Year 2, Month 8, Day 31: Variation On A Theme I

The Worcester Telegram for August 28 has a routine AP article on my state’s preparation for Hurricane Irene:

BOSTON —  Massachusetts prepared yesterday to get belted by Hurricane Irene as the weakened but still powerful storm spun up the East Coast, threatening to shut down bridges onto Cape Cod and dump a foot of water to the west.

Two thousand Massachusetts National Guard troops were activated Saturday, joining the 500 already deployed Friday. Meanwhile, President Obama declared a state of emergency in Massachusetts late Friday, meaning state and local storm response will be bolstered by federal aid.

I tossed off another version of my comparison for them and sent it along mid-afternoon on August 28:

If our nation talked about Irene like it’s talked about climate change, our print and broadcast media would be filled with pundits calling hurricanes a liberal hoax, sober voices agreeing that “scientific opinion is divided” on whether tropical storms actually exist, and cheerful assertions that gale-force winds and heavy flooding are actually good for us.

On the other hand, if we talked about global climate change like we’re talking about hurricane Irene, our news outlets would treat it as a legitimate emergency, updating threat levels regularly, helping people prepare for the worst, and offering perspectives on planning and preparedness for the coming centuries of extreme weather.

We can’t dismiss weather, since it happens to us every day. Climate, on the other hand, moves in years, decades, centuries and millennia, so it’s easier to ignore. Nevertheless, the threat is very real, and there is no more time to waste.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 8, Day 30: Pay No Attention To The Cyclone Behind The Curtain

The August 26 New Jersey Star-Ledger opines about the advent of Hurricane Irene:

We can now add Hurricane Irene among the symptoms that scientists warned we’d experience as global warming occurs.

Wind of up to 100 mph, predicted to lash the East Coast. Ocean waves as high as 12 feet. That’s in line with what scientists have said, that hurricanes would become more severe as ocean temperatures rise.

The comments section is a wellspring of stupid.

Sent on August 28, just before going out to check the windows and yard for wind-susceptible debris. The storm will hit later today.

If America responded to Irene in the same way it has dealt with climate change over the past decades, our television, newspapers and talk radio would be filled with voices asserting that hurricanes are a liberal plot, dueling pundits agreeing that the “science isn’t settled” on the existence of tropical storms, and blithe platitudes about how 100 mph winds and massive tidal surges are actually good for us.

Now imagine that we responded to climate change the way we’re dealing with Irene. We’d hear about current threat levels regularly in the media. Advice on preparation would be widely disseminated; strategies for mitigating the storms of the coming centuries would be part of our national conversation.

And that’s the difference: weather can’t be ignored, while climate moves on too grand a scale for us to notice. But climate change will bring weather the likes of which we cannot imagine. Let’s get ready.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 8, Day 29: The Tip Of A Rapidly Melting Iceberg

The August 25 Hartford Courant runs a piece by Robert Thorson, addressing the reality of drought conditions in the United States as a consequence of climate change:

No part of New England (according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s climatic data center) is experiencing drought. In contrast, 61 percent of the southeastern United States is experiencing moderate drought or worse, with Georgia taking the strongest hit. Things are much drier in the Southern Plains between Louisiana, south Texas, Arizona and Colorado. There, 84 percent of the land is experiencing at least moderate drought, with 47 percent experiencing exceptional drought.

Climate records are falling by the wayside: more than 6,100 records for warmer-than-usual nights, and 2,740 for hotter-than-usual days. Centered over west-central Texas is the largest footprint ever recorded for “exceptional” drought, based on the U.S. Drought Monitor. Texas is the launching pad for a presidential hopeful who denies that climate is being changed by human influence, and who seems to have forgotten that having a tea party requires water to make the tea.

I’m going to try and work the tar sands issue into as many of these letters as I can. Sent August 26 — I’m back from India and back at this grimly necessary work.

Increasingly frequent and severe droughts are only a part of the multiple vulnerabilities we and our descendants will have to cope with as climate change escalates. There’ll be heavier rains, too, since storms and extreme weather are part of the long-term forecast for humanity’s carbon-enhanced future. The conservatives’ simplistic caricature of “global warming” is a strawman; the work of climate scientists has predicted for decades that a runaway greenhouse effect won’t simply make the planet uniformly hotter, but will trigger innumerable local and regional effects, potentially disrupting and destroying ecologies, infrastructure and agriculture. While it’s too late to avoid many of the consequences of our civilization’s century-long oil and coal binge, we can still mitigate the severity of the coming storms if we rapidly reduce and eventually eliminate fossil fuels from our energy economy. Conversely, projects like the exploitation of Canadian tar sands are a decisive step in the wrong direction; if the Keystone XL pipeline is approved, droughts will be the least of our worries. It’s time to get serious about the reality of climate change.

Warren Senders

Catching up…

…we are waiting for Hurricane Irene to hit. Lots of rain.

Yesterday I spent the whole day outside battening down the hatches, which mostly meant securing the garden. Wire screens, tarpaulins, rope, string, wire, weights. Later on I’ll put up some photos. The whole thing looks flimsy and rickety, but I suspect it’s more robust than it seems.

I’m going to go out into the gathering storm and do some cleanup before the winds get too heavy.

There may be power outages. Good thing I’m a couple of days ahead on letters. I’ll get to pictures later in the next couple of days if we have electricity.

Year 2, Month 8, Day 28: We Suck! And We’re Big And Stupid! Yay, Us!

Last letter for a couple of weeks, from my side. As far as the public face of Running Gamak is concerned, letters will appear every day as usual. When this one shows up, I will have returned from India and will be recuperating from jet lag.

The August 10 LA Times runs an article on the Obama administration’s new mileage standards for heavy vehicles:


President Obama announced the first fuel-efficiency and greenhouse gas standards for long-haul rigs, work trucks and other heavy-duty vehicles Tuesday, the second mileage pact with manufacturers in less than a month.

The regulations call for reductions on fuel consumption and greenhouse-gas emissions by 2018 of 9% to 23%, depending on the type of vehicle. Trucks and other heavy vehicles make up only 4% of the domestic vehicle fleet, but given the distance they travel, the time they spend idling and their low fuel efficiency, they end up consuming about 20% of all vehicle fuel, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The announcement comes less than two weeks after Obama and the country’s automakers unveiled new fuel economy rules for passenger vehicles that would boost fleet-wide average gas mileage to 54.5 mpg by 2025, from about 27.8 mpg now.

(snip)

At a time when nearly all major corporate lobbying groups and the Republican Party insist that the administration’s environmental regulations destroy jobs, the automakers, the United Auto Workers union and truck and large engine manufacturers are collaborating on rules they say could create jobs. Most environmental groups also praised the new truck standards.

I get to quote Spiro Agnew in my first paragraph! Ha ha ha ha ha. Sent August 10:

It is laughably predictable: whenever a new environmental regulation is announced, the same conservative choruses shout that any attempts to behave responsibly toward our planet are inherently “job-killing.” It would be laughable if these nattering nabobs of negativism were holding hand-lettered signs on street corners; knowing they’re in partial control of our government is profoundly disturbing.

Leave aside the “green” issues for a moment, and concentrate on the Republicans’ underlying message. They’re saying American manufacturers can’t meet high standards, and American workers won’t take pride in making high-quality products. They’re saying that America can’t be bothered to take responsibility for itself in the world community, or to plan for the future.

Their version of American exceptionalism is based on sloppiness, laziness, distractability, hubris and indifference to the rest of the world. Call me an idealist, but these hardly strike me as good candidates for our country’s core values.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 8, Day 27: Please Don’t Let This Happen.

I’m writing this on August 9 — two days before I leave for India, and one day before I stop writing climate letters until I get back.

And this letter will see the light of the intertubes on August 27 — two days after I get back. I’m cool…and looking forward to my vacation!

This is about the potentially disastrous Tar Sands Pipeline project, which absolutely MUST NOT be allowed to happen.

Faxed to POTUS at 1 AM, August 10; mailed in an actual envelope with a stamp later that same day.

Dear President Obama,

In a sane universe, the notion of opening the Canadian tar sands to exploitation would never have arisen. The consequences of bringing this extraordinarily dirty form of energy into circulation would be catastrophic for North America and for our planet.

It would also, of course, pretty much doom any chance you would have to be remembered as an environmentally-conscious president. All the other advances you and your administration have made thus far would be nullified by the grotesque effects of the tar sands.

Tar sands will make impede our progress to a sustainable on many levels. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the greenhouse emissions from the tar sands oil is almost twice that of the average crude refined here in the USA. The yearly emissions from the Keystone XL project would be “roughly equivalent to annual CO2 emissions of seven coal-fired plants.”

It’s not just that tar sands oil is dirty at the point of extraction. The Keystone project necessitates significant deforestation, with an enormous loss of carbon sequestration function from the destroyed forests. Pipelines are highly vulnerable; leaks can have devastating effects on local ecosystems.

Climatologist James Hansen has warned us in very direct terms that putting the tar sands’ carbon into the atmosphere would be an irreversible tipping point to a runaway greenhouse effect. President Obama, your legacy should not include pulling this trigger on the planet. Please stop the tar sands pipeline.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 8, Day 26: King Canute Redux

The August 7 Sacramento Bee (CA) describes the importance of computer modeling in the future of climate science, and notes that a certain group of political types don’t like the idea:

Better computers should help with the difficult climate problem of clouds, which interfere with energy flow between the Earth and the sun in two ways, Kinter said. They reflect some of the sun’s energy back to space, a cooling effect, but also absorb and send back some energy the Earth emits, a warming effect.

Computers also are used to simulate how particles known as aerosols scatter or absorb heat in different ways, and how they interact with clouds.

Thousands of scientists around the world are working on better climate models. Kinter and his group focus on how predictable extreme events such as floods, droughts and heat waves will be as the climate changes.

(snip)

“Almost overnight, the question changed to ‘What is the impact of this climate change on our human and natural systems?’ ” said Lawrence Buja, of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. “We need to (present) as convincing a case as we can.”

But in the latest sign of distrust for computer models, House Republicans put a provision in a foreign aid bill to eliminate U.S. funding for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Naturally. Psychopaths, all of ’em. Sent August 8:

Has there ever been a major political party in America that has been so loud and proud about not being based in reality? It’s not just computer models that Republicans distrust, it’s any and all forms of verifiable information and research, as witness the anti-factual bias of Fox News, the GOP’s house media organ.

The climate crisis is real, growing and extremely urgent. The long-term consequences of a runaway greenhouse effect are far more significant globally than any other so-called “security” issue (an assessment with which Army and CIA analysts concur). Yet conservatives continue claiming the problem doesn’t exist. Of course, once the evidence finally overwhelms them, they’ll start yelling that “free-market solutions” (along with tax breaks for the very wealthy) are the only way out. My question: why would anyone want advice from people so hubristic they claim to be exempt from the laws of physics and chemistry?

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 8, Day 25: Cockroaches and Grasses?

More on the “Prairie grasses will do okay” story, this time from the August 7 Colorodoan, and featuring the researcher in charge describing his methodology. It’s pretty interesting:

CHEYENNE — On the plains west of here Thursday, plant physiologist Jack Morgan inspected some grasses growing on a plot surrounded by a hollow hoop beneath an array of small heaters suspended from metal rods.

“Can you hear the hissing sound?” he said. “That’s the sound of the CO2 being emitted. It does it at a controlled rate, and we measure it in the middle of that ring.”

What Morgan, a rangeland scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Fort Collins, really is measuring is how rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere as a result of climate change might alter how grasses and weeds grow in the western Great Plains – critical information for ranchers and cattle owners who could see their businesses reshaped by climate change.

There are, alas, negative consequences to positive consequences. Hence this letter, sent August 7:

Jack Morgan and his research team are offering something rare: a positive side-effect of climate change. While their findings of plant resilience are very welcome, it’s important to keep a sense of the larger picture. Increased drought resistance is crucial on a climatically altered planet, because there’ll be more droughts — along with more extreme weather of all sorts. The prognosis for Earth’s environment over the next millennia is pretty grim; extreme losses of biodiversity are probably inevitable, even if prairie grasses do better than expected.

Powerful forces in our media and politics have been actively denying the scientific basis of climate change predictions for many years. As the evidence keeps mounting, we’ll start hearing a “global warming is good for us” message instead, in which studies like Dr. Morgan’s will be misapplied to advocate against meaningful action on climate and energy issues. This must not be allowed to happen.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 8, Day 24: The Bad News IS The Good News

The August 6 Wyoming Tribune-Eagle reports that increased CO2 may help some plants resist droughts more effectively:

CHEYENNE — A rising carbon dioxide level may help protect some prairie plants from a decrease in water.

An experiment running at the Agricultural Research Service’s High Plains Grassland Research Station to the northwest of Cheyenne examined the interaction of slightly warmer temperatures, higher carbon dioxide levels and less water.

“The overview is that we’re doing research to evaluate the effects of climate change on grassland ecology,” Jack Morgan, plant physiologist and researcher with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said of the cause of the study.

Of course, without the climate change, there wouldn’t be as many droughts for them to resist. What the right hand giveth, the left hand taketh away. Or something. Sent August 6:

It’s certainly likely that some effects of climate change will have welcome consequences, like an increase in plants’ ability to resist prolonged dry periods. On the other hand, it’s irrefutable that as the greenhouse effect intensifies, the world as a whole is going to experience more droughts — along with more irregular and extreme weather events of every kind. Those plants are going to need every bit of their augmented survival capability to continue thriving in the coming centuries. So, of course, are humans.

We are clever creatures, and we’ll probably figure out how to keep on keeping on as the world’s climate changes. But we’ll need wisdom, forethought and resourcefulness if our species is to avoid what biologists euphemistically call an “evolutionary bottleneck.” Every day spent denying the threat of global warming is a day wasted; we can no longer delay in preparing for a radically transformed future.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 8, Day 23: He’s Naturally Stupid.

More fun with Tim Pawlenty’s remarks, this time courtesy of the August 5 LA Times:

Tim Pawlenty said in an interview this week that the science of global warming remains unclear and that Earth’s shifting climate is more likely due to natural causes.

The interview with the Miami Herald marked the most recent example of Pawlenty’s evolution on the issue. Once an advocate of cap-and-trade policies to reduce carbon admissions, the former Minnesota governor has since recanted his support for such proposals.

As the GOP presidential candidate told the Herald’s Marc Caputo:, “Like most of the major candidates on the Republican side to varying degrees, everybody studied it, looked at it. We did the same. But I concluded, in the end some years ago, that it was a bad idea. . . . We never actually implemented it. I concluded ultimately it was a bad idea. It would be harmful to the economy. The science was I think based on unreliable conclusions.”

Expanding on the Breslin idea from yesterday. Sent August 6:

So Tim Pawlenty thinks climate change is due to “natural causes,” eh? Sure, I’ll go along with that. As long as Mr. Pawlenty agrees that lung cancer and emphysema are “natural” responses to tobacco smoking, that heart disease is a “natural” response to obesity, and that brain damage is a “natural” consequence of traumatic head injuries.

Climate change is the atmosphere’s predictable and “natural” response to massive atmospheric releases of greenhouse gases, courtesy of the world’s industrialized civilizations. To pretend otherwise is to be deliberately ignorant of basic physics and chemistry, which may be fine for a FOX-fed tea-party zealot, but should instantly disqualify any aspirant to the nation’s highest office.

Mr. Pawlenty’s readiness to pander to the most extreme examples of anti-science zealotry in his party’s base are, of course, an opportunistic response to the exigencies of twenty-first century Republican electoral politics. I guess that’s “natural,” too.

Warren Senders