Year 4, Month 1, Day 31: Don’t Mention The War!

The Toronto Star reflects on the Keystone XL:

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, joined by 10 U.S. governors, released a letter recently urging President Barack Obama to swiftly approve the Keystone XL pipeline project.

As always, the argument is simple, and narrowly framed: 1. Canada has a lot of oil and the U.S. needs oil. 2. We don’t have enough pipeline capacity to handle our ambition for unconstrained growth in oilsands production. 3. Building the pipeline will create jobs.

What could be simpler? Nothing — as long as you pretend climate change doesn’t exist and don’t make it part of the conversation.

Post-Hurricane Sandy and scorching heat waves in the mid-west, that’s becoming a less tenable argument, at least in the U.S. In his second inaugural address, Obama called attention to the need for action on climate change, calling for America to lead the transition to sustainable energy sources. It’s an important reminder that we need to look at the issue through a different frame, one that pipeline project proponents and many in government are trying hard to avoid.

Scientists are telling us that, to avoid the worst effects of climate change, greenhouse gas emissions need to peak by 2017 and drop drastically by 2050. The International Energy Agency (IEA) — a leading voice on energy research and analysis of which Canada is a member — recently reported that unless we change course, by 2017 the energy infrastructure will be in place to produce the emissions that will take us across the 2°C warming threshold. The U.S. and Canada (under our current federal government), along with many other countries, have agreed to work to avoid crossing this threshold, the point at which our climate may become seriously destabilized. Furthermore, the IEA tells us that, to stay under 2°C warming, two-thirds of all known fossil fuel reserves will have to stay in the ground.

Never mention the CC word. Ever. Sent January 24:

The economic arguments for exploiting the tar sands — oil is cheap; society needs that energy to continue economic growth — are analogous to the self-serving rationalizations of addicts everywhere.

Oil’s always been expensive; we’ve just left its significant costs for our descendants to pay. Neither post-extraction cleanup or public health impacts are usually included in our calculations — and, of course, the catastrophic consequences of accelerating climate change must never be mentioned or considered.

The economic growth argument is a failure both on intellectual (we live on a finite planet) and moral (recall Edward Abbey’s statement that growth for its own sake is “the ideology of the cancer cell”) grounds.

The Keystone pipeline’s not just a single disaster in the making, but multiple disasters on different scales of size and time. For the sake of our posterity, the Tar Sands oil must stay in the ground.

Warren Senders


Year 4, Month 1, Day 30: Look! Look! A Mouse!

The headline reads “Speech Gives Climate Goals Center Stage.” The New York Times (which recently shut down its Environment desk entirely):

WASHINGTON — President Obama made addressing climate change the most prominent policy vow of his second Inaugural Address, setting in motion what Democrats say will be a deliberately paced but aggressive campaign built around the use of his executive powers to sidestep Congressional opposition.

“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” Mr. Obama said on Monday at the start of eight sentences on the subject, more than he devoted to any other specific area. “Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.”

The central place he gave to the subject seemed to answer the question of whether he considered it a realistic second-term priority. He devoted scant attention to it in the campaign and has delivered a mixed message about its importance since the election.

I’m a literary dude, I guess. Sent January 23:

“Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow! / You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout.”
Climate change may have taken center stage in the President’s second inaugural address, but its primus inter pares position in Mr. Obama’s rhetoric is nothing compared with the scene-stealing we can expect from the accelerating greenhouse effect over the next four years. With profound and far-reaching geopolitical, humanitarian, economic, and environmental implications, our transforming climate will become the single most influential player in world affairs. Well before the end of this century, the human costs of extreme weather, droughts, heat waves, and rising sea levels will dwarf that of all planetary armed conflicts combined; include the impact on the rest of Earth’s biota, and it’s uncomfortably likely that “ingrateful man’s” fossil-fueled madness may well presage the final act of a Lear-like tragedy, leaving only a few survivors on a planet ravaged by “sulphurous and thought-executing fires.”

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 1, Day 29: What He Was Doing In My Pajamas, I’ll Never Understand.

The Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot runs an op-ed:

In the four years since a 2009 federal report detailed global warming in America, the evidence has become harder to ignore.

It’s not just the freaky, violent weather of 2012, the warmest year on record. It’s also temperatures over the past decade, the highest on record.

“Americans are noticing changes all around them,” concluded the National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee in a draft report released last week.

The report, mandated by Congress, was last compiled in 2009. Since then, the panel says, the case for global warming has grown more widespread:

“Residents of some coastal cities see their streets flood more regularly during storms and high tides. Inland cities near large rivers also experience more flooding, especially in the Midwest and Northeast. Hotter and drier weather and earlier snow melt mean that wildfires in the West start earlier in the year, last later into the fall, threaten more homes, cause more evacuations, and burn more acreage. In Alaska, the summer sea ice that once protected the coasts has receded, and fall storms now cause more erosion and damage that is severe enough that some communities are already facing relocation.”

All well and good. The Second Inaugural should be a help. Sent January 22:

To anyone who’s been paying attention, the recently released National Climate Assessment is hardly breaking news. After all, 2012 was marked by devastating droughts, all sorts of extreme weather, and heat waves strong and sustained enough to make the year the hottest yet recorded in human history. Still, as Groucho Marx once asked, “Who are you gonna believe? Me, or your lying eyes?” A significant number of Americans still reject the evidence when it comes to climate change.

That’s why President Obama’s Second Inaugural Address was a big deal. By making a firm commitment to address the threat, the President came down on the side of science, delivering a strong rebuke to those still locked in the denialist mindset. Presidential follow-through must include the rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline project, and initiatives to promote the work of climate scientists, so that the American public can understand the threat posed to our nation and our posterity.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 1, Day 28: The Autograph Of The Beast

Thomas Lovejoy tells us in the NY Times just how f**ked we are, in a column entitled “The Climate Change Endgame”:

WHETHER in Davos or almost anywhere else that leaders are discussing the world’s problems, they are missing by far the biggest issue: the rapidly deteriorating global environment and its ability to support civilization.

The situation is pretty much an endgame. Unless pressing issues of the biology of the planet and of climate change generated by greenhouse gas emissions are addressed with immediacy and at appropriate scale, the matters that occupy Davos discussions will be seen in retrospect as largely irrelevant.

This week, in Bonn, out of sight and out of mind, international negotiators will design the biodiversity and ecosystem equivalent to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. A full eight years have passed since President Jacques Chirac of France acted as host at a meeting in Paris to create this “Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.”

Progress has been painfully slow. Only now is the “platform” and its work program — to assess status, trends and possible solutions — being designed. In the meantime, rates of extinction and endangerment of species have soared. Ecosystem destruction is massive and accelerating. Institutional responsiveness seems lethargic to a reptilian degree.

I hate these sports terms. Sent January 21:

If we are to overcome our culture’s systemic aversion to addressing the ever-more-urgent climate crisis, we should stop using the lexicon of sports and entertainment. When Thomas Lovejoy refers to the ongoing and accelerating environmental collapse as an “endgame,” or James Hansen opines that carbon release from the Canadian tar sands would be “game over” for the climate, the terms carry with them the suggestion of another round, a second chance. This framing is also consistent with the notion, derived from Abrahamic religious tradition, that our life on Earth is but a prelude to another phase of existence, an afterlife of bliss and rectitude.

Well, for all the times that afterlife’s been invoked, it’s never been verified, and the “game over” awaiting our children on a drastically warmed planet will be more like a catastrophic football riot writ large than the anodyne mulligan the phrase implies. Earth has no “reset” button.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 1, Day 27: Long As I Keep Drivin’, I’ll Keep Surviving…?

McClatchy’s Erika Bolstad writes on the World Bank’s move towards supporting more mass transportation infrastructure:

WASHINGTON — There’s an unexpected method governments can use to reduce poverty, improve public health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, top world leaders said Friday.

Their idea: Make transportation in the world’s megacities more available and sustainable to reduce congestion and benefit populations – and economies – that are projected to boom in the coming decades.

Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, said Friday at a global transportation conference that working on sustainable transportation is part of the bank’s moral responsibility and will be a major focus of its lending in the coming years. Lifting people out of poverty is the bank’s chief mission, Kim said. But climate change caused by global warming threatens that mission, he said, particularly for future generations.

The bank recently issued a report that outlines what the world could be like if temperatures rise by 7 degrees Fahrenheit by 2060. It’s sometimes difficult for people to understand that, Kim said, but he offered the example of his own 3-year-old-son.

“To put it very bluntly . . . when he’s my age, he’ll be living in a world where the oceans will be 150 percent more acidic, the coral reefs will have all been melted away, the fisheries would have been completely disturbed, and probably every single day, there will be food fights and water fights all over the world,” he said. “The world that I’m literally handing over to him as an adult will be one that does not exist today. For me it’s very real.”

Time to put Kerouac to bed. It wouldn’t be the same if he’d written it about riding a bus, I suppose. Sent January 20:

There are few aspects of modern civilization more baffling than our continued reliance on automobiles for every aspect of our transportation. An intelligent alien watching humanity would no doubt wonder why we spend so much time sitting in heavy metal boxes many times our own weight, often moving no faster than a slow strolling pace — and why those metal boxes seem trigger frequent episodes of rage, competition and conspicuous wastefulness.

Once, the automobile represented the most tangible aspects of the American Dream: the freedom to travel, the siren call of the open road. Now, the full impact of our consumption of fossil fuels is making an environmental nightmare, and it’s clear that we must put the brakes on the accelerating greenhouse effect before careening, Thelma-and-Louise style, over the climate cliff. It’s time for a massive national investment in public transportation, for we cannot drive recklessly into the twenty-first century.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 1, Day 26: There Must Be Some Kind Of Way Out Of Here

The Black Hills Pioneer (SD) has an op-ed piece by Bob Mercer, looking at climate change’s effects on the state:

The most important topic missing from political debate in South Dakota is potentially more harmful in the long run than any semi-automatic handgun or AR-style mock-assault rifle.

The topic is climate change. There isn’t a single piece of legislation in the 2013 session that addresses it.

During the 2012 election campaigns for state Public Utilities Commission and U.S. House of Representatives, there was next to zero public discussion beyond the bumper-sticker level.

That was despite the previous involvement in climate-change matters by two of the Democratic candidates, Matt McGovern and Matt Varilek.

McGovern and Varilek, rather than make their cases, dodged political punches from their Republican critics on the topic.

I pulled out the recently published letter to the Honolulu Weekly, adjusted it, and sent it off. Tra la la la. Sent January 19:

South Dakota isn’t alone. People everywhere around the world are discovering that climate change isn’t an abstraction any more, but a life-changing — sometimes life-threatening — fact. Farmers can’t plan if the weather’s too unpredictable; extreme storms will threaten even the most robust infrastructure. Droughts can turn once-fertile land arid and unproductive; island nations may simply disappear as polar ice melts and sea levels rise.

Yet while the climate crisis is transforming lives all over the planet, there’s one place where the consequences of an accelerating greenhouse effect aren’t making any impact at all. In the comfortably air-conditioned chambers of Senate and Congressional Republicans, global warming isn’t a devastating reality, but a liberal hoax. These anti-science conservatives may nominally represent different constituencies, but ultimately they all hail from the same state of denial. Which is bad news for South Dakota — and the rest of the world.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 1, Day 25: Here Comes Science!

Now THIS is a damn good idea — Naomi Oreskes, in the Washington Post:

But President Obama can move independently of Congress to address this critical issue: He can mobilize scientists through the U.S. national laboratory system.

There is a powerful precedent for the president to take this route. The core of the national laboratory system was created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as part of the Manhattan Project to address an earlier threat to American safety and security: the possibility that German scientists were going to build an atomic bomb that could have been decisive in World War II. Scientists brought the issue to the president’s attention and then did what he asked: They built a deliverable weapon in time for use in the war.

While historians have long argued about the seriousness of the threat of a Nazi atomic bomb, there is no question that at the time it was viewed as imminent. Today we face a threat that is somewhat less immediate but far less speculative. An obvious response is to engage the national laboratory system to study options to reduce or alleviate climate change, which the president could do by executive order.

Let’s defuse the Carbon and Methane bombs. Sent January 18:

A national call to scientists is precisely what is needed in the face of the metastasizing threats posed by climate change. A negative consequence of the Industrial Revolution has been the consumption of many millions of years’ worth of fossilized carbon in a geological instant, with concomitant consequences for our biosphere and our civilization. But another consequence is the rapid expansion of human intellectual resources; thanks to leapfrogging technological advances, we’ve made strides of understanding and insight into the nature of our universe that even a few decades ago would have seemed beyond the wildest imaginings of science fiction.

If there are solutions to the greenhouse effect and its destructive epiphenomena, they won’t be found by those so-called conservatives who’ve carried out a multi-decade campaign against scientific understanding and method, but by climatologists, physicists, chemists and other experts working together for the common benefit of our species and our posterity.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 1, Day 24: Busted Flat In…. Boulder?

The Coloradoan notes a new study on climate change and wildfires:

Last year, 2012, the hottest year on record in both Colorado and the United States and the state’s worst wildfire year ever, may be just a taste of what climate change has in store for the West.

Colorado’s future under the influence of climate change will be significantly warmer and drier than recent years, and the impacts will affect the regions’ water, forests, wildfires, ecosystems and ability to grow crops.

That’s the conclusion of the draft of the federal government’s National Climate Assessment, which was released for public comment on Monday by the U.S. Global Change Research Program.

The water content of Colorado’s snowpack and the timing of the spring runoff are changing, which could pose major challenges for the state’s water supplies and farmers, said Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University and co-author of the portion of the assessment addressing Colorado and the Southwest.

Reaching a bit for the metaphor, but what the hell. Sent January 17:

The unimaginable devastation wrought by 2012’s wildfires are “just a taste,” writes Bobby Magill, “of what climate change has in store for the West.” In the aftermath of the world’s hottest year on record, Americans may finally be waking up to the dangers posed by a rapidly accelerating greenhouse effect. The earlier phrase “global warming” was misleading, offering a picture of our planet as getting a little cuddlier and more comforting; after all, who doesn’t like being warm? The true picture as predicted by climatologists for several decades is now emerging: whatever climatic factors were already dangerous are going to be even more so. Did your region already suffer from occasional drought? Get ready for two or three years of water shortages. Occasional heavy rains? Be prepared for massive flooding. Hurricanes every now and then? Batten down the hatches and keep them battened down for the foreseeable future.

If last year’s wildfires were the appetizers, we can anticipate a multi-course banquet of climatic disaster.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 1, Day 23: Preacher Went a-Hunting, Lord, Lord, Lord.

The Miami Herald runs a McClatchy article on the increasing desperation of the people who actually give a shit:

WASHINGTON — Just before he and other environmentalists marched to the White House on Tuesday, climate change activist James Hansen warned he wouldn’t be able to be arrested with them this time. Hansen, a NASA scientist by day and an activist on his own time, had to be available for a press conference in the afternoon announcing that worldwide temperatures in 2012 were in the top 10 hottest ever recorded.

“I’d be honored to be arrested with you,” Hansen said. A few hours later, he declined to discuss politics on a conference call with reporters, but he outlined how he and other government scientists arrived at their calculations as well as their concerns about future warming trends.

But as President Barack Obama approaches his second term, some of the country’s largest and most influential environmental groups and best-known advocates have drawn up blueprints for the White House to address climate change and its attendant problems: rising sea levels, droughts, more severe storms and acidic oceans. Despite doubts from others about how much could be accomplished in the coming years, they’re calling for the president to crack down on big polluters with tougher emissions rules, to reject the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada’s tar sands, and to stick to higher new fuel efficiency standards for cars. Other groups want the White House to encourage energy innovations that would curtail emissions.

And some, like the religious leaders who rallied Tuesday on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, said there’s nothing left to do but pray. Among their prayers: that Obama would hear their pleas and have the courage to emerge as a leader on climate change.

The prayer angle led me to go Old-Testament cute for this letter. Sent January 16:

While prayers may have benefits for those who are doing the praying, their efficacy in the measurable world remains unproven. Perhaps environmentalists’ fervent supplications will soften the hearts of our corporate and political pharoahs, who have thus far been obdurate in their refusal to consider the implications of a runaway greenhouse effect on the complex civilization humanity has built over many thousands of years. And then again, perhaps not.

Ultimately, our fate will not rest in the hands of a deity, but in our own collective ability to restore sobriety to a society drunk on fossil fuels and distracted by ephemeral entertainment. Massive investments in science and technology are necessary; human ingenuity just might solve some of the most pressing problems of climate change, but only if it’s well-funded — and treated with something other than the arrant disdain showed by the anti-science pharisees now occupying the halls of congress.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 1, Day 22: Just Wait Till Your Father Gets Home

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette joins the chorus of shrill hippies:

Mother Nature is trying to tell us something and every passing year her message becomes more urgent. That is the takeaway from the news that 2012 was the hottest year in the history of the contiguous United States.

The politicized community of climate change deniers will always find a way to deny the obvious, but more and more the obvious just won’t be pushed out of sight. The situation has become a grim variation of the punch line to the old joke: Who are you going to believe, the climate change deniers or the evidence of your own eyes — or, in this case, the temperature of your own skin?

Plainly, something is seriously wrong with the weather and the climate systems that form it. You don’t have to be a scientist to recognize this. In Pittsburgh, you just have to remember the winters of yore when ponds were frozen and winter sat heavily on the landscape for weeks.

As it happens, the world’s scientists are overwhelmingly united in the belief that the planet’s climate is changing and mankind’s release of carbon-based pollution has had a hand in it. The fallback position of the skeptics is that the facts can be explained in terms of natural rhythms that have always occurred. That is progress, the place where a sensible debate might begin.

Shhhh. Sent January 15:

Mother Nature, that tedious scold whose messages we’ve so successfully ignored for decades, is at it again — this time with the assistance of climate scientists: people who’ve devoted their lives to figuring out exactly what it is she’s trying to tell us. And Mom is mad, because not only have we denied any responsibility for completely trashing our home, we’re refusing to help her clean up.

American conservatives have moved so far away from measurable reality that even the most blatant signals from our traumatized environment are misinterpreted. On one hand, climatologists who’ve been predicting for decades that the metastasizing greenhouse effect would trigger extreme storms and anomalous weather — just like the extreme storms and anomalous weather we’ve been experiencing. On the other hand, evangelical preachers blaming it on gay marriage, and libertarians denouncing attempts to avert catastrophe as unpardonable infringements of their freedoms.

No wonder Mom’s angry.

Warren Senders