Year 2, Month 12, Day 31: A Gloomy Old Soul…

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Business section runs an article on the status of Big Coal in the region:

The coal called “king” in this region, an acknowledgment of its presence and power, sometimes seems in danger of facing a coup.

Just in the past week, federal agencies announced stricter regulations on pollution for coal-fired plants, with even former Pittsburgh Steeler Jerome Bettis filming commercials to strong-arm legislators into passing the restrictions.

Add into the mix a natural gas boom that’s overwhelming the region and its lawmakers. Then there are the alternative options such as nuclear and wind energy that have won endorsements from the White House.

With the pressure coming from all sides, the monarchy appears threatened.

But a look at coal’s ever-overpowering numbers suggests a different narrative and proves the black rock remains as much a local institution as the football team for which Mr. Bettis once lined up in the backfield. The state still contains so much coal that it produces more power than its citizens and businesses need, with the extra used to light major metropolitan zones along the heavily populated East Coast.

Smoke, smoke, smoke that cigarette! Sent December 27:

When two realities collide, they can do a lot of damage. The slow-motion catastrophe of climate change is bringing us more extreme and unpredictable weather; naysayers find it increasingly difficult to reject the climatological evidence that humanity’s overconsumption of fossil fuels poses a deadly danger to the planet. That’s one reality.

On the other hand, America’s economy is understood to depend on plentiful cheap energy, which means, more than anything, coal. That’s another reality.

Representatives of the industry hold economic growth as a top priority, and call environmentalists “unrealistic” for decrying the link between burning black rock and burgeoning greenhouse effect. However, the reverse is equally true: by denying or covering up scientific evidence and analyses that could impact their profit margins, coal companies reject the reality of their product’s toxic consequences.

Ultimately, the laws of physics and chemistry will win; they always do. Will human beings be the losers?

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 12, Day 30: May He Touch You With His Noodly Appendage

The Mankato Free Press (Mankato, MN) runs a piece about an evangelical Christian with some scientific background who is attempting to win over her flock:

Hallelujah to spreading the word about climate change.

That’s what climatologist, and evangelical Christian, Katharine Hayhoe is doing.

She doesn’t think being a scientist and Christian cancel each other out. She has chosen to be vocal about her trust in scientific data while retaining her beliefs as a Christian. She is married to an evangelical pastor and is the daughter of missionaries.

And she has a lot of guts for putting herself out there to spread the word about how real global warming is. It can’t be easy to be a scientist in the South where in the past few years conservative Christians have been claiming climate change is a hoax.

Her own words give a clear impression of how levelheaded she is: “People ask me if I believe in global warming. I tell them, ‘No, I don’t,’ because belief is faith; faith is the evidence of things not seen. Science is evidence of things seen. To have an open mind, we have to use the brains that God gave us to look at the science.”

Well. Every little bit helps; if she can get this community to wake the hell up, more power to her. Only if our species survives can we gradually wean the majority of humans away from the delusions of religion. The Mankato Free Press has a 275-word limit, so I let myself expand a bit.

Sent December 26:

When fundamentalist Christians deny measurable reality in their rejection of global climate change, they undercut their own credibility. The commonly accepted picture of evangelicals is that they are almost pathologically vehement in their rejection of science and scientific thinking; while a few do believe planetary warming exists, these folks are readier to attribute it to an impending Armageddon rather than the greenhouse effect, an empirically verifiable phenomenon caused by too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Most “true believers” have no problem accepting the evidence of science when it does not pose immediate conflicts with their biblical ideology. They vaccinate their children against polio, ride in airplanes, use the telephone and the internet, share photographs, drink pasteurized milk and in most respects confirm the validity and efficacy of scientific methods. What makes climate change so different?

Simply: the fact that Republican politics relies on oil companies for money — but on fundamentalist Christians for votes. Preparing for the threat of runaway climate change will require a dramatic change in America’s energy economy which will mean reduced profits for Big Oil. These corporate malefactors have responded by heavily funding a great deal of disinformation in our media — and conservative Christians have swallowed it, hook, line and sinker.

Kudos to Katharine Hayhoe for her readiness to spread the word, and her readiness to express the urgency of the crisis from the perspective of her faith.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 12, Day 29: Government Should Be The Tool Of The People…

The South Bend Tribune (IN) runs a teaser on a group at Notre Dame who’ve done something awesome:

SOUTH BEND -A team of University of Notre Dame scientists say they’ve developed a “solar paint” that can inexpensively harness the sun’s power.

The team says its “Sun-Believable” paint moves the silicon-based solar power industry into new territory by using nanoparticles that act as semiconductors to turn sunlight into power. Their findings appear in the journal ACS Nano.

The Notre Dame team led by biochemistry professor Prashant Kamat created its paint from tiny particles of titanium dioxide coated with one of two cadmium-based substances. That’s mixed with a water-alcohol mixture to create a paste. When the paste is brushed onto a transparent conducting material and exposed to light, it creates electricity.

It’s nice to read good news. The interesting question was how to turn such a bare piece into a possibly publishable letter. Sent December 25:

The Notre Dame team’s newly announced solar paint is important not only as a fresh initiative in the ongoing struggle against the looming catastrophe of global climate change, but as a reminder of what a reality-based government could be doing with our tax dollars.

In an energy economy based on fossil fuels, our taxes fund substantial corporate subsidies for oil and coal, not to mention some very expensive wars. Furthermore, we’ve got to clean up the messes left by our century-long carbon binge, and address the health impacts of an awful lot of pollution. That’ll cost us.

In an energy economy based on renewable sources, by contrast, contributions to our government would fund projects like Professor Prashant Kamat’s paint — and we wouldn’t have to pay the price in blood and treasure to protect our sources of supply.

I know what I’d rather buy with my tax dollars. Do you?

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 12, Day 28: I’m Writing Four Days Ahead Of Schedule. Is That Long-Term Enough For You?

Long Island’s “Newsday” runs a thoughtful piece from Kavita Rajagopalan, titled “Climate-change waiting game.” It’s worth a read:

It’s the end of another year, a time to look back and take stock, maybe even make a resolution or two for the future. And there’s no bigger future to contend with than that of the planet. Unfortunately, after two weeks of intense negotiations at the 17th United Nations conference on climate change earlier this month, leaders from nearly 200 countries resolved to . . . wait.

Holding off on serious and coordinated global action to reduce emissions not only drives us closer to irreversible climate change, it gives us the false sense that we really aren’t in the grave danger that we are.

Although delegates agreed to draft a new treaty holding all nations to the same emissions standards and rules, they also agreed they it wouldn’t come into force until 2020. In the meantime, the contentious and flawed Kyoto Protocol emissions standards — which the United States never ratified — have been extended by another decade.

We don’t have another decade to put off a global resolution on climate change. The Global Carbon Project, an international collaboration of scientists tracking climate change data, recently reported that global carbon dioxide emissions increased by 5.9 percent in 2010, the largest ever recorded annual jump. This amounts to an additional half billion tons of carbon in our air.

In the last decade, global carbon emissions rose by an average of 3 percent each year, up from the 1 percent annual growth rate of the 1990s. Despite increasingly urgent warnings from leading scientists all over the world, the move toward a concerted global effort to bring down emissions and work together to mitigate climate change has been slow.

Why?

It’s interesting, trying to learn what our tribal ancestors did without thinking: incorporating long-term impacts into our collective decision-making. Sent December 24:

If the industrialized nations are to respond successfully to the challenges posed by the climate crisis, we must change more than our patterns of energy usage. Those ways of living are symptoms of some very deeply rooted misconceptions which must be transformed if the struggle against a changing climate is to end well for us all.

Because Earth’s resources are finite, we can no longer idealize an economy based on the notion of continuous expansion (as Edward Abbey put it, “growth for growth’s sake is the ideology of the cancer cell”). Because the atmospheric changes wrought by our past century’s extravagant consumption of carbon fuels will take thousands of years to go away, we can no longer afford to focus only on the satisfactions and frustrations of the present moment. To accomplish a sustainable society, we — all of us — must learn to think in the long term.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 12, Day 27: A Long, Long, Time Ago In A Galaxy Right Here

The North Island Gazette (BC) runs a vaguely philosophical column on Canada’s withdrawal from Kyoto and all that it implies:

Canada is the first country to formally pull out of the Kyoto Accord. Of course with this comes all the politics of lies sitting under the tongue like salted honey from all political corners.

Elizabeth May of the Green Party says it’s going to be a disaster.

Former Prime Minister Jean Chretien used good old fear factoring when he said: “Next may be a woman’s right to choose, or gay marriage,” implying the Conservatives will shut them down.

The drama of Earth’s climate has unfolded over such a long period of time it is almost impossible to comprehend as humans, as a species we barely register in the annals of Earth’s history.

If climate history was condensed into one year, the entire evolution of our species would have occurred just over four hours.

It’s nice to see someone writing about timescale issues. Sent December 23:

Most human endeavors operate on short timescales: months, years, decades. Consequently, it’s extremely difficult for us to grasp the implications of the changes industrialized civilization has made to the atmosphere — implications unfolding over centuries and millennia. A thousand years ago Europe was in the middle of the Dark Ages. A thousand years from now, the CO2 we’ve emitted over the past century will start to dissipate. If our species is lucky, by 4011 our descendants will learn about the Hot Ages in history class.

As a citizen of the country with the world’s highest per capita greenhouse emissions, I am sorry to see Canada joining the United States in rejecting meaningful policies for addressing the coming climate catastrophe. The corporate forces of climate-change denial have a strong hold on the news and opinion media of both countries, and are equally enmeshed in their politics — a recipe for disaster.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 12, Day 26: The Times They Are a’Changing

The Jerusalem Post heralds the coming of the New World Order:

The outcome of the latest round of climate change negotiations in Durban was as good as any dared hope for. A second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, together with agreement from all countries to begin negotiations on a new legally binding instrument, or an agreement with “legal force,” is a major step forward. However, Durban will be remembered for much more than that; as the place where the tectonic plates of international relations fundamentally shifted.

The group of countries that drove the outcome in South Africa was a new coalition involving the EU and the BASIC countries – Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa.

The emergence of this alliance of countries is significant for two reasons. First, these countries share a vision about the future and are committed to a path of low carbon, sustainable development. They recognize that this is the only pro-growth, pro-development strategy.

Second, this grouping signals a dissolving of the traditional divide between rich and poor countries. For too long international negotiations have been hampered by an overriding solidarity between developing countries and a culture of blame. Durban saw a new maturity with the major developing countries partnering with progressive, developed countries and beginning to take responsibility for the future direction of the global economy.

This shift of the tectonic plates is based on enlightened self-interest. On the one hand, there is no long-term scenario under which a fossil fuels-based economy is either sustainable or desirable for the human race as a whole. Reliance on fossil fuels, with supply risks in terms of political stability in oil producing regions, dwindling supplies and volatile prices together with an unstable climate caused by increasing emissions of greenhouse gases, present serious risks to a growing economy.

This gave me the opportunity for another more-in-sorrow-than-anger version of my “Corporations-are-teh-suck-and-America-is-doomed” screed. Sent December 22:

When an enormous amount of work must be done in an extraordinarily short span of time, it’s essential that everyone involved recognize the necessity of the task. Alas for the American exceptionalists, the USA’s energy and environmental policy is now essentially crafted for the benefit of the multinational corporations whose influence is felt throughout the country’s government — and these economic leviathans have no conception whatsoever of the greater good.

The “American Century” is well and truly over, a fact exemplified by the USA’s paralysis in the face of climate change. Fully half of my country’s lawmakers choose to deny scientific reality when it fails to match their ideological preconceptions. The emergence of the EU/BASIC coalition from the Durban talks is most welcome. If the United States cannot lead in the fight against climate catastrophe, then at the very least it should refrain from hindering the nations which can.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 12, Day 25: Vayu, Dude!

Sri Lanka’s Energy Minister writes a long op-ed in the Sri Lanka Daily News, titled “Taking On The Energy Crunch”:

I observed two emerging trends in Durban. The first is that North America getting increasingly marginalized by Europe and the other is China and India, embroiled each other in many issues, coming forward with new proposals. The Chinese presence in Bali, Poznan or even Copenhagen was hardly noticed. However, the presence of China is now getting increasingly noticed, especially due to its possession of the most cost effective renewable energy technology (solar and wind) and more importantly, its sound financial position, required for implementation of its plans.

When China proposed emission cuts to be made effective from 2020, the developed countries, excluding European Union, raised objections to it. However, they finally settled down for a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol and accordingly, go in for mandatory agreements in 2015. By that time I hope China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Indonesia would be able to lead climate discussions with the progressive support from the European countries.

Since Asia is now moving and shaping the new world, it is high time it leads the sustainable development and green growth, whilst imposing green sanctions against the USA and Canada. This double dip global economic crisis may end up creating a new sustainable future if we were to fulfill our historical responsibility.

I’d love to visit Sri Lanka before it slides beneath the waves. Sent December 21:

It is obvious by now that the governments of the industrialized world have been so subverted and co-opted by corporate influence that they are unable to formulate and implement any genuinely responsible energy and environmental policies. The current dysfunction of America’s political system is a vivid example of what happens when the lust for profit trumps the well-being of the people.

While the world’s climatologists have long since come to a consensus about both the human causes and the genuine dangers of climate change, fully fifty percent of US politicians are unable to acknowledge scientific reality. While as an American citizen I am disappointed by my own country’s paralysis in the face of a grave existential threat, as a human being, I am delighted by Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka’s suggestion that Asia take the lead in developing meaningful strategies for addressing the climate crisis. There is no time to spare.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 12, Day 24: Of Course I Believe In Free Will; I Have No Choice.

The Philippines got whacked with some serious weather recently. A lot of deaths, a lot of damage, a lot of tragedy. The Philippine Sun-Times runs an editorial titled “Tempting Fate”:

TWO interesting points in the latest tragedy to hit the country: Sendong poured a month’s worth of rainfall in 24 hours in certain regions, including the worst-hit areas of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, and tropical storms do not hit Mindanao often.

The first point presupposes a calamity, the second complacency. When the two are in one brew, the result is deadly.

“Mindanao is usually not a typhoon-prone area,” Gwendolyn Pang, secretary general of the Philippine National Red Cross, was quoted by an Agence France Presse (AFP) report as saying, “that is why most residents were caught unprepared.”

“Climate is changing. We must also change the way we address climate issues,” she added. That’s another way of saying people everywhere, including places that feel safe by tradition, should be complacent no longer.

That can be done if officials dust off warnings left rotting in old files and wield political will to address them.

Meanwhile, American politicians are obsessing about your freedom to buy shitty light bulbs. Sent December 20:

Human-caused climate change is not something looming in the intangible future, but a phenomenon that is unfolding everywhere, right now. Human civilization is rooted in the stable and predictable weather our planet has experienced for the past twelve thousand years or so; it is during this comparatively short span of Earth’s history that agriculture was developed, and that industrialization transformed the world.

Now the atmospheric transformations brought about by the carbon-burning industrialized nations are bringing this time to an end. Consistent weather patterns will soon be a thing of the past; complacency in the face of this transforming climate is a very dangerous attitude.

Politicians from the developed world seem unable to imagine the world we are entering, or to conceive a culture that is not powered by burning coal and oil. Their failure to take responsibility for the disaster they have wrought has grave repercussions for the international community.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 12, Day 23: The Menace From Earth

The Miami Herald notes a new report from NASA detailing ecosystem transformation in the wake of climate change:

Global warming could bring a major transformation for Earth’s plants and animals over the next century, a NASA study says, driving nearly half the planet’s forests, grasslands and other vegetation toward conversion into radically different ecosystems.

The ecological stress could give a boost to invasive species, but at the expense of natives, reducing the diversity of plants and animals overall.

And humans are likely, almost literally, to cut them off at the pass: When plants and animals attempt to survive by shifting their geographical ranges, as they have in past episodes of climate change, they’ll be blocked by farms and cities.

“If half the world is driven to change its vegetation cover, and meanwhile, we’ve fragmented the surface of the Earth by putting in parking lots and monoculture agricultural zones and all these other impediments to natural migration, then there could be problems,” said lead author Jon Bergengren, a global ecologist who was a postdoctoral researcher at Caltech when he did the study.

“When, suddenly, plants and animals aren’t living in habitats to which they’re adapted, then you start to get an unhealthy planet,” he said.

The comments on the article are a mass of stupid. Plus ca change…

Sent December 19:

Conservative politicians routinely ramp up their anti-immigrant rhetoric for the benefit of their xenophobic constituents. Curiously, however, they dismiss the extralegals most likely to cross America’s borders in a post-climate-change future.

Let’s leave aside the obvious fact that climate-driven resource wars and geopolitical instability are likely to lead to vastly increased numbers of refugees in the coming decades. Rather, let’s focus on the immigrant populations which will do the most damage to America: invasive species. Migrating from their customary ecological niches in response to rapid climatic shifts, these visitors will be part of a traumatic environmental transformation over the next century, rendering vast parts of the United States unrecognizable.

While disease-bearing insects, non-native plants and other such unwelcome visitors will have far greater economic impact on our nation than any undocumented human immigrants, you won’t hear any candidates for election mention them at all. I wonder why?

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 12, Day 22: Oh! What A Situation Is Now Confronting The World!!!

The North County Times (CA) runs a piece on the specific local and regional impacts of climate change:

For instance, speaker Marty Ralph, a branch chief for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said both droughts and floods will become more pronounced in coming decades.

Water supply may diminish as snow lines rise in the mountains, reducing winter snow packs, which act as natural reservoirs, he said. As warmer temperatures extend the growing season, plants will absorb more runoff.

“You’re going to end up with less water in streams, because basically the ecosystem is consuming more of it along the way,” he said.

Fierce storms could exceed previous natural disasters, straining the state’s emergency resources, he said.

For instance, he said, models show increasing risk that an immense storm could strike Southern California, draw emergency responders from around the state, and then, days later, hit Northern California, to cause as much as $500 billion in damage.

“This is Katrina on steroids,” he said.

Katrina and Godzilla, sitting on a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G. Sent December 18:

“Katrina on steroids.” It’s true that phrases which connect directly to our own experience have much more impact than the statistics and analyses which make up much scientific reporting. Nowhere is this more crucial than in the domain of climate change, where an ADD-afflicted media and an easily distracted population make it all but impossible for the facts of a profound global crisis to penetrate.

Climate change isn’t something that’s going to happen to some other people sometime in the future; it’s something that’s happening now, to you and me. Agricultural failures leading to higher food costs? Infrastructural damage? Droughts that are increasing in severity and frequency? Wildfires? Insects carrying tropical diseases migrating North? The coming decades will see all of us feeling ever more severe impacts as the greenhouse effect continues to destabilize the Earth’s weather patterns — the future is now, and those other people are us.

Warren Senders