Sunday, December 18, 2005

Mind the Gap: Disparities and Competitiveness in the Twin Cities

Minneapolis-St. Paul is relatively strong compared to other metropolitan areas nationally. It has one of the most highly educated populations in the country. Its median household income is the twelfth highest among the 100 largest metros. And the region's job growth has outpaced the nation's for several decades. Additionally, the region has a long history of regional thinking and an egalitarian spirit that many other metropolitan areas envy.

Despite these strengths, however, the region does not work for everyone. Although the Twin Cities metropolitan area is blessed with good incomes and high educational attainment rates, some groups and some places are still lagging behind. In a region where household income is among the highest in the nation, black household income is among the lowest. In a region that has the highest share of adults with a high school diploma in the country, it only ranks 40th among the 100 largest metropolitan areas for Latino high school educational attainment.


Thursday, July 14, 2005

Letters to the Editor: Peak oil; Indy stores; Respect; Dunce; Superpowers

Thanks for thought-provoking articles on Peak Oil issue
I want to discuss an issue that your weekly publication has definitely subscribed to: Peak Oil. Since many of your readers are familiar with it, why not use it as a rally cry to change the lives of its readers? Why not set aside a small portion of the paper to its solutions? What about adding a forum for this subject to your website?

Currently I am deployed to Iraq—for whatever reason people think we are here—well, except for making America freer. Who am I helping out by being here? Our generators, SUVs and Humvees alone use hundreds of gallons a day. The war is a huge drag on our economy.

Now, I have wanted to prepare for the Long Emergency for quite some time. I sold my car in March of 2003 in protest of the war and [our government’s involvement with] Saudi Arabia. (I also participated in the anti-war March in October of 2002—where Wellstone was going to be speaking.) If I wasn’t deployed this year, I was going to take out a community garden and learn how to manage an organic garden. Instead my girlfriend has been doing work on her grandma’s garden in Michigan.

While in Iraq, I purchased a book on Intentional Communities from an organization that promotes them at I honestly feel that cooperative community arrangements are the only solutions to surviving the Long Emergency. I have found many communes, but few are truly prepared for post-oil.

I have meditated on which regions of America would be most suitable to survive post-oil. I used to think that the Pacific Northwest region of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia were good candidates. After reading James Howard Kunstler’s arguments against this region, however, I would have to agree with him.

The best place, post-oil, that I can find currently is the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The soil is quite good for agriculture. The area has an aging population—the oldest in the Midwest, which is already aging. The area is sparsely populated—on average only seven people per square kilometer.

Post-oil, the region would be isolated from the lower part of the state of Michigan, and could become a separate entity if the state government is not sustainable. A hint of this is that Escanaba has an annual Upper Peninsula State Fair. Also the region is surrounded by the Great Lakes, which will be a valuable transportation asset post-oil.

The southern portion of the Upper Peninsula near Lake Michigan has a growing season similar to that of Missouri, so the area has a longer growing season than anywhere in Minnesota.

I would like to say that Minnesotans have a good chance to make it—and I think that many will. But looking at our sprawled out Twin Cities—and the “interstate cities”—these places are unstable and will not make it. There are too many people here for life to become sustainable. We do have many good things going for us—the cooperative businesses and organic farms.

I feel that those who live in the Twin Cities should strive to meet the challenges of the Long Emergency. There are many opportunities currently that will allow civilization to continue going in some form. I hope that the Pulse can make this a long-term issue for positive change in our communities.

I think that an investment in the Upper Peninsula for an eco-village would be the best solution in the Midwest. I have contacted an organization doing just this in various locations. They have expressed interest in the Upper Peninsula — but only if I can find others who are potentially interested.

I consider myself a pretty committed individual in preparing for the Long Emergency. I only became conscious of the subject in the fall of 2002, and decided it would be smart to wean myself from the car culture. I am out of the active guard in May of 2006 and will be on IRR (aka I will probably be drafted) until 2008. Hopefully I have as much time as all of you in Minnesota—but I am currently trapped by something out of my control.

So I have been going on those “Support the Troops” websites asking for books on organic gardening and other useful endeavors post-oil. I have only received a couple books thus far—and a whole lot of care packages containing useful items while here—but not post-oil. And the bunch of tiny folded flags won’t mean anything if I’m trying to grow food for my survival in 2015.

I really can’t wait to return to Minneapolis and have a library with such diverse resources again!

I love your paper, but really dislike some of the partisan hatred I sometimes feel emanates from it. With peak-oil an actual issue, it is time to be inclusive. Survival is not a partisan issue. As one individual wisely stated on the subject of the Long Emergency: “Competition was the watchword of the ascent, cooperation will be the foundation of the descent.”

Kevin Chavis

Editor’s note: Your letter is one of the best we have ever received—thank you. Please continue to write us about both your experiences in Iraq and your thoughts on a post-oil future. Brian Kaller - Managing Editor, Pulse


Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Warmed Over

The U.S. Senate's leading abuser of science has struck again. Not content with calling the notion of human-caused global warming "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people" (as he did in a July 2003 Senate floor speech), last week James Inhofe returned with an "update" on climate-change science. In his latest speech, timed to coincide with the final steps toward implementation of the Kyoto Protocol (which the United States won't be joining), Inhofe asserted that "put simply, man-induced global warming is an article of religious faith." Clearly, he hasn't changed his tune.

What separates Inhofe’s fixation from similar conservative crusades is just how brazenly it ignores what scientists know with confidence about global warming. The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the National Academy of Sciences, the American Geophysical Union, and the American Meteorological Society all broadly agree on this basic point: Temperatures are rising, at least in part as a result of human greenhouse-gas emissions. According to the World Meteorological Organization, 2004 was the fourth-hottest year since 1861, while the past 10 years (excepting 1996) were "among the warmest 10 years on record."

That's not all. Drawing on highly sophisticated computer models, climate scientists can project -- not predict -- how much temperatures may rise by, say, 2100 if we carry on with business as usual. Although scenarios vary, some get pretty severe. So do the projected impacts of climate change: rising sea levels, species extinctions, glacial melting, and so forth.
One might argue, perhaps, that humanity should simply adapt to climatic changes rather than restricting fossil-fuel use. But that's not Inhofe's approach. No matter how strong the evidence of ongoing climate change gets, he simply rejects it. But backed into a corner, Inhofe's arguments have necessarily grown more and more desperate.

For example, in his latest speech, Inhofe continued his curious crusade against a single University of Virginia climate expert, Michael Mann. Mann initially became a target for global warming "skeptics" in 2001 after the IPCC prominently cited his work to show that recent temperatures represent an anomaly in the context of the past 1,000 years. The IPCC reproduced a graph published by Mann and his colleagues that's often referred to as a "hockey stick" because of its shape: After a long, relatively straight line, temperatures spike up in the 20th century.

Ever since then, global warming deniers (and especially Inhofe) have been trying to break the "hockey stick," but their attacks on Mann represent a grand diversion. Although in his latest speech Inhofe refers only to "the hockey stick graph, constructed by Dr. Michael Mann and colleagues," multiple other scientists have produced similar analyses. And even if all of these were to be overturned, that would hardly upend the conclusion that humans are currently heating the planet -- a robust scientific finding based on several different lines of evidence. Rather, shattering the "hockey stick" would merely leave us uncertain as to whether the current temperature spike has any precedent over the past millennium.

In fact, Inhofe's latest foray against Mann throws into question the competence of the senator's scientific-research apparatus. Inhofe charged that recent critics, arguing in the scientific literature, have called Mann's hockey-stick work "just bad science." But the critics in question weren't attacking the "hockey stick" at all. Rather, they were challenging an entirely different paper by Mann and a colleague, and the disagreement concerns the period between 1971 and 1998 -- not the past 1,000 years. It looks as though Inhofe went rifling through the scientific literature to find someone criticizing Michael Mann without even bothering to understand the context of that criticism.

Yet Inhofe's latest speech stoops even lower than this. The senator also implied, on the slender basis of a Washington Post cartoon (which he misinterprets), that some "alarmists" think climate change triggered the recent Asian tsunami. "Are we to believe now that global warming is causing earthquakes?" Inhofe asked rhetorically.

Answer: No, we aren't to believe that. No one believes that.

In criticizing environmental "alarmists" for something that none of them have said, Inhofe has created as big a straw man as we've seen in politics lately. Yet when it comes to climate change, Inhofe doesn't seem to care whether he has a sound argument to make, so long as he has something contrary to say that takes at least some effort to deconstruct.

Let's take one more glance at the way Inhofe abuses climate science. In his latest speech, Inhofe took aim at a recently released report from the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, produced by some 300 scientists working under the auspices of the Arctic Council (an intergovernmental group that includes the United States). The report shows that human-caused climate change has already had a pronounced effect in the Arctic region, where average temperatures have shot up "at almost twice the rate as the rest of the world in the past few decades." The result? Ongoing impacts such as melting glaciers and sea ice.

These conclusions come from a body of scientific experts who have studied the problem for four years. What does James Inhofe do when faced with such a major, peer-reviewed scientific consensus document? The same thing he always does: He draws on a tiny number of skeptic scientists, here pointing out that Arctic temperatures in the 1930s and 1940s rival those today, to challenge the consensus. But while 1930s and 1940s Arctic temperatures were probably caused by natural variation, today's temperature spike seems to have a human fingerprint. That's the whole point.

Throughout his speech, moreover, Inhofe made constant reference to a work of fiction: Michael Crichton's new novel, State of Fear. Calling Crichton a "scientist" -- actually, he's an M.D. -- Inhofe credited the author with telling "the real story about global warming" to the public. In fact, Crichton's new book misrepresents climate science nearly as badly as Inhofe does. Inhofe further suggested that Crichton's depictions of environmentalists -- as fear-mongers who hype the possibility of disasters to bring in donations -- show "art imitating life." Actually, Crichton's notion of a global eco-terrorist conspiracy, aided and abetted by leading environmental organizations, seems more than a tad conspiratorial.

Nevertheless, we haven't heard the last from Senator Crank. Speaking of the remaining cadre of climate-science "skeptics," Inhofe pledged in his latest speech: "I will do my part to make sure that they are heard." In other words, he will continue to challenge each new major piece of scientific evidence on climate, raising dubious criticisms rather than trying in earnest to understand the best science. And this is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works talking.

Chris Mooney is a Prospect senior correspondent. His book on the politicization of science will be published later this year by Basic Books. His daily blog and other writings can be found at

By Chris Mooney
Reprinted with permission from The American Prospect, 5 Broad Street, Boston, MA 02109. All rights reserved.

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