tedious manner -- he seems to be reading from scripted cue-cards that just might as well have been provided by the Koch brothers.

He does bring up an interesting analogy: Climate change deniers are, indeed, similar to those who deny the Holocaust – they all ignore overwhelming evidence and fabricate their own crazy “truths.” They are no different from those who claim cigarettes aren’t really bad for you. In fact, many of the people now paid by the fossil fuel industry to spread climate-change denial were once paid by tobacco companies to discredit and refute the overwhelming scientific evidence about the toxic dangers of smoking.  

There exists a well-funded, highly-complex, fairly coordinated "denial machine" made up of pseudo scientists, fossil fuels corporations, conservative think tanks, politicians and various front groups fighting against what they perceive as a threat to a western social order built by industrial capitalism powered by fossil fuels. They specialize in manufacturing conspiracies, hoaxes, skepticism, uncertainty and doubt. They attack good, sound science. They lie.

Prager University and Patrick Moore are part of that propaganda machine. 

Moore says our climate has changed before. He is correct. He is incorrect in claiming we don’t understand why those changes occurred. We do.

Thanks to what we collectively call “science,” here is what we know: Carbon Dioxide (C02) and methane were involved in all of Earth’s past changes in climate. When they were reduced, global climate became colder. When they were increased, global climate became warmer. When C02 levels jumped rapidly, the global warming that resulted was highly disruptive and sometimes caused mass extinctions. Humans today are emitting prodigious quantities of C02 at a rate faster than even the most destructive climate changes in earth's past.

Most living organisms have time to adapt and change along with gradual changes in climate; most living organism do not have time to adapt and change to abrupt changes – changes like we are seeing today.

Life flourished in the Eocene, the Cretaceous and other times of high C02 in the atmosphere because greenhouse gasses were in balance with carbon in the oceans and the weathering of rocks. Life, ocean chemistry, and atmospheric gasses had millions of years to adjust to those levels. But there have been several times in Earth’s past when temperatures jumped abruptly, in much the same way as they are doing today. Those times were caused by large and rapid greenhouse gas emissions, just like humans are causing today. Those abrupt global warming events were almost always highly destructive for life, causing mass extinctions. The symptoms from those events (big, rapid jumps in global temperatures, rising sea levels, and ocean acidification) are all happening today with human-caused climate change.

So yes, Moore is absolutely right: Our climate changed before, even before humans came along, but scientists know why. In all cases we see the same association between C02 levels and global temperatures. Past examples of rapid carbon emissions (just like today) were highly destructive to life on Earth.

Moore also says there is no correlation between atmospheric C02 levels and changes in Earth’s temperatures. He is wrong. They fit like pieces of a puzzle; a puzzle that an overwhelming majority of the world’s top scientists are collectively putting together.   

Thanks to science, here are a few other things we know about past changes in Earth’s climate that Moore failed to mention: Sudden releases of freshwater from glacial lakes can rapidly modifying the surface circulation in the North Atlantic and the climate of adjacent regions. Massive volcanoes can have similar affects. The oscillation between glacial and warm conditions can also result from periodic and predictable changes in the Earth's orbit around the sun. These changes influence the seasonal distribution of solar radiation and can potentially cause abrupt changes in El NiƱo, monsoons and the global atmospheric circulation. Scientists also hypothesize that abrupt changes in climate can result from “crossing thresholds,” such as when fresh water from melting ice rapidly flushes into the North Atlantic, shutting down ocean thermohaline circulation that influences climate with regional and global consequences.

What is ocean thermohaline circulation?  It is something we have come to understand though science. Driven by the sun's heat absorbed by tropical oceans and impacted by variations in salt content in the water, thermohaline circulation is a powerful force on the world's climate system. It’s conveyer belts of currents, moving water of various temperatures around the planet that influence regional and global climate. 

As heat from the tropics is carried by the Gulf Stream into the North Atlantic where it is vented into the atmosphere, a deep convection of ocean waters is caused by surface cooling, with the flow of water then sinking to depths and then upwelling back to the surface at lower latitudes – making some parts of our planet colder or warmer than other parts. Some places are cold enough to freeze water into glaciers and icecaps. (Glaciers store about 69% of the world's freshwater. If all land ice melted our seas would rise about 230 feet. During the last ice age -- when glaciers covered more land area than today -- the sea level was about 400 feet lower than it is today. At that time, glaciers covered almost one-third of the land. During the last warm spell, 125,000 years ago, seas were about 18 feet higher than they are today. About three million years ago the seas could have been up to 165 feet higher.)  Frozen water releases salt, and thus when it melts it is salt-free. This factor and the heavier density of salty water is particularly important in polar regions where the convergence of fresh and saline waters influences ocean currents. In other words, when the frozen waters melt, not only do sea levels rise, but the world’s “conveyer belts” of currents change, slow down, perhaps stop and thus regional and global climates also change.   

Ocean thermohaline circulation is dynamic and has been known to dramatically shift, as it appears to have done just after the last Ice Age and perhaps during episodes of abrupt climate change. Shifts in the thermophile circulation’s  "conveyor belts" of ocean currents can cause major changes in climate over relatively short-time scales (10-20 years) which in turn can have enormous impacts.

Because massive human-induced releases of C02 and other greenhouse gasses are warming our planet and melting glaciers and polar ice caps, understanding the thermohaline circulation has become a major focus for scientists who conduct climate research. Here is what they have thus far discovered and accurately predicted: Thermohaline circulation is slowing down in as a result of greenhouse warming. The slowdown is occurring because the rapid melting of glaciers and icecaps is flushing freshwater into the North Atlantic making it less dense and less able to sink to depth.

In other words: The engine that runs the system is breaking down. We are breaking it. We can fix it, but some would rather deny the problem so as to protect greed and profit. They would rather kill the proverbial goose that lays the golden eggs, so they perpetuate and disseminate deceptive lies, half-truths and misconceptions to an ignorant public that has little understanding of science. Most of them, like Patrick Moore, get paid to do so.

Moore says warming trends have leveled off. He is wrong.

Records show that the Earth has been warming at a steady rate and there is no sign of it slowing any time soon. Last year (2014) was the hottest year on record. The global temperature was 1.24°F above the long-term average, besting the previous record holders by 0.07°F.  Thirteen of the 15 hottest years on record have all occurred since 2000. This is the 38th consecutive year with global temperatures above average. And that’s just surface temperature. Oceans give a much more alarming indication of the warming that is happening. More than 90% of global warming heat is absorbed by our oceans, while less than 3% goes into increasing the surface air temperature. Last year was the highest ocean temperatures on record, coming in at 1.09°F degrees above average. Oceans continue to warm, changing the currents that change temperatures that change regional and global climate.

Since global warming influences ocean currents that influence regional climates, this results in severe and record-breaking fluctuations in weather in various places – from unusually warm to unusually cold, at times, with more frequent extremes such as tornadoes, hurricanes and blizzards. This is why, on an unusually cold and snowy February day in Washington DC, Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma was able to throw a snowball on the Senate floor in an ignorant attempt to “prove” that human activity isn’t causing climate change. It’s also why Washington DC now experiences record-breaking heat most every summer, and why springtime in our nation’s capital is now, on average, seven degrees above the historical norm.

How do we know all this? Scientific data gathered through scientific research in accordance with rigorous standards of the scientific method and compiled by scientists into scientific reports that are scientifically peer-reviewed by other scientists who scrupulously and methodically try to find flaws in the works of their fellow scientists. Scientific theories, hypotheses and results are constantly challenged and tested over and over again until something is either disproved or, as is the case with human-caused climate change, an overwhelming consensus is reached. It would be impossible, yes impossible!, to bring together all the world's leading scientists to agree to a secretive plot. Climate change is not a hoax. The science is real.       

Moore says there is no consensus among scientists about human-caused climate change, that “the science is not in.”  He is wrong.   
In the scientific field of climate studies – which is informed by many different disciplines – the consensus is demonstrated by the number of scientists who have stopped arguing about what is causing climate change – and that’s nearly all of them.  A survey of 928 peer-reviewed abstracts on the subject of global climate change shows that not a single paper rejected the consensus position that global warming is man caused. A follow-up study of more than 12,000 peer-reviewed abstracts on the subjects of global warming and global climate change found that, of the papers taking a position on the cause of global warming, more than 97% agreed that humans are causing it.  The scientists who authored the research papers were also contacted and asked to rate their own reports, and again more than 97% who took a position on the cause said humans are causing global warming.

Several studies have confirmed that “The debate on the authenticity of global warming and the role played by human activity is largely nonexistent among those who understand the nuances and scientific basis of long-term climate processes.”  In other words: More than 97% of scientists working in the disciplines that contribute to studies of our climate conclude that current climate change is being caused by human activities. There are no national or major scientific institutions anywhere in the world that dispute the theory of human-caused climate change. Not one!

Why do so many Americans believe a handful of paid corporate lackeys and right-wing politicians who manufacture
conspiracies, hoaxes, skepticism, uncertainty and doubt instead of an overwhelming majority of the world's top scientists -- and the actual, growing evidence throughout our rapidly changing world that scientists have been predicting for years?  

It’s time to ignore dangerously ignorant corporate mouth-pieces like Patrick Moore -- people paid to fuel climate-change denial so as to protect greed and profit while diminishing the health of the planet that sustains us. It’s time to listen to the overwhelming majority of knowledgeable, informed scientists throughout the world who have reached near-unanimous consensus in regards to human-caused climate change. The science is in. It’s time we collectively move past denial towards acceptance and action.  

For more on climate change, please check out: "Our Wild World Unraveling: Thoughts on Climate Change from a Hunter, Fisherman and Backpacker," and
"A Bipartisan Call for Climate Action."

Monday, July 20, 2015

Spartan Camps: Hunting Elk Like a Force Recon Marine

Photo by Bob Knoebel
One October evening after chasing elk deep into the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, I realized that the traditional elk camp had a major drawback. Several bulls, all bugling up a storm, had enticed and befuddled me the entire day. When legal shooting hours were over, I had to hike 10 steep, rugged, off-trail miles on a rainy, moonless night back to the stove, food, and little dome tent that comprised my elk camp. A Stellar’s jay could have winged the trip in minutes, but it took me five hours of slipping, falling, and cursing. I went to sleep late and woke late, then trekked all the way back to where I’d come from the evening before, hoping to catch another glimpse of those elk. I was spending enormous amounts of time and energy traveling to and from my camp each day that could be spent hunting. Then it occurred to me: Why not hunt as if I were on a reconnaissance patrol?

At the time I was fresh out of the Marines, where for several years I’d served in a Force Recon Company. Our job was to venture on lengthy four-man missions to gather information. “Travel Light, Freeze at Night,” was our unofficial motto. When snooping around in places you’re not welcome, you can’t risk detection. You don’t make noise, build fires, or cook food. You pack as little as possible, move carefully, and stay concealed. We would travel for days, even weeks, carrying only a rifle and a butt pack with ammo, a canteen, and a small supply of MREs (Meals Ready to Eat). A rubber poncho with a thin, nylon liner served as bedding. When we rested, at least one person kept watch while the others huddled into a human ball covered with the liners and ponchos. It worked for military missions; why not elk hunting?

I set out on my next hunting trip wearing only a fanny pack containing a poncho, liner, and a few energy bars. I was determined to go wherever the elk took me and sleep wherever I ended up when darkness fell. With snow blowing in from the northwest, I spent the night on a treeless, windy ridge, where I learned a simple, harsh lesson: A solitary poncho and liner is not as warm as four and does little good without other warm bodies producing heat. I passed the night doing pushups, stomping my feet, and walking up and down the ridge to keep warm, all the while praying for the sun to rise. It wasn’t fun, but I survived. And when I heard elk bugling early the next morning , I was into them by first light.
Photo by Bob Knoebel

I liked the idea of carrying my camp on my back, with the freedom to follow elk anywhere and sleep anyplace. It was the “freeze at night” part that proved troublesome. Thus began my quest to develop the perfect Spartan, mobile elk camp. I ended up buying a narrow, fleece, Kevlar-frame backpack into which I pack a Gortex-shell down sleeping bag, rated to minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit. The bag stuffs down smaller than a football and weighs just 3 pounds. I still carry the poncho—to keep me dry while hiking in rain, shelter me if needed, and, when I’m fortunate enough to bone out an elk, keep dirt off the meat. With the addition of a hunting knife, map, and compass, along with several energy bars, some jerky, a survival kit, and a fleece jacket, I’ve kept the pack to under 10 pounds. (For water I drink from springs.) The pack doesn’t slow me down and allows me to draw and shoot a bow with no discomfort.

With my lightweight, portable elk camp I’ve been able to spend nights in remote places where I’ve had unforgettable experiences. One night I awoke to what sounded like a pack string of horses clambering up a rocky trail. I watched in the dark as a herd of elk passed only a few yards from where I lay, oblivious to my presence. Another time I woke to see a black bear, perhaps 30 yards away, looking at me curiously. Early one morning I found mountain lion tracks in fresh snow less than 50 feet from my bag. Another time I slept in a grassy avalanche chute, waking up several times to the symphony of bulls and seeing their dark silhouettes under the full moon.

Photo by Bob Knoebel
I have been fortunate to kill 25 elk using my Spartan camp method. When I kill one and work late into the evening boning it out, I can spend the night nearby (though a safe distance away in case of bears). Then I’m ready first thing in the morning to finish butchering, hang the meat under a spruce or alpine fir (to keep it cool, out of the sun, and away from scavengers), and take my first load out.

My portable elk camp isn’t perfect. I’m often hungry and sometimes lonely. Occasionally bad weather has made me wish I carried more gear. There’s a lot to be said for the camaraderie of other hunters and the warmth of a wood-heated wall tent. But most nights I’ve been comfortable enough to get some decent rest. Those times when the temperature plummets or heavy snow rolls in, I’ve been able to retreat to the trailhead and my car. A few times when hunting far into the backcountry, I’ve set up an “emergency” tent with supplies in a central location I can reach if the weather turns especially nasty.

As for loneliness, it’s worth being able to hunt where I want, when I want. I can roam the landscape without the nagging feeling that I have to be back at camp by a certain time. With elk camp on my back, I feel as wild, free, and as close to a natural predator as a person can possibly feel. I’ll take that experience over a cozy night’s sleep any day.

Note: This story was originally featured in the September-October 2011 issue of Montana Outdoors.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Knapweed is Ironic (Enjoy the Honey)

Photo by Dave Stalling
It's invasive, noxious and obnoxious. Yet it's pretty.

It makes for good honey, thanks to the ironic work of a declining species whose habitat it is harming because it displaces various nectar-producing natives that collectively, each in it's own time, flower from early spring until the first snows hit. Or at least when the first snows used to hit, more often than they do now within our warming world.

More irony: Our impacts to the earth exasperate the invasion of these non-native, drought-loving plants that thrive in soils recently disturbed by events such as floods, avalanches, off-trail "all-terrain" recreational vehicles, and wildfires -- events occuring more frequently and with more intensity than they historically did as the climate we are altering with greedy indulgence continues to change.

These foreign plants have negative, sometimes severe, consequences to our native flora and fauna which other native species evolved with and rely on -- including all the clean air, clean water, wild places and wild animals we enjoy and depend on for various reasons. 

And it's from Russia!

Having served during Reagan's cold-war years, the plant's nationality evokes a sad sort of sinister, evil-empire bias ironically twisted among guilty feelings related to the unfortunate fact that my "distaste for Russia" gullibility is still alive and mentally active.

The plant is waging psychological warfare.   

It's the rhizomatous perennial's version of the black widow. Yet it doesn't poison us, as could the spider, but instead it helps us kill ourselves. It's a vegetative form of the canary in the coal mine. Only it doesn't just offer us a pretty warning; it's thrives in our self-destructiveness.

Knapweed is ironic.  

Enjoy the honey.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Reoccurring Storms

I sometimes let myself have a day or so of depression, away from Cory of course, and face the storm in my head and try to at least calm it. Then I think how happy he is, how much he loves me and needs me, and how much I need and love him. I am so damned proud of him. He's an amazing young man.

It's not fair.

There was a time I retreated from it a bit; I disappeared into some bad, self-destructive escapes. That really was not fair to Cory.  Fortunately it was an unfairness I could do something about. I bounced back and I give it my best.

Tonight the storm returned; the raging head torment of "What could have been?"

This week a very close friend and former Marine comrade came to visit. We moved to Montana together out of the service and spent much of our time wandering remote, wild places year-round, for many years, taking long treks that were rigorously tough for us even back then in our late 20s fresh out of Force Recon. He has a son a few years older than Cory. They are as close as I think friends can be considering that he lives in Alabama. He is really sweet to Cory and Cory really looks up to him. Cory asks him a lot of questions about soccer and the South and southern food and whether or not he had a girlfriend or has danced with any girls. We spent a nice day on a wild river where Cory watched him swim to the other side, climb a cliff and jump off with his dad and me. I could tell Cory wished he could do it. I wish he could.

It's not fair.

My friend and his son headed out backpacking for a week. Cory used to go with me. He loved it. Until our trips grew more difficult for him, when he started falling a lot and cutting up his legs.  He never complained. He kept trudging. Once, we had to post-hole through deep snow to get over a pass and down to a lake of wild fish on the other side. Cory could not do it. His legs gave out rapidly. I said we should go back. He said no. I carried him through on my shoulders, when he was nearly too heavy to carry, which made the post-holing deeper and more difficult. I fell once and his face hit the snow so hard his lip was bleeding. I said we should turn back. He said no. I carried him the rest of the way, to where we dropped back down out of the snow. He caught and ate a lot of wild fish. We had a great time.

Last summer it became too much. We didn't make it far. It was the first time I ever carried a toilet seat with collapsible legs. But he needed it; he can't squat anymore. It reminds me of the last time he skied, before we knew but first started thinking something was wrong because his legs gave out quickly and he wanted to stop. He is losing interest. He's at the maybe phase with it. We might go again. Maybe. But I doubt it. At the age of 15 Cory has likely experienced his last backback trip.

It's not fair.

He says he'd rather camp near the car where's there's outhouses. I've always avoided such places, the places I call mild wild and defiled wild. The abstract wild. But I sure enjoy it with Cory . . . even while also sometimes wishing we were way back at no-name lake where the land has no trails -- except for those made by wild elk, moose and mountain goats.     

I thought about going with them, my friend and his son -- they were headed into country Jim and I used to roam back in the day. Way back. No trails. Thick north slopes of alder and menzesia brush. Tough bushwacking. Lakes with no names (and I mean it, really -- except for the names I give them, like "Dead Baby Goat Lake" and "Mad Moose Lake"-- but yes, I would call them no name even if they did.) Great fishing. No people. No judgement. It is what it is. It's wild. It's beautiful. It’s the real world. It’s life. Even in death.

I want Cory to know that; to experience what I've experienced.

It's not fair.

We got off to a great start. I started lugging him around the mountains before he could even walk -- the first time he couldn't walk, that is, at the age when most kids can't – with me carrying him on my back along with tent, sleeping bags, food, fishing rod and a stuffed animal or two. He got his own backpack as soon as he could walk, back when he walked and ran like most kids do. He has seen wild grizzlies and mountain goats, and wild elk and wolves, and wild black bear and moose. He has swam naked in wild rivers and lakes. He has put up with misquotoes and horse flies and rain and snow, cold and heat, and lightening and moons and stars. He has heard and felt the wild chilling music of wolves and loons. He has eaten wild elk and grouse, and wild trout and huckleberries. He can set up a tent and gather firewood, build a fire and catch and cook wild trout. He can tell the difference between a Doug fir and a "P" pine, and a black bear track and a grizzly track. He knows how to dismantle camp so nobody could ever know we were there, the only trace remaining in photos and our shared memories.

I watched Cory watch his friend pack for the adventure. I could tell it hurt. It hurt me.

But then we did other stuff, stuff he wanted to do. We floated and swam in wild rivers. I pushed him as far back as I could into the Rattlesnake in his wheelchair. We hung out at Barnes and Noble and talked about books and ideas. He is happy. I am happy when I am with him.

I try not to think too much into the future  . . . when the legs fully go, then the arms, then the heart and lung muscles. I try not to think about it.  

It's not fair.

Sometimes I finally, suddenly and unexpectedly write; It pours out with the tears.   

It’s 4:52 am. In three hours I need to get him up, cook him breakfast, make his lunch and get him ready for his first day at Improv Theater Camp. He loves theater. I'll probably go photograph wild things wild at camp. Later, we might go jump in a wild river. We'll both be happy.

Until late tomorrow night and into the wee hours of the morning.

It is what it is. It's wild. It's beautiful. It’s the real world. It’s life. Even in death.

It's not fair.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Silence Breaks Through

1:05 am:

So I am driving home stoned enough to be thinking about it when I also suddenly think about the irony of me wanting to put my seatbelt on -- not because I usually don't, but because usually I really don't. (For me that would be consistency, not irony.)

It was because the alarm was not going off. Nothing. Silence. There was no obnoxious "BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!" sound. And yet it should have been going off; it had every right to go off.

I hate it!

Yet now, now that the alarm was not going off, even though it should have been going off, and certainly had every right to go off . . . now, of all times, it was not going off.


Would this be the night my head breaks the windshield, tonight of all nights, the one night I did not defy good advice?  I really should put the damn seatbelt on. I actually wanted to.

Hence the irony. Silence broke though.

But right about then, when I have that very thought, and just as I am about to put the damn seatbelt on, the obnoxious noise starts up.


So I stopped. I sensed a trap.  It was yelling at me again. Barking orders. I cautiously backed out. I defied it.

But what of the morning alarm?


Time to get back into the wilds for awhile. The silence breaks through.