Year 3, Month 1, Day 31: Just The Facts, Ma’am.

The Milford-Orange Bulletin (CT) runs an article detailing the work of a new group, http://forecastthefacts.org/ , which has called out a local TV weatherdude on his denialist stance:

As if broadcast meteorologists didn’t have enough pressure to get their forecasts right during the season of ice and snow, an advocacy group is slamming them for denying climate change. And one of the perceived offenders is Connecticut’s Geoff Fox of WTIC (Fox Connecticut), who in turn calls the people behind the group “zealots.”

{snip}

The group says that’s because the majority of meteorologists don’t believe in it. The online group (forecastthefacts.org) asks the public to sign on to the campaign to hold weathercasters accountable. It has a petition urging the American Meteorological Society to take a position on the facts of climate change and make it known to members.

Fox, a longtime forecaster in the Hartford-New Haven market who also does a science segment for WTIC, said Wednesday, “I’m not a denier, I’m a skeptic. The people who are advocating for global warming treat it like it’s a religion. So it’s like blasphemy (to question it).”

Good for forecastthefacts.org. This one was fun and easy to write. Sent January 25:

When it comes to climate change, there’s one absolutely sure bet: when someone says, “I’m not a denier, I’m a skeptic,” it means he’s a denier. Skepticism is a philosophical stance in which claims without verifiable evidence are rejected in favor of those which can be confirmed. Genuine climate skeptics are extremely rare, because the plethora of available evidence has convinced almost all of them that rising atmospheric CO2 levels are triggering a greenhouse effect, with potentially catastrophic consequences for human civilization. Climate deniers, by contrast, are a dime a dozen. They can be identified by their fondness for unsupported categorical statements, such as Geoff Fox’s, “the people who are advocating for global warming treat it like it’s a religion.”

The comparison is upside-down. Those who ignore the sound science of climate change are rejecting robust but disturbing evidence, in favor of debunked but comforting platitudes. In other words, deniers.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 1, Day 30: Ooooh, Tell It! Tell It!

This article by Naomi Oreskes (originally in the LA Times, I gather) is absolutely brilliant. Go read it. Here’s the opening to whet your appetite:

Recently I had jury duty, and during jury selection something remarkable occurred. Early in the proceedings, the judge posed a hypothetical question to the 60 or so potential jurors in the room: “If I were to send you out now and ask you to render a verdict, what would it be? How many of you would vote not guilty?” A few raised their hands. “How many would vote guilty?” A few more raised their hands. “And how many would say you didn’t know enough to decide?” Every remaining hand – about 50 people – went up immediately.

That, of course, was the wrong answer, and the judge proceeded to explain why. In the American system of justice, there is a presumption of innocence. Because no evidence had been presented, the state had not proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt, and we would have to render a verdict of not guilty. After her explanation, she posed the question again, and (except for a few who clung to guilty and were sent home) we all raised our hands for not guilty.

Jury duty was in some ways difficult, but in one respect, it was easy: We were given clear instructions by a recognized authority and we followed them. No one argued about who had the burden of proof. No one suggested that the judge was not an appropriate authority, or that we should reject her instructions. On the contrary, when the time came to deliberate, we referred on more than one occasion to her instructions, and when the time came to vote, we had little trouble reaching a unanimous verdict. Driving home, I found myself contrasting this with the issue on which I work in my professional life: climate change.

I study the history of climate science, and my research has shown that the think tanks and institutes that deny the reality or severity of climate change, or promote distrust of climate science, do so out of self-interest, ideological conviction or both. Some groups, like the fossil fuel industry, have an obvious self-interest in the continued use of fossil fuels. Others fear that if we accept the reality of climate change, we will be forced to acknowledge the failures of free-market capitalism. Still others worry that if we allow the government to intervene in the marketplace to stop climate change, it will lead to further expansion of government power that will threaten our broader freedoms.

What she said. The piece provided me with a truly excellent analogy, too! Sent January 24:

There’s a good reason jurors are told to avoid media coverage of cases they’re involved in deciding. Much so-called “news reportage” is irresponsible sensationalism built around the easiest and most convenient framing of the facts.

So it is with global climate change, which long ago was turned by media and opinion outlets into a politicized clash of personalities instead of a careful examination of scientific findings.

To anyone who’s been paying attention to the expert witnesses in the case — i.e., the climatologists who’ve spent their careers studying the phenomena of atmospheric warming — the evidence is conclusive and unambiguous. The crime? Climaticide. The weapon? Greenhouse gas emissions. The culprits? All who burn fossil fuels to support a lifestyle of consumption — but especially those who’ve knowingly spread disinformation in order to hinder necessary changes in our ways of living.

What’s the word for lying in court? Oh, yes. Perjury.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 1, Day 29: Bad Cop. No Donut.

The Washington Post runs an article purporting to demonstrate strategic vision for the long term. It’s called “Global warming would harm the Earth, but some areas might find it beneficial.”

When you talk to climate scientists about winners and losers, a few words come up over and over again: could, might, maybe. According to University of Arizona environmental economist Derek Lemoine, local climate-change patterns are difficult to predict because uncertainties in the global model “are compounded when considering smaller scales.”

For this reason, it’s very hard to pin down climate scientists on local effects. Klaus Keller, an associate professor of geosciences at the Pennsylvania State University, is working to develop strategies to manage the effects of climate change. I posed a simple question to him: If the leaders of Russia or Norway asked whether their countries would be better off in 50 years if the temperature increased by a few degrees, what would you say?

Jeepers. I’m going to get out a package of “Seventh Generation” toilet paper and drown my sorrows. Sent January 23 (it’s a three-letter day for me!):

It’s hard to imagine positing winners and losers from a burgeoning greenhouse effect over a five-decade time scale, as suggested by Brian Palmer’s question to Professor Keller: “If the leaders of Russia or Norway asked whether their countries would be better off in 50 years if the temperature increased by a few degrees, what would you say?”

Fifty years is an infinitesimal span of geological time. In the context of global climate change, changes in national well-being after such an interval are analogous to the health impact of a cup of coffee and a cigarette in the next two minutes; the brief stimulation offered by these fast-acting drugs doesn’t translate into benefits in the long run.

Humanity’s near-universal incompetence at long term thinking will have catastrophic consequences for our survival. A climate-changed 2060 may well see some nations temporarily ascendant, but having the best seat on a sinking boat is no consolation.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 1, Day 28: Mitt And Newt’s Excellent Vacation

The Aiken Standard (PA) runs the same AP article on the environmental disaster presented by America’s Republican Party. Here’s another excerpt:

Michelle Pautz, a political science professor at the University of Dayton who focuses on environmental policy, said the current slate of Republicans may not be giving much reason to applaud their environmental stances, but it may not matter much overall with the economy taking center stage.

“The bottom line is both with the GOP primary and looking to Obama and the general election, the green vote is a non-issue,” Pautz said. “There are too many other issues crowding out the environmental ones.”

But Tony Cani, the national political director for the Sierra Club, said taking what he calls “extreme” views on the environment won’t play well come Nov. 6.

“They’re going to be hurt with young voters, women, families, Latino voters,” Cani said.

Jim DiPeso, of Republicans for Environmental Protection, said he hopes to see a shift as Election Day draws closer, but that the state of politics right now has made ecological issues untouchable.

“A lot of the more pragmatic mainstream Republicans just are trying to steer clear of the issue because it’s become so politically fraught,” he said.

I wrote this after reading a liveblog on DK of the Monday night debate. It was fun. Sent January 23:

In a year where Newt Gingrich poses as an exemplar of political integrity and Mitt Romney has more positions than a porn star, it’s irrelevant whether the candidates “believe” in the science of climate change. Both have previously stated that they think global warming is happening — only to backtrack rapidly once it became clear that their party’s multi-decade anti-intellectual strategy has created a constituency for whom any sort of science is anathema. It is to them that candidates must appeal; the question is not whether Gingrich, Romney or any other political aspirant accepts the reality of an overwhelming scientific consensus on atmospheric CO2 and the greenhouse effect, but what GOP primary voters are willing to accept from their anointed representatives.

The Republican front-runners’ will profess their adherence to whatever their base believes, whether they themselves believe it or not. That’s bad for democracy — and bad for the planet.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 1, Day 27: Actually, It’s Just More Hippie-Punching

The Salt Lake Tribune (UT) runs an AP article on the anti-environmental stance of the GOP presidential field:

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. • Four years after the GOP’s rallying cry became “drill, baby, drill,” environmental issues have barely registered a blip in this Republican presidential primary.

That’s likely to change as the race turns to Florida.

The candidates’ positions on environmental regulation, global warming as well as clean air and water are all but certain to get attention ahead of the Jan. 31 primary in a state where the twin issues of offshore oil drilling and Everglades restoration are considered mandatory topics for discussion.

“It’s almost like eating fried cheese in Iowa,” said Jerry Karnas of the Everglades Foundation. Drilling has long been banned off Florida’s coasts because of fears that a spill would foul its beaches, wrecking the tourism industry, while the federal and state governments are spending billions to clean the Everglades.

Though most expect the candidates to express support for Everglades restoration — as Mitt Romney did in his 2008 campaign — environmentalists are noting a further rightward shift overall among the GOP field. The candidates have called for fewer environmental regulations, questioned whether global warming is a hoax and criticized the agency that implements and enforces clean air and water regulations.

This article is all over the place, so I’m going to build a few more letters on it over the next 36 hours. Sent January 23:

Since the early fifties, when a McCarthy-era Red Scare purged “China hands” from State Department (with predictably dismal consequences for US policy in Southeast Asia over the next twenty years), conservatives have built a electoral and media strategy by exploiting and nurturing a long-standing strain of anti-intellectualism in American life.

Climate scientists make a terrific target. For accurately reporting their findings and suggesting ways to respond to a genuine threat, they’ve been rewarded with mockery, hate mail, and death threats — while their legitimate concerns are derided by politicians whose electoral aspirations make it impossible for them to acknowledge genuine expertise. The candidates’ inability to address the scientific reality of global climate change is a symptom of their party’s lengthy effort to reduce intellectual influence on the crafting of policy. When the only experts the GOP respects are their political strategists, it’s no wonder their presidential field lacks intellectual heft, and it’s no wonder environmentalists are worried.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 1, Day 26: They Only Call It Controversial When They’re The Ones Stirring Up The Controversy

The Santa Fe New Mexican notes that not everybody is embracing the strategy of delay:

The debate over the causes of climate change continues to rage, but federal, state and tribal agencies aren’t waiting around for the argument to be settled. They believe climate change is here, and they’re working on ways to help wildlife, land and communities adapt.

Two federal agencies and a state wildlife department have developed a broad plan for helping ecosystems become more resilient as the climate changes.

The National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy was released Friday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the New York Division of Fish and Wildlife and Marine Resources. The public has until March 5 to comment on the plan.

“Climate change is already here,” according to the coalition’s website. “It is clear from current trends and future projections that we are now committed to a certain amount of changes and impacts, making climate adaptation planning a critical part of responding to this complex challenge.”

Glad to know that there are some people who don’t rely on FOX for their policy implementation. Written and composed on an airplane soaring above flyover country on my way back from California, to be mailed on landing in Boston — January 22:

There is no argument over the causes of climate change that needs to be “settled.”  There’s no dispute on this issue among climate scientists, who all agree that a runaway greenhouse effect caused by human CO2 emissions is essentially inevitable at this point.  Any “argument” is a fabrication of conservative political strategists and their corporate partners who fear that efforts to mitigate the damaging consequences of planetary warming will negatively impact their profit margins.  By manufacturing a controversy where there is none, these malefactors of great wealth (to apply Theodore Roosevelt’s term) have diluted the force of public opinion on the subject and abetted a strategy of delay. When ninety-seven percent of climatologists (who are after all the experts on the subject) agree on the essentials of an existential threat to our species and our planet, our government needs to heed their advice, without considering problematic political consequences.

Warren Senders

Loaves Of Truth…From My Brother, The Baker

This is not an article about bread. But bread is central to what I want you to read. So just nibble briefly at the first few paragraphs, and plunge downward to find words that taste of truth.

A few years ago, my brother left his career in academia. Weary of endless tenure battles and internecine squabbles between departmental factions, he sought another path.

And in Wide Awake Bakery, he found it.

We live and bake in Mecklenburg, just a few miles from Ithaca, Trumansburg, and Watkins Glen. We love the place and we love the people–and that’s what this bakery is about. We work with local flours, grown just a few miles away in Newfield, Lansing, and Brooktondale, and we work with our local flour mill, Farmer Ground Flour.

Here’s a little snippet from their F.A.Q.:

Why should I care if my bread is made by hand?

Most of the bread, even “artisan bread,” sold nowadays is untouched by human hands. Mixed, shaped, and baked by machines, the bread is flash-frozen and warehoused before being shipped to distribution points where it is eventually warmed (“baked”) in display ovens. Modern bread factories are consistent and they produce a pretty good product, but they require huge quantities of standardized ingredients. Bread factories simply don’t have the flexibility to bake with small crop runs and local grains. Big factories, big farming.

Small local bakeries where bread is made by hand offer something else entirely. We can vary our baking quickly in response to our flours and our customers. When a farmer comes to us with a batch of fruit, for example, we can quickly make it part of your share. We can keep a close watch on the fermentation process and give it the care it requires. We can change our baking to make more of the breads that you particularly like. Hand made bread generally tastes better, and is better for our communities, than factory made bread.

There are other reasons to care about how your bread is made. We bake our bread as if we were going to eat it ourselves, and feed it to our friends and family—because that’s exactly what we do. Baking bread, good bread, is one way we try to take care of our community. It’s a great feeling to know that the pile of flour we start with in the early morning has turned into shining loaves of bread that are nourishing and pleasing our neighbors. Every week we read about another food crisis, and it’s clear that we’ve got to start making food differently. That’s what we’re trying to do.

But I didn’t invite you here to tell you about my brother’s right livelihood, wondrous though it is. Or about his bread, which is mindbendingly delicious. Or even about the fact that those fabulous loaves fed the Occupiers in Zucotti Park.

Commendable though these things are, they’re not what prompts this post, or what’s brought me to tears of pride.

I want to share what he said to the assembled crowd at Monday’s day of action against hydrofracking in Albany, NY.

After handing out over 200 loaves of bread to the assembled crowd, my brother spoke. (I am reproducing his words in full. We’re family; it’s cool.)

My name is Stefan Senders, and I am a baker. Beside me are Thor Oechsner, an organic farmer, and Neal Johnston, a miller. We work together.

Today we bring bread to Albany to intervene in the self-destruction of the great State of New York. We come, Farmers, Bakers, and Millers, to remind our state and our Governor, Andrew Cuomo, that despite the promises of industry lobbyists, the exploitation of Shale Gas in New York is bad and broken economy of the worst kind.

This bread is the product of our community and our farms. The wheat, grown, tended, and harvested by our local organic farmers, is fresh from the soil of New York. The flour, ground in our local flour mill, is as fine as concerned and caring hands can make it.

To resurrect a term long since emptied by advertisers, the wheat, the flour, and the bread are wholesome: they bring our communities together, give us work, nourish us, please our senses, and make our bodies and our land more healthy.

This is good economy. It is wise economy. It is a steady economy that nourishes the State of New York.

We know that for many New Yorkers, Fracking sounds like a good idea. We have all heard the fantastic tales: Fracking, it is said, will save our state from financial ruin, release us from our dependence on “foreign oil,” and revive our rural economy by bringing cash, if not fertility, to our once vibrant farmland.

For politicians, these stories of money and growth are hard to resist: the numbers are large, deficits are unnerving, and elections are expensive.

For many farmers and land-owners, the promises of cash are dizzying, and to risk the land’s fertility to extract gas is only one step removed from risking the land’s fertility to extract a few more bushels of corn or soybeans.

But farmers might know better.

Farming has not always been, and need not be, an extractive industry. There was a time when farmers worked with a longer view, keeping in mind their role as stewards and caretakers of the land. That long view is the farmer’s wisdom, and it is as good and wise today as it ever was.

The promises of the gas industry are demonstrably false, and they miss what farmers know well: There is no independence that does not demand care and responsibility. There is no quantity of cash that can restore fertility to a poisoned field. There is no adequate monetary “compensation” for poisoned water. There is no payment, no dollar, no loan, that can restore life and community to a broken world.

Our work and the work we provide others—on the farm, at the mill, and at the bakery—depends on fertile soil, pure water, and a viable community. All of these are put at risk by Fracking.

What happens to our land in an economy bloated by gas exploitation? Prices rise, rents rise, and good arable land becomes scarce as acres once leased to farmers are set to quick development schemes—flimsy housing, storage barns, parking lots, and man-camps.

And what happens to our water when gas exploitation takes over? Storage pools, as safe as the Titanic was unsinkable, overflow, contaminating the soil; inevitable leaks in well-casings allow gasses and Frack-fluids to pass into our aquifers, into our bodies, and into the bodies of our children.

And what happens to communities held in thrall to gas exploitation? As we have seen in other parts of the country, the boom-bust cycle of the petroleum economy fractures communities, undermining our capacity to act wisely and civilly.

With every boom, a few get rich, a few do better, but all are impoverished. For every hastily built motel there are dozens of apartments with rising rents; for every newly minted millionaire there are many dozens who see nothing but the pain of rising costs and receding resources. For every short-term dollar there are hundreds in long-term losses that can never be recouped. To go for gas is to go for broke.

With this bread we are here to remind you that there is another economy, one that works.

This bread symbolizes a commitment to the health of New York State. It embodies the knowledge that good work, not a gambler’s dream, is the basis of a sound and sustainable economy.

This bread symbolizes the farmer’s simple truth that without fertile soil, without pure water, and without strong community, we go hungry.

This bread reminds us all that the promises of gas exploitation are empty: What are we to grow in fields broken by the drill and tilled with poison? What are we to feed our children when our water and wheat are unfit? Shall we grind money to make our bread?

We do have a choice. We need not poison our land to live. We need not taint our water to drink. We need not sell our future to finance our present. These are choices, not inevitabilities.

With this bread we say: take the long view; pay attention to the health of the soil and nourish it; treasure pure water; remember the value of your community and keep it whole.

If something must be broken, let it be this bread, not shale. Break bread, not shale!

I can’t add anything more to his words. Beautifully spoken, bro. I love you. And your bread.

Year 3, Month 1, Day 25: Let’s Put Little Signs About Atmospheric CO2 On All The Squirrels!

DelMarva Now, a Maryland paper, runs an AP squib on an upcoming action from Rep. Donna Edwards (she’s goooood).

OXON HILL — Maryland congresswoman Donna Edwards plans to plunge into the chilly waters of the Potomac River to urge the U.S. Congress to take action to deal with climate change.

Edwards spokesman Dan Weber says Edwards also jumped into the river last year to draw attention to the issue.

The Chesapeake Climate Action Network says the congresswoman will be joined Saturday by more than 150 DC area residents at the beach at National Harbor. The group says federal and international leaders are moving too slowly to develop clean energy sources such as solar and wind power to replace oil, coal and natural gas that are blamed for climate change.

I’m glad she’s doing this. But I’m sad that she has to do it. Sent January 21:

In a political environment with actual links to the real, measurable world, lawmakers wouldn’t need stunts to attract public attention. Sadly, contemporary American politics and media are so intertwined that insufficiently telegenic policies are doomed. This is bad for the nation in many ways.

In early 2001, Clinton’s team tried to tell Bush administration officials about the threat of Al-Quaida, but were dismissively rebuffed. Perhaps if Richard Clarke had parachuted off a skyscraper instead of delivering a memo, Condi Rice would have listened, and everything would have been different.

Donna Edwards’ planned immersion in the Potomac to call attention to the rapidly burgeoning climate crisis is not a policy initiative or a legislative amendment, but a stunt. That such actions are now our best hope of transforming the America’s paralysis in the face of a grave existential threat is a sad commentary on the parlous state of our national conversation.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 1, Day 24: The Horror, The Horror!

At least temporarily, the pipeline from/to Hell has been stopped. The South Dakota Argus-Leader has more:

President Obama denied TransCanada a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline Wednesday, blaming congressional Republicans for setting an “arbitrary” deadline that didn’t allow time to thoroughly review the controversial project.

The pipeline developer said it will reapply, with a new goal of coming online in two years.

“This announcement is not a judgment on the merits of the pipeline, but the arbitrary nature of a deadline that prevented the State Department from gathering the information necessary to approve the project and protect the American people,” Obama said in a prepared statement. “I’m disappointed that Republicans in Congress forced this decision.”

The 1,700-mile pipeline would carry heavy Canadian crude through South Dakota and five other states to the Gulf Coast. It has ignited criticism from environmentalists and landowners along the route and has become a boiling political fight.

Let’s hope it sticks. Sent January 19:

President Obama’s decision to block the Keystone XL pipeline is certainly going to cost jobs. Let’s look at some of them.

Of course there are the short-term construction jobs involved in putting the thing in place to begin with. But some of those other jobs that won’t be added to our economy would have lasted longer. For example, jobs in cleanup and spill mitigation. If there’s one thing we know about pipelines, it’s that they leak — and a 1,700 mile pipeline would leak a lot, guaranteeing cleanup jobs for the forseeable future. And of course, if that toxic crude entered our aquifers, there’d be public health impacts for decades to come. Think of all those lost employment opportunities in long-term chronic care positions!

And of course, should people get sick from environmental devastation, they’ll consider legal action. By spiking the pipeline, President Obama has closed off a century’s worth of economically stimulating class-action lawsuits.

While its true that there’s a growing market for jobs in renewable energy, the sad fact is that toxic waste specialists, oncologists, and tort experts will have to look somewhere else for their bread and butter. Such a shame.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 1, Day 23: Who’s Shrill?

The Washington Post’s Michael Gerson:

The attempt by Newt Gingrich to cover his tracks on climate change has been one of the shabbier little episodes of the 2012 presidential campaign. His forthcoming sequel to “A Contract with the Earth” was to feature a chapter by Katharine Hayhoe, a young professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas Tech University. Hayhoe is a scientist, an evangelical Christian and a moderate voice warning of climate disruption.

Then conservative media got wind. Rush Limbaugh dismissed Hayhoe as a “climate babe.” An Iowa voter pressed Gingrich on the topic. “That’s not going to be in the book,” he responded. “We told them to kill it.” Hayhoe learned this news just as she was passing under the bus.

A theory about the role of carbon dioxide in climate patterns has joined abortion and gay marriage as a culture war controversy. Climate scientists are attacked as greenshirts and watermelons (green on the outside, red on the inside). Skeptics are derided as flat-earthers. Reputations are assaulted and the e-mails of scientists hacked.

Heh. Indeed. Also. Sent January 18:

Conservative politicization of science has borne bitter fruit in the intensifying battle over climate change. It’s worth recognizing that the GOP has been at the center of countless attempts to marginalize expertise for more than fifty years, starting with the McCarthy-era purges of China specialists from the State Department — a electorally expedient move, but one which created a policy vacuum with disastrous repercussions for our later experience in Vietnam. The only experts Republican politicians appear to respect are their political strategists, whose advice on winning elections is often extremely sound.

The problem with climate change is that the laws of physics and chemistry have no ideology; mounting atmospheric CO2 levels and increasing worldwide temperatures won’t vanish when presidential aspirants deny their existence, or ascribe the troublesome measurements to political bias among scientists. A hint to Republicans: if you stop denying scientific reality, scientists may eventually take you seriously again.

Warren Senders