Year 3, Month 11, Day 30: I’d Love To Turn You On…

The San Francisco Chronicle runs an AP story on the upcoming Doha conference, titled, “Will US role at climate talks change after storm?”

STOCKHOLM (AP) — During a year with a monster storm and scorching heat waves, Americans have experienced the kind of freakish weather that many scientists say will occur more often on a warming planet.

And as a re-elected president talks about global warming again, climate activists are cautiously optimistic that the U.S. will be more than a disinterested bystander when the U.N. climate talks resume Monday with a two-week conference in Qatar.

“I think there will be expectations from countries to hear a new voice from the United States,” said Jennifer Morgan, director of the climate and energy program at the World Resources Institute in Washington.

The climate officials and environment ministers meeting in the Qatari capital of Doha will not come up with an answer to the global temperature rise that is already melting Arctic sea ice and permafrost, raising and acidifying the seas, and shifting rainfall patterns, which has an impact on floods and droughts.

They will focus on side issues, like extending the Kyoto protocol — an expiring emissions pact with a dwindling number of members — and ramping up climate financing for poor nations.

With us in the studio is Senator James Inhofe. Senator? Sent November 24:

One of the most important factors in President Obama’s decisive re-election was the simple truth that Mitt Romney and the rest of the Republican Party were determined to ignore the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change. From evolution-denying congressmen to Governor Romney’s mocking reference to rising sea levels, the GOP showed an ideologically-driven rejection of expertise that repelled voters. In 2012, America re-elected science and math.

For the Administration to dismiss this groundswell of popular support for common sense and environmental good-citizenship would be politically as well as globally irresponsible. At the upcoming Doha Climate Conference, America needs to prove to the rest of the world’s nations that our days of denial are over. Superstorm Sandy showed us what rapid climate change really looks like, and Governor Christie’s cooperation with the President demonstrated what a sensible Republican can do in a crisis. Will the rest of his party please pay attention?

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 11, Day 29: Found My Way Downstairs And Drank A Cup / Looking Up, I Noticed I Was Late…

The Riverside, CA Press-Enterprise notes a recent study suggesting some folks are waking up:

Nothing like a natural disaster to make you believe in global warming.

A post-election survey of voters found that a majority of Americans understand Hurricane Sandy was made worse by climate change. The survey also found strong majorities of voters connecting climate change to the record high summer temperatures witnessed in 2012 as well as this year’s extraordinary drought.

The survey by Penn Schoen Berland found that 60 percent of Americans who voted in the 2012 presidential election agree with the statement that “global warming made Hurricane Sandy worse.” The survey also found that 73 percent of respondents agreed with the statement: “Global warming is affecting extreme weather events in the United States.”

A small but significant number of voters indicated that damage from Hurricane Sandy directly influenced their vote in the presidential election. Twelve percent of respondents said yes when asked, “Did the damage from Hurricane Sandy and the government response influence your vote in the presidential election.” And of those saying yes, 42 percent said it was “a very important factor” in casting their vote.

How much time have we wasted playing pretend games? Sent November 24:

The really troubling part of the Penn Schoen Berland study showing significant change in Americans’ increased awareness of climate change is that fully forty percent of our nation’s citizens don’t recognize a strong correlation even if it’s flooding their basements and dessicating their farmlands. That number testifies to the power of fossil fuel interests and their well-paid media enablers, who have spent enormous time and resources on muddying the debate — fostering confusion where the data instead points overwhelmingly to certainty.

How much more evidence will these doubters require? Clearly the statements of climate scientists won’t do the trick; when conservative politicians must reject even basic science to pass muster with their supporters, the testimony of experts is an irrelevance. Superstorm Sandy hit home for many. Perhaps our nation will only accept the scientific consensus when climate change isn’t just knocking on our doors, but knocking down our homes.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 11, Day 28: Get Your Kicks!

The Vacaville Reporter (CA) runs an AP article on climate change’s impact on our transportation systems:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Wild weather is taking a toll on roads, airports, railways and transit systems across the country.

That’s leaving states and cities searching for ways to brace for more catastrophes like Super-storm Sandy that are straining the nation’s transportation lifelines beyond what their builders imagined.

Despite their concerns about intense rain, historic floods and record heat waves, some transportation planners find it too politically sensitive to say aloud a source of their weather worries: climate change.

Political differences are on the minds of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, whose advice on the design and maintenance of roads and bridges is closely followed by states. The association recently changed the name of its Climate Change Steering Committee to the less controversial Sustainable Transportation, Energy Infrastructure and Climate Solutions Steering Committee.

Still, there is a recognition that the association’s guidance will need to be updated to reflect the new realities of global warming.

“There is a whole series of standards that are going to have to be revisited in light of the change in climate that is coming at us,” said John Horsley, the association’s executive director.

In the latest and most severe example, Superstorm Sandy inflicted the worst damage to the New York subway system in its 108-year history, halted Amtrak and commuter train service to the city for days, and forced cancellation of thousands of airline flights at airports in New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia.

In Washington state, “we joked we were having 100-year storms every year,” said Paula Hammond, head of the state’s Department of Transportation.

Joked. Ha ha ha….funny!

If there is any aspect of American domestic policy that should be exempt from partisanship, transportation is it. Everybody needs to get from place to place; nobody likes driving on rotten roads or coping with failing infrastructure. And yet, time and time again, we find that dogmatism stands in the way of a reality-based approach to renewing our country’s crumbling transportation systems.

That the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials re-named their Climate Change Steering Committee into something marginally less likely to set Republican alarm bells ringing is just another demonstration that obvious truths must be carefully disguised to pass muster with conservative politicians. The climate IS changing; our roads, rails, airports, waterways and public transport must be strengthened. This is a fact, not an opinion. When it comes to preparing America’s transportation for the climate crisis, there’s no room on the road for the ideologically-driven.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 11, Day 27: And The Big Fuel Said To Push On

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch shares a minor local story of no interest to anyone outside the affected area. Oh, wait…

ST. LOUIS • Barge industry leaders on Friday renewed their warnings of far-reaching economic losses in the Midwest if water levels on the Mississippi River continue to drop to levels that disrupt shipping.

Severe drought conditions coupled with the reduced flows expected from the upper Missouri River later this month have prompted the American Waterway Operators and the Waterways Council to warn that river commerce could come to a standstill by early December.

“Slowing down or severing the country’s inland waterway superhighway would imperil the shipment of critical cargo for export, significantly delay products needed for domestic use, threaten manufacturing production and power generation, and negatively impact jobs up and down the river,” said Craig Philip, chief executive officer at Ingram Barge Co., based in Nashville, Tenn.

Philip and other industry officials spoke during a Friday morning news conference in St. Louis, alongside Maj. Gen. John W. Peabody, commander of the Mississippi Valley Division of the Army Corps of Engineers, and Rear Adm. Roy A. Nash, commander of the Coast Guard’s 8th District.

Industry officials are calling on the administration of President Barack Obama to issue a presidential declaration to allow an emergency response to the “crisis.”

Peabody said the Corps of Engineers, which manages the waterways, has been bracing for the latest round of low water since the drought year of 1988. This year, the corps has been involved in “continuous dredging” since July — with up to two dozen dredges operating on the river at one time — and has been storing water where possible.

Move along, folks. Sent November 22:

The Mississippi’s steadily lowering water levels are part of a much larger story. The predicament of barge operators is linked with that of Midwest corn growers who watched helplessly as drought withered their fields, and with Vermont maple trees no longer making enough sap for syrup production. This story includes millions of acres of Colorado forest turned into kindling by invasive pine borer beetles, subsistence farmers in Bangladesh whose meager holdings are submerged by rising sea levels, and island nations now looking at relocating entire populations before their homelands disappear beneath the waves. Don’t forget to include the East coast, still reeling from the impact of superstorm Sandy.

It’s a story of the countless local and regional consequences of global climate change. Each community may feel these impacts differently, but to ignore their connections is to deny our shared humanity — and the future we must all face together.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 11, Day 26: Casey Jones, You’d Better Watch Your Speed.

The Delmarva News (VA) hears some of them expert-ish types predictin’ mighty big troubles comin’ down the pike:

WALLOPS — Coastal communities including the Eastern Shore of Virginia need to begin to prepare for changes in the climate, according to two experts who spoke at the NASA Visitor’s Center at Wallops about adapting to climate change.

The climate is changing at “an increasingly rapid rate,” so much that scientists can no longer use the past to predict the future, said Joel D. Scheraga, Senior Advisor for Climate Adaptation at the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Policy. Scheraga in addition to his role at the EPA has worked with the World Health Organization and the 2007 Nobel Prize-winning United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“The bottom line is, climate change is making it more difficult for our communities to attain the goals that they want to get to in their communities. We have to begin to adapt,” he said.

More hippies. Sent November 21:

Given that scientific language is usually conservative and understated, climatologists’ use of phrases like “an increasingly rapid rate” when discussing climate change should be a warning to us all: big troubles ahead. Between rising sea levels brought on by melting Arctic ice and the rising probability of extreme weather events like superstorm Sandy, the twenty-first century is going to be a dangerous one for the Eastern US coastline, which is going to change shape dramatically in the blink of a geological eye.

While an ounce of planning in 2012 will be worth a pound of FEMA in 2030, the grim fact is that the proper time to start preparing for runaway climate change was around 1970. The last forty years of inaction (sponsored by fossil fuel lobbyists in Congress and the White House, along with the increasingly powerful anti-science wing of the GOP) is going to have painful consequences n the decades to come. Any further procrastination may make the difference between serious inconvenience and utter catastrophe.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 11, Day 25: New Math

The Iowa City Press-Citizen is aware of a problem:

More than 40 University of Iowa scientists — some of them irked by the lack of climate change discussion in the recent presidential election — added their name to a statement released Monday declaring that climate change caused the 2012 drought.

All told, 138 science faculty and research staff from 27 Iowa colleges and universities — 44 from UI — put their stamps of approval on the statement, which conceded that although science can’t with 100 percent certainty pin human activities as the drought’s culprit, such extreme weather events in recent years are symptomatic of a climate that’s growing warmer because of the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

With Iowa in the midst of an ongoing drought and the recent devastation of the East Coast by the unprecedented Hurricane Sandy, now is a “teachable moment” when it comes to climate change, said Jerry Schnoor, co-director of UI’s Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research and a leader in organizing the statement.

“We wanted to make clear that most scientists and people who teach science in our colleges and universities in Iowa feel quite strongly that climate change is here now and we’re suffering costs as a result of that,” he said. “There are a lot of things we can do to respond, both in terms of adapting to climate change and mitigating it and lowering our own emissions.”

Science, biyotches. Sent November 20:

While it was amusing to watch Republican strategists get sucker-punched by math and facts on election night, the moment of reckoning for climate change’s reality won’t be much to laugh about. Think about it: a major political party in the most powerful nation on Earth has rejected science and expertise in just about every area of policy. The GOP is grimly determined to create their own reality: Damn the experts! Full speed ahead!

This is fine for political reality, which is determined by the demands of the 24-hour news cycle. But climatic reality is determined by other factors, like the amount of CO2 in the upper atmosphere and the albedo of Arctic ice coverage. Carbon dioxide molecules don’t watch TV, and Arctic ice doesn’t care whether Karl Rove’s math is accurate. How much more devastation will it take for Republicans to acknowledge the scary factuality of a radically transforming climate?

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 11, Day 24: Did You Think About That?

The High Country News’ Heather Hansen talks about what needs to happen:

I have a file on my desktop called “Cool Ideas.” It’s filled with news items on practical steps Westerners are taking to address climate change. I collected them over this election year while the issue drew platitudes and punch-lines from the candidates but little meaningful discussion on the national level. Some highlights from my file include:

The plan to build a biomass plant in Eagle County, Colorado is forging ahead. When it starts humming in 2014 it will burn wood chips from beetle-killed pines and other “junk” wood, to generate 11.5 megawatts of electricity.

Not far from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, at the Fighting Creek Landfill, trash is treasure. Earlier this year Kootenai County and the Kootenai Electric Cooperative debuted their multi-million dollar plant which uses garbage gas to power 1,800 homes.

The Aspen Ski Company is plunking down over $5 million to capture methane vented from coal operations at the Elk Creek Mine in western Colorado. The project will both prevent the powerful greenhouse gas from entering the atmosphere and will generate three megawatts of electricity, or roughly the amount the company uses for its annual operations.

The West is a hotbed of research and testing for the underground storage of carbon dioxide. One project, Rocky Mountain Carbon Capture and Sequestration, is studying a site near Craig, Colorado to potentially store 4.6 billion tons of carbon from power plants, natural gas processing plants, cement plants, oil shale development and other industries.

An unusual consortium including Montana Hutterite farmers, an Idaho wind energy developer and the federal government have joined forces to build the first silo-shaped wind turbine, capable of producing 100 kilowatts of electricity.

Kootenai ElectricIn his victory speech last week, President Obama said, “We want our children to live in an America that…isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.” This coincided with three related news items: First, the release of a study by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder which concludes that earth warming is likely to be “on the high side of current predictions.” That means an 8-degree Fahrenheit increase in global temps by late this century.

Voices of the West. Good. November 19:

Heather Hansen is absolutely right: it’s about time that climate change becomes item number one on our national agenda. After all, it’s only been a few months since drought ravaged some of the world’s most fertile cropland, decimating crops and making farmers’ lives even more tenuous and threatened. And it’s only been a few weeks since superstorm Sandy clobbered the East Coast, leaving thousands homeless, hungry and cold. And, of course, those are only the things that made the nightly news. Everywhere around America and the world local and regional ecosystems are under assault from the consequences of a runaway greenhouse effect.

But nowhere else is the outright denial of climate science so much a part of government. Because the Republicans in the House of Representatives plan to block any meaningful legislative action on climate, their ridiculous anti-science posturing is extremely dangerous. How much more damage must our nation sustain before these ideological extremists abandon their ignorance and let us all get on with the hard work of preparing for the coming climate crisis?

And to those insisting that climate-change mitigation is “too expensive” — it’s a sure bet that failure in the face of disaster is far costlier than that same disaster averted.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 11, Day 23: All Of The Heavies Were Light As A Feather

The Pasadena Star’s Steve Cauzillo wonders about our President’s taste for the fight:

“I am a firm believer that climate change is real, that it is impacted by human behavior and carbon emissions. And as a consequence, I think we’ve got an obligation to future generations to do something about it.”
-President Barack Obama, Nov. 14, 2012

THE president has been sending signals on the environment like policy test balloons. He mentioned climate change twice since re-election, once during his victory speech and during a press conference at the White House.

Though he was cautious to say the inordinate number of freak storms lately (i.e., Superstorm Sandy in the Northeast) can’t be traced with cause-and- effect accuracy to climate change, he did confirm his belief that the globe is getting warmer. He and 98 percent of all the scientists in the world agree that humans contribute to global warming, mostly due to industrialization which produces more greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane.

Of course, the next four years will be about avoiding the fiscal cliff, fixing tax policies, lowering the deficit and creating an economy in which employers can expand and new businesses can sprout.

But, even in that context, Obama told the press that much has been accomplished to reduce energy use. Cars are getting better gas mileage due to stricter standards. Wind, solar and biomass plants are opening up to provide electrical energy.

“If, on the other hand, we can shape an agenda that says we can create jobs, advance growth, and make a serious dent in climate change and be an international leader, I think that’s something that the American people would support,” said the president.

Now we’re talking.

We shall see. Sent November 18:

While the President often talks a good game on climate issues, it is often disturbingly evident that other members of his staff regard them as irrelevant distractions — presumably from the economic questions that dominate the news cycle and the rhetoric of the President’s conservative adversaries. Mr. Obama’s apparent renewal of commitment to addressing climate change can have no more definitive test than his approval or rejection of the disastrous Keystone XL project.

Keystone is catastrophic on multiple levels of scale. The destruction of millions of acres of boreal forest in order to exploit Canada’s tar sands is already an environmental blunder of huge proportions. Transporting the filthy oil across the US offers the potential for hundreds of local and regional disasters from leaks and contaminated aquifers — and, or course, burning all that oil will send the greenhouse effect into a drastic runaway zone from which recovery may be impossible. If President Obama allows the pipeline project to proceed, we will know that his commitment to the fight against global warming is inadequate to the magnitude of the crisis.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 11, Day 22: Show Me What You Do And I Will Tell You What You Believe

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune runs a McClatchy article titled, “Pressure builds on Obama over oil pipeline: Jobs vs. climate change.” SOS:

WASHINGTON – President Obama’s decision on whether to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline looms huge now that the election is over, and it could define Obama’s legacy on energy and climate change.

The oil industry, which is pushing hard for approval, describes the choice as the president’s “first test to the American people.”

Environmental groups are promising that thousands of activists will demonstrate against the pipeline on Sunday outside the White House, just the beginning of the efforts that are being planned to sink the project.

Energy analyst Charles Ebinger said he thought two weeks ago that there was little chance Obama would kill the pipeline. But he’s increasingly less sure about that.

Gotta stop the pipeline; gotta stop the “jobs vs. environment” bullshit meme. Sent November 18:

The notion that responsible environmental policies are “job-killers” is one of the most egregious falsehoods promulgated by fossil fuel spokespeople. The economy and the environment are only in opposition to one another if our notion of economic well-being is predicated on continuous consumption and continuous growth — inherently impossible on a finite planet. Wise economic policy recognizes that wealth is derived from the sustainable stewardship of Earth’s natural resources. This self-evident truth is ignored by those whose self-interest depends on maximizing short-term profits.

Coincidentally, theirs are the same voices eagerly pressing for Administration approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, a fossil-fuel exploitation strategy of near-sociopathic irresponsibility. Yes, the Keystone XL will generate jobs: cleanup specialists, leak stoppage crews, and (eventually) oncologists. If fossil fuel corporations could rebrand themselves simply as energy delivery corporations, their technology and resources would make them essential to the sustainable economy our country needs so urgently.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 11, Day 21: A Modest Proposal

The Chicago Tribune, on economics and climate change:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. droughts, floods and heat waves likely fueled by climate change in the last two years hit the people who can afford it the least – the poor and middle class, a report published on Friday said.

In affected areas of U.S. states hit by five or more extreme weather events in the last two years, the median annual household income was a bit over $48,000, or 7 percent below the national median, according to the report by the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank with close ties to the White House.

Floods hit lower-income households particularly hard. Families in areas hit by the largest floods this year and last, many near the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, earned an average of 14 percent less than the U.S. median, said the report called “Heavy Weather: How Climate Destruction Harms Middle and Lower Income Americans.”

“These findings reflect a cruel phenomenon sometimes called ‘the climate gap’” the concept that climate change has a disproportionate and unequal impact on society’s less fortunate,” said the report, which tapped U.S. data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Census and other agencies.

This letter doesn’t satisfy me, but after forty minutes of staring at the screen I just said the hell with it. Sent November 17:

Climate change’s disproportionate impact on the world’s poorest people is one of many ways in which environmental and economic issues are inextricably intertwined. Wealthy nations of course contribute the lion’s share of planetary greenhouse emissions, and wealthy individuals of course have more options and resources available when extreme weather threatens. But these facts are only the tip of the (rapidly melting) iceberg.

Climate change is a direct symptom of the greenhouse effect, but an indirect symptom of something far more pervasive and problematic. Any economic paradigm predicated on the notion of continuous expansion will eventually run out of room and resources. Infinite growth is impossible on a finite planet; it’s as simple as that. While American market capitalism has brought us many benefits, it has encouraged us to ignore the repercussions of our heedless consumption. Now that those consequences include droughts, hurricanes and heat waves, can we change our ways?

Warren Senders