Year 2, Month 3, Day 31: They DO Believe In “Free-Market Fairy Dust,” Though.

It’s gotta be pretty rare to find an anti-pollution editorial in a Coal State paper. The Lexington Herald-Leader gives us an example:

And after 20 years of hemming and hawing, it’s time to start controlling the 386,000 tons of toxins that rain down on this country each year from coal-fired power plants, the No. 1 source of air pollution.

It’s past time, really.

A bipartisan majority of Congress in 1990 ordered the EPA to get to work on nationwide standards for toxic emissions from power plants. If people should be alarmed about anything, it’s that it’s taken so long and that the health of so many has suffered during the delay.

As the crisis at the Fukushima reactors reminds us, invisible substances in the air can do grave harm to human health and lasting damage to the environment.

Although I didn’t mention Semmelweiss by name, he was very much present in my thinking as I composed this. Mailed March 22:

It is astonishing in this day and age that some people still deny the harmful potential of microscopic particulates in the atmosphere. By now, most of us agree that germs, bacteria and viruses are the principal media through which disease is propagated — a theory validated in the late 1800s in the face of vehement denial. Why can’t we accept that atmospheric mercury poses a danger to us, to our children, and to the environment in which we live? In large part it’s because the oil and coal industries devote significant resources to obscuring the truth and elevating falsehoods — for example, asserting that pollution regulations on coal plants are “job-killers,” while conveniently ignoring pollution’s catastrophic health and environmental impacts. Similar mendacity is at work denying the planetary impact of CO2 emissions. Why should we trust billionaires whose fortunes depend on our continued consumption of oil and coal?

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 3, Day 30: How Ya Gonna Keep ’em Down On The Farm?

The Washington Post reports on a new initiative from the US Department of Agriculture:

MINNEAPOLIS — The federal government is investing $60 million in three major studies on the effects of climate change on crops and forests to help ensure farmers and foresters can continue producing food and timber while trying to limit the impact of a changing environment.

The three studies take a new approach to crop and climate research by bringing together researchers from a wide variety of fields and encouraging them to find solutions appropriate to specific geographic areas. One study will focus on Midwestern corn, another on wheat in the Northwest and a third on Southern pine forests.

Shifting weather patterns already have had a big effect on U.S. agriculture, and the country needs to prepare for even greater changes, said Roger Beachy, director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And since the changes are expected to vary from region to region, he said different areas will need different solutions. Some areas may gain longer growing seasons or suffer more frequent floods, while others may experience more droughts or shorter growing seasons.

Given that the WaPo has been climate-denial central in its OpEd pages for years (George Will primus inter pares), it’s always refreshing to see that its news division can still reprint an article from the AP.

Sent March 21:

It’s good news that the Department of Agriculture is putting some money towards preparation for the multivariate threats presented by runaway climate change. There is no doubt that the extreme weather events that accompany global warming present a grave danger to America’s agricultural productivity. Severe precipitation can erode farmland, destroy crop plants, or affect cultivation and harvesting. Furthermore, given the prevalence of monocultures on most large-scale farms, it is sobering to realize that regional temperature increases of only a few degrees can impact plant productivity significantly. But the USDA’s research isn’t enough. We must recognize throughout this country that denial of climatic facts is no longer an option; “tea-party” Republicans and timid coal-state Democrats both need to address scientific reality. There is no time to waste. If we fail to act decisively on the causes of anthropogenic global warming, a devastated agricultural system will be the least of our worries.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 3, Day 29: Maybe If Springsteen Said It, They’d Pay Attention

The Asbury Park Press (NJ) discusses the conclusions of a local scientist who states that New Jersey’s coast is in danger from global warming:

LONG BEACH TOWNSHIP — While the economy may be the most immediate issue, climate change is on our doorstep, said Melanie Reding, education coordinator for the Jacques Cousteau Coastal Education Center in Little Egg Harbor.

Reding spoke Saturday about sea level rise and what warming oceans mean for New Jersey’s coast, to an audience at the Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts and Sciences.

“New Jersey has a real issue,” Reding said. “Sixty percent of our population lives within the coastal region. We have low elevation and high population.”

The comments are a wellspring of stupid, with a few sensible voices bobbing up to the top of the froth.

Sent March 20:

When scientists announce that sea levels will rise dramatically by the end of the century, most of us just tune out; that’s a problem for our grandchildren, not for us. But this way of thinking is dramatically challenged by the facts of climate change. We’re in the early stages of a slow-motion catastrophe; if we care about our descendants (or indeed any future generations of humans) we must learn to think beyond the next season of “American Idol” — and into a future where our children and their children in turn will face the consequences of our generation’s oblivious wastefulness. And yet there are many people for whom the denialist shibboleths incessantly promulgated by our anti-science media form an essential supply of talking points. Scratch the surface of any climate-change “skeptic” and you’ll find something far more familiar: someone unwilling to accept responsibility or admit that change is necessary.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 3, Day 28: La La La La La La La….

The Citizen (Tanzania) runs an article on the recent Gallup poll on the environment, which shows that most American’s just can’t be bothered to worry about global warming.

I’ve never written to Tanzania before:

Sent March 18:

The numbers given by Gallup’s annual polling on the environment are distressing but hardly surprising. Enabled by the country’s promiscuous consumption of fossil fuels, most Americans enjoy many of the privileges of wealth, including that of ignorance in the face of overwhelming evidence. Given enough money and comfort, it’s possible to remain oblivious to even the clearest danger or the most egregious injustice. With per-capita CO2 emissions at levels twenty-five times greater than (for example) Bangladesh, the United States is one of the world’s primary drivers of climate change — but with American media and politics increasingly beholden to petroleum interests, it’s unlikely that US citizens will receive the information they need about how their habits of consumption affect the rest of the planet. Ignorance is indeed a luxury; as global warming’s feedback loops quicken, Americans will discover that great wealth is no protection from the consequences of their wastefulness.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 3, Day 27: You Call THAT a Disaster? Hah! I’ll Show YOU a Disaster!

John Sanbonmatsu has a piece in the Christian Science Monitor that pulls no punches in its headline: “Japan’s nuclear crisis pales in comparison to destruction from global climate change.” It’s well worth a read.

Sent March 18:

The Fukushima disaster is sure to have extensive generational repercussions, although it’s essentially a short-lived phenomenon; an isolated failure of technology in response to an extreme seismic event. As John Sanbonmatsu makes clear, the ongoing crisis of climate change is a slow-motion catastrophe of much greater magnitude and significance. Japan’s agony provides an opportunity to realize how inadequately we’ve prepared for worst-case events, combining a touching faith in technological solutions with a blinkered inability to address problems before they become emergencies. We need increased investment in renewable energy; we need a “smart grid”; we need updated infrastructure. But more importantly, the national philosophy underlying our approach to energy must be completely transformed. American energy policy must be based first and foremost on principles of efficiency and reduced consumption; the petrocentric Cheneyism that snidely decreed conservation merely a “sign of personal virtue” is in its essence both anti-American and anti-human.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 3, Day 26: Luckily We’ll Have GMO HFCS Instead.

The Danbury, CT News-Times runs a piece by Robert Miller on the future of maple syrup in a climatically reconfigured New England:

It’s not that there will no longer be maple syrup. It’s just that it won’t be made here. It will have to be shipped south for Connecticut pancakes.

it’s not as if the maples in the state will move en masse and quickly.


But if we do lose them, it will matter.

The native Americans in New England were making maple sugar before the Europeans arrived.

People have been walking in the winter woods, tasting the sweetness they have to offer, for a very long time.

Sent on March 25:

It’s saddening to think of New England’s maples slowly giving way to other species, and of the small farmers whose trees produce syrup for the region’s pancakes and waffles — and who’ll be shutting down their operations. Seen in isolation, this is a minor historical blip: there’s nothing unusual about a local food becoming harder to find. But the culinary consequences of climate change are hardly limited to America’s Northeastern states. The extreme weather conditions of anthropogenic global warming will have a huge agricultural effect. Considering the vulnerabilities of our staple crops is a sobering experience: a single day’s anomalous high temperatures can devastate corn harvests; monsoon failures can wreak havoc on rice production; wheat is likewise extremely vulnerable — hardly a single product of human agriculture won’t be adversely impacted. Climate change denialists need to wake up and smell the coffee — before that’s gone, too.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 3, Day 25: Rush Would Like That.

The San Francisco Chronicle documents the insanity in the House of Representatives. Like the BP oil spill, Republican denialism and stupidity makes letter-writing easy. I wish it were a lot harder. Don’t you?

Sent March 16:

If only the stakes weren’t so high, we could enjoy the spectacle of the Republican members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee steadfastly denying politically troublesome reality. Forget about adopting a meaningful energy and emissions policy; these worthies not only won’t admit that climate change might present a problem to our country’s agriculture, infrastructure and public health, they’re unwilling to go on record as acknowledging that it even exists. For anyone who’s been following the scientific evidence over the past several decades, the human causes of global warming are undeniable. Unlike the urban legend of Alabama legislators declaring pi equal to three, today’s anti-science Republicans are all too real, and their readiness to ignore evidence and expertise when formulating policy is an embarrassment to America’s reputation, and a source of grave danger to our future as a nation. What will the GOP try to nullify next? Gravity?

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 3, Day 24: Subtract The Second “M”

It must be really hard to be a progressive in Utah. The Salt Lake Tribune runs a story: one of the Utah Democrats in the House inserted an amendment that acknowledges the existence of climate change, but stops short of noting that it’s caused by humans. And the guy is proud of himself:

Matheson’s language, which doesn’t require any action, simply says that there’s established science that climate change is occurring and that Congress needs to have a policy to address it.

Matheson, whose congressional website says that climate change is human-caused, says with such a partisan divide he was attempting to find common ground.

“My goal was to show there is some basis where this committee can agree on something,” Matheson said later. “The only amendment approved all day was mine. My amendment reached consensus that everyone agrees there is a problem. I think that was a positive step.”

Additionally, Matheson argued that his amendment doesn’t say human activity didn’t cause climate change.

And another one of his idiotic Blue Dog pals came up with this reeker:

Rep. Mike Ross, a fellow Blue Dog Democrat from Arkansas further changed Matheson’s language to say that Congress could only address climate change in a way that doesn’t “adversely affect the American economy, energy supplies and employment.”

Both of these guys then voted with the Republicans in favor of limiting the EPA’s regulatory authority.

Sent March 15:

Rep. Matheson’s self-congratulatory tone with regard to his amendment on climate change is baffling — for anyone who’s actually following the science. At this point, the worldwide climatological consensus is absolutely overwhelming; while Matheson’s own website states that climate change is caused by human activity, his unwillingness to stand up for this belief suggests that he values legislative consensus more than factuality. Acknowledging the existence of climate change without addressing its causes is like describing reckless driving without mentioning the guy behind the wheel. Given the effects of increased extreme weather on America’s agriculture and infrastructure, Rep. Mike Ross’ statement that attempts to deal with climatic transformations must not “adversely affect the economy” is even more absurd. Climate change is what’s going to adversely affect our economy; preparing for it is (or should be) simple common sense. When floodwaters are rising, only an idiot complains that sandbags are too expensive.

Warren Senders

This one got published, and is attracting some comments.

Year 2, Month 3, Day 23: Ignorance Vs. Attendance

The Pasadena Star-News has a pretty good article on the recent study from NASA that subtracts most of the non-human drivers of climate change from the equation and finds (surprise!) that we clever apes are in fact responsible.

The crucial paragraphs are buried, of course:

Michael Ghil, a distinguished professor of climate dynamics at UCLA familiar with the research calls the graph “pretty striking.”

But while he says the study “adds another brick in the edifice of the scientific evidence,” he warns, “it’s not going to convince people who don’t want to be convinced.”

“The political controversy about action to be taken is fairly independent of accumulated scientific evidence. The evidence for anthropogenic effects is there,” he said.

Sent March 14, in between watching the disaster in Japan and feeding my daughter and her friend some snacks.

The findings of the JPL study make it clearer that human activity, in particular our relentless transferal of carbon into the atmosphere, is the prime driver of global warming. To anyone who’s followed climate science over the past several decades, this conclusion is hardly surprising — but a disturbing proportion of Americans no longer trust or understand science and scientific method. Even if we ignore the climate crisis, a national loss of scientific literacy is a tragic choking of our hopes for a prosperous future. But when the consequences of runaway climate change are factored into the picture, it’s an intellectual as well as an environmental catastrophe. When ideology supersedes fact, it’s a recipe for disaster. Our nation’s citizens and policymakers cannot afford ignorance’s long-term consequences. Those who derive financial reward or political capital from distorting scientific facts act against the best interests of our nation and our species.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 3, Day 22: Merastan Hamara Jai Jai Jai

The Portland (ME) Sunday Herald reprints an op-ed that first showed up in the Washington Post a little while back. Environmentalist Mike Tidwell talks about his decision to invest more heavily in survivalist accoutrements:

WASHINGTON – Ten years ago, I put solar panels on my roof and began eating locally grown food. I bought an energy-efficient refrigerator that uses the power equivalent of a single light bulb. I started heating my home with a stove that burns organically fertilized corn kernels. I even restored a gas-free lawn mower for manual yardwork.

As a longtime environmental activist, I was deeply alarmed by new studies on global warming, so I went all-out. I did my part.

Now I’m changing my life again. There’s a new set of dead bolt locks on all my doors. There’s a new Honda GX390 portable power generator in my garage, ready to provide backup electricity. And last week I bought a starter kit to raise tomatoes and lettuce behind barred basement windows.

Reading it again, I was struck by a significant omission that speaks volumes as to how deeply the Republican one-for-one and none-for-all ideology has permeated even the thinking of people on our side.

Mailed March 13:

Mike Tidwell’s pragmatic response to the reality of steadily-increasing climatic disruptions over the coming decades is correct — but incomplete. In his description of the steps he’s taken to prepare for what will certainly be a time of compounding difficulties, infrastructural disruptions, and interrupted food supplies, he omits perhaps the single most effective thing we humans can do to prepare for disasters we know are inevitable. Where do Mr. Tidwell’s neighbors figure in his plans? In circumstances where any individual or family unit will be terribly vulnerable, a community of people can persevere. While generators, food supplies, and survival skills are necessary in times of crisis, our capacity for cooperation to extend our influence more widely over time and space may be what rescues us from civilizational collapse. Interestingly, people who reject the notion of the “common good” are overwhelmingly likely to deny the reality of global climate change.

Warren Senders