John Baez's Stuff      This Week's Finds - Latest Edition       Fun Stuff     Serious Stuff     Talks     Seminar     Diary     Azimuth Blog      Azimuth Project      n-Category Café      nLab      EUREKA      Physics FAQ    

Nasty Stuff

John Baez

Here's some stuff that's a bit too unpleasant to fit into my collection of fun stuff. It's mainly about scandals, human rights and economics.

What's New?

Some good news! Researchers are taking a stand against Elsevier, the nasty publishing company. To understand why, read this. And let your colleagues know about this! Download a copy of the Elsevier boycott poster and print it out — or else just download and print this image:

Check out my blog, Azimuth. The main long-term aim is to create a focal point for mathematicians and physicists interested in ecological issues. Studying the complex systems at work on our planet raises just as many fascinating technical questions as quantizing gravity or developing the theory of n-categories. It's not only good for you, it's tasty! I want scientists — from young students to old fogeys — to see that there are a lot of fascinating problems to work on, and a lot of challenging problems to confront. I want to explain these issues and make the necessary information available in a convenient format. I've started here:

Also try these posts: Hope to see you there!

On June 20th, 2011, Al Gore said:

Look what’s happened in the last twelve months:

– The twenty million people displaced in Pakistan, a nuclear-armed country, one of the biggest flood events in their history.

– An area of Australia the size of France and Germany combined, flooded.

– The nation of Colombia, they’ve had five to six times the normal rainfall. Two million people are still homeless. Most of the country was underwater for a portion of last year.

– My hometown, my home city of Nashville, a thousand-year flood. Thousands of my neighbors lost their homes and businesses. They had no flood insurance because there had never been a flood in areas that were flooded.

– Drought. Russia, biggest drought in their history, biggest fires in their history, over 50,000 people killed, and then all of their wheat and other food crops, along with that of Ukraine and Kazakhstan, taken off the world markets, leading to an all-time record spike in food prices.

– Texas, right now. The drought raised from “extreme” to “exceptional.” 254 counties in Texas, 252 of them were filed in the major disaster.

– Today, biggest fire in the history of Arizona, spreading to New Mexico.

– Today, biggest flood in the history of the Mississippi River valley underway right now.

At what point is there a moment where we say, ‘Oh, we ought to do something about this?’

Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, still imprisoned by the Chinese, once wrote to his wife:

Sweetheart ... I am sentenced to a visible prison while you are waiting in an invisible one. Your love is sunlight that transcends prison walls and bars, stroking every inch of my skin, warming my cell, letting me maintain my inner calm, magnanimous and bright, so that every minute in prison is full of meaning.

Given your love, sweetheart, I look forward to my country being a land of free expression, where ... all views will be spread in the sunlight for people to choose without fear. I hope to be the last victim.

I am a hard stone in the wilderness, putting up with the pummeling of raging storms, and too cold for anyone to dare touch. But my love is hard, sharp, and can penetrate any obstacles. Even if I am crushed into powder, I will embrace you with the ashes.

In prison, Liu shares his cell with five other inmates. He sees his wife once a month.

Read the New Yorker profile of the Koch brothers, who are funding a wide variety of groups who are trying to block action on climate change. Never heard of the Koch brothers? They run the 2nd largest privately held company in the US, with revenues of almost $100 billion. They do a lot of oil refining. And they contribute lots of money to climate change denial groups: organizations whose goal is to prevent action on global warming. According to Greenpeace, "From 2005 to 2008, ExxonMobil spent $8.9 million while the Koch Industries-controlled foundations contributed $24.9 million in funding to organizations of the "climate denial machine"."

I think it's good to find out who is in the pay of these foundations, so we can improve our understanding of who is honestly seeking the truth and who is arguing for commercial interests.

From the executive summary:
For years, both openly and behind the scenes, ExxonMobil dominated the voice of climate science denial in the national global warming dialogue. However, after a decade of reputation-damaging public disclosures, as well as pressure from scientific organizations, shareholders and senators, ExxonMobil implemented a new public relations strategy under a new CEO, and has begun to moderate its public statements on climate change. ExxonMobil's website declares: "We have discontinued contributions to several public policy research groups whose position on climate change diverted attention from the important discussion on how the world will secure the energy required for economic growth in an environmentally responsible manner".

In spite of publishing this statement and reducing funding to a number of prominent climate denial organizations over the past few years, ExxonMobil continues to support dozens of organizations who are part of the climate denial movement with millions of dollars in annual funding. ExxonMobil has responded to public scrutiny by slightly reducing their support of climate denial, and Koch Industries is outpacing ExxonMobil's funding activities while drawing very little public attention. As ExxonMobil's silent partner in funding the climate-denial machine, Koch Industries often uses similar and sometimes more aggressive tactics.

Kansas-based Koch Industries is a conglomerate dominated by petroleum and chemical interests with approximately $100 billion in annual sales, operations in nearly 60 countries and 70,000 employees. Most of Koch's operations are invisible to the public, with the exception of a handful of retail brands such as Brawny® paper towels and Dixie® cups, produced by its subsidiary Georgia-Pacific Corporation. Koch Industries has been ranked as the first- or second-largest privately-held company in the United States in recent years, currently ranked second behind Cargill corporation.

Two brothers, Charles and David Koch, each own 42 percent of the company. Part of Koch Industries. influence is channeled through three foundations, also controlled by the two brothers. This report documents roughly 40 climate denial and opposition organizations receiving Koch foundation grants in recent years, including:

This is only part of the picture, because the full scope of direct contributions to organizations is not disclosed by individual Koch family members, executives, or from the company itself. Contributions through Koch's political action committee (PAC) are a matter of public record. Since the beginning of the 2006 election cycle, Koch's PAC spent more on contributions to federal candidates than any other oil-and-gas sector PAC. For that period, Koch Industries and its executives spent $2.51 million compared to next three biggest contributors: Exxon ($1.71 million), Valero ($1.68 million), and Chevron ($1.22 million).

The effort to understand the universe is one of the very few things that lifts human life a little above the level of farce, and gives it some of the grace of tragedy. - Steven Weinberg

© 2009 John Baez