Year 4, Month 3, Day 31: The Kids Are Alright

The Seattle Times notes WA Governor Inslee’s commitment to issues that genuinely transcend politics:

OLYMPIA — There was a telling moment just before Gov. Jay Inslee raised his right hand and took the oath of office.

He was introduced as a politician who sees climate change as “an existential threat that transcends politics.”

“More than any other president or governor before him, Jay has an electoral mandate on this issue,” Denis Hayes, organizer of the first Earth Day in 1970, told a packed audience in the rotunda two months ago.

If lawmakers did not grasp the significance of those remarks then, they do now.

Inslee talks about climate change all the time. He discussed it in his inaugural address, during most of his news conferences, when introducing a bill on the issue in the state House and Senate, even in announcing his choice for transportation secretary.


Still, not everyone was expecting so much, so soon.

“I think there are greater, more pressing priorities at the moment,” said Senate Deputy Republican Leader Don Benton, R-Vancouver. “I think we need to look long term, and do little things that add up over time that will benefit and help the climate-change situation and the environment. But they are long-term strategies.”

Well, add Don Benton to our list of dingalings, I guess. March 19:

Of course State Senator Don Benton thinks there are more important things “at the moment” than climate change. Of course he’s ready to advocate “little things that add up over time” that may help us address what he charmingly calls the “climate-change situation.”

There will always be more pressing short-term issues than climate change, because even a steadily accelerating greenhouse effect is going to offer consequences on a time-scale larger than that of electoral politics. While there is no magic bullet that will fix the burgeoning climate crisis any more than there is a pill to cure lung cancer, this fact simply reinforces Governor Inslee’s sense of genuine responsibility.

That the climate “situation” is vastly larger than the problems usually preoccupying our politicians is no reason to dismiss it. There may be more important things at the moment — but climate change is not an issue of the moment, but of the millennium.

Warren Senders


Year 4, Month 3, Day 30: A Ham Sandwich Is Better Than Eternal Happiness

The Kennebec Journal (ME) runs an AP story from March 11 on China’s introduction of a carbon tax:

Finally, a nation that is contributing heavily to climate change is taking a major step to reduce its emissions. Unfortunately, this global leadership is not coming from the United States. It’s coming from China.

China is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, so the news (reported by Xinhua, a state-owned media service) that it’s going to introduce a carbon tax is huge. The tax is unlikely to be on the scale that experts suggest would make a serious dent in climate change: In 2010, China’s ministry of finance suggested levying a carbon tax of 10 yuan ($1.60) per ton in 2012, to rise to 50 yuan ($8) per ton in 2020. Experts have suggested a tax of 500 yuan, or $80 per ton.

Still, even a small Chinese carbon tax would mean a dramatic step forward for the planet. And it’s a lot more than anything the United States has done.

China’s announcement also comes as a bit of a surprise. For years, China has been a strident opponent of coordinated international efforts to combat climate change — rivaled only by the United States in this opposition.

Yet China has much to lose from the steady encroachment of climate change, and it’s finally starting to acknowledge that fact.

AMERICA!!! March 18:

As Europe expands its investments in renewable energy and China embarks on a carbon-taxing scheme, whither American exceptionalism in the first decades of the twenty-first century? While our national output of greenhouse gases may have fallen behind that of India and China, America is still number one in pollution per capita — a dubious distinction that fits well with our capacity for generating trash.

For years, far too many US politicians have argued in favor of doing nothing about climate change, contending that it’s silly to address a runaway greenhouse effect, since China and India are contributing to the problem. Aside from the absurdity of claiming a world leadership position while abdicating the obligations that accompany it, one wonders what those same lawmakers will do now that this policy stance is undermined by events. China’s carbon tax may be a baby step, but at least it’s in the right direction.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 3, Day 29: Things We Said Today

Sure wish we had more like this guy, as reported by the Rutland Herald (VT):

MONTPELIER — It was fitting that on a day devoted to talking about global warming, a makeshift parking lot at Montpelier High School was a mud pit by 1 p.m. in the middle of March.

Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., hosted a conference on climate change Saturday at Montpelier High School. Around 400 Vermonters heard from Sanders, state officials, students at the University of Vermont and climate author Bill McKibben about what may happen to the planet if something is not done to curb climate change.

“Global warming is not only real, it is terribly real,” Sanders said. “It is the planetary crisis of our time. If we don’t get our act together, this planet will only get worse.”

He added, “We have a moral responsibility, not only to ourselves, but to our kids and grandchildren and great grandchildren.”

Doing the right thing shouldn’t be so unusual, but it is. March 17:

Bernie Sanders’ readiness to propose legislation which offers a genuinely responsible approach to climate change unfortunately puts him in a minority position in American politics. It also demonstrates once again how important it is for our elected officials not to be bought and controlled by the corporate interests which currently exert a grossly disproportionate influence on our governance — because it is those same corporations which are standing in the way of meaningful action on the climate crisis.

Many politicians appear to believe that the political consequences of meaningful climate action would put them out of work. Perhaps the Republicans currently in thrall to their anti-science tea-party constituents are correct — but a steadily increasing majority of the American people recognize a crisis when they see one, and are eager for their government to start taking the problem with the seriousness it demands.

It is a profound indictment of our system’s current level of corruption that Bernie Sanders has become a “climate hero” simply by offering a policy proposal based on the sound intellectual and ethical principles which most other lawmakers have long ago sacrificed at the altar of their corporate paymasters.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 3, Day 28: What Kind Of Girls Do You Think We Are?

The Washington Post reports on Sheldon Whitehouse’s blast at Ken Cuccinelli, who deserves to be blasted like this 24/7:

RICHMOND — U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse frequently takes to the Senate floor to warn against climate change, having done so, by his count, at least two dozen times in the past year. So perhaps it was only a matter of time before the Rhode Island Democrat got around to calling out Virginia’s most prominent global-warming skeptic by name.

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, the presumptive Republican nominee for governor, got a backhanded shout-out in a Whitehouse floor speech last week for his unsuccessful legal battle against a University of Virginia climate scientist.

“In 2010, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli used his powers of office to harass former University of Virginia climatologist Michael Mann and 39 other climate scientists and staff,” Whitehouse said in a speech Thursday, which was posted on YouTube. “As a U-Va. grad, I am proud that the university fought back against this political attack on science and on academic freedom.”

Good for him. This letter doesn’t mention Whitehouse, but it was fun to write. March 16:

When compared against the professional ethics and respect for truth demonstrated by climate scientists, Ken Cuccinelli’s vulgar denialist crusade against Dr. Michael Mann comes in a sorry second. It’s clearly projection: Mr. Cuccinelli assumes climate science is ideologically-driven because he cannot imagine any motivations beyond the sordid political expediency motivating his absurd and wasteful witch hunt.

Scientific methodology starts with observation, seeks explanations, and constantly tests and re-tests its theories’ predictive capability — an intellectual discipline which has helped humanity comprehend the universe in which we live, making our complex and interdependent civilization possible. Scientific statements require language that never overstates its conclusions and carefully quantifies uncertainty — whereas the Virginia attorney general’s hyperbolic pronouncements are often wrong, but never in doubt. Climatologists’ investigations are guided by facts and a respect for the physical laws governing atmospheric phenomena — while neither facts nor law command much respect from Mr. Cuccinelli.

Warren Senders

For your viewing pleasure:

Year 4, Month 3, Day 27: Who’s That Knocking At My Door?

From the Davidson County Dispatch (NC), more on the Somalia famine story:

Scientists with Britain’s weather service studied weather patterns in East Africa in 2010 and 2011 and found that yearly precipitation known as the short rains failed in late 2010 because of the natural effects of the weather pattern La Nina.

But the lack of the long rains in early 2011 was an effect of “the systematic warming due to influence on greenhouse gas concentrations,” said Peter Stott of Britain’s Met Office, speaking to The Associated Press in a phone interview.

The British government estimates that between 50,000 and 100,000 people died from the famine. But the new research doesn’t mean global warming directly caused those deaths.

Ethiopia and Kenya were also affected by the lack of rains in 2011, but aid agencies were able to work more easily in those countries than in war-ravaged Somalia, where the al-Qaida-linked Islamic extremist group al-Shabab refused to allow food aid into the wide areas under its control.

One-worlders unite! March 15 (making up for not doing a letter yesterday due to massive gig commitments):

As the evidence substantiating the existence of human-caused planetary warming has accumulated to the point where it’s absolutely incontrovertible, former climate-change denialists have gradually changed their tune. The new line is either that addressing a global crisis is somehow too expensive, or that the consequences of a runaway greenhouse effect will be felt only by people somewhere else.

The news that climate change has been fingered as the primary cause of the 2011 famine in Somalia probably won’t change any minds. After all, Somalians are nothing if not “people somewhere else.” But aside from exemplifying a grotesque moral irresponsibility, such an attitude is simply incorrect. As the ramifications of industrial civilization’s fossil-fuel binge become apparent in floods of climate refugees and increasing numbers of deaths, national boundaries are going to become less and less relevant.

We — all of humanity — live on a single planet. There is no “somewhere else.”

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 3, Day 26: No Laughing Matter

Newsday runs an AP story on the causes of the famine in Somalia. Guess what factor is accorded a central role?

(AP) — Human-induced climate change contributed to low rain levels in East Africa in 2011, making global warming one of the causes of Somalia’s famine and the tens of thousands of deaths that followed, a new study has found.

It is the first time climate change was proven to be partially to blame for such a large humanitarian disaster, an aid group said Friday.

You should force yourself! March 15:

The role played by climate change in the Somali famine deserves far more attention in our media and politics. There are far too many people who’ve chosen to ignore the humanitarian costs of a transformed climate — some who think that climate science is a wacky conspiracy, some who believe that the impact of increased atmospheric CO2 won’t be felt in their comfortable air-conditioned chambers, some who dismiss any notion of planning for global heating’s effects as “too expensive.”

While the acts of the Al-Shabab militants groups who hindered food distribution were deplorable, those extremists didn’t cause the 2011 droughts that brought on the famine in the first place. That responsibility rests with us — the developed world — and our century-long fossil-fuel binge. Somalia’s misery is a harbinger of what the rest of the world can expect as the greenhouse effect gets worse, and we ignore it at our peril.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 3, Day 25: You Only Gave Me Your Invitation

The Hyde Park Herald (IL) notes UofC students’ divestiture campaign:

Students at the University of Chicago aren’t remaining silent in their demand that the university stop investing its money in companies that deal in coal and fossil fuels.
“The petition is something we’ve been working on getting signed all quarter,” said Marissa Lieberman-Klein, a fourth year anthropology student.

The student organization Stop Funding Climate Change, UChicago delivered a petition with more than 500 signatures to president Robert Zimmer’s office on Friday afternoon.
The students asked the university to immediately stop investing any money in companies such as Exxon Mobil or Arch Coal and within the next five years have removed all of its financial investments from companies that produce fossil fuels.

Last quarter, the students delivered a letter to Zimmer’s office demanding a meeting on the topic with the board of trustees. Lieberman-Klein said the students had yet to receive a response.

This is a rewritten version of the letter published in the Journal of Higher Education. Sent March 14:

In the fight against climate change, the student-led campaign encouraging colleges and universities to end their fossil-fuel investments is a genuinely hopeful sign. While financial analyses have shown that divestiture won’t negatively impact institutional portfolios, doing the right thing shouldn’t require a fiscal rationale.

Education is based on the principle that knowledge can be transmitted across boundaries of age and culture, thereby ensuring a future of steadily increasing wisdom. Such a future is gravely imperiled by climate change, a planetary crisis precipitated by industrial civilization’s rapid introduction of millions of years’ accumulated carbon into the atmosphere in a geological instant, and exacerbated by the destructive business practices of big oil and coal companies.

Continued support of fossil fuels may be profitable in the short run, but it is a betrayal of our societal commitment to a better future. In striving to change UChicago’s investment policies, these students demonstrate a profound commitment to the true ideals of education: fostering responsibility to and for the greater social good.

Warren Senders


Year 4, Month 3, Day 24: Happy Birthday, Everybody.

The University World News (an international online bulletin for higher education) sounds the tocsin:

An international team of researchers has issued a stark warning about the perils the world faces in the near future because of mounting evidence confirming the carbon dioxide effects of a 5º C increase in the temperature of the Arctic Ocean.

Rapid melting of ice in Greenland and the Arctic Ocean last year showed catastrophic acceleration in 2012, qualifying the effects in the Arctic as “dangerous climate change” under the UN Climate Convention.

The researchers, from Australia, Norway, Spain and Sweden, conducted a series of eight cruises between July 2007 and July 2012 to assess the annual metabolic balance of Arctic plankton communities. This determines their role as carbon dioxide (CO2) sinks or sources and was resolved for the first time.

The five-year-long research revealed that the two-week spring algal bloom occurring each April, as the Arctic emerges from its winter darkness and the sea-ice starts to thin, is so productive it can fuel the food web for the entire year and remove significant amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere annually.

But experiments involving temperature manipulations conducted in the Svalbard Islands, about 650 kilometres north of mainland Europe, indicated that the plankton community switches from acting as a sink to becoming a source of atmospheric CO2 as seawater temperatures exceed 5º C.

When people call me an “alarmist,” my response is, “the situation is fuckin’ alarming.” If you’re not an alarmist, you’re a fucking idiot. There. I said it. March 12:

When we look at the predictions of climate scientists about the impact of climate change, it’s vitally important to take those forecasts with a great many grains of salt. Remember that these authorities, for all their scientific credentials and expertise, are wrong more often than not.

They were wrong about the rate of planetary warming, about the extent of ice melt, about species extinction and the loss of biodiversity. They were wrong about the likely dates of glacier loss, about the probability of droughts, about the interaction of the various climate forcers.

So if the world’s most-informed climatologists get it wrong so often, why should we be concerned about climate change? The answer is a simple one: because scientific writing is required to avoid extreme language (a phrase like “statistically significant” is a scientist’s way of shouting), so climatologists’ public statements have consistently underestimated climate change’s speed and severity. The fact that predictions have regularly fallen short of reality isn’t a failure of science, but a wake-up call to the governments of the world: there is no time to waste.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 3, Day 23: NewThink Tanks

The Jewish Daily Forward notes the recent report on the national security implications of climate change, presented by a whole bunch of military top brass:

If you missed this one, don’t beat yourself up. Hardly anybody noticed it. It was just another one of those calls for action to combat climate change, an “open letter” to the president and Congress from about three dozen public figures. We’ve seen hundreds of these things by now. After a while, they all look the same.

If there was anything different about this one to merit a second look, it might be the fact that it didn’t mention healing the planet or saving God’s creatures. Instead, it described climate change in starkly pragmatic terms as a “serious threat to American national security interests.” And it spelled out why.

Also noteworthy is the fact that the 38 signers were a collection of some of the country’s most distinguished authorities on national security, including nine retired generals and admirals, a former CIA director, both heads of the 9/11 Commission, 15 former senators and House members (10 Republicans, five Democrats) plus former secretaries of state, defense and other cabinet members from the Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Clinton and both Bush administrations, father and son.

Given that kind of heft, you might think it would have gotten some respectful press coverage. But no. One article at and a handful at obscure specialty websites. That’s it.

The silence is particularly odd when you consider the fact that the letter comes amid a virtual barrage of new warnings from intelligence, defense and other public agencies about the security dangers posed by climate change. In the past four months, at least four lengthy scientific reports have been published that detail various aspects of the threat — one in November, one in December and two in February. Three were produced or funded by arms of the U.S. intelligence community. The fourth came from an unusual consortium of conservative and liberal think tanks.

They won’t admit they were wrong. Ever. March 11:

That ostensibly security-obsessed conservatives in America are unwilling to take the expert opinion of our country’s top military personnel on climate change is highly revealing. They are not a responsible element of a representative government, but an ideologically-driven cadre which is absolutely unwilling to change any of its positions, even those which are repeatedly proved erroneous. The same people who’ve turned xenophobia into a political platform with their unhealthy fixation on illegal immigrants are ready to dismiss the inevitability of millions of drought-driven climate refugees in the coming decades — because such an acknowledgement would conflict with their anti-science, fact-phobic public personae.

Conservative politicians and their tea-party constituents often froth at the mouth over non-existent threats: Gay marriage! Birth control! Sharia law in the US! Confiscating our assault rifles! However, let a genuine crisis loom, and we can count on them to reject meaningful action while hamstringing those who accept and understand the facts — even if it means ignoring the advice of the military they vociferously claim to support.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 3, Day 22: I Promise The Check Is In The Mail

Wendy Koch (presumably no relation) writes in USA Today about the problems of insurance companies:

Most insurance companies do not have comprehensive strategies to cope with climate change despite mounting weather-related claims, says a report to be released Thursday.

Of 184 companies surveyed, only 23 had such strategies, and 13 of those that did were foreign-owned, according to report by Ceres, a Boston-based non-profit that promotes eco-minded business practices. The report says the most prepared tend to be the largest companies with scientists on staff and those that insure property rather than life or health.

Many companies “won’t talk about climate change” and if they do, they use “hedged” language to avoid the controversial issue of whether it’s man-made, says author Sharlene Leurig, senior manager of Ceres’ insurance program. She says the issue is less politically divisive in Europe, where insurers are often better prepared.

They’ll relinquish profitability rather than admit they were wrong. March 11:

The American insurance industry, unprepared for climate change? Given how much precision these folks bring to actuarial analysis, this suggests a systemic failure of impressive proportions — a notion borne out by the fact that those firms with on-staff scientists are much more likely to be developing and implementing strategies for coping with the ramifications of a runaway greenhouse effect.

The oft-circulated notion that climate science is “controversial” is an absurdity; global warming is at the center of a controversy not because scientists disagree, but because a single ideological bloc in American politics has decided to make it so. If insurance companies — the people who’ve turned the statistical measurement of risk into a profitable business — are shy about addressing the burgeoning climate crisis because it’s a politically contentious issue, this confirms that even in the corporate sector, ideology trumps common sense, and ignorance counts for more than data.

Warren Senders