Voice of Sanity – May 2017


Piedmont Humanists

Adults $24/year
Seniors/students $15/year
Family $40/year

Editor: Joyce Bates

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Piedmont Humanists
3620 Pelham Rd., Suite 5, #135
Greenville, SC. 29615

May 2017


The Voice of Sanity


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The Sunday meeting: There is a meet and greet 10:00AM to 10:45AM

At 11:00AM there is usually a talk, video, or general discussion from 11:00AM to 1:00PM

Location: the Earth Fare 3620 Pelham Road, Greenville.

A review of business done in the board meeting is presented at the 11:00 time on the first Sunday of every month.

Dates for the Sunday meetings are: May 7th, 14th, 21st, and 28th.

The meeting on May 21st at 11:00 PM will feature a presentation by Brandis Hartsell entitled “Fossils are Forever”.


The Free-Thought group will meet at 7:00 PM May 4th, 18th, and June 1st. (Thursdays) for a meal at California Dreaming restaurant; 40 Beacon Drive; near the Pelham Road exit off I-85. 


The Freethought trivia and pool group will meet at Friar’s Tavern, 1178 Woodruff Road, Greenville, SC 29607.

Meetings will be held 7:00 to 10:00 PM on May 11th, and 25th  (also Thursdays)

 May 20th is the next date for the Adopt-a-Highway road cleanup. Time is 9 AM to 12 noon. We will meet at Earth Fare 3620 Pelham Road, Greenville.





In the past fifty years the trend for earlier spring activity has been about 5 days per decade. This means that the daffodils and violets we saw locally the second week of February this year were normally dormant until early March back in the 1960s. Botanists have not been the only ones observing this tendency. Butterfly collectors and bird watchers have documented it for insect activity and seasonal migration.


Fifty years is a short time for these changes to take place and the belief is that they are the result of global warming. In the past changes in temperature took much longer. The rise in temperature from the last glacial period to the present era, for example, lasted about 5000 years and amounted to just nine degrees Fahrenheit. But the rise produced marked changes in climate over the world. The Brazilian rain forest increased from a couple of patches pressed against the Andes to an area occupying a third of the South American continent. Canada became a land of forests and grass instead of one of ice. The polar alpine desert of Doggerland between Britain and Europe as well as the Siberian land bridge completely disappeared under water. The dry and arid climate that humans had been living in for scores of thousands of years turned into a comparatively warm and rainy one.


At the same time this last change from glacial to warm marked the die out of many megafauna like woolly mammoths, and giant bears, sloths, and armadillos. For years there has been a hypothesis that humans had hunted and eventually exterminated these animals because they seemed always to disappear with the introduction of human activity. However, DNA evidence of fossils and careful examination of many individuals of the same species in different places indicate that stress from changing climate was a better candidate for cause. It was not the temperature per se that gave rise to their extinction but the effect of changing weather patterns on the ecosystems in which they lived. These changes caused prey to become scarce, grasslands to shrink, and new areas to be cut off because of land or water barriers. The result was a plunge in birthrate, and death from starvation and new parasitic diseases. Humans could have accelerated their demise only as opportunists.


As an example, the Irish elk were believed for a long time to have been hunted to extinction by human beings. Fossils representing the last of the species were dug up from the Ballybetagh bogs near Dublin and dated 12,500 years old. But the elk had had a wide range of distribution during previous warm periods of the Ice Ages. They occupied Ireland, Great Britain, and much of Europe from Spain to the Black Sea and the Volga River. During the last long cold period their numbers died out in Europe and Russia but expanded west when temperatures got better. One last cold spell, however, finally wiped them out when their last lake habitat at Ballybetagh dried up.


Present climate change due to CO2 warming is subtle in that its effect on ecosystems is fast in geologic time but goes virtually unnoticed during the course of human generations. Those born after the 1970s are sure to have less awareness of ecological changes like the earlier start of spring mentioned above than those born earlier. The problem is that this latest warming is even faster than the one that finished the Ice Ages. The nine degree rise in temperature ending 10,000 years ago was gradual over the previous 5000 years. In human terms it happened over the course of 150 generations if one considers one generation as 33 years.


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has presented forecasts on temperature change based on 23 climate models from various research institutions throughout the world. These predictions are only probabilities and vary from best and worst case scenarios with temperature increase ranging from 20F to 10.80F by the 22nd century depending on how well we control the use of fossil fuels. NASA has stated that outcomes for the US will be longer growing seasons for agriculture, but not for all areas presently cultivated because of changes in patterns of rainfall. Events of increased heavy rain will continue, even in the Southwest though droughts in that area will intensify. Sea level has risen by about 8 inches since the beginning of record keeping in 1880. It will continue to rise by one to four feet by 2100.


The above statistics tell us about how the accelerated warming will affect our society but do not present a picture of what will happen to natural ecosystems in the future. Therefore, we should not expect our national parks, forests, and other protected areas to be immune from change. As an example, Yosemite National Park has average winter temperatures seven degrees warmer than it did when it was put under federal protection over a hundred years ago. Different ecosystems in the park’s mountains change with elevation. The “lapse rate” for this change is a cooling of about 3.60F for every 1000 feet in elevation. Records have shown that during the park’s history small species of animals from the lowland ecosystems have been migrating to higher elevations. Upland species or those usually found in more northerly locations also have been migrating upwards. Some of these last have now reached heights where their livable ecosystem is only about 300 feet wide and will probably disappear as temperatures continue rising.


Other places in the world have seen changes in animal populations and location. Reindeer have been tracked for many years. They do not respond well to warmer snowier winters because their food source (lichen) becomes harder to find. Nor do they do well in warmer summers because of increased parasites. Kruger National Park in South Africa includes some of the best large animals on the continent, but has experienced declining populations in grazers such as waterbuck, eland, and antelope. Park biologists found that their numbers began to fall just when rainfall during the dry season was abnormally low and global and local temperatures began to rise reducing the amount of forage when it counted the most for survival.


Global warming would not be so bad if it were not enhanced by habitat destruction, introduced species, and human population pressure. Habitat destruction is obvious when we think of strip mining or oil shale extraction but it can also manifest itself in unexpected places. Salmon fish farming is a case in point. Salmon are born in fresh waters, swim to and spend their lives in the ocean; then swim back to fresh water to spawn. Sea lice are a natural parasite of wild salmon and although the fish contend with them in their ocean habitat the lice die on the spawning journey because they cannot tolerate fresh water. Salmon farms subtract the fresh water habitat from the salmon’s life cycle. This has caused massive die outs on the farms because of sea lice epidemics and the sea lice populations have now become elevated in surrounding wild seas.


Introduced species are not all evil. Some are able to fit in with an ecosystem without taking it over. The problem is that no one can predict which species will be invasive until it has already done damage and displaced and reduced the number of native species where it was introduced. There is no more apt example of an invasive species than feral pigs. They deplete crops and spread disease to other animals. They eat everything including deer fawn, endangered salamanders, and ground nesting birds and eggs. Hunters and trappers cannot dispatch enough of them to decrease populations because they are prolific breeders.


The last of the three helpers of global warming is the pressure of human population. For living things on earth nearly all energy comes from the sun. Plants use solar energy and photosynthesis to manufacture the biomass supporting the bottom of the global food chain. All species occupying living systems (including human beings) owe their lives to this base source of energy. Surprisingly, the total amount of solar energy powering all ecosystems minus the energy that plant cells use to produce it has been calculated and is a finite amount. Also, the ratio of its human consumption compared to the consumption of all other species on the planet has been made. When we look at the ratio we realize that as we increase our population we also increase our percentage of this finite energy total making less available for other species on the planet. In other words our increase in population is actually contributing to a decrease in the richness of other forms of life. 


Heatstroke, Anthony D. Barnosky, 2009, Shearwater Books









Today about 44 percent of college graduates are working in jobs that do not require college degrees. This is usually seen as a temporary blow for new workers. However, many of those who had the misfortune to graduate from 2007 through 2009 were not able to find suitable jobs as a consequence of the recession and in 2010 and 2011 an additional significant portion of young workers had to take a 19 percent cut in pay. Many now believe that if the Federal Reserve would continue to go slow on raising interest rates more high-wage jobs would become available but since the Fed’s recent increase in rates the quantity of new jobs across all categories has actually increased along with a small elevation in starting wages.


The Bureau of Labor Statistics published figures in 2016 indicating the unemployment rate of college graduates was only 2.5 percent, but a full 25 percent of those graduates who did find jobs were working in “poor fit” vocations. These were businesses in which half or less of the positions required college degrees. The jobs in which there was over qualification were in retail sales, customer service, food service management, secretarial, office support, teaching assistance, bar tending, and cashiering.  


Labor economist Stephen Rose of the Urban Institute ran a study to determine why in some instances a college degree pays off while in other situations occupations held by college grads are not worth the financial investment in a degree. So, from a list of 400 jobs Rose decided to investigate only those positions that had a higher rate of bachelor-degree holders than the population at large. He then looked at jobs that yielded incomes at or above the median income for college degrees.


He found those educated who had opted for non-degree jobs had historically been penalized and the penalties have grown over the years. In 1980 people in “poor fit” jobs earned 35 percent less than their “good-fit” peers. In 2000 it was 41 percent less and in 2016 it was 44 percent less. Unsurprisingly, the hardest hit in the category were African Americans and Hispanics. Another finding supported the growth of economic inequality between 1980 and 2014. In 1980 the median pay for the college educated was $45,000 and for high school grads $42,000. The numbers for 2014 were $70,000 and $50,000, a gap increase of about 15% between the two over nearly 25 years. 


Jobs are not well categorized as to which require college and which do not. The Federal Reserve System includes some vocations that do not fit under the “underemployment” heading. These are positions such as real estate brokerage and registered nursing that demand specialized training but not a college degree. Some graduates are filling them. A portion of college graduates are also taking on non-college jobs that pay very well but have less or nothing to do with their original training. They are skilled technical jobs such as electrician, auto mechanic, and dental hygienist. Lastly, there are some employers that can insist on a college degree for positions that never required them in the past even though the qualifications have remained low.


Jaison Abel, Richard Deitz, and Yaqin Su, analysts for the New York Federal Reserve Bank found that though statistics are much the same for college under-employment as they were in the 1990s, graduates are now more likely to be in low-wage part time jobs. The better paying non-college jobs (listed in the previous paragraph) are less available. Many grads simply solve the economic problem of earning a living by holding more than one part-time job.


Another issue recent grads face is increased competition from H-1B foreign workers. The yearly quota for these guest workers is supposed to be 85,000. Because of a presidential memo signed in 2006 universities have been exempted from this limit. Since there is no yearly quota for universities the number has accelerated and in 2016 over 100,000 additional workers were hired above the 85,000 limit. The situation is problematic for both US grads and H-1Bs. That is because it is legal for for-profit companies to use an educational exemption to hire foreign workers as long as they are affiliated in some way with universities and there is no legal requirement for companies to first offer jobs to Americans. This obviously makes it more difficult for graduates to start work in the private sector or obtain college research positions if they want to stay in academia. Foreign workers suffer as well, because they can be induced to accept lower salaries by the promise of a future green card. They are also legally bound to the same employer for the six year duration of their visas. For them, changing jobs means deportation.













There are about 100 facilities that produce one-third of the toxic air pollution in the US and another 100 are guilty of producing one-third of the greenhouse gas emissions. These facilities emitted one billion metric tons of CO2 in 2014. This amount is equal to more than a year’s emissions from 219 million passenger vehicles.


Mark Fischetti, writer for the Scientific American has compiled the above into a list of 100 of the heaviest air polluters and provided a map of the US showing locations of 22 of the very top polluters. Out of this group all but two were power plants. The two exceptions were Alcoa in Newburgh, Indiana and Exxon Mobile in Baytown, Texas.


The vast majority of Fischetti’s 100 are located in the Eastern US with ten of the select 22 in a concentrated area along the Ohio River between Indiana and Kentucky. Another five are situated near Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. From an economic standpoint these locations make sense because they have easy access to the coal resources in Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky. It is not surprising that states bordering the river are involved in a suit against the Environmental Protection Agency to stop enforcement of rules to cut greenhouse gases.


A recent study on coronary heart disease funded by the Environment Protection Agency and the National Institute of Health has appeared in the Lancet. The research showed a connection between long term exposure to fine particulate matter and traffic related heart disease but West Virginia and Kentucky, states with the highest incidence of coronary heart disease in the in the country, are also states bordering the locations of the highest polluters.   



Scientific American, January 2017, p72



Miscellaneous quotes:


 “Wolves are very resourceful. All they need to survive is for people not to shoot them.”                                            —Bob Ferris


“Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.” —John Maynard Keynes


“A man generally has two reason for doing a thing: one that sounds good , and a real one.                 

—J. P. Morgan


“I think that all good, right thinking people in this country are sick and tired of being told that all good, right thinking people in this country are fed up with being told that all good, right thinking people in this country are fed up with being sick and tired. I’m certainly not, and I’m sick and tired of being told that I am.”

—Monty Python


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