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Quite the World, Isn't It?

On global warming, presidential politics, and irony

As you know, we spent most of the summer on the road driving cross-country where, as you also know, the weather set all sorts of records for heat. We encountered 107 degrees in Austin, 102 in New Orleans and Washington, D.C., and high 90s just about everywhere else. You all sweated through it, too.

A couple of weeks ago, scientists reported that the Arctic ice cap had reached a modern low as a result of global warming, and one expert predicted it could melt completely by the time of the next presidential election. Some 4.6 million square miles of ice melted, with 1.3 million square miles to go, all over the course of a summer. Yes, it will refreeze, but the issue is the thaw's devastating effect on Arctic life and its unknown influence on the world's weather patterns. And the receding ice means more of the environment exposed to human degradation. Where environmentalists see disaster, capitalists see dollar signs.

Yet, as Elizabeth Kolbert points out in a New Yorker blog post, the single biggest threat to our health and safety is an asterisk during the presidential campaign. We focus on the inane (exercise routines and gaffes) over the insane (our environmental and energy policies) at a moment of great world peril. From her post:
You might have thought that with the Arctic melting, the U.S. in the midst of what will almost certainly be the warmest year on record, and more than sixty per cent of the lower forty-eight states experiencing “moderate to exceptional” drought, at least one of the candidates would feel compelled to speak out about the issue. If that’s the case, though, you probably live in a different country. Remarkably—or, really, by this point, predictably—the only times Mitt Romney has brought up the topic of climate change, it has been to mock President Obama for claiming, back in 2008, that he was going to try to do something about it.
Romney's election, I think, would be a disaster for the country, but he's right to mock Obama's environmental policies. More drilling in the Arctic and piping crude oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico are not only risky, they continue our dependence on fossil fuels.

Here's where the irony comes in. As temperatures increase, more people use more electricity to run air conditioning systems, which means burning more coal, which adds more crud to the atmosphere exacerbating the global warming that makes us turn to the air conditioning .... you see where this cycle leads. And no, the irony hasn't escaped me that we encountered all that summer heat while driving cross-country, adding our own little puffs of carbon emissions to the weather engine (we don't have air conditioning in our house).

There are a lot of incidental arguments for not dealing with this problem - we need power for industry, jobs, etc. - but none of them come close to the argument for doing something. The earth will go spinning on. The mountains will rise and erode. The seas will surge and churn.

We're the ones making that environment more and more inhospitable to human life. And we're the only ones who can do anything about it.

So let's talk about that. No, let's do something about that. Read More 
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More Detroit gigs: Y'all are going to be sick of me

Well, I'm making steady progress on Jones's Bones: The Search for an American Hero, which is a lot of fun and proving to be more of a challenge than the other books, given the different time frames involved and the endlessly moving parts. But I'm taking a bit of a break in October to go back to Detroit for some talks.

As I posted the other day, the Detroit Public Library has invited me to come in and talk at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, October 17, about Detroit: A Biography in the main library on Woodward. I'm looking forward to this for a variety of reasons: I did a lot of research in that library, and this will be a public talk so I'm anticipating hearing a lot of other people's stories about their lives and Detroit's evolution. And yes, books will be available for sale and signing.

Also:

- Thursday, October 18, 9 a.m. : I'm kicking off the annual North American Labor History Conference at Wayne State University with a talk about Detroit: A Biography. Books will be available there, too, and individual sessions are open to the public, according to the organizers.

- Thursday, October 18, 2:30 p.m.: Same place, I'm one of two former newspaper strikers (Barb Ingalls is the other) who will comment on a presentation by Chris Rhomberg of his The Broken Table: The Detroit Newspaper Strike and the State of American Labor. Jack Lessenberry chairs the session.

- Saturday, October 20, 9 a.m.: I organized and will be part of a panel on "The Legacy of the Ludlow Massacre," which takes me back to my first book, Blood Passion: The Ludlow Massacre and Class War in the American West. With Jonathan Rees and Anthony DeStefanis, and chaired by Rosemary Feurer.

And for you Detroiters, I'll be available in the usual haunts for a cold beer if you want to say hello. :-)

Hope to see some of you at any or all of these events. And if you're part of the Detroit media, please do think about covering the Detroit Public Library talk or the NAHLC gathering. Read More 
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Detroit Public Library, here I come...

It feels like I just left Detroit after a whirlwind visit on the summer-end return trip to the West Coast, but here I come again.

The Detroit Public Library has invited me to talk about Detroit: A Biography at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, October 17, in the Friends Auditorium of the Main Library. It's free and open to the public (Marwil Books will be selling books for signing).

I'm looking forward to this for a lot of reasons, not the least of which were the hours I spent in the DPL's Burton Historical Collection looking through archives and records to help bring to life some of the myriad stories included in Detroit. The Main Library is a beautiful building between the Detroit Institute of Arts and Wayne State University, making it a prime component of Detroit's urban intellectual core. And it is a gem of a place, though, like much of Detroit, the library has been fighting some significant budget problems.

The evening should be fascinating. I'll talk a bit about the genesis of the book, why I wrote it, some broad conclusions about how the city got to be in the shape it's in, and then open it up for questions and discussion. That, to me, is usually the most fascinating part of any talk, hearing the stories of people directly connected to the historical things I write about. I invariably learn something new, pick up a sliver of nuance I missed before, and often discover things that I wish had included in the book. I look at the sessions as an organic "afterword" to the book, told in real time, and through living voices.

I hope to see my Michigan readers -- and I'm gratified by how many of you there are -- at the talk and signing.

Incidentally, the talk occurs on the eve of the annual North American Labor History Conference (program director Fran Shor helped set up the library talk; thanks, Fran) at Wayne State University, where I'll be part of three different events. I'll post more about those as it gets closer.

Oh, and if you want a Word copy of the library flyer pictured here for posting or sharing, email me through the link in the column to the right and I'll send one out to by return email. Read More 
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