Month 7, Day 31: Grrrrrrrrr.

Newsweek ran an article on the “biggest losers” from the Deepwater Horizon debacle. This approach is typical of the horserace-obsessed journalistic establishment, and it’s part and parcel of our national ADD. Among the “losers” was a climate bill:

Who could have predicted that a landmark environmental disaster would make a comprehensive energy bill even less likely? Yet before the Deepwater Horizon explosion, offshore oil and gas drilling was actually a point of compromise between Democrats and Republicans in Congress. Obama had lifted the moratorium on exploration off the East Coast, which seemed like a gesture to win support from “Drill, Baby, Drill” Republicans for more far-reaching proposals, including a cap-and-trade scheme to curb greenhouse emissions. Now, opposition to offshore drilling has increased in the wake of the spill. In fact, Obama has imposed a six-month moratorium on deep-water drilling permits. MSN’s Jim Jubak observed, “Without increased drilling as a bargaining chip to offer, there’s no way to build the coalition necessary to pass an energy bill that focuses on fighting global climate change.” His words were prescient–with little support from the White House, leading Democrats finally pronounced cap-and-trade dead in the Senate last week.

This analysis has a modicum of short-term political factuality to it, but it’s also a way for Newsweek to avoid confronting the truth about their role in shaping the discussion.

Yes, by taking offshore drilling off the table, the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico counterintuitively played a role in making climate/energy legislation less likely to pass the Senate. But our continuing failure to confront climate change can’t be blamed on BP’s malfeasance. Rather, the responsibility rests with those who have fostered a culture of denial which has made it possible for our policy-makers to ignore decades of increasingly urgent warnings. By perpetuating a policy of false equivalence in which every statement from a qualified scientist is balanced by a dismissal from an industry-funded denialist, our media conveys the impression of an unresolved controversy. If the “debate” over climate change were represented accurately, we’d hear forty-eight climatologists for every “skeptic.” Our print and broadcast media have abdicated their responsibility to the truth, and their failure is going to have painful consequences for us all.

Warren Senders

Month 7, Day 30: Rules Are Made To Be Changed

Too tired tonight to find a newspaper to yell at; not enough time available to write a short letter. So I thought I’d just let Harry Reid know that we really really really really need to change the Senate rules on the filibuster.

Dear Senator Reid —

It’s been a bad year for citizens who are aware of the enormous threat posed by climate change. The Senate’s abandonment of a climate bill during this Congress is a bitter disappointment; more than that, it may mark the final closing of the window of opportunity. The signs are all there, pointing toward an unimaginably bleak and difficult future for our children and their children in turn.

A recent study sponsored by the Natural Resources Defense Council points out the impending desertification of huge swaths of the American West and Southwest; one analyst refers to it as a “permanent dust bowl.” This trend can be slowed and perhaps stopped, but not if we continue “business as usual.” That means that strong measures have to be put into place to reduce carbon emissions worldwide, and to transform our country’s energy economy.

Which, in turn, means that Senate Democrats must reform the filibuster, for this currently places effective veto power over meaningful legislation in the hands of people who are ideologically driven, pathologically short-sighted, and unable to act for the greater good.

Some of the time I sympathize with you; it must be unbearably difficult to be the de facto leader of an essentially dysfunctional organization. And some of the time I’m simply furious, because I am convinced you could have done more to make your Democratic colleagues maintain party unity on cloture votes.

Climate change is the greatest existential threat we face in the world today; if we fail to address it with sufficient clarity and resolve, no other issue will matter. The results of failure are unthinkable — but the roadblock in the way of action is the U.S. Senate.

Let’s get filibuster reform accomplished, so we can get something done. Time is running out.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 7, Day 29: False Equivalence — Variations on a Theme

According to the Financial Times (behind a subscription firewall, so I won’t link to it)…

International scientists have injected fresh evidence into the debate over global warming, saying that climate change is “undeniable” and shows clear signs of “human fingerprints” in the first major piece of research since the “Climategate” controversy.

The research, headed by the US National Oceans and Atmospheric Administration, is based on new data not available for the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report of 2007, the target of attacks by sceptics in recent years.

The NOAA study drew on up to 11 different indicators of climate, and found that each one pointed to a world that was warming owing to the influence of greenhouse gases, said Peter Stott, head of climate monitoring at the UK’s Met Office, one of the agencies participating.

The article quotes three climatologists. Then it quotes four so-called “skeptics,” presumably in the interests of balance (they include people from the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Cato Institute, a “blogger” and a financier who “follows climate change as a hobby.”). This shit makes my blood boil.

The evidence keeps coming in: climate change is real, it’s caused by humans, and it’s likely to cause enormous amounts of damage to the world we live in in the decades to come. The latest reports from the N.O.A.A. confirm what climatologists have been saying for years. 2010 is well on track to be the hottest year on record; storms and extreme weather are hammering places all over the globe; oceans are acidifying far faster than scientists’ rather conservative predictions — if we are to escape the direst consequences of global warming, we need concerted worldwide action, not cosmetic measures. But instead of helping people understand the dimensions of the crisis, our media choose to maintain a specious policy of false equivalence, as witness the ratio of climate scientists to denialists in Fiona Harvey’s article: three to four. To properly represent the scientific consensus, of course, the ratio should be around forty-eight to one. The Financial Times has abdicated its responsibility to the truth, and we are all the worse for it.

Warren Senders

Month 7, Day 28: Guess What’s Coming To Dinner?

There was a big storm in Washington, DC — so I combined yesterday’s letter to the Times with the one I sent to the Hartford Courant a few days back, and sent it off to the WaPo.

The recent storm that knocked out power systems and claimed lives in Washington over the weekend is a preview of coming attractions. As the temperature increases, more water enters the atmosphere, giving us more rain, more snow, more storm damage, power outages, and destroyed property. While no single storm is “caused” by global warming, the greenhouse effect makes these devastating storms more likely. And yet a significant portion of the American public thinks anthropogenic global warming is a “hoax.” Why? Because our news media have abdicated their journalistic responsibilities, hewing instead to a policy of false equivalence that “balances” a climatologist with an industry-funded “skeptic,” misleading the public that there really is a significant “debate” on this issue. There is no debate; if the scientific consensus on global warming was represented accurately, we’d hear from forty-eight scientists for every denier, and our nation’s citizens would be demanding meaningful action on climate change.

Warren Senders

Month 7, Day 27: Can I Get In Three Times This Year?

I’m about due for another round at the New York Times. They had a trifecta of editorials this weekend; I chose to respond to Lee Wasserman’s, but the other two are worth reading — Ross Douthat’s because it’s always good to know what people who aren’t thinking are thinking (the comments on his piece are excellent and a real relief to read), and Paul Krugman’s because he’s right, as he usually is.

As Lee Wasserman points out, the “loudest voices” in the climate debate won this round, to our collective detriment. But it is essential to note that our national news media helped make the collapse of a climate bill inevitable, by upholding a reportorial policy of false equivalence in which every climatologist’s scary prediction was “balanced” by a denialist’s dismissal. Unfortunately, the laws of physics don’t listen to TV news or op-ed pages. Anthropogenic global warming is recognized as a major threat to the human species by an overwhelming majority of climate scientists. To properly represent the “debate” over climate change, our media should show ninety-seven scientific authorities for every three industry-funded “skeptics.” A well-informed citizenry would have been better able to assess the true risks and rewards of meaningful action on climate. In this respect, the Fourth Estate has abdicated its responsibilities; we are all the losers for it.

Warren Senders

Month 7, Day 26: Once We Make Nanobots That Eat CO2 and Shit Diamonds, Our Problems Will Be Solved!

A CCS project in Billings, Montana has been shut down because of lack of funds. The LA Times ran the AP version of this fairly minor story, and since I was tired of decrying our failure to act on a climate bill, I thought I’d send them a little reality check.

It speaks volumes that a process that is “considered key for addressing climate change” rests on “a largely unproven concept.” The problems involved in economical carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) from burning coal are immense, and the technology is still in its infancy. It’s important to fund research and development in CCS, because it may lead to methods of removing carbon dioxide not only from coal plants, but from our atmosphere itself, where the greenhouse gas has built to dangerous levels. But it is both bizarre and tragic that we consider a yet-to-be-developed technology as an integral element of our response to an immediate crisis; if your house is on fire, you don’t have time for the fire department to invent a new kind of pump. There is an excellent way to keep the carbon in coal from entering the atmosphere: leave it in the ground. We Americans must radically transform our consumption habits, and recognize that our nationality conveys no inherent right to waste the Earth’s resources, further accelerating the climate crisis.

Warren Senders

Month 7, Day 25: Nothing’s Happening Here — Move Along, Move Along, Move Along…

It’s really really hot in New York City. The NY Daily News (a Murdoch fishwrap) had a headline which read:

Today’s forecast: Hell! Soaring heat will turn New York City into a baked apple

But of course everyone knows that Al Gore is fat.

Gosh. Whether or not Saturday turns out to be the all-time heat record in New York City, perhaps it is time for the Daily News to examine its editorial policy on the subject of climate change. The types of weather we are now experiencing all over the country and all over the world are exactly what climatologists have predicted as consequences of global warming: more extreme temperatures, more heavy precipitation, and more unexpected events. And this is just the prelude; the climatic orchestra is just tuning up, and in years to come we will see record-breaking days become record-breaking weeks and months, with devastating effects on health, infrastructure and the natural environment — not to mention our agricultural system, which is perilously close to climate-induced breakdown already. And yet our news media is unable to acknowledge the obvious truth: global warming is real, it’s caused by humans, and it represents the gravest threat humanity has ever faced in all our years as a species. How many more days of Hell does the New York Daily News require before it will start advocating meaningful action on the climate crisis?

Warren Senders

Month 7, Day 24: Half as Tired, Twice As Infuriated

Gosh. Who knew that it was environmental groups that are to be blamed for the failure of climate legislation?

Dear President Obama —

I was prepared to write a letter expressing a modicum of sympathy for your administration after climate legislation failed to make it to the Senate floor. But what did I find when I caught up on the news this morning? An unnamed “administration official” blaming environmentalists, saying that groups like the Environmental Defense Fund “weren’t able to get a single Republican convert on the bill.”

Well. That’s certainly going to motivate the base.

Instead of blaming the people who have been pushing day and night to get the best bill possible, who have been donating, calling, writing and working — why don’t you blame the people who are actually to blame: the Republicans? With a strategy of calculated obstructionism, these political nihilists have carried out the wishes of their financial masters in the corporate sector — the planet be damned.

For one of your officials to attribute this defeat to a failure on the part of environmental groups is a disgusting, demoralizing and infuriating abdication of responsibility on the part of this administration. I would point out that Harry Reid’s inability to get members of his own caucus even to agree on a cloture vote has far more to do with a climate bill’s failure than the EDF’s inability to persuade Republican Senators to vote against their short-term political interests.

I’ve been a Democrat all my life; my family is through-and-through Democrat — and make no mistake, I’m going to be working all-out to get Democrats elected this fall. But it’s sure as hell not because I have a lot of confidence in my party and its ability to do the right thing. We elected you to help turn this dysfunctional political system around, and we have been working as hard as we can to support you.

To have one of your officials deprecate our efforts in public is to spit in the faces of those who care the most.

Credit where credit is due; blame where blame is due.

Yours Bitterly,

Warren Senders

Month 7, Day 23: Tired & Angry. How ’bout You?

It’s very late. I’ve been cleaning the house all night…leaving for Toronto tomorrow mid-morning, where I will help celebrate my father’s 90th birthday…and meet up with my wife & daughter, who are at this moment flying back from two months in India.

My fury at the Senate’s abandonment of climate legislation is muted by my exhaustion. Usually I write this letter about 11:40 at night; I’m two hours behind. The Wall Street Journal ran an article about it, so I sent them a screed on the media’s failure to do its job. Think they’ll print it?

The failure of the US Senate to move forward on meaningful climate legislation represents the continued triumph of ignorance in our country — a triumph enabled by our news media. The scientific consensus is overwhelming that climate change is real, it’s dangerous, and it’s caused by humans. But the spurious doctrine of false equivalency requires that any climate scientist must be “balanced” by an opposing voice — actual fact-based reporting be damned. This is a sad day for America and a sad day for the world. Global warming’s effects are real and they are only going to get worse: more storms, more droughts, more displaced populations, more shattered ecosystems. By procrastinating (again!) on this most important of all issues, our senators demonstrate that short-term political exigencies count for more than the long-term good of the nation and the planet. Shame on them, and shame on the media which has abdicated its responsibility.

Warren Senders

Month 7, Day 22: It’s Raining, It’s Pouring…

Taking a brief break from Senators. Connecticut got badly whacked by thunderstorms that did a lot of damage. I sent this letter to the Hartford Courant.

The thunderstorms that have battered Connecticut are part of a new and rapidly-increasing trend of severe and unusual weather. As the greenhouse effect increases the overall temperature, water evaporates and enters the atmosphere — which means more rain in the summer and more snow in the winter. Which in turn means more storm damage; more power outages; more downed cables and disrupted traffic; more destroyed property; more insurance bills. While we can’t say that any single storm is “caused” by global warming, climate scientists have been predicting for years that carbon dioxide buildup in the atmosphere will affect overall weather in just this way. Another recent story in the Courant notes that a severe tropical storm has disrupted cleanup efforts in the Gulf of Mexico. How much worse must it get before Americans wake up to the reality of climate change and the urgency of action?

Warren Senders