Year 4, Month 4, Day 30: Sink or Swim

The Japan Times introduces us to a polar explorer and total mensch:

RESOLUTE, NUNAVUT – Spending six months of every year in the Arctic, adventurer Tetsuhide Yamazaki sees the impact of global warming firsthand through the region’s thinning sea ice, the expanse of which has roughly halved in the last three decades.

The ice is “very thin this year,” Yamazaki, 45, said after confirming a thickness of 118 cm with a drill during his recent exploration of an area at the North Pole. Sea ice in the area is usually almost 2 meters thick, according to Yamazaki, who senses the ice grows thinner every year.

Born in October 1967 in Hyogo Prefecture and raised in a coastal town in Fukui Prefecture, Yamazaki decided to become an explorer when he was in high school in Kyoto after reading a book by well-known adventurer Naomi Uemura, who climbed Mount McKinley solo in 1970. The explorer was lost on the mountain in February 1984.

After graduating, Yamazaki worked in Tokyo to save funds for his first trip at age 19 — rafting the Amazon. But it ended in failure after his boat capsized. The following year, Yamazaki successfully rafted some 5,000 km down the river in over a span of 44 days.

This February, he camped on an ice floe in the Arctic at a latitude of 74 degrees north. The temperature was minus 41 degrees, and the inside of his tent was covered with frost that formed from moisture released from his body. The dogs drawing his sled were around the tent.

There’s a hero for you. April 18:

While a scientist can observe its impact very clearly in the Arctic, global climate change is no longer something only specialists can detect, but a phenomenon which affects us all, regardless of where we live. The interconnected web of Earthly life is far more sensitive to environmental factors than most of us can imagine, and climatic disruption is making itself felt in ways that will only become more severe as the greenhouse effect intensifies.

When flowers open a fortnight early, the insects that fertilize them may still be in their larval stages. When plants fail to spread their seeds, animals that depend on them for nourishment may have to seek food elsewhere. When agriculture reels under the impact of extreme weather or devastating drought, food prices go up.

For years we have thought of climate change as something that belongs to future times and distant places. Dr. Tetsuhide Yamazaki’s observations confirm: the consequences of industrial civilization’s fossil-fuel consumption belong to us all. There is no time left to waste, and no place left to hide.

Warren Senders


Year 4, Month 4, Day 29: Truth Alone Prevails?

The Hindu (India) lets us know that Bharat Mata is stepping up to the plate:

Stating that India had launched itself to double the renewable energy capacity to 55000 MW by 2017, Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh on Wednseday expressed serious concern over the “painfully slow” progress of climate change talks, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday lamented that the goal of stabilising global temperatures at acceptable levels was nowhere in sight.

Delivering the inaugural address at the Fourth Clean Energy Ministerial, Dr. Singh said India had drawn up plans to double its renewable energy capacity to 55,000 MW by 2017 as part initiatives to promote renewable energy use. “It is proposed to double the renewable energy capacity in our country from 25000 MW in 2012 to 55000 MW by the year 2017. This would include exploiting non-conventional energy sources such as solar, wind power and energy from biomass,” he added.

The Prime Minister said rich nations, who were responsible for a bulk of greenhouse gas emissions, were best placed to provide workable solutions to mitigate climate change. “The industrialised nations have high per capita incomes, which gives them the highest capacity to bear the burden. They are technically most advanced, and to that extent best placed to provide workable solutions not only for themselves but for the whole world. Unfortunately, progress in these negotiations is painfully slow. The goal of stabilising global temperatures at acceptable levels is nowhere in sight,” he remarked.

“In India, we have set ourselves a national target of increasing the efficiency of energy use to bring about a 20 to 25 per cent reduction in the energy intensity of our GDP by 2020. The 12th Plan envisaged an expanded role for clean energy, including hydro, solar and wind power. The cost of solar energy for example has nearly halved over the last two years, though it remains higher than the cost of fossil fuel based electricity. If the cost imposed by carbon emissions is taken into account, then solar energy is more cost effective, but it is still more expensive,” added.

Long way to go, but at least headed in the right direction. Sent April 17:

Doubling the role of renewables in India’s energy economy is a hugely important step which can serve both as an inspiration to developing nations and a prod of conscience to the industrialized West. For too long American politicians, deep in the thrall of fossil fuel corporations, have used China and India as excuses for their own failure to act on climate change, arguably the gravest threat humanity has faced in its long and troubled history.

However, Prime Minister Singh is in error when he states that even when carbon emissions are taken into account, solar energy is “still more expensive” than fossil fuels. When we consider the costs of spill and leak mitigation and cleanup, of the complex and problematic public health impacts of these energy sources, and of the grave economic impacts of global climate change, it becomes clear that sustainable energy sources are by far the better deal.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 4, Day 28: Liars Figure

US News and World Report acknowledges that we’ve made some progress. But:

There’s a lot of angst or worry that we’re not doing anything,” says David Nelson, of the San Francisco-based Climate Policy Initiative and author of the report. “But quite clearly what we’re doing has managed to stop the growth of emissions in a number of sectors.”

Over the past seven years, carbon emissions have fallen by 13 percent in the United States.

Nelson says the gains haven’t been because of a concerted effort to fight climate change. The issue is still highly partisan—just 69 percent of Americans believe Earth is warming, according to a recent PEW poll.

Instead, a series of policy reforms focused on improving the economy, creating jobs and making the country less dependent on foreign oil have led to less carbon emissions overall. Tax credits for alternative energy sources, local antipollution laws, federal automobile fuel efficiency standards and new, more efficient energy technologies have led to a net overall positive.

Statistical criticism? April 16:

To describe climate change as a “highly partisan” issue is true enough; there is no doubt that one significant ideological bloc in the United States is dead-set against acknowledging either the existence or the danger of anthropogenic global warming. But to bolster this assertion by commenting that a recent Pew poll shows that “just” 69 percent of Americans accepted global climate change is an utterly bizarre interpretation of the data. A president elected with that margin would have won in a landslide; if “just” 69 percent of Americans supported marriage equality it would rightly be called an overwhelming mandate.

Interestingly enough, a 2010 Dartmouth survey found that “just” 69 percent of Americans believed President Obama was born in Hawaii, while 31 percent was still demanding to see his “real” birth certificate. The real story is that a slowly-shrinking percentage of conservative zealots will believe anything that supports their preconceptions, evidence and rationality be damned.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 4, Day 27: My Ding-A-Ling

The National Post (Canada) tells us about important news on the diplomatic front:

WASHINGTON – The world’s two biggest polluters have signed what could be a groundbreaking agreement and “call to action” on the fight against escalating climate change.

The United States and China announced Sunday they would accelerate action to reduce greenhouse gases by advancing cooperation on technology, research, conservation, and alternative and renewable energy.

But while the listed actions sound relatively mundane, the words that accompanied the announcement were not. In a joint and quite powerful statement on the dangers of climate change, the two sides said they “consider that the overwhelming scientific consensus regarding climate change constitutes a compelling call to action crucial to having a global impact on climate change.”

The statement recognizes an “urgent need to intensify global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions… is more critical than ever.” It goes on to say, “Such action is crucial both to contain climate change and to set the kind of powerful example that can inspire the world.”

Just one problem…Sent April 15:

A US-China agreement on tackling global warming may indeed help Canada recognize that its positions on climate are inconsistent with the rest of the developed world. However, there’s another industrialized country with an appallingly backwards stance on this issue. “Conservastan” is a religion-dominated nation-state whose borders match those of the United States, and whose lawmakers have for decades adopted willful obduracy and inflexible scientific ignorance as policy.

Conservastani politicians have inordinate influence on US affairs, often exploiting their dual-citizenship status to block or hinder important treaties and legislation, often for bizarrely ignorant reasons. Texan Congressman Joe Barton recently cited Noah’s flood as an example of climate change unconnected to CO2 emissions, and asserted that this Bronze Age myth provided a “scientific” justification for ignoring the conclusions of the world’s climatologists.

While this intellectually backwards theocracy maintains its geopolitical influence, agreements between China and the USA may never be ratified.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 4, Day 26: The Price Is Right

The Toledo Blade (OH) speculates on climate change’s impact on the insurance industry:

As a meteorologist for FirstEnergy Corp., Pete Manousos’ job is to keep the electric utility informed about any upcoming extreme weather that might cause outages, or hamper repair crews’ ability to restore power.

But the last two years, that job has gotten harder and harder.

“You have to consider that part of the issue for FirstEnergy is our geographical footprint has gotten larger over the last decade. There’s more exposure to events as a result,” Mr. Manousos said.

“That said, for the portions of FirstEnergy that have been impacted since 2011, the frequency of the extreme events have been notable,” he added.

Whether the country is embarking on a pattern of annual extreme weather events, or merely going through a temporary phase, is impossible to know, the meteorologist said.

But one segment that has a large financial stake in figuring out if the weather is growing more violent and extreme is the insurance industry.

To be sure, the insurance industry knows more than a thing or two about calculating risk, and the industry has never been healthier financially, according to the New York-based Insurance Information Institute.

However, the increasing frequency of catastrophic weather events over the last three years — including some that affected Ohio in general and northwest Ohio in particular — are causing some in the insurance industry to adjust their climate-risk models and consider establishing a new baseline for weather events in the future.

Premium coverage! April 14:

Given their significant role in weakening health care reform, it seems strange to wish that major insurers had even more influence on Congress — but these companies might be the only corporate actors able to overcome fossil fuel corporations’ determination to block meaningful legislative action on climate change.

As the greenhouse effect accelerates, extreme weather will increase in severity and frequency everywhere in the world. On a local and regional level, that means more homes destroyed, more agriculture devastated, more infrastructure disrupted, leading to more damage claims — a connection that’s already part of the insurance industry’s calculations. Conservative lawmakers are fixated on the electoral risks of offending their tea-party constituents and the fiscal risks of crossing their Big Oil and Big Coal paymasters; by contrast, insurance companies have everything to lose and nothing to gain from policies built around ideology rather than data.

As do the rest of us.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 4, Day 25: There’s Idiots, And Then There’s Texas. And Then There’s Texas’ Idiots.

Time Magazine, reporting on the latest embarrassment from Texas:

“I would point out that if you’re a believer in in the Bible, one would have to say the Great Flood is an example of climate change and that certainly wasn’t because mankind had overdeveloped hydrocarbon energy.”

— Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) at a hearing Wednesday discussing the Keystone XL pipeline, according to Buzzfeed.

Give me a freakin’ break. April 13:

Leave aside that Noah’s Flood is a tribal myth originated in the Fertile Crescent thousands of years ago, for which no actual geological evidence can be found. Leave aside Texas Congressman Joe Barton’s obvious strawman fallacy in asserting that this mythical event is proof that climate change is not exclusively caused by human activity — a notion held by no climatologist ever, and which is equally incorrect on scriptural grounds: if the deluge was God’s response to human sinfulness, then it was as surely anthropogenic as industrial civilization’s greenhouse effect.

Leave these errors of history, science and logic aside, though…and consider Rep. Barton in constitutional terms. A congressman’s refusal to acknowledge scientific fact when it conflicts with a literalist reading of the Bible makes this a theater-of-the-absurd violation of the Establishment Clause. Barton’s buffoonery may win him points with his tea-party constituents, but Texas (and the United States) deserves better.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 4, Day 24: Hitting The Snooze Button For The 2000th Time

The Stanford Daily (CA) notes a new survey from the Woods Institute which indicates that some folks are waking up a bit:

Seventy-three percent of survey respondents predicted that a future rise in the sea level will be a serious problem, and only 16 percent of the public said they would want to wait until the effects of climate change directly impact them before taking action.

“The results suggest that Americans are very supportive of preparing for the effects of sea level rise and storms likely to be induced by climate change,” Krosnick said. “The least support appeared for policy approaches that involved trying to fight Mother Nature, building concrete walls or putting more and more sand along the coastline to keep the oceans back.”

The majority of the survey respondents—62 percent—said that building codes should be strengthened for coastal structures, while 52 percent wanted to enact measures preventing new construction on the coast.

The results also reveal that 82 percent of Americans are supportive of preparing for the effects of sea-level rise and storms, but only 38 percent believe that the government should pay for it. Sixty percent said that people living or running businesses along the coastline should be responsible for funding preparation efforts.

“If they choose to be [on the coastline], they choose to place themselves in harm’s way,” Krosnick said. “The message from the survey is that after the government does this work, the government should pay for it by increasing the property taxes of people and businesses along the coasts rather than increasing everyone’s taxes.”

Awake, but still utterly clueless. Sent April 12:

As extreme weather becomes the new “normal”, it’s no wonder that we’re seeing a major shift in American attitudes about climate change, as demonstrated by the Woods Institute poll. More and more of us recognize that the greenhouse effect’s consequences are happening here and now — and that’s good news.

The notion that people who live in areas threatened by rising sea levels should pay more to cover the cost of reinforcing coastal infrastructure makes a certain kind of sense — at first. Ultimately, however, this viewpoint gets washed away by the simple fact that all of us are at risk. Whether it’s the droughts currently hammering our agricultural sector, the invasive pine beetles turning Colorado forests into tinder, or the battered coastline of New Jersey, nowhere in America (or on Earth) is isolated from the impact of a transformed climate.

With one exception. In the air-conditioned offices of conservative politicians, it’s business as usual; these anti-science lawmakers and their corporate paymasters have ensured that our government will remain toothless and hamstrung in the face of the most significant threat our civilization confronted in recorded history.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 4, Day 23: It’s Not THAT Kind Of Party

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Jay Bookman has a nice piece detailing Jim Inhofe’s idiotic “cross-examination” of a senior admiral:

Earlier this week, at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, the senator and the admiral shared a little colloquy on the question of climate change. It went something like this:

INHOFE: “Admiral, I’d like to get clarification on one statement that was I think misrepresented. It was in the Boston Globe it reported that you indicated, and I’m quoting noew from the Boston the Globe now, the biggest long-term security challenge in the Pacific region is climate change. I’d like to have you clarify what you meant by that. … ”

Locklear did not back down, saying that the Pacific Rim is an area of high population growth, and that much of that growth is occurring in coastal or litoral areas, where people would be vulnerable to storms, flooding, rising sea level and other problems. He went on:

“From 2008 to 2012, about 280,000 people died (in natural disasters in the Pacific region). It was not not all climate change or weather-related, but a lot of them were due to that. About 800,000 people were displaced and there was about $500 billion of lost productivity. So when I look and I think about our planning and I think about what I have to do with allies and partners, and I look long-term, it’s important that countries in this region build capabilities into their infrastructures to be able to deal with the types of things … ”

At which point Inhofe broke in:

“OK, I — sir, I’m going to interrupt you here,” Inhofe said, “because now you’ve used up half my time, and we didn’t get right around to — is it safe to say that in the event that this — that the climate is changing — which so many of the scientists disagree with — in fact, when the Boston Globe, coming out of Massachusetts, made a statement, perhaps arguably one of the top scientists in the country, Richard Lindzen, also from Massachusetts, MIT, said that was laughable.”

He then changed the subject to China.

What a turd. April 11:

If James Inhofe didn’t want Samuel Locklear to tell the truth about climate change’s impact on geopolitical security, he shouldn’t ask the Admiral a direct question in a Senate committee hearing. While the Oklahoma Senator is well-known as the GOP’s uber-denialist, his readiness to disregard a senior military leader’s sworn testimony makes a mockery of his party’s ostensible respect for our nation’s armed forces.

The fact is that even if the accelerating greenhouse effect is not causally linked to human CO2 emissions, the world is still getting hotter. Those spiking temperatures are real, and their effects are devastating, as farmers in Inhofe’s drought-plagued home state know only too well. Admiral Locklear gave a direct answer to a direct question, but Senator Inhofe’s refusal to hear an answer that didn’t fit his ideology is further confirmation that the Republicans are now, in Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s phrase, the “party of stupid.”

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 4, Day 22: Coming All The Time

The Daily Trojan (CA) notes a few spurts of sanity from the state’s Republican ex-governator:

During the opening remarks, Schwarzenegger stressed the importance of listening to the voices of our nation’s experts on the pivotal issue of climate change, likening their diagnosis to the opinions one would receive from a doctor after a yearly physical.

“If we are smart, we listen to our doctors, and if we are stupid, we ignore our doctors and it takes a heart attack to realize that we should listen,” Schwarzenegger said. “The National Climate Assessment Report is our physical and these scientists can give us a prescription for what we need to do to improve our climate. It is our duty to listen to them and encourage action — action all over the country.”

Once these guys lose power, they suddenly discover their consciences — and the truth. Fuckers. Sent April 10:

Arnold Schwarznegger’s right: climate scientists are the closest we’ve got to planetary physicians. But the sad fact is that the Governator’s Own Party (G.O.P.) is resolutely ignoring the doctors’ advice. While Mr. Schwarznegger’s attempt to awaken his ideological fellow-travelers is commendable, Republicanism no longer stands for “smaller taxes and limited government,” but for irrationality, paranoia, and ignorance.

And Mr. Schwarznegger must share the blame. Where was he when his party consciously dumbed itself down, cynically pandering to low-information voters? Where was he when radio hosts became conservatism’s public face? Like other Republican leaders, he was capitulating to the conspiracy theorists, borderline racists, aspiring theocrats, and jingoistic xenophobes who now make up his party’s core voting constituency.

It’s never too late to come to one’s senses. But for the sake of our planet, one wishes Mr. Schwarznegger had spoken out about this more forcefully a decade or two ago.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 4, Day 21: It Takes A Village

Washington Post: “Environmentalists hope spill will turn Americans against Keystone.”

The 1,700-mile project, which would bring crude oil from Hardisty, Alberta to refineries in Port Arthur, Tex., enjoys broad support from the public. A Pew Research Center poll released Tuesday found 66 percent of Americans back the project, as opposed to 23 percent who oppose it.

But billionaire Tom Steyer, who hosted a Democratic fundraiser which President Obama headlined Wednesday night, is hoping to change that. His consultants held a focus group in Boston Wednesday night with likely Massachusetts Democratic primary voters. Initially they found the group roughly evenly split in terms of attitudes toward the pipeline, until they showed them images of last week’s Exxon oil spill in Mayflower, Ark.

“When we showed footage of tar sands oil rolling down suburban streets in Arkansas, people in the focus groups were practically out of their chairs – even at the end of a two-hour focus group,” wrote consultant Mike Casey in an e-mail. “To a person, they were outraged. Two switched their votes on the spot from Lynch to Markey. The footage hit home with all of them.”

Lynch campaign campaign spokesman Conor Yunits wrote in an e-mail that oil also spilled in a train derailment in Minnesota, showing that alternative methods of transporting oil also have a downside.

“The question is, how can it be transported in the safest possible way? ‬” Yunits asked. “Congressman Lynch believes that if we can construct the pipeline safely, we should consider it. But, as he has said all along, if President Obama and Secretary Kerry ultimately decide that it cannot be constructed safely, he will support their decision.”

Lynch is running against Ed Markey for the newly open Senate seat. He’s a tool of the big money interests. Anyway, here’s my screed, sent April 9:

We’re often told they’re a cheap source of energy, but the true cost of fossil fuels has long been camouflaged by government support on one side, and a collective refusal to consider externalities on the other. While subsidies have kept prices artificially low and enriched a few individuals beyond any dreams of avarice, unacknowledged costs (health impacts, cleanup of spills and leaks, and global climate change, not to mention the wars) are piling up. Who’s going to pay the enormous bill? The taxpayers, of course.

We have long known that sustained exposure to petrochemicals can cause brain damage, but it’s becoming clear that it’s toxic in ways that go beyond the purely physiological. How else to explain the grotesque responses of oil company executives to the recent oil spills in Arkansas, Texas, Minnesota and Ontario? Oil apparently damages ethics and morality as effectively as it decimates wildlife and ravages ecosystems.

Warren Senders