Obama and scientists provide two takes on why the world is blowing up

DecodeDC's weekly recap of must-reads

WASHINGTON, D.C. - There is one must-read (or must-watch, even better) from the weekend. President Barack Obama sat down for an hour-long interview with Thomas Friedman of The New York Times.

It was a gutsy thing for the president to do. Friedman is one of our best foreign policy journalists and as close a thing to The Establishment Voice there is anymore.

There are an extraordinary number of breaking crises in the world right now. They are chaotic. They aren’t all part of one geopolitical format, like the Cold War, and Americans don’t want to get embroiled but they still want to be a superpower — as a result, Obama’s approval ratings on foreign policy are tanking.

I don’t know how many presidents would have marched straight into the ring with a heavyweight for a 60-minute bout at such a treacherous moment.

I think the president did well and gave a clear, coherent and realistic assessment of the challenges he faces. But you be the judge. You can watch the whole interview or read Friedman’s story and watch some of the clips that were included.

I found this part of the article to be right on and depressing:

“At the end of the day, the president mused, the biggest threat to America — the only force that can really weaken us — is us. We have so many things going for us right now as a country — from new energy resources to innovation to a growing economy — but, he said, we will never realize our full potential unless our two parties adopt the same outlook that we’re asking of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds or Israelis and Palestinians: No victor, no vanquished and work together.”

“‘Our politics are dysfunctional,’ said the president, and we should heed the terrible divisions in the Middle East as a ‘warning to us: societies don’t work if political factions take maximalist positions. And the more diverse the country is, the less it can afford to take maximalist positions.’

“While he blamed the rise of the Republican far right for extinguishing so many potential compromises, Obama also acknowledged that gerrymandering, the Balkanization of the news media and uncontrolled money in politics — the guts of our political system today — are sapping our ability to face big challenges together, more than any foreign enemy. ‘Increasingly politicians are rewarded for taking the most extreme maximalist positions,’ he said, ‘and sooner or later, that catches up with you.’”

I am concerned with the president’s excessive use of the word “maximalist.” What is up with that?

On the general topic of the world blowing up, Nature is reporting that there is finally an explanation for that giant crater that suddenly appeared on the Yamel peninsula in Siberia.

The theory is that a build-up of methane is the culprit.

“Air near the bottom of the crater contained unusually high concentrations of methane — up to 9.6% — in tests conducted at the site on 16 July, says Andrei Plekhanov, an archaeologist at the Scientific Centre of Arctic Studies in Salekhard, Russia. Plekhanov, who led an expedition to the crater, says that air normally contains just 0.000179% methane.

“Since the hole was spotted in mid-July by a helicopter pilot, conjecture has abounded about how the 30-metre-wide crater was formed — a gas or missile explosion, a meteorite impact and alien involvement have all been suggested.

“But Plekhanov and his team believe that it is linked to the abnormally hot Yamal summers of 2012 and 2013, which were warmer than usual by an average of about 5°C. As temperatures rose, the researchers suggest, permafrost thawed and collapsed, releasing methane that had been trapped in the icy ground.

“Other researchers argue that long-term global warming might be to blame — and that a slow and steady thaw in the region could have been enough to free a burst of methane and create such a big crater. Over the past 20 years, permafrost at a depth of 20 metres has warmed by about 2°C, driven by rising air temperatures, notes Hans-Wolfgang Hubberten, a geochemist at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Potsdam, Germany.”

I don’t wish to be indelicate, but this seems to be the geological equivalent of a giant, well, let’s call it a giant gastric announcement. We hope this is not yet another thing we have to worry about with global warming. 

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