Year 4, Month 4, Day 20: The Dental Floss Is Thin On The Ground This Year

USA Today offers Senator Jon Tester a chance to talk about climate change:

I am a third-generation farmer from north-central Montana. My wife, Sharla, and I farm the same land homesteaded by my grandparents a century ago, continuing a Montana tradition of making a living off the land. We’ve farmed this land for nearly 40 years.

For the average American, particularly those of us from rural America, the political conversation about climate change seems worlds away. For us, warmer winters and extreme weather events are already presenting new challenges for our way of life.

It’s an experience with climate change that too often goes unreported and overlooked. But as a nation we must start paying attention, because the experiences of America’s farmers, ranchers, and sportsmen and women will change the debate if policymakers start listening.

Scientists tell us that climate change will bring shorter, warmer and drier winters to Montana. I see it every time I get on my tractor.

When I was younger, frequent bone-chilling winds whipped snow off the Rocky Mountain Front and brought bitterly cold days that reached -30 degrees. Today, we have only a handful of days that even reach 0 degrees. Changes in the weather are forcing Sharla and I to change how we operate our farm. It’s now more difficult to know when to plant to take advantage of the rains.

Tester’s not 100% good, but he’s right on this issue. April 8:

It’s a measure of our disconnect from natural forces that so few Americans are conscious of their experience of climate change. When most of us have never seen wheatfields or dairy cows, our experience of agriculture is so heavily mediated by the forces of commerce that we cannot imagine the impact of extreme weather on our food supply.

As Senator Tester points out, we’re not going to stay happily ignorant for much longer. The rapidly accelerating greenhouse effect is no longer an academic exercise, but a steadily escalating real-world phenomenon that’s going to have profound impacts on the way we live.

Unpredictable yields, destroyed crops, and a greater incidence of disease-bearing pests are just a few of the likely futures for agriculture in a climate-changed world — and denying the grim science of global warming just makes us that much more certain to reap a harvest of grief.

Warren Senders

SINGING FOR THE PLANET — CANCELLED

The concert scheduled for tonight has had to be cancelled due to the ongoing Boston lockdown.

We may be able to reschedule…stay tuned.

Year 4, Month 4, Day 19: Turn On Your Lovelight

The Missoulian reports on Steven Bunning’s recent speech:

Montanans need to look no farther than their own state to see the effects of global warming, a University of Montana professor said Thursday.

Steven Running is the Regents professor of ecology at UM and was on a United Nations climate change panel that shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore.

For the past 30 years at UM, Running has used satellites to study the global environment and measure its health.

Running spoke to students and faculty members at Rocky Mountain College on Thursday and will make similar climate change presentations at Montana State University Billings on Friday.

Not only is climate change real and mostly caused by human activity, global warming also hits close to home, he said.

Global mean temperatures are rising at an accelerating rate, and the earth no longer has cooling cycles as it once did.

Signs of that trend are everywhere, but none is more dramatic than the fact that the polar ice cap around the North Pole has receded more than 40 percent since 1979.

That melt is expected to continue and “by 2040 or 2050, the Arctic Ocean may be open water,” Running said.

Closer to home, all glaciers in Glacier National Park could be gone by 2020 if current trends continue.

Al Gore is fat. Also. April 5:

At this late date, a newspaper headline announcing that climate change is real forms excellent evidence of the corporate corruption of our public discourse.

Of course climate change is real. The scientific evidence is overwhelming; climatologists’ predictions have been confirmed with ever-increasing precision, and by now the consequences of runaway global warming are showing up all around us: more fires, more droughts, more extreme precipitation, more weird weather everywhere.

An article on outer space no longer needs to acknowledge those who believe the Earth is flat; an article on medicine would be irresponsible if it referenced the medieval theory of humors. On no other subject has the hard and irrefutable evidence of science been subjected to so much unwarranted obloquy; climate scientists routinely find themselves subject to legal harassment along with death threats and public campaigns of intimidation. Why? Their research has demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt the reality of the greenhouse effect, of increasing atmospheric concentrations of CO2, and of the likely consequences to human civilization of allowing this state of affairs to continue.

The simple answer is that fossil fuel corporations cannot stand hindrance or interruption in their continued pursuit of record profits, and a few impressive-sounding “think tanks” and heavily-degreed spokespersons are a good investment if they can help delay the robust policies needed to address the crisis.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 4, Day 18: Ain’t Got No Mash Potato

The LA Times runs an op-ed by James Hansen, which gets picked up by the Register-Guard (Eugene, OR):

In March, the State Department gave the president cover to open a big spigot that will hitch our country to one of the dirtiest fuels on Earth for 40 years or more. The draft environmental review of the Keystone XL pipeline acknowledges tar sands are nasty stuff for the environment, but concludes that the project is OK because this oil will get to market anyway — with or without a pipeline.

A public comment period is under way through April 22, after which the department will prepare a final statement to help the administration decide whether the pipeline is in the “national interest.” If the conclusion is yes, a Canadian company, TransCanada, gets a permit to build a pipeline to transport toxic tar sands through our heartland, connecting to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico, for likely export to China.

Around the world, emissions of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide continue to soar. Australia is now finishing “the angry summer” — 123 extreme weather records broken in 90 days —which government sources link to climate change. Last year, 2012, also was the hottest year on record in the contiguous United States.

More Paul Revere analogies…coming up on Patriot’s Day here in Massachusetts! April 7:

Scientists have been warning us for over fifty years that our CO2 emissions were likely to transform Earth profoundly — perhaps catastrophically. And for over fifty years our elected leaders chose to pass the problem along to someone else to solve. When they weren’t simply trying to keep the scientists quiet, that is.

George W. Bush’s administration censored NASA climatologist James Hansen’s report on climate change, muzzling one of climate science’s most informed and articulate voices. Meanwhile, deranged talk-radio personalities incited their low-information audiences into an anti-science frenzy that brought Hansen and other researchers like Dr. Michael Mann death threats and torrents of hate mail.

Two hundred and thirty-eight years ago, farmers in a few Massachusetts towns hearkened to a midnight call, and our nation’s birth can be traced to their readiness to respond to a clear and imminent danger.

Now, a modern-day Paul Revere is again sounding the alarm. Where will we be in two hundred years if we ignore James Hansen’s urgent warnings?

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 4, Day 17: Charm Offensive

The Denver Post alerts us to the fire problem:

The hotter, drier climate will transform Rocky Mountain forests, unleashing wider wildfires and insect attacks, federal scientists warn in a report for Congress and the White House.

The U.S. Forest Service scientists project that, by 2050, the area burned each year by increasingly severe wildfires will at least double, to around 20 million acres nationwide.

Some regions, including western Colorado, are expected to face up to a fivefold increase in acres burned if climate change continues on the current trajectory.

Floods, droughts and heat waves, driven by changing weather patterns, also are expected to spur bug infestations of the sort seen across 4 million acres of Colorado pine forests.

“We’re going to have to figure out some more effective and efficient ways for adapting rather than just pouring more and more resources and money at it,” Forest Service climate change advisor Dave Cleaves said.

“We’re going to have to have a lot more partnerships with states and communities to look at fires and forest health problems.”

Reality bites, don’t it? April 4:

Well, 2012 was the world’s hottest year in recorded human history, so it would be a good time for Americans to finally acknowledge the implications of global climate change. The Forest Service’s prediction of increasingly severe forest fires over the coming decades is just one of many ways that atmospheric CO2 is going to impact our lives.

While “global warming” sounds vaguely comforting (everybody likes being warm, right?), the true picture of climate change is one in which dangerous factors are going to be getting worse. Already suffering from droughts? Brace yourself for multi-year water shortages. On the other hand, if you’re already getting rained on, you should brace yourself for massive flooding. And if forest fires are a problem where you live, the next century’s going to give starring roles flames, soot, smoke and destruction.

Climate-change denialists are in a losing battle with the facts of the greenhouse effect.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 4, Day 16: What About Appliance Repair?

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle (MT) describes an interlude of career counseling:

Climate change will affect much of the future, so young people might do well to turn the results into opportunity.

That was the message Nobel Laureate Steve Running gave to the more than 150 students and Bozeman residents that almost filled Reynolds Hall at Montana State University.

Running has lectured at MSU six or seven times in the past five years on climate change, so he said a better topic for this appearance would be how students can take advantage of the global change that is already occurring.

Running couldn’t help but reprise some of the work that he and other climate scientists continue to produce, showing how a continuing increase in the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide corresponds with a warming climate and an increasing number of annual weather disasters.

High-school guidance counselors unite! April 3:

At first glance, the notion that global heating will open a plethora of new jobs seems fairly obvious. Whether it’s renewable energy technology, sustainable agriculture, the developing field of carbon sequestration, or a host of other vocations, there’s no doubt that a transformed climate will have impacts on employment everywhere throughout America and the world, which makes advice like that of climatologist Steve Running very important.

But there is a necessary caveat. A stable climate is the stage upon which our civilizational drama unfolds, and the notion that our economy will remain stable and absorb its consequences is just that: a notion. Far more likely in the years to come is the kind of systemic collapse which will render all our economic preconceptions outdated and irrelevant.

Young people of course need to consider their futures — but a metastasizing greenhouse effect is a planetary disaster, not a career opportunity.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 4, Day 15: Hardly A Man Is Now Alive

Mind you, this is the same paper that recently shut down its Environment reporting entirely:

James E. Hansen, the climate scientist who issued the clearest warning of the 20th century about the dangers of global warming, will retire from NASA this week, giving himself more freedom to pursue political and legal efforts to limit greenhouse gases.

His departure, after a 46-year career at the space agency’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in Manhattan, will deprive federally sponsored climate research of its best-known public figure.

At the same time, retirement will allow Dr. Hansen to press his cause in court. He plans to take a more active role in lawsuits challenging the federal and state governments over their failure to limit emissions, for instance, as well as in fighting the development in Canada of a particularly dirty form of oil extracted from tar sands.

“As a government employee, you can’t testify against the government,” he said in an interview.

A hero. Resurrecting the Paul Revere meme for James Hansen. April 2:

Two hundred and thirty eight years ago, courageous patriots sounded a call; a midnight ride alerted the Minutemen to the arrival of the Redcoats — and the consequences are both an indelible part of our nation’s history and an irrefutable testament to the value of an early-warning system.

The modern equivalents are the world’s climate scientists, who have been trying to wake up a complacent citizenry for decades.

Dr. James Hansen’s resignation from NASA in order to devote himself to alerting America and the world to the climate crisis is a measure of the trouble we’re in. Dr. Hansen and his colleagues have received opprobrium and insult simply for doing their jobs responsibly. If Paul Revere had faced an analogous situation in April 1775, he’d have to persuade “every Middlesex village and farm” not only that the British existed, but that King George’s army posed a danger to their lives and liberty.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 4, Day 14: We’re Not Even Peninsulas

The Columbus Dispatch recycles a story from the NY Times on the intertwined fates of the fig and its little insect symbiote:

There are more than 700 species of wild fig in the tropics. Most can be pollinated only by a unique species of fig wasp. In turn, the wasps rely on fig plants as hosts for their eggs. Neither species can survive without the other.

Now a new study from equatorial Singapore, in the journal Biology Letters, finds that the wasps are vulnerable to climate change, meaning that the wild fig plants are, too. And that is ominous news for many other species, the researchers say, including birds, squirrels and other animals that feed on figs.

The scientists found that temperature increases of a few degrees could cut the adult life spans of pollinating fig wasps to just a few hours, from one or two days.

Are we Donne yet? April 1:

The microscopic wasps whose life-cycle is bound up with that of the fig tree offer a revealing analogy to our own species current predicament. Plant and insect are so tightly connected that neither’s existence is possible without the other; thinking of them as two independent species is misleading. Rather, they’re part of a single system of mutual support — a system now critically endangered a runaway greenhouse effect.

Similar intimate connections are found everywhere on our planet; symbiosis and interdependence are the rule, not the exception. Only one species — our own — claims exemption, and by reintroducing hundreds of millions of years’ worth of fossilized carbon into the atmosphere in a geological eyeblink, we have unwittingly rent asunder the tightly woven fabric which sustains us all. The fig-and-wasp partnership is just one of thousands of likely casualties of our hubristic separation from the great web of Earthly life. If we clever apes cannot recognize that no living thing is an island, we’ll find, when we finally ask for whom the bell tolls, that it’s tolling for us.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 4, Day 13: You Can’t Spell Exaggerations And Lies Without X and L

The Chicago Tribune runs an op-ed strongly advocating approval of the KXL. Because fuck the facts, bitches. It’s all about FREEDOM.

President Barack Obama has a big decision to make about this nation’s economic future. The call is an easy one, and it’s long overdue.

The president should approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which would link the rich oil sands in the Canadian province of Alberta to U.S. refineries and ports in the Gulf of Mexico. Last Friday evening, 17 Democrats joined all of the U.S. Senate’s Republicans in urging Obama to do just that. The 62-37 vote was nonbinding but signaled bipartisan frustration with the administration’s reluctance to approve the project.

The president is expected to make a decision by this summer. He rejected a Keystone plan a year ago, in the midst of his re-election campaign. That was applauded by some environmental groups and angered the Canadian government. But the most significant impact was this: It kept Americans from getting good-paying jobs.

They’re hardly even trying anymore.

Leaving aside the thousands of short-term construction jobs guaranteed to last exactly as long as it takes to build a segment of the Keystone XL pipeline, we can anticipate a hundred times that number in the long term. For example, the demand for toxic waste mitigation and cleanup experts will spike hugely along the pipeline’s route — not to mention the need for more oncologists, pharmacists, and medical support staff. And let’s not forget funeral directors!

Complex legal actions are guaranteed to proliferate, and no matter who “wins” a civil action against a Canada-based multinational corporation which inadvertently destroyed a region’s water supply, lawyers on both sides will profit hugely.

But the corporate consultants who wrote the State Department’s environmental impact statement say there’s nothing to worry about — a “fact” that’s probably a surprise to citizens of Arkansas and Utah whose communities have recently been devastated by pipeline leaks.

It is indeed an easy call to make.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 4, Day 12: When We Said We Were “Against Drones,” This Was NOT What We Meant

The NYT’s article on neonicotinoids and bee death has a fine conclusion:

Neonicotinoids are hardly the beekeepers’ only concern. Herbicide use has grown as farmers have adopted crop varieties, from corn to sunflowers, that are genetically modified to survive spraying with weedkillers. Experts say some fungicides have been laced with regulators that keep insects from maturing, a problem some beekeepers have reported.

Eric Mussen, an apiculturist at the University of California, Davis, said analysts had documented about 150 chemical residues in pollen and wax gathered from beehives.

“Where do you start?” Dr. Mussen said. “When you have all these chemicals at a sublethal level, how do they react with each other? What are the consequences?”

Experts say nobody knows. But Mr. Adee, who said he had long scorned environmentalists’ hand-wringing about such issues, said he was starting to wonder whether they had a point.

Of the “environmentalist” label, Mr. Adee said: “I would have been insulted if you had called me that a few years ago. But what you would have called extreme — a light comes on, and you think, ‘These guys really have something. Maybe they were just ahead of the bell curve.’”

If they can say “you told us so,” we won’t say “We told you so.” Idiots. March 30:

Bret Adee’s grudging recognition that tree-huggers’ warnings about the dangers of unrestricted pesticide use were “ahead of the curve” highlights a central dilemma: environmentalists would love to be proven wrong. We’d love to be wrong about pesticides, about pollution, about ocean acidification, and (most of all) we’d love to be wrong about climate change — but denial is not a viable option.

Facts are troubling things, as American apiarists are now discovering. As the dismaying data accumulates on their doorsteps, even the most ardent climate-change deniers will eventually have to face the painful truth that those hippie liberal scientists knew what they were talking about. But environmentalists are a forgiving lot: if erstwhile skeptics like Mr Adee can acknowledge that we were right all along about neonicotinoids, maybe they’ll pay attention to our concerns about the greenhouse effect — before it’s too late for action to be of any use.

Warren Senders