Year 3, Month 10, Day 31: A Cheerful Thought.

USA Today points out that frogs in the pot of boiling water are more likely to start wars with one another:

If climate change predictions turn out to be true, some parts of the world could become more violent, according to a new study released today.

“The relationship between temperature and conflict shows that much warmer-than-normal temperatures raise the risk of violence,” the authors write in the study, which appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study was led by John O’Loughlin, a professor of geography at the University of Colorado. It was done in concert with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder.

This study is not trying to draw parallels to how violence escalates in some urban areas in the summer due to heat, reports O’Loughlin. This is about how warmer temperatures cause stresses on crops and grasslands, forcing people to fight with their neighbors for food and other resources.

O’Loughlin and his team examined the influence of temperature and precipitation on the risk of violent conflict in nine East African countries between 1990 and 2009, and found that increased precipitation dampened the risk of violence, whereas very hot temperatures raised it.

The changer things get, the samer they stay. Sent October 24:

As the planet’s atmosphere heats, the potential for extreme weather increases. The extra energy triggered by the accelerating greenhouse effect will show up as unseasonal storms, unpredictable rain and snow, careening high and low temperatures, and bizarre events. It’s hardly surprising that the seasons of human life will be likewise disrupted.

In the coming years of climate crisis, nations everywhere will be faced with massive stresses and strains: famines, droughts, refugee crises, and resource conflicts. While we cannot forecast exactly whose boundaries will be rent asunder by the ravages of a transforming climate, there’s no doubt that the twenty-first century will be packed with international emergencies.

It’s not just reinforced roads and bridges, or a decentralized power grid. If we are to avoid climate change’s geopolitical impacts, the world’s nations must develop a robust diplomatic infrastructure to prevent Earth’s radically transforming environment from forcing us into devastating wars.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 10, Day 30: Put Your Money Where Your Money Is.

Time Magazine wonders “Why Climate Change Has Become the Missing Issue in the Presidential Campaign”. I wonder, too.

We’re in the final few months of what’s shaping up to be the hottest year on record. In September, Arctic sea ice melted to its smallest extent in satellite records, while the Midwest was rocked by a once-in-a-generation level drought. Global carbon dioxide emissions hit a record high in 2011 of 34.83 billion tons, and they will almost certainly be higher this year. Despite that fact, the more than two decade-old international effort to deal with climate change has hit a wall, and the upcoming U.N. global warming summit in the Qatari capital of Doha — whose residents have among the highest per-capita carbon emissions in the world — is unlikely to change that hard fact.

Given all that, it might seem reasonable to think that climate change —a nd how the U.S. should respond to it — would be among the top issues of the 2012 presidential election. We are, after all, talking about a problem that has the potential to alter the fate of the entire planet, one that requires solutions that utterly alter our multi-trillion dollar energy system. Climate change has been a subject at the Presidential or Vice-Presidential debates since 1988, as Brad Johnson, who surveys environmental coverage for ThinkProgress, pointed out this week. Yet through all of the 2012 debates, not a single question was asked about climate change, and on the stump, neither candidate has had much to say about the issue — with Mitt Romney more often using global warming as a punchline, and President Obama mentioning it in passing, at most.

Here are two different reasons. Which do you think it is? Sent October 23:

As the evidence for global heating goes from merely overwhelming to absolutely incontrovertible, look for conservatives to begin their transition into the next phase of climate-change denial: arguing that liberals were the ones to politicize the discussion, thereby making meaningful policy impossible.

In this context, President Obama’s reluctance to raise the subject can be understood as a strategic move; by offering nothing for the anti-science GOP to push against, he’s denied them one of their most convenient rhetorical antagonists. Mr. Romney, who has previously acknowledged the existence and severity of the climate crisis, is now governed entirely by his basest political instincts, and cannot address scientific reality without antagonizing his supporters.

Another interpretation, of course, is that both candidates’ behavior is wholly conditioned by the corrosive influence of fossil fuel corporations, whose profits would be adversely affected by any move toward mitigation of the metastasizing greenhouse effect and its consequences.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 10, Day 29: Squeeeeeeeeze….

The Baltimore Sun notices that hunters are hippies:

Last month, a Republican-aligned polling firm called on hunters and fishermen nationwide to get their views. Some of the results were unsurprising: Outdoorsmen regard themselves as politically conservative and register Republican over Democratic by a more than 2-to-1 ratio.

But here’s one response that may have caught President Barack Obama and his re-election team by surprise, if they noticed it at all: A majority of these sportsmen believe global warming is the cause of this past summer’s high temperatures and want the White House and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to limit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions.

Watermelons! With guns! Sent October 22:

Unlike the despicable pretenders who inflate their egos by blasting away at tethered game, real sportsmen recognize that their hunting licenses rest on a foundation of genuine respect for the natural world. It’s unsurprising that they are aware of climate change and its impacts on local and regional environments everywhere on Earth. Anyone accustomed to the wild already knows that rising atmospheric temperatures are altering things: animal migration patterns, ranges and habitats; plant flowering schedules and pollination cycles; seasonal freezes and thaws. And scientists tell us that the planetary greenhouse effect will have far more extreme effects in the decades to come.

The readiness of conservative lawmakers and media figures to politicize the question of climate change is profoundly irresponsible. To avert a humanitarian and environmental tragedy, we must work together to forestall the devastating consequences of a runaway greenhouse effect — not play political games while the Earth burns.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 10, Day 28: Screw It, Let’s Play In Four

The Glens Falls (NY) Post-Star runs Eugene Robinson’s column, “Silence over climate change is deafening”:

WASHINGTON — Not a word has been said in the presidential debates about what may be the most urgent and consequential issue in the world: climate change.

President Obama understands and accepts the scientific consensus the burning of fossil fuels is trapping heat in the atmosphere, with potentially catastrophic long-term effects. Mitt Romney’s view, as on many issues, is pure quicksilver — impossible to pin down — but when he was governor of Massachusetts, climate change activists considered him enlightened and effective.

Yet neither has mentioned the subject in the debates. Instead, they have argued over who is more eager to extract ever-larger quantities of oil, natural gas and coal from beneath our purple mountains’ majesties and fruited plains.

“We have increased oil production to the highest levels in 16 years,” Obama said in Tuesday’s debate. “Natural gas production is the highest it’s been in decades. We have seen increases in coal production and coal employment.”

Romney scoffed Obama “has not been Mr. Oil, or Mr. Gas, or Mr. Coal,” and promised he, if elected, would be all three. “I’ll do it by more drilling, more permits and licenses,” he said, adding later this means “bringing in a pipeline of oil from Canada, taking advantage of the oil and coal we have here, drilling offshore in Alaska, drilling offshore in Virginia, where the people want it.”

If this is a contest to see who can pretend to be more ignorant of the environmental freight train barreling down the tracks toward us, Romney wins narrowly.

Time for another screed on our hopeless media system. Sent October 21:

The candidates’ inability to discuss climate change must be understood as a symptom of a larger malady afflicting our governance. With each passing year, the trivialization of complex policy issues becomes more egregious: government by sound-bite and bumper sticker. Our profit-driven media is an integral part of this malign equation; its irresponsible combination of false equivalence and ADD ensures that the single most crucial issue of our century receives no national attention.

The climate crisis will bring economic, geopolitical and environmental consequences: the likely collapse of agriculture and infrastructure under climatic pressures will impoverish unimaginable numbers of people; we’ll see more drought refugees, submerged nations, famines and governmental instability — not to mention the loss of planetary biodiversity, the extinction of entire species, and the likelihood of devastating “tipping points.”

But for American TV networks, genuine discussions of climate change could be truly catastrophic: people might change the channel.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 10, Day 27: Both Candidates Will Eat A Live Bug, On National Television

By the time this shows up on the blog, the last presidential debate will be in the past. Maybe my letter will have been rendered irrelevant. In any case, as I type this, it’s Saturday, October 20, and the LA Times notes that climate activists are still trying to get somebody (anybody!) to ask some damn questions:

With just 2 1/2 weeks left before election day, there’s an urgency on all fronts in the presidential race. For activists, it’s not just about whether President Obama or Mitt Romney will win, but whether either man will pay attention to their issue.

Perhaps no interest community has been as disappointed as those who worry about global climate change. They have repeatedly called for more attention to the issue and, for the most part, failed to get it.

This week’s presidential debate prompted a new round of regret and demands for Romney and Obama to address the topic, as both candidates spent their most notable time arguing about how much coal they would extract from federal lands.

“Both President Obama and Gov. Romney maintained the silence on climate, again ignoring the growing roster of extreme climate-change induced weather events,” said Maura Cowley, executive director of a consortium of youth-oriented groups called the Energy Action Coalition. “As young voters, and the generation with the most to lose if we don’t address the climate crisis now, we demand both candidates break the silence on climate change by standing up to big oil and gas with ambitious plans for clean energy.”

A political application of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis helps us understand why it’s nahgannahappan. Sent October 20:

Monday’s presidential debate will focus on foreign policy, which ought to provide a perfect opening for questions about global climate change. After all, the accelerating greenhouse effect transcends national boundaries, affecting all life on Earth equally. Furthermore, rising planetary temperatures and increased extreme weather will have humanitarian and geopolitical consequences, often in areas with a long history of conflict. It’d seem that our rapidly transforming climate is an essential subject in any discussion of foreign policy. Why won’t it happen on Monday?

“Foreign policy” as a field is concerned precisely with national boundaries — those human abstractions which surging atmospheric CO2 counts make irrelevant. The hard truth is that America (and the rest of the world) must rise above the narrow strategic concerns which have preoccupied us for centuries. Climate change is a global problem, not a “foreign” one, and there is as yet no scheduled debate on “planetary policy.”

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 10, Day 26: I Wouldn’t Have Smoked In Bed If We Hadn’t Installed Those Smoke Detectors!

Not that this is news or anything, but the New York Times’ David Brooks is an utter idiot:

The period around 2003 was the golden spring of green technology. John McCain and Joe Lieberman introduced a bipartisan bill to curb global warming. I got my first ride in a Prius from a conservative foreign policy hawk who said that these new technologies were going to help us end our dependence on Middle Eastern despots. You’d go to Silicon Valley and all the venture capitalists, it seemed, were rushing into clean tech.

From that date on the story begins to get a little sadder.

Al Gore released his movie “An Inconvenient Truth” in 2006. The global warming issue became associated with the highly partisan former vice president. Gore mobilized liberals, but, once he became the global warming spokesman, no Republican could stand shoulder to shoulder with him and survive. Any slim chance of building a bipartisan national consensus was gone.

Then, in 2008, Barack Obama seized upon green technology and decided to make it the centerpiece of his jobs program. During his presidential campaign he promised to create five million green tech jobs. Renewable energy has many virtues, but it is not a jobs program. Obama’s stimulus package set aside $90 billion for renewable energy loans and grants, but the number of actual jobs created has been small. Articles began to appear in the press of green technology grants that were costing $2 million per job created. The program began to look like a wasteful disappointment.

Federal subsidies also created a network of green tech corporations hoping to benefit from taxpayer dollars. One of the players in this network was, again, Al Gore. As Carol Leonnig reported in The Washington Post last week, Gore left public office in 2001 worth less than $2 million. Today his wealth is estimated to be around $100 million.

I’m going to stop doing facepalms and start doing headbricks, I swear. Sent October 19:

As the evidence accumulates all around us, and the scientific consensus reaches near unanimity, we’re going to hear more conservatives acknowledge the reality of global climate change. But because it involves admitting error, this process will involve them in a lot of blame-shifting, equivocating, and historical revisionism. David Brooks offers us a preview of what this will look in his attempt to hold Al Gore responsible for the American epidemic of climate-change denial.

Apparently Mr. Gore couldn’t attract conservative support because he was too…shrill? Too popular among hippies? Too right, too soon? Mr. Brooks blithely ignores both the GOP’s decades-long antipathy to science and their pathological hyper-partisanship in his eagerness to avoid responsibility for what his own ideological allies have wrought. Now that climate change itself is irrefutable, the locus of denial has shifted: Republicans would have done something about climate change, but those pesky environmentalists were in the way.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 10, Day 25: Also Younger Than The Sun

The Belleville News-Democrat (IL) runs an opinion piece on the need for a transformation in our way of thinking about the environment:

For decades environmentalists have been guided in their work by what became known as the “precautionary principle.” This decision-making guide was first put forward in environmental terms by pioneering naturalist and biologist Aldo Leopold in his landmark 1940s essay “Round River.”

His focus was the complexity of the environment.

“If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering,” Leopold wrote.

This is the major logic behind the Endangered Species Act, the strongest environmental law ever written. For the United States to allow a species to go extinct, it must go through an exhaustive process that is politically perilous.

This imperative has strong support. John Turner, the director of the U.S. Wildlife Service under George H.W. Bush, was a Republican president of the Wyoming Senate and a rancher. He regularly told a story of how his grandfather had kept all of the broken farm equipment he ever owned.

“My granddad and my dad used to say ‘It’s important to save all the parts,’ ” Turner said. “You never know when you’re going to need them.”

Protecting all the parts was a daunting task before. In the face of climate change that could dramatically transform or destroy ecosystems across the globe, it has become impossible.

This is a fairly generic letter; it could go to any source that admits the existence of the problem. Sent October 18:

Earlier this year, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson finally admitted that climate change was both real and caused by human activity. But the oil baron also blithely asserted that humanity would adapt; the problem, he said, was essentially one of “engineering.”

Well, maybe so. Our innovative, forward-looking, technological species will undoubtedly find ways of fixing some of what we’ve broken and restoring some of the things we’ve destroyed. But as environmentalist Bill McKibben asked recently, “What are you going to develop that replaces Iowa?” Global warming is going to drastically reduce agricultural yields, which is hard to reconcile with our expanding global population. Unless we address the causes of the climate crisis, adopting better farming practices essentially amounts to putting a band-aid on a sucking chest wound.

And if climate change can actually be “solved by engineering,” isn’t it time for our fossil-fueled politicians to stop denying the existence of the crisis — and instead aggressively fund the engineers and scientists we’ll be needing more than ever over the coming decades?

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 10, Day 24: Hellzapoppin…

More on the agricultural disaster currently underway: the same article as yesterday, this time reprinted in the Mitchell Daily Republic (KS):

“I don’t have a place to store pinto beans, OK?” said Rowe, who has managed his community’s grain elevator for 25 years. “This is corn and soybean ground. The reason someone else is more diverse is because there’s more money in being diverse. It’s all economics.”

Still, the hotter, dryer weather pattern may change crop rotations even in the heart of the Corn Belt. “Wheat acres will be very high” next year, said Tabitha Craig, who sells crop insurance for Young Enterprises, an agricultural services and input dealer in New Hartford, Mo.

Climate change will probably push corn-growing regions north while making alternatives to the grain more important elsewhere, said John Soper, the vice president of crop genetics research and development for Pioneer, the seed division of DuPont. The company’s researchers anticipate more corn in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, traditional Canadian wheat-growing areas, while sorghum and sunflowers may experience a revival in Kansas as rainfall declines and irrigation becomes less practical, he said.

The company is developing new varieties of corn, both in traditional hybrid and genetically modified seeds, while boosting research in sorghum and other crops that don’t need irrigation in areas where they’re expected to make a comeback, he said.

Still, fighting drought with better seeds and new trade sources only mitigates the effects of climate change, said Roger Beachy, the first head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture and now a plant biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

Revising yesterday’s letter…very busy today. Sent October 17:

Those parched cornfields are a preview of coming attractions. Scientists predict a 10 percent drop in crop yields for each degree of temperature increase; given that we’re on track for a six-degree rise by the end of the century, we’re looking at agricultural output that could well be cut in half. And that’s not just in America, but everywhere. History and common sense tell us that crop failures trigger food shortages, which can turn whole populations into refugees fleeing a land that can no longer support them.

Unfortunately one of our country’s two major political parties has rejected science, history, and common sense as guidelines for policy, which means that any government attempts to prepare for these environmental, humanitarian, and geopolitical crises will inevitably be hamstrung by irrational posturing and gamesmanship. When the coming century promises to uprooting millions of human lives, such a deny-and-delay strategy is intellectually and morally abhorrent.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 10, Day 23: As Dry As An Elephant’s Sigh…

The San Antonio Express-News notes that there is a developing problem out there in flyover country:

WASHINGTON — Joe Waldman is saying goodbye to corn after yet another hot, dry summer convinced him that rainfall won’t be there when he needs it anymore.

“I finally just said uncle,” said Waldman, 52, surveying his stunted crop about 100 miles north of Dodge City, Kansas.

Instead, he will expand sorghum, which requires less rain; let some fields remain fallow; and restrict corn to irrigated fields.

While farmers nationwide planted the most corn this year since 1937, growers in Kansas sowed the fewest acres in three years, instead turning to less-thirsty crops such as wheat, sorghum and even triticale, a wheat-rye mix popular in Poland.

Meanwhile, corn acreage in Manitoba, a Canadian province about 700 miles north of Kansas, has nearly doubled over the past decade because of weather changes and higher prices.

Shifts such as these reflect a view among food producers that this summer’s drought in the United States, the worst in half a century, isn’t a random disaster. It’s a glimpse of a future altered by climate change that will affect worldwide production.

But we don’t need to do anything, because Al Gore is fat. And besides, FREEDOM! Sent October 16:

Scientists have estimated that for each 1 degree Celsius increase in global temperature, we’ll experience a 10 percent drop in agricultural productivity. International climate conferences have produced position papers and draft agreements predicated on a 2-degree rise, but this number is already looking absurdly low; experts warn that we’re on track for triple that by the end of the century.

Aside from drastically boosting the number of storms and extreme weather events, such a temperature increase will cripple agriculture throughout the world. Are we ready for the food shortages and refugee crises that inevitably follow crop failures? When these geopolitical and environmental pressures collide with the American conservative strategy of politicized ignorance and obstruction, horrifying results are guaranteed.

Deny-and-delay ceases to be effective political strategy when millions of human lives hang in the balance. We must address the climate catastrophe before it forces us into what biologists coyly call an “evolutionary bottleneck.”

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 10, Day 22: We Have Three Days To Learn To Live Under Water

The Jerusalem Post goes Old Testament, in a column titled, “Noah vs. Isaiah: The Torah Of Climate Change.” The final few paragraphs:

THIS BRINGS us to this week’s reading from the Prophets, which provides a strong counter-balance to Noah’s complacency. Isaiah is the prophet par excellence: He admonishes people to change their behavior, speaks truth to power, and lifts the spirit of a nation with visions of redemption and covenants.

Specifically, Isaiah says this week that just as God promised that “the waters of Noah nevermore would flood the earth,” (Isaiah 54:9) so does the Creator promise never to abandon Israel. Isaiah is the leading light of “social justice prophets,” and whose “light unto the nations” (Isaiah 42:6) designation imparts on us, as Elie Wiesel teaches, a special burden: the responsibility and privilege to rebel.

Noah is the luckiest guy on the planet.

Yet not for other reason you might think.

Noah had a non-burning source of light.

“Tzohar ta’ase lateyva” (Gen 6:16), which some of the commentators say was a precious jewel that glowed and provided light in the ark.

The future of life on the planet is wrapped up in the number 350. To prevent the “end of the world” by adding more than 350 parts per million carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, there needs to be non-fossil-fueled “rays of light.”

We have today all the renewable technologies necessary to power and light the world, yet missing is Isaiah’s fiery spirit. Noah’s spirit of acquiesce dominates; therefore, the waters are rising.

So let’s rise to the challenge. Are there any prophets or rabbis – indeed, any Jews – out there willing to decree solar power a mitzvah and burning the fossil fuel remnants of lost and drowned worlds an abomination? Or perhaps, within five years, a crime against humanity?

Only my father’s side of my family was Jewish, but I’d like to think of myself as having an Apikoros quality. Sent October 15:

Leave aside the terrifying mathematics of atmospheric CO2 for a moment, and contemplate the extraordinary miracle embodied in the fossil fuels that we burn every day. Each unit of fossil energy is the long-preserved sunlight of a time innumerable eons before humanity emerged on Earth. 450 million years ago, during the Carboniferous era, giant trees stretched their branches and leaves to the sun, turning solar energy into living matter before dying and joining a slow accumulation of matter on the forest floor, there to concentrate into pools of oil or deposits of coal.

Human beings, no matter what their origins or beliefs, universally regard the very old as worthy of respect. Whether it’s an ancient document, a building hallowed by millennia of use, or a story passed on through countless generations, we venerate these reminders of our species’ long and magnificent history. How, then, can we in good conscience continue to irresponsibly burn the sunlight of Earth’s early life?

The casual consumption of fossil fuels is an environmental tragedy, a moral predicament, and a profound insult to the antiquity of our planet.

Warren Senders