Massive forest fires, tornados and derechos, enormous glacial calving, extreme drought, melting of the Greenland ice sheet: Just weather? For climate skeptics, 2012 may prove a moment for conversion. This has been the warmest year in the warmest decade on record. Now James Hansen, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration climatologist who first warned about global warming, reports that scientists are convinced that these recent weather events are not a matter of natural variation. “We now know,” he said, “that the chance of these extreme weather events happening naturally is negligible.” The natural changes in weather from day to day, year to year, fail to explain the increasing incidence of extreme weather. Indeed, the extreme weather earth has been experiencing has occurred far faster than he had predicted.
The long-time climate-change skeptic Richard Muller, a physicist at the University of California, Berkeley, agrees. “Global warming is real,” he says, “and humans are almost entirely the cause.” The time has come to have a serious national debate, not about whether global warming is taking place, but rather what we are going to do about it.
The low-key exchanges about the U.S. energy future during the current political campaign, with the Romney camp pushing increased use of carbon fuels and the Obama team supporting greater use of renewables, may supply a starting point. Investing in alternative energy supplies is not only about jobs. It is also about the long-term costs of global warming, preserving a future for ranchers and farmers, preventing higher grocery prices and water rationing, minimizing the costs for re-engineering our coastal cities in the face of rising oceans and curbing the growing expenditures for rebuilding after weather emergencies.The New Body Snatchers
In the film “The Body Snatcher” (1945), with Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, a 19th-century doctor collects bodies for his scientific experiments. The recent four-part award-winning report “Skin and Bone: The Shadowy Trade in Human Body Parts,” published by the Inter-national Consortium of Investigative Journalists in a variety of media, documents a horror worse than the film’s.
The humane practice of donating one’s organs for transplantation is admirable. Less admirable is what sometimes happens to the rest of the body without the donor family’s consent. Delivered to the mortician but then passed on to unscrupulous operatives, the corpse is dismembered and skinned, and the tissue is processed and sold by “corpse wranglers” on a market that involves over 2,500 companies.
In one case Michael Mastromarino, a dental surgeon in Brooklyn, N.Y., who owns a tissue recovery firm in New Jersey, received the corpse of a suicide, whose skin, bones and other parts were used to manufacture medical products. He lied about the manner of death and falsely claimed to have the family’s permission. He has stolen skin, bones and other body parts from grandmothers, factory workers and the notoriously despoiled body of Alistair Cooke. His business was registered on Nasdaq.
The trade in body parts is an out-of-control multimillion dollar industry. It deceives the original donors, who wished to give, not sell their bodies and commodifies the human corpse. New York’s Senator Charles Schumer proposed a law that new tissue banks meet minimum standards and undergo inspection by the Federal Drug Administration. The funeral home and tissue vendor industries killed the bill.The Book-Buying Generation
For years the baby boomer generation, those born between 1946 and 1964, has purchased more books than other generations. That is hardly surprising in light of its size, currently 75 million. The boomers’ lead in book buying has now been surpassed, according to the 2012 U.S. Book Consumer Demographics and Buying Behaviors Annual Review, a volume that book publishers consult to find out who buys what, where and for what reasons. (Confession: We have not bought a copy, which sells for $799, and cannot provide detailed figures.) But Publishers Weekly, a co-publisher, has broadcast this tidbit: Generation Y, those born between 1979 and 1989, outspent the baby boomers, who are mostly their parents, in 2011. GenY also surpassed the boomers in size, with a current population of 80 million. Their share of U.S. book purchases in 2011 rose to 30 percent. The boomers, by contrast, bought just a quarter of all books sold in 2011.
Online sales are also increasing, with 43 percent of GenY purchases made online. Whether buyers are seeking new or used books, self-published or traditionally published books, paper or e-books, they increasingly turn to online markets. That could bode ill for the future of real, not virtual bookstores, and it may reduce or markedly change the culture of browsing and socializing over books. Book buying is not the same as book reading, of course, since books are borrowed as well as purchased. The saddest number in the report is this: 51 percent of U.S. consumers neither buy nor borrow books.