Year 4, Month 3, Day 21: Sigh…

Another day, another dullard. Meet Pennsylvania meteorologist Tom Russell:

Let’s say you’re an alien and your spaceship landed here on Earth in the 1500’s. Then you landed here again in 2013. Now think globally.

Would you say the climate on Planet Earth is generally the same? Same Oceans? Same land masses? You’d probably say it’s the same climate too, right?

Or maybe you’d look more closely and say the climate has changed. What? Climate change?

The point is, perspective matters.

Ken Caldeira of Stanford University says, “Climate is the statistics of weather over the long term.” Turns out the climate is always changing, no matter the time scale, hourly, monthly, yearly, per decade, etc. Even your every 500 year alien visit.

A recent Midwest snow storm was described in the media as “crippling.” Really? An 8-inch snowfall in the Midwest in February is so unusual it’s crippling? Makes you wonder if the weather really is worse than ever or just our reaction to it. Maybe we should dial it back a bit.

And our recent non-snowstorm should be a reminder of our forecast modeling limitations. Imagine carrying out that margin of error over 50 or 100 years.

His mother was a hamster and his father smelled of elderberries. March 10:

Tom Russell falls into an ancient logical fallacy: the argument from personal incredulity. But an inability to understand climate change is not a valid argument against its existence. He’s certainly correct that the extreme weather Americans are now experiencing is not unprecedented, and that the climate has always been changing. But his argument nevertheless fails.

First, no climatologist has ever said that our current weather is entirely new. Rather, they tell us that the frequency, intensity, and unpredictability of extreme weather is increasing — and that this increase is directly correlated with rising atmospheric temperatures. Second, no scientist has ever said our climate has always remained the same. Rather, they tell us that the past eleven millennia have a climate stable enough for agriculture to develop, and in its wake, a complex civilization — and that these “stable enough” conditions are currently ending.

The thing is, human intuition is poorly equipped to make sense of planet-wide data and geological timescales; Mr. Russell and his colleagues in the world of meteorology work exclusively with local and regional data on timescales a fortnight or less. Humans’ intuitions do poorly on larger scales of time and space, which is why science is important. Climatologists work with statistical analysis, historical data, and a continually improving model of the Earth’s climate — and they’ve have been making steadily more accurate predictions for decades.

Mr. Russell may not like the facts of climate change, but he’s going to have to live with them.

Warren Senders


Year 4, Month 3, Day 20: You Know You Know

The Bismarck ND Tribune runs an article on a plan to study climate change impacts in the state…and introduces us to this guy:

The Senate Natural Resources Committee is mulling a resolution that would direct the committee of North Dakota legislative leaders, called Legislative Management, to study the effects of climate change. But Jeff Magrum of Hazelton told lawmakers enough studies have been done and a lot of money already has been spent worldwide looking into the issue.

Magrum, who also is an Emmons County commissioner, said if the state wants to spend money, it should buy more plows to help clear North Dakota’s snow-filled roads. The snowplows could be fitted with enhanced devices to capture carbon dioxide emissions that are blamed for global warming, “if climate change is a concern,” he said.


Magrum, who owns an excavating business in south central North Dakota, said he has to work outside during the state’s notoriously brutal winters. He said global warming isn’t a bad thing for him.

“A little bit warmer weather wouldn’t matter to me,” Magrum said. “I’m in the construction business.”

There just aren’t enough faces and palms to go around. March 8:

In voicing opposition to studying the impact of climate change, Jeff Magrum asserts that “a little bit warmer weather wouldn’t matter,” since he works in the construction business. Well, perhaps. On the other hand, the droughts now hitting American farm states are going to raise Mr. Magrum’s grocery bills pretty significantly over the next couple of years. And when that “little bit warmer” turns into a summer like the one that recently hammered Australia (it got so hot that their national weather service had to invent new color correlations for their temperature map) — well, it’s a fair bet that he might not want to work outside at all.

But more to the point, human beings have accomplished wonders because we’ve been willing to sacrifice temporary benefits in favor of collective achievement and long-term happiness for our posterity. This is called civilization; and if we are to preserve what our species has accomplished in the past ten thousand years, we can no longer afford to dismiss the burgeoning climate crisis with the short-sighted platitudes of selfishness.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 3, Day 19: Ask Not For Whom The Poll Tells, It Polls For Thee

The Island Packet (SC) calls out the state government for trying to bury a report on climate change:

Shelving a report on climate change and its potential impact on South Carolina’s natural resources makes no scientific or political sense for an agency whose purpose is to watch over those resources.

In explaining why the report by a team of scientists wasn’t released for more than a year after it was completed, John Evans, the chairman of the state Department of Natural Resources board, said the report was “for information only” and didn’t require action.

But that’s exactly what the report’s findings do require. The agency charged with overseeing our natural resources should have no higher priority than working to manage and protect those resources in the coming decades.

The report, completed in November 2011 and presented to the board in July 2012, was labeled as a draft, but a foreword from the agency’s former director, John Frampton, stated it was ready for public review. That didn’t happen until The (Columbia) State newspaper got a copy and reported on its contents late last month.

Buncha bed-wetters. March 9:

There is only one reason to shelve a report on climate change’s effect on South Carolina: fear. Now, there are many different sorts of fear. There is that which all of us experience when facing the unknown and potentially very dangerous future awaiting us on a post-greenhouse-effect planet. Who looks forward eagerly to food shortages, resource wars, increasingly severe storms, heat waves, droughts and crumbling infrastructure? It is surely tempting to take a discomfiting document and hide it away where it won’t bother you, and perhaps the state’s Department of Natural Resources was attempting this understandable but obviously doomed-to-fail approach.

But there is another and far less excusable form of timidity. Republican politicians are petrified of offending their tea-party base, for these low-information, high-outrage voters are more sensitive to apostasy than any other constituency in America. To approve a reality-rooted report on climate change’s potential for harm in South Carolina would be politically fatal for these lawmakers, for there is hardly any heresy that more excites conservative indignation than the fact-based, scientifically-grounded analysis of our rapidly worsening climate.

Whether conservative politicians and tea-partiers like it or not, climate change is happening. Cowardice in the face of facts is always, ultimately, a losing strategy.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 3, Day 18: If We Cared Enough…

The Las Vegas Sun is one of many papers highlighting the “biggest heat spike in 11,000 years” story:

A new study looking at 11,000 years of climate temperatures shows the world in the middle of a dramatic U-turn, lurching from near-record cooling to a heat spike.

Research released Thursday in the journal Science uses fossils of tiny organisms to reconstruct global temperatures back to the end of the last ice age. It shows how the globe for several thousands of years was cooling until a dramatic spike in the 20th century.

Study author Shaun Marcott says his data shows that 1900 to 1910 was one of the coolest in the past 11,300 years. Yet 100 years later, the decade was one of the warmest.

Marcott and other scientists say the long-term context indicates global warming isn’t natural but man-made since the start of the Industrial Revolution.

Everything’s fine so far, right? March 8:

If we condensed Earth’s 4.6 billion year history by a factor of a hundred millio, it’d be just under fifty years, and human beings wouldn’t emerge until about four hours ago. And in the last one minute, our species has not only cut down fifty percent of the planet’s trees, but reintroduced the carbon that fossilized over an entire geological epoch into the atmosphere. We shouldn’t need a climate scientist to tell us this is a bad idea.

Every year, our industrial economy burns five million years’ worth of ancient sunlight in the form of oil, coal and natural gas. A 5,000,000:1 ratio is obviously unsustainable, but because humans have for the most part not grasped the large-scale consequences of their consumption habits, we find ourselves hurtling toward the abyss. It is no coincidence that the vast majority of climate-change denialists reject many other scientific findings, preferring the comforting myths of ancient cultures to the disturbing truths of our predicament.

If we want our children and their children in turn to have lives full of hope, beauty and prosperity, we need to face the facts of the climate crisis. Denial is both intellectually and morally inexcusable.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 3, Day 17: The Immortal Sociopaths Care Not For Your Puny Human Concerns

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports on the how-fucked-up-is-that Environmental Impact statement on the Keystone XL that recently plopped out of the State Department:

The State Department’s recent conclusion that the Keystone XL pipeline “is unlikely to have a substantial impact” on the rate of Canada’s oil sands development was based on analysis provided by two consulting firms with ties to oil and pipeline companies that could benefit from the proposed project.

EnSys Energy has worked with Exxon Mobil, BP and Koch Industries, which own oil sands production facilities and refineries in the Midwest that process heavy Canadian crude oil.

Imperial Oil, one of Canada’s largest oil sands producers, is a subsidiary of Exxon.

ICF International works with pipeline and oil companies but doesn’t list specific clients on its website. It declined to comment on the Keystone, referring questions to the State Department.

EnSys President Martin Tallett said he couldn’t talk about the proposed pipeline, but he pointed out that in addition to working for the oil industry, his company works for the Environmental Protection Agency, the Energy Department and the World Bank.

“We don’t do advocacy,” Tallett said. “Our goal is to tell it like it is, to tell the way we see it. … If we were the pet of government agencies or oil companies, the other side wouldn’t come to us.”

The State Department did not respond to questions about the 2,000-page environmental impact statement it released Friday.

And then we have this:

The State Department’s “don’t worry” environmental impact statement for the proposed Keystone XL tarsands pipeline, released late Friday afternoon, was written not by government officials but by a private company in the pay of the pipeline’s owner. The “sustainability consultancy” Environmental Resources Management (ERM) was paid an undisclosed amount under contract to TransCanada to write the statement, which is now an official government document. The statement estimates, and then dismisses, the pipeline’s massive carbon footprint and other environmental impacts, because, it asserts, the mining and burning of the tar sands is unstoppable.

Move along, move along. Nothin’ to see here. Sent March 7:

While the State Department’s statement on the exploitation of the Canadian tar sands is flawed, the real problem is that the document was produced in a fundamentally dishonest way. It turns out that TransCanada, the corporation behind the Keystone XL project, paid a private “consulting” firm called ERM (Environmental Resources Management) to write the findings, which claim that since the extraction of tar sands oil is inevitable, the environmental damage caused by the pipeline can simply be ignored. The statement also asserts that the giant pipeline will be safe from the effects of climate change — which, given the massive climate impact of the tar sands oil, is a breathtaking combination of folly, hypocrisy and hubris.

Fossil fuel companies already have a hugely disproportionate degree of influence on our government, but TransCanada’s self-insertion in the State Department’s analysis is grotesque even by these standards. While it’s lucky for them that corporate “persons” are incapable of embarrassment or shame, it’s not such a good deal for the rest of us.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 3, Day 16: Pucker Up, Sweetheart

The Norman Transcript (OK) discusses Oklahoma’s drought situation and the measures the State government is taking:

NORMAN — A measure to provide financial assistance to Oklahoma’s agricultural community during droughts passed the Senate unanimously Tuesday.

Senate Bill 996 would create the Emergency Drought Protection Special Fund. Sen. Ron Justice, author of the legislation, says the state’s current drought is a tragic example of why the fund is needed.

“Oklahoma is in one of the worst droughts in state history. Many farmers and ranchers have lost crops and been forced to sell livestock because there simply isn’t enough water to maintain them,” said Justice, R-Chickasha. “Some have even stopped farming or ranching because they couldn’t make ends meet and were near bankruptcy.

“Agriculture is the backbone of our state’s economy. We must do all we can to protect this industry and this fund is one way we can do that.”

The Oklahoma Conservation Commission would maintain the fund, which would consist of certain funds appropriated to it. Monies from the fund could only be spent when the governor declared a drought emergency to exist.

More hatin’ on Inhofe. March 6:

It is a peculiar irony that as Oklahoma’s farmers struggle to cope with one of the worst droughts they’ve ever experienced, the state’s own Senator James Inhofe vociferously denies the existence, severity, and sources of climate change. Why listen to scientists who’ve studied the climate for decades? Why acknowledge that climatologists have long predicted that an accelerating greenhouse effect would put our agricultural sector at risk, prolonging droughts and increasing their intensity? Senator Inhofe won’t be bamboozled by people who actually know what they’re talking about — at least as long as his vehement rejection of scientific expertise continues to be funded by the fossil fuel corporations whose profitability will decline if America finally ends its addiction to their product.

Oklahoma’s parched and cracking soil can’t be persuaded by hefty contributions from big oil. When it comes to the climate crisis, arch-denialist Inhofe turns out to be dumber than dirt.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 3, Day 15: The Doctor Has No Face

The Washington Post covers some of the problems with natural gas:

Two guys in a black Pontiac Vibe cruise the streets of Washington’s residential neighborhoods. The only sign of what they are up to is a gray plastic tube hanging out of the trunk. And the fact that they get out of the car frequently to place a black box on manhole covers and study its readings.

Measuring how much methane gas is leaking from pipes under the District could help answer a key policy question. As natural gas production expands in the United States, do its benefits for the climate far outweigh its dangers?

Methane, the main component of natural gas, is about 25 times more powerful as a heat-trapping gas than carbon dioxide, the largest human contributor to climate change; the atmospheric concentration of methane has doubled since the start of the Industrial Revolution. While it largely dissipates in a few decades and there is far less of it in the atmosphere than CO2, it continues to drive global warming. Depending on how much leaks out in the journey from wellhead to homes and factories, some experts say, it could be enough to offset the advantages natural gas has over coal.

More fun with heroin. March 6:

Natural gas advocates tout it as a “climate-friendly” substitute for dirty fossil fuels, and at first blush this seems a valid assertion. But energy and environmental policy shouldn’t be based on first impressions; more careful studies of natural gas reveal multiple mutually-reinforcing problems with the ostensibly clean energy source.

Leaks are inevitable, and — given that methane is an exponentially more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2 — not easily dismissed. And the extraction technique of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) turns out to have devastating local and regional effects on water supplies, agriculture, and environmental quality.

In late 19th century America, morphine addiction was a serious problem, until the fortunate introduction of a “non-addictive” cure for the condition: diacetylmorphine — marketed under the trade name, “Heroin.” To substitute one fossil fuel for another is at best a stopgap strategy to avoid a cold-turkey withdrawal from our civilization’s oil and coal addiction.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 3, Day 14: You Don’t Know What Love Is…

The Providence Journal gives a tip o’ th’ hat to senator Sheldon Whitehouse:

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Nearly every week when Congress is in session, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse has stood on the Senate floor to deliver a speech on the dangers of climate change.

If Congress doesn’t act quickly, Whitehouse warns, global warming will lead to more air pollution, rising oceans, disease-carrying ticks and mosquitoes, Sandy-like storms and a wave of floods, heat waves, wildfires and droughts.

Whitehouse, a Democrat, says global warming is the top issue facing the country today, ahead of the economy, gun control and health care.

Environmental groups have praised him, conservative critics have excoriated him.

Whitehouse says he will continue his efforts until something is done.

“When it comes to this particular threat … Congress is asleep, and it’s time for us to wake up,” he says.

I dusted off an older letter in praise of Ed Markey, and did a bit of renovation. March 4:

Sheldon Whitehouse’s persistent calls for action make him one of the few politicians on the national scene to take climate change with the seriousness it demands. In truth, global heating carries the potential to make all other political issues irrelevant; a century from now the Sequester will be relegated to footnote status, but our children’s children will be struggling to survive on a drastically hotter planet. It’s particularly infuriating to compare the Senator’s work on this issue with the regressively anti-science positions of Senate and House Republicans, who’ve carried conservative anti-intellectualism to depths unplumbed since the McCarthy era.

Climatology is a scientific field, not an ideological stance, and the GOP’s readiness to politicize the debate on the threat and causes of climate change is a symptom of moral bankruptcy as well as scientific ignorance. Through his advocacy on behalf of future generations, and of the environment within which our civilization has flourished, Senator Whitehouse has occupied both the intellectual and ethical high ground.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 3, Day 14: I Feel Pretty

The Orlando Sentinel considers the question of water supplies, and wonders:

…how might climate change play out at a local level? Will the amount of fresh water in the Floridan Aquifer or the Kissimmee and St. Johns rivers shrink to critically low levels? And which coastal cities’ wells are most likely to become fouled by seawater?

Spurred by that lack of location-specific knowledge, a half-dozen Florida water utilities, along with state water managers and some university scientists, have formed a grass-roots alliance to do what otherwise isn’t being done: Figure out what climate change will do in different parts of Florida and devise ways to ensure enough water for the state’s counties and cities in the years and decades to come.

“It’s a very big concern of ours,” said Rob Teegarden, vice president of Orlando Utilities Commission’s water division. “The world and the nation have no plan for serious climate-policy initiatives. People have their desires, but they aren’t there yet, and we’re trying to seriously figure it out.”

Don’t mention who’s responsible for the “no plan” part. March 5:

By all means acknowledge that climate change will to impact Florida’s water supplies, and that there’s been too little action at the federal level on this issue. But it’s important to understand that there’s been little or no meaningful policy response from Washington on what’s perhaps the most important issue facing America and the world because Republican politicians have adopted such extreme anti-science attitudes that reality-based positions no longer have any place in the legislative agenda.

Scientific method is a great way to develop an accurate picture of the universe and how it works. Since environment and energy policies are implemented in the real world, it makes sense to base them on the findings of scientists rather than hidebound ideologies. But until the GOP stops steeping itself in an anti-intellectual teapot, Floridians are on their own when it comes to coping with the consequences of a radically transforming climate.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 3, Day 13: Oh, All Right. Go Ahead And Have Your Apocalypse, But Don’t Expect Me To Bring Snacks

Aw, gimme a fuckin’ break. The Washington Post:

The State Department released a draft environmental impact assessment of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline Friday, suggesting that the project would have little impact on climate change.

Canada’s oil sands will be developed even if President Obama denies a permit to the pipeline connecting the region to Gulf Coast refineries, the analysis said. Such a move also would not alter U.S. oil consumption, the report added.

The lengthy assessment did not give environmentalists the answer they had hoped for in the debate over the project’s climate impact. Opponents say a presidential rejection of the project would send a powerful message to the world about the importance of moving away from fossil fuels and make it more difficult for Canada to export its energy-intensive oil.

There aren’t enough faces and enough palms. March 2:

As a former smoker, President Obama should know how hard it is to overcome a powerful addiction. He is also undoubtedly familiar with the countless rationalizations smokers use to avoid coming to terms with their dependency. “One more won’t hurt,” “my grandfather smoked and he lived to be 97,” “it helps me relax,” and “I don’t have time to quit right now” — all these and more have analogical equivalents in the arguments currently being presented for the Keystone XL pipeline.

Our nation’s addiction to oil and coal is profoundly damaging to our planet’s health; the State Department’s risible dismissal of the pipeline’s climate change impact sounds remarkably like a carton-a-day smoker’s raspy contempt for the oncologist’s warning. The dirty crude of the Canadian tar sands needs to stay in the ground for the same reason that countless smokers have finally overcome their dependency: because life is preferable to the alternative.

Warren Senders