Month 3, Day 1: Getting Al’s Back

Al Gore wrote an excellent piece in the Times this weekend. A Kos diary about it triggered an invasion of asinine denialist trolls, wasting bandwith with their bleating. I’m sure the Times got its fair share of letters from people who think James Inhofe is a scientist and James Hansen is an ignoramus…so I thought I’d weigh in.

It’s always an interesting challenge to get these things as close as possible to the 150-word NYT limit. Today, I managed it exactly.

Al Gore’s thoughtful advocacy for meaningful action on climate change will no doubt bring the climate-change “skeptics” out of the woodwork once again: these conservative denialists would rather watch the country fail and the planet burn than admit the former VP is right. It is absurd to imagine that our politicians and our media will learn enough science to do the right thing rather than the politically expedient one. Our inability to address the climate crisis is both an intellectual and a moral failure. In the 1950’s, Sputnik threatened our national pride — and America responded with an intensified focus on science education, building a space program that accomplished wonders. Fifty years later, the threat we face is not to our pride, but to our planet — and we respond by ridiculing those who sound the warning. Mr. Gore deserves the thanks of future generations, not James Inhofe’s uninformed mockery.

Warren Senders


Music of Mauritania: Dimi Mint Abba

The sound on the first two clips is pretty bad, but the music is wonderful. I love the integration of the electric guitar with the traditional Mauritanian instruments.

Dimi Mint Abba is Mauritania’s most famous musician. She was born Loula Bint Siddaty Ould Abba in 1958 into a low-caste (“iggawin”) family specializing in the griot tradition.

Dimi’s parents were both musicians (her father had been asked to compose the Mauritanian national anthem), and she began playing at an early age. Her professional career began in 1976, when she sang on the radio and then competed, the following year, in the Umm Kulthum Contest in Tunis. Her winning song “Sawt Elfan” (“Art’s Plume”) has the refrain “Art’s Plume is a balsam, a weapon and a guide enlightening the spirit of men”, which can be interpreted to mean that artists play a more important role than warriors in society.


The next clip sounds great. What a voice she’s got! It’s followed by an interview segment in clip 2.

Month 2, Day 28: Senate Action? Really?

So I learned that Harry Reid has told Kerry to get a climate bill to him as soon as possible. That’s good news. On the other hand, Harry Reid has not exactly been an inspirational figure recently. A Harry Reid Action Figure would fall down when you made a face at it.

I wrote him a letter. I hope he reads it.

Dear Senator Reid,

I read a recent report in the Washington Post that noted your strong commitment to passing climate-change legislation as rapidly as possible. I’m glad to hear this. Global climate change is the most pressing threat humanity has ever faced, and America needs to assume the lead in this matter.

I wish to make two points to you about this legislation.

First, we need to recognize that the cap-and-trade system is fundamentally flawed, subject to innumerable sorts of market manipulation and evasion of regulation. A stronger mechanism would be a revenue-neutral carbon tax, which would reduce emissions as well as provide incentives for research and development in alternative energy sources.

Second, it is absolutely crucial that you not give in to Republican demands as the climate bill approaches the floor of the Senate. The long prelude to the Health Care bill is an example of what I mean; over and over it seemed that you and the rest of Democratic leadership capitulated, not to an actual Republican threat, but to the threat that a threat might be forthcoming.

When our party’s Senate leader seems timid and conflict-averse, it demoralizes the people in the Party who have worked the hardest to secure us our current majority. We need Senators who are going to stand up for what is right, and a strong climate bill is both right and necessary. Do what you need to do to get coal-state Democrats on board with this bill. Give them some earmarks! Promise them green-job development funds! Twist some arms!

We need a fighter in this struggle; there is no time to lose, and none to waste.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

I Love Alim Qasimov’s Singing…

…just check this out:

And here he is with his daughter Fergana. Absolutely amazing:


Alim Qasimov, (born in 1957), is an Azerbaijani musician and is one of the foremost mugam singers in Azerbaijan. He was awarded the prestigious International IMC-UNESCO Music Prize in 1999, one of the highest international accolades for music. His music is characterised by his vocal improvisation and represents a move away from the traditional style of mugham.[1] Qasimov has recorded nine albums, three of which are mugham albums with his daughter, Ferghana Qasimova. He has performed internationally, including concerts in: France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Brazil, Iran and the United States.

Month 2, Day 27: If It’s Saturday, It Must Be POTUS

Now that we’re all done with HCR, and all that remains is to wait for April and a reconciliation vote (and to keep calling your Democratic congresscritters to make sure they won’t keep capitulating to the threat of a threat of a threat from some Republican somewhere) — well, it’s time for the President to kick a little butt on climate issues.

I only wish I were as sanguine about this as I was a year ago, shortly after the inauguration. This letter shows some of the erosion in confidence I have experienced.

Dear President Obama,

Congratulations on the success of your meticulously prepared Health Care Summit. You demonstrated a thorough command of the issues as well as a seemingly inexhaustible reserve of patience. A political opposition that cares more about ensuring the failure of your administration than about the well-being of the country must be a source of considerable exasperation.

I’m afraid that Health Care Reform is going to be the easy part of your agenda to enact. The problems with passing a meaningful and robust climate bill are manifold and more widespread. Those of us who are at least marginally competent in interpreting basic science know that the climate crisis presents the gravest threat humanity has ever faced. We also know that the windows of opportunity are closing rapidly; as the planet races from tipping point to tipping point, the “worst-case” predictions of climatologists from a few years ago are the “best-case” predictions of today. We need to act; we need to act strongly; we need to act immediately.

Unfortunately, a significant proportion of the American public doesn’t even believe global warming exists. When the pronunciamenti of corporate-funded denialists are given national platforms by an irresponsible media, the climate crisis intersects with an ignorance crisis to create a perfect storm. Mother Nature isn’t helping; snowstorms in Washington, DC form the perfect context for Senator Inhofe’s inanities, which fit perfectly with our aggravated case of national ADD.

When you were elected, environmentalists were delighted. We felt that at last we had a president who was ready to embrace science, to advocate for a reality-based energy and climate policy, and who would not back down in the face of opposition from the Coal and Oil Industries. The past year has seen much progress in environmental issues; more of it through the application of Executive Orders than through bicameral legislation. But as the stage is set for climate legislation, there are a number of troubling signs in the way you and your team handled Health Care Reform.

1. You gave away your strongest negotiating position before you even started. If you and the Democrats had been advocating for Single Payer health care, you could have been negotiated down to a Public Option. Instead, what we have left is a bill that has been watered down repeatedly by acquiescence to Republican demands; while better than nothing, it is much weaker than it needs to be. This cannot be allowed to happen with a climate bill.

2. You allowed the opposition to define the terms of debate. Your administration’s passivity during most of 2009 may have been based on your desire to have the Senate re-assume its rightful place in our system of government — but by now it should be evident to anyone that our Senate is hopelessly dysfunctional. The Republicans and the Tea-Baggers dominated the national media, and it was clear that your team was unprepared for the sheer lunacy of their assault. This cannot be allowed to happen with a climate bill.

3. You allowed your desire for “bi-partisanship” to overwhelm your desire for a bill that really did the best thing for the American people. Watching Senate committees exclude single-payer advocates and bend to the whims of Olympia Snowe has profoundly demoralized your Democratic base (unlike the Republican base, we actually pay more attention to policy than politics). Watching Harry Reid and the Democratic leadership capitulate preemptively to the threat that a Republican might make a threat has destroyed any confidence among your liberal and progressive admirers that Democrats can be counted on to stand up for our beliefs. That cannot be allowed to happen with a climate bill.

Your Health Care Summit Conference was a tremendous success. Now what’s needed is a full-bore campaign to educate the public about the need for strong and urgent action to mitigate the worst effects of the looming climate crisis. There is no time to waste. Please make plans for a Climate Summit. Engage experts to testify, but don’t expect to change many Republican minds. They genuinely would rather see the planet perish in a Venusian pressure-cooker than allow you and your administration any successes whatever.

If you wait for them to come to their senses before trying to get a bill passed, we will still be waiting in 2016 and in 2020. We’ll still be waiting when gigatonnes of arctic methane have entered the atmosphere and the greenhouse effect has spiraled completely out of control. Get a strong bill passed, and once it’s done, a few of them (and a few coal-state Democrats, too) may realize that it was the right thing to do.

If we fail in this, the failure will be all humanity’s. This cannot be allowed to happen.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

It’s My Father’s 90th Birthday!

Happy Birthday, Dad!

When I was a kid he came home from work with a 16mm projector and a reel of film. “We’re going to watch a movie,” he said.

After dinner he threaded the projector. It was film of him, carrying out an experiment on the quantification of difficulty — while driving a car down Route 128.

When people asked me or my brother what my father did for a living, it was not an easy thing to explain.

It still isn’t.

We’re off to a family get-together with a lot of people celebrating at a Chinese restaurant in Cambridge. It should be fun.

Month 2, Day 26: Bill McKibben Speaks For Me

Daily Kos diarist A Siegel directed my attention to Bill McKibben’s piece in the LA Times, which included a telling analogy (and one particularly suited to the Los Angeles audience:

The “dream team” of lawyers assembled for Simpson’s defense had a problem: The evidence against their client was formidable. Nicole Brown Simpson’s blood was all over his socks, and that was just the beginning. So Johnnie Cochran, Robert Shapiro, Alan Dershowitz, F. Lee Bailey, Robert Kardashian et al decided to attack the process, arguing that it put Simpson’s guilt in doubt — and doubt, of course, was all they needed. Hence, those days of cross-examination about exactly how Dennis Fung had transported blood samples and which racial slurs LAPD Det. Mark Fuhrman had used.


Similarly, the immense pile of evidence now proving the science of global warming beyond any reasonable doubt is in some ways a great boon for those who deny that the biggest problem we’ve ever faced is actually a problem at all. If you have a three-page report, it won’t be overwhelming, but it’s also unlikely to have many mistakes. Three thousand pages (the length of the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)? That pretty much guarantees you’ll get some things wrong.

The whole piece is terrific; like all of McKibben’s writing, it is a model of clarity and logic. So I thought I’d send the LA Times a letter, reinforcing his words. Here you go:

Bill McKibben’s comparison of climate “skeptics” to the O.J. Simpson defense team is spot on. These corporate-funded denialists exploit our tragically short national attention span in order to delay or derail meaningful action on global climate change. How do they do it? By shrieking about ambiguities in the data while ignoring the overwhelming evidence that same data provides. Why do they do it? Because they’re paid.

Climatologists have long forecast that local weather will get weirder and more unpredictable as the atmosphere warms. It’s counterintuitive that planetary warming can bring unexpected snow — but it’s also counterintuitive that a starving child’s belly swells. Regardless of its importance to our politics, Washington, DC takes up a tiny fraction of the world’s surface area — 1/285,507th, to be exact. Kwashiorkor doesn’t disprove world hunger; a blizzard in Washington doesn’t disprove global warming. We must move boldly to address the climate crisis. There is no time to waste.

Warren Senders

I Learned This Song in Summer Camp…

…a camp which was, not coincidentally, run by Pete’s elder brother John Seeger, who died just about a month ago at age 95. At Camp Killooleet, community singing was a regular feature, and one of the musicians who led the kids was a guy named George Ward. I learned this song from hearing him sing it.

Here’s Pete Seeger doing it.

Month 2, Day 25: They Live In A Pimple!

Just finished reading this, both depressing and frustrating. Casting about desperately for something to write and someone to write it to, I decided to take my pissy mood out on our newly elected Senator. It will be interesting to see his response. I bet I don’t get one.

I am going to send Kerry a copy of this, needless to say.

Dear Senator Brown,

I know that the Republican Party’s official position is that there is no such thing as global warming, and that this has been irrefutably proven by the recent snowstorms in Washington, DC. Because I am a Massachusetts resident, you’re my senator, and I need to give you some information; perhaps you may be able to use it someday.

The total surface area of Earth is almost 19,700,000 square miles. The total surface area of Washington DC is about 69 square miles. America’s capitol is 1/285,507th of the world’s surface. Not very much, is it? Let’s put it another way. An adult human being has about 20 square feet of skin, or about 1,858,000 square millimeters. 1/285,507th of a human body is about 6.5 square millimeters; a piece of skin slightly more than 2.5 millimeters to a side — the size of a zit. A small zit, at that.

Let’s look at the world outside Washington, DC. All over the globe, temperatures are rising. The worldwide average temperature has been steadily increasing for many years; perhaps you noticed that in Vancouver the winter Olympics had to import snow?  You may not have noticed that glaciers everywhere in the world are receding faster than climatologists have predicted; likewise, you may not have known that huge reserves of frozen methane in the Siberian arctic are now entering the atmosphere as the long-frozen permafrost “cap” begins to melt. Silly me. Of course you haven’t noticed these things: they’re not in Washington, DC!

While the laws of physics don’t care about the political posturing of U.S. Senators, they most definitely govern the behavior of greenhouse gases like CO2 (carbon dioxide) and CH4 (methane). And there is no disputing the fact that methane is even more effective at retaining the Sun’s heat in the atmosphere than CO2, the main focus of international climate concern for the last two decades. Although it decays more quickly, CH4 has a global warming potential more than 60 times as powerful as CO2.

To put it bluntly: if we don’t act decisively and aggressively to regulate CO2 emissions; if we don’t invest significant amounts of money in research on ways to capture methane before it enters the atmosphere; if we don’t recognize this as the gravest threat humanity has ever faced — our children and their children and their children in turn will live in an unimaginably different world. And they will curse us for our inaction.

Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that global warming is real, and that it’s largely caused by human activity. Three percent aren’t completely sure yet. Let me ask you, Senator: if you went to a hundred oncologists, and ninety-seven of them said you had cancer…would you take their diagnoses seriously?

As a Massachusetts resident, I expect you to act responsibly on the issue of climate change; I urge you to study the facts (which does not mean taking Sean Hannity’s word for it) and recognize the gravity of this threat. James Inhofe may make good television, but he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

cc: Sen. John Kerry

Month 2, Day 24: Backward Ran Senators Until Reeled The Mind

I read this piece in Time, noting that the hope of having an unfettered EPA with the power to regulate carbon emissions is now in danger, thanks to a bunch of coal whores moderate Democrats who are joining Lisa Murkowski’s bill to cripple the Agency.

I swear, I just want to throw something across the room some of the time. Our elected representatives can’t make rational decisions about anything further away than Washington, DC (in space) or the coming election (in time). And that is precisely the wrong sort of thinking for dealing with the climate crisis. We need global thinkers who understand the concept of centuries. And what have we got? A collection of ADHD-addled lobbyist-lickers.

It is unfortunate that President Obama’s hoped-for spirit of bipartisanship should take the form of multiple Democrats joining Lisa Murkowski in hopes of preventing the EPA from regulating carbon. America’s only chance to regain the initiative in coping with the impacts of global climate change lies in swift action; alas, the only thing our paralyzed and dysfunctional Senate seems to be able to do quickly is to prevent things from happening.

While we dither, greenhouse gas emissions accelerate; the planet warms; arctic reservoirs of frozen methane are beginning to melt and enter the atmosphere. If you like the greenhouse effect from higher CO2, you’ll love what happens when methane gets into the atmosphere. Climatologist James Hansen describes the worst outcome in a single word: Venus.

There is no doubt that global climate change is the greatest existential threat that humanity has ever faced. How does our broken political system face it?   By building igloos, by mocking Al Gore; by substituting short-term calculation for long-term vision; by sacrificing the lives of our grandchildren and their grandchildren for political expediency.  Since the Senate is incapable of responding to a clear and present danger with any sort of alacrity, we need the EPA to operate without restrictions; Senator Murkowski’s proposal is a disgrace to our present and a danger to our future.

Warren Senders