Category Archives: Keeping Watch on Earth News

In Benicia: Targeting the Mayor and other incivilities

By Roger Straw, August 27, 2019

A call-out on trash politics in my home town

Roger Straw, The Benicia Independent

Oh, where to start?  I’ve needed to write about this for a loooong time.

Back in 2007, I met City Councilmember Elizabeth Patterson, who had announced her candidacy for Mayor.  She seemed bright, and I was looking for something to do in my recent retirement.  So I volunteered to help.

Elizabeth is now a three-term mayor in Benicia, due in large part to her own energetic campaigning and exemplary leadership and service on the Council.  But you can’t get to be Mayor three times all on your own.  The community has risen to support her, volunteered, rallied, chipped in financially, and organized to get out the vote.

And yet, consistently over all these years, one very loud voice has publicly targeted and trashed our Mayor in the local newspaper and online media.  The frequency of invective (definition: insulting, abusive, or highly critical language) on the Forum Page of our paper has caused any number of residents to unsubscribe.  And one can only guess how many residents have chosen NOT to run for public office lest they be publicly and repeatedly abused.

That mean-spirited voice has not been entirely alone.  The usual political spectrum of varying opinions, indeed the common dualism of right and left, has surfaced here.  The variety is welcome, and mostly positive, but we have seen a number of disrespectful voices as well, some less subtle than others.  Even some of the Mayor’s colleagues on Council have occasionally seemed to express distaste rather than simple opposing opinions of substance.

Why?  It’s not all about this particular Benicia mayor. recently published a fascinating article, “Targeting the Mayor” which relies on a new study published in the journal State and Local Government Review.  The study “finds that most mayors contend with verbal hostility or physical intimidation at rates above those of the general workforce.”  And mayors who are women are abused more often than others.

“In all, 79 percent of mayors reported at least one form of “psychological abuse,” which the survey defined to include harassment, being demeaned or receiving threats. Disrespectful comments or images on social media were by far the most frequent means of abuse. Nearly half of mayors similarly experienced harassment, while 13 percent reported threats of violence directed toward them.

“…While it’s not at all surprising that mayors encounter negativity, some face much more frequent offenses than others. The only factor that predicted both psychological abuse and physical violence was gender, with women more than twice as likely to experience such incidents as men….”

Mayoral abuse may be common, but it’s not right.  And gender bias may still motivate many, but it should have no place at City Hall or in our public discourse.

It is time that Benicians take on civility in our local politics as an issue to be faced openly and dealt with publicly and persistently.

The local newspaper must begin to assert it’s journalistic prerogative, taking responsibility to ban not only libelous content and trash talk, but also to specifically end the long-standing targeting of individuals.

Editorial responsibility is NOT censorship.  Mary Susan Gast wrote a beautiful explanation of this in her 2018 letter to the Benicia Herald editor:

As individuals and groups we are free to speak our beliefs and opinions to anyone who will listen; that’s freedom of speech. Freedom of the press is freedom from interference by the government in reporting.  Freedom of the press is not an author’s right to have his or her works published by other people.  As the journalist A.J. Liebling has said, “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.”  Legal historian Lucas A. Powe offers further clarification:  “Freedom of the press gives the printer or publisher exclusive control over what the publisher chooses to publish, including the right to refuse to print anything for any reason. If the author cannot reach a voluntary agreement with a publisher to produce the author’s work, then the author must turn to self-publishing.”   [from The Fourth Estate and the Constitution:  Freedom of the Press in America, 1991]

And it’s not just the newspaper and social media.

In 2020, Benicia will enter into another round of electoral campaigns.  There was some trashy advertising by organized labor and Valero Benicia Refinery in our last election, repeatedly targeting one candidate.  Benicia’s Open Government Commission has proposed strengthening the public campaign finance ordinances to help guard against undisclosed outside corporate interests influencing our elections.

Stronger city ordinances will help, but I doubt they will be enough.  In an era dominated by a trash-talking President, how can we expect our neighbors — individuals or corporations — to exhibit civil behavior during a consequential election?

Well, we can.  And we must.  The candidates themselves can help.  Each candidate in next year’s contest should highlight the need for civil discourse and respectful exploration of differences of opinion.  Every candidate forum should begin with a moderator’s call to civil discourse and a shaming of trash politics.  Churches, civic organizations and local political groups could weigh in.  And yes, during campaign season, our local editors will need to be up to the challenge.

Let’s make Benicia a city with politics that make us proud!


    Earth Is Sizzling and Needs All the Help It Can Get

    Inaction isn’t an option as global warming accelerates., by Noah Smith, August 23, 2019, 4:30 AM PDT

    Carbon in the air.
    Carbon in the air. Photographer: Mario Tama/Getty Images South America

    As Greenland’s glaciers melt, Siberia’s permafrost turns to slush, the Amazon burns and the Arctic sizzles, this summer of record heat should serve as a reminder of the imminence of climate change. A warming world isn’t decades away — it’s here now, as the carbon emissions that accelerate warming keep rising.

    It’s critical for the U.S. to reduce its own carbon emissions to help combat this threat. A number of Democratic politicians have released sweeping plans to do this. But decarbonizing the U.S. economy won’t be enough to prevent catastrophic warming, for two reasons. First of all, U.S. emissions are already dwarfed by the rest of the globe, and the disparity is increasing as developing nations catch up with rich-world living standards:

    For an interactive view of this image, go to the original article on Bloomberg.

    But even more importantly, much of the world is moving in the wrong direction. As part of its Belt and Road global development initiative, China is building coal plants in developing countries around the world. That threatens not just to increase emissions, but to create infrastructure around coal power in those countries that could lock them into reliance on fossil fuels as they industrialize. Meanwhile, fires are raging through the Amazon rainforest at a record pace, thanks in part to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s weakened environmental protections and arson by ranchers eager for more land. The Amazon’s trees are vital for pulling carbon out of the air, so clearing of the ancient forest will accelerate climate change even more.

    If the U.S. merely stays in its corner of the world and attends to its own emissions problem, it will have at most a marginal impact on the progress of climate change. This is a global crisis, and it needs global solutions. One approach is to use international accords like the Paris Agreement, which the U.S. unwisely withdrew from in 2017. We need more agreements like this, and there are plenty being proposed. But the failure of most nations to meet their Paris emissions targets, combined with lax requirements for developing nations, shows that this approach by itself is insufficient.

    But there are several steps the U.S. can take to encourage other nations to reduce their emissions, even as it cuts its own.

    The most obvious step is to directly transfer green energy technology to less advanced nations. This can be done through international institutions like the United Nations Framework on Climate Change, and with bilateral agreements with countries like India. The most important technology is improved energy storage, for use when wind and solar can’t generate power.

    A second approach is to subsidize U.S. exports of green technology and low-carbon products, including green energy, storage, smart grids, building conversion kits and low-carbon cement and steel. This would include helping finance foreign purchases of these products. If the rules of the World Trade Organization forbid such subsidies, then the rules should be rewritten. This idea sometimes is referred to as a Green Marshall Plan, and has been touted by some of the current crop of presidential candidates.

    A more dramatic version of this strategy is to pay developing countries to build green-energy infrastructure like flexible power grids, electric-vehicle charging stations and energy storage facilities — even if these products aren’t made in the U.S. This could be done through the same channels by which rich countries now offer official development assistance, or through the Green Climate Fund. Green infrastructure would help lock newly industrializing nations into using carbon-free energy sources.

    Another idea, proposed by economist Bard Harstad, is for the U.S. and other rich countries to buy up coal deposits around the world and leave it in the ground. This will raise the price of coal relative to greener alternatives, and help prevent developing countries from building their infrastructure around coal. It also would assure that much of the fossil fuel in the world never gets burned.

    Finally, there are more punitive measures. Carbon tariffs would tax the emissions embedded in imports, discouraging other countries from using carbon-intensive energy and production processes. The U.S. could go further, threatening to cut trade with nations like Bolsonaro’s Brazil unless they implement more stringent conservation policies. European countries are already taking some steps in this direction.

    This last step would be a harsh and extreme policy. In most cases, it doesn’t make sense for rich countries to hold poor ones to their own environmental standards. But climate is an exception, because Brazilian deforestation and Chinese coal construction affect the entire globe. And the U.S. certainly shouldn’t seek to punish other countries for reckless environmental policies until it implements its own serious program of rapid emissions reductions. Yet in the end, steps like this may be necessary, since there’s only one Amazon rainforest in the world.

    None of these policies is likely to be politically possible as long as Donald Trump is president, but after his departure a window for action may open. Any ambitious, comprehensive climate plan must address the international aspect of the problem.

    This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.


      Benicia: Getting ready to retreat from coastline properties?

      By Roger Straw, August 22, 2019

      What’s to do about the possible 6-foot sea level rise along our Carquinez coast?

      As glaciers melt, they release significant volumes of organic carbon, with unknown impacts on marine life. CREDIT: ISTOCK

      Actionable sea level rise is scientific consensus.  This from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s website:

      NOAA scientists conducted a review of the research on global sea level rise projections, and concluded that there is very high confidence (greater than 90% chance) that global mean sea level will rise at least 8 inches (0.2 meter) but no more than 6.6 feet (2.0 meters) by 2100.

      Some researchers have predicted worse.  See What Does U.S. Look Like With 10 Feet of Sea Level Rise? where huge numbers of homeowners would be affected:

      Cities with the Most Population on Affected Land
      1.  New York City 703,000
      2.  New Orleans 342,000
      3.  Miami 275,000
      4.  Hialeah, FL 224,000
      5.  Virginia Beach 195,000
      6.  Fort Lauderdale 160,000
      7.  Norfolk 157,000
      8.  Stockton, CA
      (Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta)
      9.  Metairie, LA 138,000
      10.  Hollywood, FL 126,000
      All cities

      An interactive map by can be adjusted to show Benicia at various levels of sea level rise.  Here we are at 6 feet:

      Click on the image to enlarge. Better yet, go to to  scan nearby locations. Mare Island and State Route 37 are particularly of interest. The map will take you anywhere in the world.

      The odds of reaching a 6 foot rise are good, given the slow pace of corporate and government action to slow global warming.

      There is one single lifetime – 81 years – between now and the year 2100.  What should Benicia city leaders be doing in anticipation of a 5 or 6 foot inundation of our shores?  What should homeowners on Semple Crossing and everyone in lower downtown – all the way up to and including Rancho Benicia on East H Street – be doing?

      I don’t have answers.  But it’s a very real question….

      The breaking news this week is about Greenland’s temps soaring 40 degrees above normal.  Benicia: we need to wake – sea level rise is real, and will surely affect us here in our beautiful coastal city.

      ‘We Should Be Retreating Already From the Coastline,’ Scientist Suggests After Finding Warm Waters Below Greenland

      EcoWatch Jordan Davidson, Aug. 20, 2019
      The Eqip Sermia Glacier is seen behind a moraine left exposed by the glacier’s retreat during unseasonably warm weather on Aug. 1 at Eqip Sermia, Greenland. Sean Gallup / Getty Images

      Andrew Yang’s assertion that people move away from the coast at the last Democratic debate is the completely rational and correct choice for NASA scientists in Greenland.

      “There is enough ice in Greenland to raise the sea levels by 7.5 meters, that’s about 25 feet, an enormous volume of ice, and that would be devastating to coastlines all around the planet,” said Josh Willis, a NASA oceanographer, to CNN. “We should be retreating already from the coastline if we are looking at many meters [lost] in the next century or two.”

      Willis and his research team at NASA’s Ocean Melting Greenland have been seeing some alarming patterns as they jet around the island’s coastline since heat waves bore down on the U.S. and Europe at the end of July, as CNN reported. Not only is the surface temperature warmer, turning Greenland into a slush-filled mess, but the ocean temperature deep under the water is also rising. The warming water eats away at the foundation of the glaciers, meaning Greenland’s massive ice sheet is getting weaker at the top and the bottom, which spells trouble for the entire world.

      “Greenland has impacts all around the planet. A billion tons of ice lost here raises sea levels in Australia, in Southeast Asia, in the United States, in Europe,” said Willis to CNN. “We are all connected by the same ocean.”

      The scientists looking at the ice and waters found a large opening of water near Helheim glacier, a huge 4-mile glacier on Greenland’s east coast, that had warm water along its entire depth, more than 2,000 feet below the surface, as CNN reported.

      “It’s very rare anywhere on the planet to see 700 meters of no temperature variation, normally we find colder waters in the upper hundred meters or so, but right in front of the glacier it’s warm all the way up,” said Ian Fenty, a climate scientist at NASA, to CNN. “These warm waters now are able to be in direct contact with the ice over its entire face, supercharging the melting.”

      Helheim has made news the past two summers. Two years ago it lost a huge 2-mile piece. Last summer a chunk the size of lower Manhattan broke off and was captured on video, as National Geographic reported.

      This year the glacier has continued to melt.

      “It retreats by many meters per day, it’s tens of meters per day. You can probably set your iPhone on timelapse and actually see it go by,” said Willis to CNN.

      The ice in Greenland started the summer weak. There was little snowfall this past winter to reinforce the ice or to absorb the sunlight in the peak of summer, when the sun never fully goes down. Fresh snow stays bright and reflective, which bounces away solar radiation. Older snow is less reflective and absorbs the sun’s heat. When the first heat wave hit in June, 45 percent of Greenland’s ice sheet was ready to melt, according to National Geographic.

      Arctic ice like Greenland’s is also vital to removing carbon from the atmosphere, according to a study in the journal Polar Biology. The calcium carbonate crystals that make up sea ice trap carbon dioxide in a cold brine. When the sea ice melts, it drops that carbon dioxide into the ocean where it binds to algae, which stops it from circulating around the atmosphere.

      As sea ice decreases, less carbon will be removed from the atmosphere. Plus, the melting ice will raise sea levels. Glaciers like Helheim are big enough to make global sea levels rise by one millimeter in just one month, which concerns scientists, as CNN reported.



        Amazon rainforest fire: How bad is it really?

        Four articles on the Amazon rainforest fire – facts and analysis…

        This satellite image shows closeup view of a fire southwest of Porto Velho Brazil.The Amazon rainforest is burning. Be afraid.