Year 3, Month 9, Day 30: Tide Goes In, Tide Goes Out. You Can’t Explain That.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune runs an AP article by Seth Borenstein, titled “WHY IT MATTERS: Despite the weather, climate change gets little mention in the campaign”:

The issue:

People love to talk about the weather, especially when it’s strange like the mercifully ended summer of 2012. This year the nation’s weather has been hotter and more extreme than ever, federal records show. Yet there are two people who aren’t talking about it, and they both happen to be running for president.

It’s a good read. Sometimes I just want to give in to despair. Sent September 24:

In a political culture with some connection to reality, climate change would be the defining issue of every election, from alderman to President. That the metastasizing greenhouse effect isn’t front and center in the statements of our would-be leaders demonstrates the disconnect between the American electoral process and the real world; when politics fixates on irrelevancies, turned-off voters can hardly be blamed for believing their votes are irrelevant.

But if there ever was an issue that deserved relevance, it’s global warming. With likely consequences ranging from devastated agriculture and massive droughts, to swollen refugee populations and resource wars, the effects of the twentieth century’s fossil-fuel binge will define the twenty-first in ways that our politicians and media are loath to address, lest it inconvenience their corporate funding sources.

It wasn’t so long ago that a Bush administration apparatchik contemptuously told journalist Ron Suskind that he was a member of the “reality-based community,” and went on to say, “We’re an empire. We create our own reality.” That might be true in the insulated atmosphere of the FOX news establishment, but in the real world, the atmosphere is getting hotter and hotter.

It’s time for citizens to demand reality-based politics from our politicians, and reality-based information from our media. It matters.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 9, Day 29: One False Move And The Bunny Gets It!

The Kennebec Journal (ME) has a denialist jackass named M.D. Harmon weighing in on a debate between various candidates for Senate in the state:

“Democrat Cynthia Dill answered next: ‘The exact opposite of what he said.’ Dill said the evidence is clear and ‘I am also convinced that it is the biggest threat to civilized society.'”

Wow. The chance that temperatures might rise on average a couple of degrees over the next hundred years is a bigger threat to civilization than the chance that Islamic jihadists might get nuclear bombs?

Doesn’t she know it will be a lot hotter at Ground Zero if the Iranians blow up Tel Aviv (or, for that matter, New York) than it might become on a midsummer day in Cape Elizabeth in 2075 because of “climate change”?

As “biggest threats to civilized society” go, one can think of quite a few more immediate worries than Al Gore having his beachfront house in Malibu swamped by a higher tide than he’s used to.

The article added, “Former Gov. Angus King, an independent, disagreed with Summers, too, and pulled up a graph on his smartphone showing carbon dioxide levels rising in the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution. ‘I don’t see how you can possibly avoid the science,’ he said.”

OK, Mr. King. You’re a smart guy, and we both know that carbon dioxide levels have been rising since industrial development began lifting people out of widespread poverty in the 19th century.

But those levels have been 10 or 20 times higher in the distant past, and somehow life managed to continue.

Indeed, it flourished, as carbon dioxide is plant food and nursery owners now pump it into their greenhouses because current atmospheric levels aren’t high enough for maximum growth.

If carbon dioxide increases, so will food crops and trees, and that’s not a bad thing.

Double facepalm. Sent September 22:

As M.D. Harmon demonstrates, the ludicrous climate-change-doesn’t-exist arguments just keep on a’coming. Scientifically aware citizens do grow tired of playing whack-a-mole; there are surely better ways to spend one’s time than in endlessly debunking the same old arguments, exposing the same old strawmen.

Yes, life existed back when CO2 levels were much higher than they are today. No, it wasn’t human life. Yes, given enough time to evolve into new conditions, life is adaptable. No, the accelerating greenhouse effect isn’t going to give us enough time; we’ve got, not millions of years, but a few centuries.

Yes, many world governments are shying away from greenhouse gas reduction treaties. No, it’s not because they’re a bad idea, but because the fossil fuel industry is pouring billions of dollars into misdirection and misinformation.

Yes, a two degree increase seems small. No, it isn’t: two degrees (Celsius, not Fahrenheit) is the now-abandoned-as-unattainable maximum level consistent with sustainable civilization; we’re now heading for an increase closer to six degrees,. And therein lies the difference between climate reality and Harmon’s jihadist-with-a-bomb fever dream: a city or nation might take a decade to rebound from a terrorist attack, but an overheated planetary atmosphere (replete with mass extinctions, whole populations of climate refugees, collapsed agriculture and destroyed infrastructure) may well set human civilization back by millennia.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 9, Day 28: We Can Get Down To What Is Really Wrong…

In the Holland Sentinel (MI), Mary Colborn has a personal take on the doom-laden atmosphere:

Call him stubborn. My father, a dairy farmer, cut hay in his fields on a Monday, fully intending to bale it later in the week he was dying from the lung cancer that ravaged his body.

My husband, a Navy officer, was out to sea and my mother kept insisting that my father did not want me to make the trip across the country from Washington state with my small children by myself. “He’s fine,” she kept saying. “He doesn’t want to bother you. I’ll call you if it gets worse.”

He slipped into a coma the day he planned to bale. By the time the call came, it was too late. Everything I did — frantically negotiating a grievance flight, packing the babies and their things, rushing to the airport, transferring three time zones — wasn’t enough. Without the loving arms of hospice, my father died before we landed in Chicago for our connecting flight. I was too late.

That was the feeling that arose this summer when the temperatures soared, when it was 95 degrees in the shade for days on end, when we watched all the crops in nearby fields wither and die, when it stopped raining, and my sister and I struggled to keep alive the first gardens planted on my father’s Allegan farm since he died 22 years ago. We have been in denial for too long and now it is too late.
I came back to Michigan to turn the farm around, to teach the skills that he had taught me, to feed people the way he fed them, to honor him in the best way I knew how and maybe I was too late.

“Breathe, Mary, breathe,” friends said. “Do the next right thing.”

So, when the call came, an e-mail really, that I was chosen to join a thousand people from around the world to train with Al Gore and the Climate Reality Leadership Corps in San Francisco this summer on my own dime, I went. I had already spent part of the summer, when I wasn’t weeding and watering, in D.C. meeting people who had been affected by the adverse effects of carbon extraction.

I listened to people as they cried over the mountains they had lost to mountaintop removal coal mining. I met farmers, ranchers and townspeople who had their water contaminated from hydrofracking. I listened as they related stories of cancer, asthma and high rates of birth defects. I came to see that what is happening with our climate in our thirst for energy as the social justice issue of our lifetime.

Beautiful. Sent September 21:

Our media-driven culture tells us that climate change is somehow a distraction from “the issues that really matter”: Jobs! Wars! The Deficit! Gay marriage! But this is a profound misunderstanding. What really matters is something our species has been doing for hundreds of thousands of years. Passing on our genetic and cultural heritage to our children — and making sure they can to the same for theirs — is more important than any of the fleeting issues that obsess politicians and pundits..

A runaway greenhouse effect threatens the hard-won wisdom of millennia, offering our posterity a dystopian scenario drought, extreme weather, and ecological collapse. A failure to address the likely consequences of our past century of carbon consumption means our descendants will be too busy trying to survive on a suddenly hostile planet to curse us for our inaction. And this is the only issue that really matters.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 9, Day 27: Suck On This!

The Bend Bulletin (OR) runs the same McClatchy story on the two campaigns’ approaches to climate issues:

Romney has said previously that he believes climate change is occurring and that human activity is a contributing factor.

During the Republican primary season, though, he said he didn’t believe it was the right course to spend “trillions and trillions” to reduce carbon emissions.

More recently, he said in a questionnaire submitted to Science Debate, a nonprofit organization focusing on science issues in the presidential campaign, that he believes human activity contributes to global warming and that policymakers should consider the risk of negative consequences.

Frank Maisano, a lobbyist whose firm represents energy interests and who has been involved in climate change discussions for 15 years, cautioned not to read too much into Romney’s dig about the rise of the oceans. It was designed to show Obama is “a little bit out of touch,” he said.

“Right now, you need someone who cares about you rather than these larger, soaring rhetorical issues,” Maisano said.

Sheesh. Sent September 20:

So according to a representative of the energy industry, climate change is a “soaring rhetorical issue.” How bizarre. When Frank Maisano suggests that discussion of our civilization’s future happiness and prosperity of our civilization is “rhetoric,” he’s really saying that the short-term profitability of his clients in the oil and coal business is more important than the world our children and grandchildren will inhabit.

When ocean acidification has broken the food chain, when extreme weather has devastated agriculture, when vanishing glaciers have ended water supplies for innumerable cultures everywhere around the planet, when rising seas have wiped entire nations off the map — will Mr. Maisano and his colleagues finally put down their quarterly reports and address the catastrophic transformations they have wrought?

To be sure, we need action even more than “soaring rhetoric.” But Republicans and energy lobbyists offer only a toxic blend of legislative paralysis and mendacious misrepresentations.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 9, Day 26: GOTV!

The Morning Sentinel (Waterville, ME) runs an article by Richard Thomas, titled “Voters must press both parties to address climate change”:

This summer, flooding, hot spells, drought and firestorms are beginning to show us that climate change will be the defining issue of this century.

The drought in middle America already has caused a 10 percent rise in food prices.

Unfortunately, it appears that the impact of climate change will become much more extreme for a number of reasons. Individually, we have little control over this, but we do have a chance during the coming elections to push our government to face this issue more responsibly.

The factors that appear to make extreme climate change inevitable include the length of time required to build a new “green” energy infrastructure, the profit structure of corporations, politics and human nature. The health of our economy depends on cheap portable energy. Now, this means burning huge amounts of oil, gas and coal.

Unfortunately, burning fossil fuels releases a greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, which leads to climate warming. Even the CEO of ExxonMobil now admits that burning fossil fuels is making climate change worse.

A fundamental switch to renewable energy sources, however, will slow, because it will take many years to build the new infrastructure (windmills, solar panels, etc). If we wait until our climate becomes really alarming before we start shifting away from burning fossil fuels, global warming will continue to worsen for many more years.

Good luck with the “both parties” part. I waxed philosophical in this one, bolstered by a 300-word limit. Sent September 19:

When it comes to the climate crisis, both our political and media establishments have been utterly unable to cope with an emergency whose dimensions cannot be reduced to sound bites and sloganeering. The causes of this dysfunction are many and varied, but can be grouped into three major categories: fear, ignorance and greed.

Our fear is easily understood: human beings prefer to avoid bad news. Because climate change unfolds gradually over time, there will never be a single iconic moment which will instantly overcome our collective timidity and galvanize us into concerted action.

Our ignorance stems from failures of education. The same nation that once put humans on the moon now publicly elevates celebrities who believe the Earth is flat. In a political culture that disparages learning and expertise, continued scientific verification of the greenhouse effect can have no impact on the minds of our legislators.

Lastly, while all of us wish to keep our conveniences and augment our lifestyles, the charge of greed is rightly directed at those who reap huge returns from our continued consumption of fossil fuels. The big coal and oil companies are already among the most profitable corporate entities on the planet, and these huge economic powers have no wish to relinquish even the tiniest fraction of their gains, even if humanity’s future hangs in the balance.

These are the three forces we must overcome if we are to address the climate crisis. In November, let us vote in favor of courage, wisdom and responsibility, and against fear, ignorance and greed.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 9, Day 25: She Said She Said…

The Anchorage Daily News runs a McClatchy story comparing the two presidential candidates’ approach to climate change:

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It was just six words, but when President Barack Obama gave a shout-out to global warming in his acceptance speech this month, he reintroduced an issue that had all but disappeared from the political debate.

“Climate change is not a hoax,” Obama said, an assertion that brought Democratic National Convention delegates to their feet, as he pledged to continue approaching energy policy in a way he said would “continue to reduce the carbon pollution that is heating our planet.”

In a year when the political debate has lacked nearly any discussion of climate change, some environmentalists have struggled to summon enthusiasm for the Democratic president they helped elect in 2008 in part because of his views on global warming. So they rejoiced when the president rebutted a taunt tossed out by Republican candidate Mitt Romney the week before. Romney had quipped in his own acceptance speech in Tampa, Fla., that Obama “promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet.”

“My promise is to help you and your family,” Romney added.

It was a rhetorical flourish, an attack line offered to make the point that Romney understands the kitchen table issues that, he says, the president doesn’t. But environmentalists heard it as heresy.

“Twenty years from now, history is going to judge the next generation on how they responded to the destabilization of our climate,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. “With a couple of short sentences, Romney made clear what’s at stake in this election.”

It looks increasingly improbable that Mitt is going to get anywhere near the oval office. Good. Sent September 18:

It stretches credulity that a significant percentage of Americans continue to reject the reality of climate change. This is both an environmental and an educational crisis; too many of us spurn the evidence of both science and our senses in favor of the comforting untruths peddled by a fossil-fueled media.

Scientific discourse is couched in careful and meticulous language; responsible climatologists will shy away from definitive statements connecting, say, a particular extreme weather event with the burgeoning greenhouse effect. That’s because science deals with probabilities, correlations and complexities — not in polemics. But there’s a reason these specialists are exceptionally worried: the evidence for runaway atmospheric warming is unequivocal and unambiguous, and the likely effects of even moderate warming are devastating to agriculture, infrastructure, and the integrity of local and regional ecosystems.

By steadily ignoring the science of climate change, both our media and politicians have been profoundly irresponsible. A crisis of planetary magnitude demands a commensurate response — and there can be no moral justification for continued ignorance.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 9, Day 24: You Never Give Me Your Money…

The Macon, GA, Telegraph runs a story on the role of climate questions on the campaign trail. Several paragraphs are devoted to the cognitive dissonance of Republican environmentalists. Let’s all quiet down and stop giggling.

Romney has said previously that he believes climate change is occurring and that human activity is a contributing factor. During the Republican primary season, though, he said he didn’t believe it was the right course to spend “trillions and trillions” to reduce carbon emissions. More recently, he said in a questionnaire submitted to Science Debate, a non-profit organization focusing on science issues in the presidential campaign, that he believes human activity contributes to global warming and that policymakers should consider the risk of negative consequences.

Frank Maisano, a lobbyist whose firm represents energy interests and who has been involved in climate change discussions for 15 years, cautioned not to read too much into Romney’s dig about the rise of the oceans. It was designed to show Obama is “a little bit out of touch,” he said.

“Right now, you need someone who cares about you rather than these larger, soaring rhetorical issues,” Maisano said.

Jim DiPeso of ConservAmerica had the same reaction.

“(Romney) acknowledged that science has shown there is a human role in global warming,” said DiPeso, who represents a national grassroots organization of conservation-minded Republicans who would like to see a fiscally conservative approach to capping carbon emissions.

DiPeso said he hopes Romney’s acknowledgement will give Republicans lower down on the ticket the freedom to talk about climate change, an issue that once had Republican support. Policymakers may differ on how to address emissions, but carbon dioxide molecules are apolitical, he said.

“Because we’ve gotten to the point where a good Republican can’t acknowledge the real science that backs up climate change without being cast as some sort of infidel, or somebody who’s not a real conservative,” he said.

Poor puppies. Sent September 17:

I wouldn’t read too much into Mitt Romney’s statements about the human causes of climate change; the erstwhile Massachusetts governor is widely known for his ability to take multiple contradictory positions on any issue. And while it’s good to know that there are some conservatives out there who are genuinely concerned about the looming climate crisis, it must be hard for them to reconcile their free-market fetishism with the tough transformations the next century will demand of America’s energy economy.

The grotesquely inflated subsidies and tax breaks for the fossil fuel industry need to end. These taxpayer dollars would be far better spent on preparing American infrastructure for a century of devastating storms and increasingly unpredictable weather, and our national investment in renewable energy needs to increase by many orders of magnitude over the next decade. These requirements won’t be solved with the economic pixie-dust of the “free market,” but through the collective will of hundreds of millions of Americans demanding that their government work once again in their best interests, instead of the corporate welfare recipients in the oil and coal industries.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 9, Day 23: Show Us Your Lark Pack!

The Tri-City News (Vancouver, BC) has an excellent editorial highlighting the venal and mendacious nature of the denial industry:

There were times this summer when I thought I didn’t need science to tell me global warming is real: sweating in my seat at Theatre Under the Stars, watching the frightening heat waves in the east and avoiding golf because it was too hot.

But luckily, most of us base our conclusions about global warming not on anecdotes about extreme summer weather but on scientific research and consensus.

But not my colleague, who, thanks partly to Exxon Mobil, is one of a group of environmental deniers not swayed by the overwhelming scientific consensus about climate change.

Deniers don’t believe the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; the internationally mandated IPCC, which has, over the last 10 years, compiled four scientific reports based on the work of 2,500 scientists from 130 countries. Each IPCC report warns of the dangers of global warming caused by man-made greenhouse gases.

And deniers don’t believe the body of literature in scientific journals, which, over the past decade, contained 928 articles on global warming, none of which included a scientific denial that man is hastening global warming.

Climate change-denying groups are convinced that global warming is a scientific hoax, a scare tactic dreamed up by environmentalists to frighten us into supporting anti-business laws and regulations.

I agree that there is a conspiracy to misrepresent the facts about climate change but 2,500 environmental scientists from 130 countries aren’t in on it. Exxon Mobil is.

Since 1998, Exxon has doled out $22,123,456 to climate change-denying groups. The Heritage Foundation ($730,000), Frontiers of Freedom, ($1.2 million) and 40 other groups received money from Exxon to help deny climate change. Even B.C.’s Fraser Institute has bagged $120,000 from Exxon since 1998.

Tareyton is Better. Charcoal Is Why.

Sent September 16:

The climate-change denial industry has worked hard for the past couple of decades, spreading confusion and misinformation about the reality, causes, and consequences of a runaway greenhouse effect. These people — the same characters who reassured us for years that nicotine wasn’t addictive and the link between smoking and lung cancer was inconclusive — are skillful, well-funded, and unencumbered by any responsibility to the truth.

But tobacco addiction’s public health consequences were limited to the smokers and their neighbors, with no multi-generational impacts. Climate change is an entirely different story, with effects that will still be felt a hundred, a thousand, or ten thousand years from now. It is as if cigarette smoking brought cancer, heart disease, and emphysema not just to the smokers but to a hundred generations of their descendants. In an odious bargain, the denialists are sacrificing the future of human civilization for short-term personal gain.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 9, Day 22: He Lives On Credit Till The Fall

The Christian Science Monitor has an intelligent article on a weather phenomenon known as a “blocking pattern.”

As the summer of 2012 winds down, with drought and searing temperatures its hallmark for much of the continental United States, researchers are trying to get a better handle on the factors that contribute to the persistence of weather patterns responsible for the extremes.

The immediate culprit: patterns of atmospheric flow that steer storms along a given path for weeks, heating and depriving some areas of needed rain while drenching others. Such blocking patterns are a global phenomena, a normal component of Earth’s weather systems.

But some researchers suggest that global warming’s influence on the Arctic and on the tropics can change circulation patterns in ways that keep blocking patterns in place longer than they otherwise might.

For the continental US, blocking has been a byword for much of the year. The first eight months of 2012 have gone into the books as the warmest January-August period on record for the continental US, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C. The 12-month span ending in August 2012 was the warmest 12 months on record. The summer itself ranks third among the warmest summers on record.

Impossible. Weather only exists on television. Sent September 15:

Our complex industrialized culture ensures that many of us are profoundly distanced from the natural systems upon which, ultimately, our lives depend. For countless city-dwellers and suburbanites, a cow is just a picture on a milk carton, and ears of corn grow naturally wrapped in cellophane at the local supermarket. This separation means that we don’t recognize threats to our agriculture; droughts and crop failures are just words on print or a short clip on the evening news.

But as the old song has it, “the farmer is the one who feeds us all.” As extreme weather keeps impacting crops throughout America and the world, the farmer’s bounty may no longer be enough. When the climate crisis starts hitting Americans both in the wallet and the stomach, will we finally pay attention? And will we start respecting the scientists whose work helps us understand the complex dynamics of the situation?

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 9, Day 21: So Round, So Firm, So Fully Packed

The Marysville, CA Appeal-Democrat reprints that same stupid editorial quoting a Heartland Institute flack:

When Hurricane Isaac hit Louisiana, “the storm provided a rare break in one of the longest periods of hurricane inactivity in US history,” said James Taylor, senior fellow for environment policy at the Heartland Institute, Indeed, 2012 also is breaking records for the lack of tornado activity, according to the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration records. Ditto for droughts and floods, records show.

Low-Hanging Fruit….Sent September 14:

It was just a few months ago that the Heartland Institute was opened up to public disgust and ridicule when the secretive conservative think tank initiated a billboard campaign comparing climate scientists to the Unabomber. Given that they apparently had more billboards ready to go which extended the comparison to other major villains, including Charles Manson, the controversy probably did this group of diehard climate-change denialists a favor. Around the same time, climatologist Dr. Peter Gleick released internal documents regarding Heartland’s plans to promulgate misinformation about climate change to science teachers in American public schools. Gleick, by the way, has been completely exonerated of any wrongdoing — something which cannot be said of Joe Bass and the rest of his colleagues at Heartland.

An op-ed prominently quoting a Heartland Institute spokesman on climate change deserves to be taken about as seriously as a tobacco industry statement denying a link between smoking and cancer. Oops! Turns out Heartland has a long-standing relationship with the cigarette industry. Paging Philip Morris!

Warren Senders