Year 3, Month 12, Day 31: Drink A Cup For Kindness’ Sake

The Cleveland Plain Dealer sums up various responses to the nomination of John Kerry for SoS, and includes this paragraph: says that Kerry presents a potential opportunity for climate action. Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, released a statement praising the decision. “Sen. Kerry is a true leader on climate change and other environmental issues and has spent his career advocating for policies that are good for our planet and our national security.”

Kerry has been stronger than others on the issue, though that’s not saying a whole hell of a lot. Sent Dec. 25:

While Republican politicians prefer an alternate reality where marriage equality and Sharia law represent the most pressing geopolitical threats on the horizon, those of us who live in a reality-based universe have other concerns. Which is why John Kerry’s nomination for Secretary of State is good news. While the Massachusetts Democrat has long been one of our saner voices on foreign policy, the most critical issue facing America and the world today is another of Mr. Kerry’s areas of expertise. A comprehensive approach to global warming demands long-term thinking and a resolutely fact-based approach; the GOP strategy of explicitly rejecting scientific findings only works for a little while, before the laws of chemistry and physics reassert themselves.

Let us hope that Senator Kerry is confirmed without unnecessary grandstanding from his erstwhile colleagues, and that he can bring the United States to a position of genuine world leadership on climate change.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 12, Day 30: No Two Alike!

The Aspen Times discusses the recent “winter is ending” conversation initiated by Rob Katz a few days back:

ASPEN — An opinion piece about climate change by the head of Vail Resorts has Aspen Skiing Co.’s point man on environmental issues scratching his head.

Rob Katz, chairman and CEO of Vail Resorts Inc., wrote an opinion piece on climate change that appeared Friday in The Denver Post.

Katz criticizes the efforts of some unnamed folks to use last winter’s lack of snow and this winter’s slow start as proof of global warming. The head of the country’s largest ski-resort operator said the ski industry must play its part in reducing greenhouse-gas emissions for the right reasons — to save the planet for future generations.

“When the effects of climate change really show up, no one will care about skiing at Aspen and Vail,” Katz wrote. “They will be rightly focused on the wildlife, natural habitat and people of our planet, about the sea levels, flooding and natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy.”

The opinion piece coincided with an advertisement Vail Resorts ran in The New York Times last week. The headline read, “The Climate HAS CHANGED.” It features shots of skiers and riders at the company’s various ski areas and trumpets the new snow they have received the prior week.

Auden Schendler, Aspen Skiing Co.’s vice president for sustainability, said Vail is playing with fire with the ad and sending a defeatist message with the opinion piece.

“The advertising piece struck me as taunting the gods. I’m not sure why they’d do that,” Schendler said. “I think it’s mocking the conversation” on climate change.

Everybody’s right. And Happy New Year. December 24:

For a seasonally-organized and essentially fashion-driven industry like a ski resort, it makes perfect sense to frame climate change in immediate terms. Winter sports enthusiasts are less likely to think in the long term, as advocated by Rob Katz in his recent op-ed, so making the case for an urgent response to the climate crisis may well be best accomplished by stating the obvious: no more skiing unless we act.

But Mr. Katz’ argument is just as powerful and just as correct. Our collective focus on the short term has been a major contributor to our present predicament. Our culture is fixated on instant consumer gratification, informed by hysterical news media on a 24-hour cycle of excitement and spectacle, and governed by politicians fixated on the next election cycle; only with a profound reorientation in our thinking towards multigenerational responsibility to the future can we accomplish the kind of thoughtful and reasoned planetary response demanded by an emergency of this magnitude.

Warren Senders


Year 3, Month 12, Day 29: The Sky Is A Hazy Shade Of Something Or Other

The Seattle Times speculates on the likely end of winter, with a “scientists are surprised” subhead.

One of the biggest surprises in the technical report on biodiversity and ecosystems is how much winter has already changed, said Bruce Stein, director of climate-change adaptation with the National Wildlife Federation, in a conference call this week.

“The bottom line is that these impacts aren’t just going to happen in 50 to 100 years; many of them are already here, and are only going to get worse over time,” Stein said. “There has already been more effect on winter than we thought, and that affects what happens in summer.”

In the Northwest, forests already show the effect of warmer winters in beetle-killed trees. The pests thrive without the killing cold. That, in turn, means summertime wildfires stoked with dead conifers.

In addition to changes in winter, the report noted many other effects of even small shifts in temperature. Among them, increased risk of extinction among animals that can’t move, or adapt quickly enough to outrun warming temperatures.

“We were surprised at the rate of movement of species in response to these changes in temperature,” Stein said. Shifts in species’ ranges is occurring about two to three times faster than previous estimates, with plants and animals shifting north in their home ranges about 10 miles a decade, and marine species moving even faster, as much as 27 to 30 miles north, seeking colder water.

There are exceptions of course, and winners, as well as losers. As the climate warms, some species are gaining whole new ground to colonize, while other animals are dying out.

Locally in the Northwest, barnacle and mussel beds already are declining in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, because of warming water in the intertidal zone, according to the report.

The timing of seasonal events in nature is also shifting, with animals migrating and nesting earlier caused by shorter, milder winters, including northern flickers in the Northwest.

The bottom line is change. Because of the amount of carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere, no matter what is done now to affect human-caused global warming from the burning of fossil fuel, long term, the climate of the past will not be seen again.

“What we are seeing, ” Stein said, “is a new normal.”

Yesterday’s letter was actually triggered by this piece, but then I got disoriented, because I had two separate “oh-shit-winter-is-gone-forever” articles up in two different browser windows. Anyway. Sent December 23:

A phrase like “that’s surprising,” can mean different things depending on who’s saying it and where it’s being said — but when it’s scientists discussing environmental factors reinforcing one another and unpredictably worsening the effects of climate change, it’s almost certainly bad news. Predictability is the essence of science — but it’s also essential for planning and policy; when we cannot prepare for the future, we’re at its mercy.

One certainty: there’ll be more unpleasant surprises for climatologists — and the rest of us. Whether it’s disrupted agriculture, a collapsing oceanic food chain, or catastrophic weather events, the accelerating climate crisis isn’t waiting for us to catch up. If the “new normal” described by the National Wildlife Federation’s Bruce Stein is one where science, policy and preparation are constantly blindsided by events, it’s not just winter sports that are going to disappear, but the entire infrastructure of our civilization.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 12, Day 28: I Predict Nostalgia

The Denver Post has an Op-Ed from the head honcho at a major ski resort, who’s elected to come down on the right side of history:

One of my favorite times of year is right before the holidays, with the excitement and anticipation of the winter ski season.

However, it has become somewhat predictable that with the first sign of a lack of natural snow, climate change articles and stories start to appear. In many ways, it’s to be expected. It’s hard to understand how the weather changes the way it does and why things can look so different from year to year. Two years ago was one of the most “epic” seasons for snow in Colorado’s history. Last year was a tough season across the ski industry. This year has been a tough early season for Colorado, but it just finished snowing like crazy in both Tahoe and Colorado, with more on the way.

Count me in the category of someone who is very worried about climate change, but also someone who tries not to look at every weather pattern as “proof” of something. But, maybe more than anything, you can count me out of the group that says we need to address climate change to save skiing. I feel this way even though I run one of the biggest ski companies in the world. The impacts of climate change are a serious matter and rightly deserve our attention. At Vail Resorts, we are on a path to reduce our energy use by 20 percent over a 10-year period and have engaged in a number of substantial forest restoration projects — all of which help to contain the impacts of climate change.

Nobody really thinks it’s going to happen. I breathe this shit in all the time and I still don’t believe it emotionally. Except that I’m depressed, reasonably enough. Sent December 22:

When spoken inside a laboratory, “that’s surprising” can mean anything from “time to clean up the equipment” to “a Nobel prize is in my future.” But when we hear scientists saying it in the outside world, it should be cause for alarm. Science is built on predictability: a hypothesis that fails to forecast tomorrow’s results as well as explaining today’s is destined for the scrap-heap of history.

As the climate crisis metastasizes, the uncontrolled environmental factors will interact, leading to more unpleasant surprises for climatologists — and the rest of us. Rob Katz is justly more concerned about the planet’s future than about his ski resort’s next few decades; it’s not just the end of winter sports, but the cascading effects on hundreds of local, regional, and planetary ecologies that are going to make the coming century more difficult and dangerous than most of us are prepared to imagine.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 12, Day 27: Even A Blind Pig…

The New York Times reports on the threatened truffle:

PARIS — Just about everything in Eduardo Manzanares’s shop, Truffes Folies, is made with truffles. Sausage, cheese, spaghetti — even popcorn.

But during the year-end holidays, the main order of business is fresh truffles, especially the black or Périgord truffle, Tuber melanosporum. The prized mushrooms are used to stuff Christmas turkeys, chickens or capons, Mr. Manzanares said, making Dec. 24 typically the biggest truffle-eating night of the year in France.

But it is also becoming an increasingly expensive tradition. Black truffles and other types of truffles are becoming scarcer, and some scientists say it is because of the effects of global climate change on the fungus’s Mediterranean habitat. One wholesaler says prices have risen tenfold over the last dozen years.

Poor things. I’ve tasted truffles twice and they were/are wonderful. But not at $1200/pound. Sent December 21:

One of the perquisites of wealth is an added layer of protection from natural disasters. Downed power lines don’t hurt if you’ve got your own generator; cracked and crumbling roads mean nothing if you travel by helicopter; disrupted agriculture’s just a blip on the radar if you’ve got two years’ food supply laid up in a private storage facility.

This insulation has allowed many of the world’s richest individuals to ignore the effects of global climate change — unlike the world’s poorest, who daily live with the consequences of others’ consumption of fossil fuels. It’s only when a luxury item is endangered that the threat suddenly seems real to those who’ve used their power to keep climatic reality outside the gates. How ironic that while forecasts of megadeaths and surging sea levels elicit only yawning dismissals, the prospect of disappearing truffles could finally motivate the planet’s most privileged to action.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 12, Day 26: Hit The Snooze Button Again, Willya?

The Chicago Sun-Times says Americans are finally waking up.

Call it change more Americans are starting to believe in.

A recent Associated Press-GfK poll found that a growing majority of Americans not only think global warming is occurring, but also that it will become a serious problem and that the U.S. government should do something about it.

If this fall’s elections were any indication, average Americans are moving ahead of the politicians on this issue. Serious debate on climate change was a lot less noticeable than the melting polar icecaps, Superstorm Sandy and Midwest drought were.

Fashionably late, that’s us. Sent December 20:

The fact that Americans are only now accepting the reality of global climate change demonstrates two things: first, that the United States has been able to avoid the adverse effects of global warming for longer than many other parts of the world, and second, that our national relationship to scientific knowledge has deteriorated grossly since the 1960s and 70s, when our space program brought human beings to the moon and back with the full support, admiration and respect of an engaged public. That was then.

Now, it’s a different story. Thanks to an indifferent media, climatologists are misrepresented when their findings are complex, ignored when their work is misunderstood, and physically threatened when their results are ideologically inconvenient. Since geographical good luck no longer protects our nation from the consequences of the accelerating greenhouse effect, will America’s politicians, media and citizenry finally accord climate scientists the respect they deserve?

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 12, Day 25: Everybody Gets Coal In Their Stockings!

Time Magazine’s new Man of the Year has a chance to discuss climate:

So it should hearten greens that Obama volunteered in his interview with TIME editors that climate would be a major part of his second-term agenda—at least in part because of concern for his children:

Well, it’s a cliché, but it’s obviously true that for any parent, as you watch your kids age, you are reminded that everything you do has to have their futures in mind. You fervently hope they’re going to outlive you; that the world will be better for them when you’re not around. You start thinking about their kids.

And so, on an issue like climate change, for example, I think for this country and the world to ask some very tough questions about what are we leaving behind, that weighs on you. And not to mention the fact I think that generation is much more environmentally aware than previous generations.

There is that sense of we’ve got to get this right, and at least give them a fighting chance. In the same way that as a parent you recognize that no matter what you do, your kids are going to have challenges — because that’s the human condition — but you don’t want them dealing with stuff that’s the result of you making bad choices. They’ll have enough bad choices that they make on their own that you don’t want them inheriting the consequences of bad choices that you make. We have to think about that as a society as a whole.

That’s a pretty good argument for why we need to act on global warming—though it’s not really clear what the President would or even could do, especially faced with a divided and likely hostile Congress. He’s the Person of the Year, but he’s not omnipotent. (Though he does have options—see this plan from the Natural Resources Defense Council that would use the Clean Air Act to reduce carbon emissions from power plants.)

Have a nice day, everyone. Sent December 19:

While President Obama’s approach to climate change issues is undoubtedly going to be more robust than that offered by his rival Mitt Romney, that’s a pretty low bar to clear. The fact is that at a critical point in our species’ history, we are offered only anodyne strategies to combat a complex and metastasizing catastrophe. This is partly attributable to the gamesmanship of Washington, where politics is defined as the art of compromise; Mr. Obama’s skills at compromising are already well-known. Unfortunately, the accelerating greenhouse effect isn’t going to meet the President half-way. The laws of physics and chemistry are like that — stubborn, unyielding.

But there’s something else in Washington preventing a genuine response to the climate crisis. The Republican party’s complete denial of the overwhelming scientific evidence on global warming makes them as inflexible — and almost as harmful — as the steadily rising count of atmospheric CO2.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 12, Day 24: Give Peace A Chance

The Vancouver Star anticipates problems:

METRO VANCOUVER – The combination of a king tide and a surging storm that pummelled parts of Vancouver’s iconic seawall Monday are symptomatic of what climate change and rising sea levels could mean for the region, according to an expert.

Oceanographer Susan Allen said that in coming years, the flooding seen in parts of Metro Vancouver’s waterfront could occur outside a “coincidence” like Monday’s heavy wind and rain that combined with the so-called king tides, which are nearing the end of their month-long peak in British Columbia.

“In the future we won’t have to have quite so high a tide at the time of a storm surge to get exactly what we had today because the water will be a little higher,” Allen said. “The important thing is “and.”

“If you get global warming and a big tide and a storm surge then we (have) problems.”

No argument there. Sent December 18:

As Arctic ice continues to melt, the world’s coastlines are going to be dramatically transformed. And with these changes will come a new assortment of dangers, exemplified in such recent weather disasters as Superstorm Sandy and Typhoon Bopha. Cities up and down the coastline of North America will need to start planning for such events with the certainty of “when,” not the ambiguity of “if.”

This means that a great many things will have to change. Urban planners can no longer assume a business-as-usual model when it comes to the impact of a transformed climate on major population centers. To avoid tragedies of Brobdingnagian proportions during the coming centuries, the world’s nations must prepare carefully and cooperatively. Infrastructure must be strengthened, emergency response mechanisms augmented, and worst-case scenarios prepared for; all these are expensive propositions, until you consider the alternative: gigadeaths on a scale dwarfing all of humanity’s wars combined.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 12, Day 23: Intestines Were A-Hanging From The Highest Of The Trees

The New York Times notes that winter sports are suffering a bit:

NEWBURY, N.H. — Helena Williams had a great day of skiing here at Mount Sunapee shortly after the resort opened at the end of November, but when she came back the next day, the temperatures had warmed and turned patches of the trails from white to brown.

“It’s worrisome for the start of the season,” said Ms. Williams, 18, a member of the ski team at nearby Colby-Sawyer College. “The winter is obviously having issues deciding whether it wants to be cold or warm.”

Her angst is well founded. Memories linger of last winter, when meager snowfall and unseasonably warm weather kept many skiers off the slopes. It was the fourth-warmest winter on record since 1896, forcing half the nation’s ski areas to open late and almost half to close early.

Whether this winter turns out to be warm or cold, scientists say that climate change means the long-term outlook for skiers everywhere is bleak. The threat of global warming hangs over almost every resort, from Sugarloaf in Maine to Squaw Valley in California. As temperatures rise, analysts predict that scores of the nation’s ski centers, especially those at lower elevations and latitudes, will eventually vanish.

I went skiing as a kid in different places all over New England. It was fun until I broke my leg as a teenager. At that point I said, “fuck it.” Sent December 17:

Thanks to the barrage of weather-related disasters over the past year, more previously dubious Americans are beginning to accept the reality of global climate change; there’s something about tangible evidence that helps nudge people off the fence. The decline in snow coverage on the nation’s ski slopes should amplify this effect, perhaps helping winter sports enthusiasts to recognize both the factuality of the greenhouse effect and the dangers it presents.

But we — all of us — must start thinking in much longer terms and much larger scales. While the economic disruption caused by a collapsing winter sports industry will be significant, it pales in comparison to that triggered by a collapsing planetary environment. While our industrialized society has wrought technological wonders, we are laughably unable to control the havoc unleashed by our profligate greenhouse emissions. Humanity isn’t on the bunny slopes anymore, but careening down a precipice, unknowing, unheeding.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 12, Day 22: Can Rat Piss Cure Cancer? Details At Eleven!

The San Francisco Chronicle covers the “More Idiots Are Finally Changing Their Minds” story:

A growing majority of Americans think that global warming is occurring, that it will become a serious problem and that the U.S. government should do something about it, a new Associated Press-GfK poll finds.

Even most people who say they don’t trust scientists on the environment say temperatures are rising.

The poll found 4 out of every 5 Americans said climate change will be a serious problem for the United States if nothing is done about it. That’s up from 73 percent when the same question was asked in 2009.

Wakey wakey! Probably too latey latey, but better late than never. Idiots. Sent December 16:

It’s good news that more people are finally accepting the truth of planetary climate change, now that the consequences of the rapidly metastasizing greenhouse effect are threatening to overwhelm Earth’s ecological defense mechanisms. That the newly converted find actual physical events more persuasive than scientific analyses is also unsurprising. But science offers ways to extend our senses into areas normally beyond human perception; the idea that scientists have become somehow untrustworthy should give prompt us pause to reconsider our media’s handling of science news. Ask any scientist whose work has been covered by broadcast media and you’ll hear story after story of sensationalism, misrepresentation, and exaggeration.

That complex scientific questions are ill-suited to the spectacle-driven news machine should be a motivation to those television and radio outlets to change their approach. When it comes to the looming climate emergency, we need accurate reporting, and we needed it thirty years ago.

Warren Senders