Year 4, Month 5, Day 22: Just You, Just Me

The Houston Chronicle offers space to a petroleum-industry shill:

The environmentalist activist community has a new Public Enemy No. 1: Keystone XL. That’s the proposed 1,200-mile pipeline linking Canadian oil fields to Texas refineries. The project is up for debate at the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology this week – the latest in what is now a four-year-long national debate on the project. The facts have become nearly smothered by the small but vocal opposition, but the fact is the Keystone XL pipeline offers a safe, efficient and affordable means of transporting the resources our nation needs.

Block the Keystone XL pipeline and Americans are going to see a nation that is less energy-secure, an economic recovery further stymied and prospects for growth jeopardized. Perhaps most important for the activists who oppose it – a vastly increased chance for spills and other environmental incidents.

While the debate that surrounds the Keystone XL pipeline has been continuous for years, opponents to the transcontinental energy initiative coalesced early on in the process.

Unburdened by facts and uninterested in offering arguments to support their positions, opponents to Keystone XL have been willing to lob unsupported claim after unsubstantiated attack over and over again.

Lost in all of this rhetorical wind? The most salient fact: If Keystone XL is blocked, America’s demand for oil will remain undiminished, and so, too, will the appetite to develop the Canadian oil resources that opponents of the pipeline deride.

I just dashed this off in a state of dudgeon, and it shows. Busy busy busy today. May 11:

Michael Economides’ writing in support of the Keystone XL pipeline is a textbook example of rhetorical contortion in the service of an addiction. The “dilbit” (diluted bitumen oil) from the Alberta tar sands needs both higher pressure and temperature to flow through pipelines — factors linked to increased corrosion and rupture. That the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration doesn’t connect pipeline failures to tar sands oil only underlines that causality is complex. In fact, pipelines in the Midwest that move this sort of heavy crude have spilled almost four times more per pipeline mile than the U.S. average. The recent disasters in Arkansas and Kalamazoo both involved dilbit. It’s terrible stuff, and the only way to keep it safe is to leave it in the ground.

The underlying assumption in Mr. Economides’ piece is that our national oil habit cannot, must not, will not change — and therefore our energy economy has no choice but to feed our craving for a fossil-fuel fix. Spoken like a pusher. There are plenty of alternatives, but none that offer Mr. Economides the perquisites he so obviously relishes as a mouthpiece of the fossil fuel industry.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 5, Day 21: The Conservative Id, Yes, The Conservative Id

We have a minority vice-president. WaPo:

Environmentalists have seized on a comment Vice President Biden made while working a rope line in Columbia, S.C., on Friday, in which he told an activist he is “in the minority” within the administration when it comes to opposing the Keystone XL pipeline.

Elaine Cooper, who serves on the executive committee of the Sierra Club’s South Caroline chapter, said in an interview Wednesday that Biden shared his thoughts with her during Rep. James Clyburn’s (D-S.C.) annual fish fry.

Buzzfeed first reported the vice president’s remarks late Tuesday, based on an e-mail a colleague of Cooper had sent to fellow environmentalists.

Cooper, who was wearing a black-and-white leather hat, said she attracted the vice president’s attention and was able to ask him about the controversial proposal to ship heavy crude oil from Canada to U.S. refineries on the Gulf Coast.

” ‘Sir, do you support rejecting the Keystone pipeline?’ ” Cooper recalled asking Biden. “And he responded, ‘Yes, I do support rejecting the Keystone pipeline, but I’m in the minority.’ And he smiled back at me.”

Good for Joe. How about good for us? May 9:

It’s an enduring irony: in a corporatized political system, the only position in government offering almost complete freedom of expression is the one John Nance Garner so memorably characterized as “not worth a bucket of warm spit.” Vice-Presidents have for years expressed their constituents’ true sentiments in ways that chief executives cannot; think of Nixon under Eisenhower, and Spiro Agnew’s turn as “Nixon’s Nixon” a decade later, the voice of the conservative American id.

Joe Biden, on the other hand, channels our collective superego, as witness his emergence as an eloquent and compassionate advocate of marriage equality. Nowhere is Mr. Biden’s finely-honed moral sensibility more evident than in his recent outspoken opposition to that planetary disaster-in-the-making, the Keystone XL pipeline. Unlike some who’ve held his office, Joe Biden elevates the vice-presidency with an eloquent expression of the better angels of our nature. Let’s hope he has the president’s ear.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 5, Day 20: My Biggest Mistake Was Loving You Too Much

Even Forbes Magazine thinks the KXL is a disaster in the making:

With over 16,000 sensors tied to automatic shut-offs, the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline (as in Xtra-Large) is not your father’s pipeline. However, it’s still a pipeline, and the long history of ruptures, leaks, spills and other “incidents” call attention to the problems that face all pipelines in America.

We just don’t maintain them like we should.

And it’s the same for all critical infrastructure. The corporations that build and operate this infrastructure talk about all the bells and whistles they have to make them safe, and promise to do so, but history says differently. Decades after these things are built, the industry just doesn’t care anymore.

It’s not that these pipelines and rigs can’t be run safely, it’s that they aren’t. Maybe the managers and operators who originally built them once cared, but after they’ve retired or died, the new managers don’t have the same ownership.

Hippie. May 7:

Whether it’s coal or oil, the core mentality underlying fossil fuel is essentially simple-minded: make a hole in the ground and burn the stuff that comes out. When your goal is to enrich your investors, then it’s good business to transfer the costs and consequences of leaks, spills, collapses, and containment failures to ordinary people, who’ll take care of it with their tax dollars. Furthermore, given the short attention span of most citizens, TransCanada and other pipeline promoters have nothing to lose by downplaying the risks and inflating the benefits of projects like the Keystone XL — and nothing to gain by making huge investments in safety, infrastructure, and maintenance.

As a path to riches, it’s not complicated — but as a way to encourage good citizenship, it’s a failure. As the climate crisis intensifies, the extractive industries can no longer ignore the grave moral dimensions of their environmental irresponsibility.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 5, Day 19: Clippety-Clop, Clippety-Clop

And heeeeeere’s Plague, right on time. WaPo:

FRESNO, Calif. — California and federal public health officials say that valley fever, a potentially lethal but often misdiagnosed disease infecting more and more people across the nation, has been on the rise as a warming climate and drought have kicked up the dust that spreads it.

The fever has hit California’s agricultural heartland particularly hard in recent years, with the incidence dramatically increasing in 2010 and 2011. The disease — which is prevalent in arid regions of the United States, Mexico, Central and South America — can be contracted by breathing in fungus-laced spores from dust disturbed by the wind as well as human or animal activity.

The fungus is sensitive to environmental changes, experts say, and a hotter, drier climate has increased the dust carrying the spores.

I’ve used this analogy once or twice before and gotten results. May 6:

The problem of illegal immigration is far worse than even the most xenophobic demagogue could imagine. Incomprehensible numbers of unauthorized visitors still barely register on the radar of our governing class.

As climate change intensifies, we’re going to meet disease-carrying insects, fungi, and micro-organisms that have never before appeared in the continental United States. Propelled by the same essential needs that motivate humans — somewhere to live, eat, thrive and reproduce — they’ll move to American soil as environmental conditions transform in response to the accelerating greenhouse effect. The spread of Valley Fever in California is just one example.

Right-wing lawmakers and media figures rail against border-crossers who “parasitically” exploit our economic resources. But these conservative grandstanders cannot acknowledge that the plethora of genuinely dangerous parasites arriving in the wake of the climate crisis will be undeterred by grand border fences, punitive laws, or moats filled with alligators.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 5, Day 18: Just Enough For The City

The Westerly Sun (CT) discusses post-Sandy reconstruction and its connection to climate change:

WESTERLY — On a cold, blustery day in April, Janet Freedman and Nate Vinhatiero stand gazing at Misquamicut beach. There is so much sand in the air, it’s like being in a desert during a windstorm. Freedman, a coastal geologist with the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council, assesses the progress made since Superstorm Sandy hammered the area at the end of October 2012.

“I’m really impressed that they screened it all,” Freedman says, looking at the newly created dunes made from sand that had washed onto Atlantic Avenue. “If you’re doing dune restoration, you need to have all the debris out.”

Vinhatiero, an oceanographer who works for Applied Science Associates, an environmental consulting firm in Wakefield, explains that he and Freedman are primarily concerned with one major effect of climate change.

“We’re focusing on sea level rise, because for the south shore, that’s the most critical aspect of climate change,” he said.

As Freedman and Vinhatiero observe and record the lingering storm damage — and the scores of workers repairing and restoring the beach, homes and businesses — they and other scientists worry that all this work could be for nothing.

Not-so-clever apes, all of us. May 5:

There are several reasons that climate change is all too often excluded from discussions of post-storm reconstruction, despite its obvious relevance. First is that we humans are notoriously poor at thinking about the long term; in the aftermath of a devastating hurricane, people simply want their lives restored to normal as rapidly as possible. While our climate is indeed transforming with exceptional rapidity, most of its effects will be felt by our descendants, and most of us don’t give more than lip service to the lives of people a century or more from now.

Second is that Earth’s climate is a complex dynamic system to which simple rules of causality don’t apply. This means that the greenhouse effect will have different impacts in different parts of the planet, and that we can’t describe single events like Superstorm Sandy as definite consequences of increased atmospheric CO2.

Finally is the inconvenient fact that fossil fuel corporations wish to avoid a hugely expensive responsibility, so they’ve spent extraordinary amounts to influence our politicians and media away from any reasonable, fact-based discussion of climate change — because such discussion would inevitably turn to the central role of oil and coal in creating the climate crisis.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 5, Day 17: It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over

Radical economist Winona LaDuke, in the Duluth News-Tribune:

The problems facing our nation can’t be solved in Washington, D.C., said Winona LaDuke, economist, author and two-time vice presidential candidate for the Green Party. The solution starts at home.

“You’re either at the table or on the menu,” LaDuke, a member of the White Earth band of Ojibwe, said in a speech Thursday at the University of Wisconsin-Superior.

She focused on three main issues: climate change, extreme energy addiction and the rising cost to transport food.

“I’d really like to get people to hang around another thousand years,” LaDuke said. “And so the question is how are we going to do that?”

People today have two paths in front of them, one well-worn and scorched, the other green and less traveled.

“We’re the ones who can keep them from putting a mine in … our watershed, which is the wrong thing to do,” she said. “We’re the ones that can keep them from combusting the planet to oblivion. We’re the ones that can keep them from changing the direction of any more rivers or blowing off the top of mountains, yeah. Or genetically engineering the world’s food chain … what a great spiritual opportunity that is, to be those people, to do the right thing.”

I like Winona LaDuke; I think she’d probably agree with the gist of this letter. May 4:

It’s indisputable that the struggle to address global heating and its devastating consequences must be waged on the home front, and Winona LaDuke is correct in her assertion that for the most part, useful approaches to the climate crisis will probably not emerge from Washington, DC. But this simplistic formulation ignores the role that our notoriously dysfunctional Congress plays in making it exponentially more difficult for individual, local, and regional solutions to develop and flourish.

When Republican Representatives and Senators demonize science and block even the most eminently sensible legislation for patently political motivations, this sets them in opposition to the American people’s natural impulse to action and innovation. When conservative media downplay the danger of climate change and instead assert bizarre conspiracy theories, they corrupt the national conversation and make it harder for ordinary citizens to stay well-informed about the grave threat posed by a runaway greenhouse effect.

Warren Senders


Year 4, Month 5, Day 16: Go Talk To Ownership

From The Economist:

Either governments are not serious about climate change or fossil-fuel firms are overvalued

MARKETS can misprice risk, as investors in subprime mortgages discovered in 2008. Several recent reports suggest that markets are now overlooking the risk of “unburnable carbon”. The share prices of oil, gas and coal companies depend in part on their reserves. The more fossil fuels a firm has underground, the more valuable its shares. But what if some of those reserves can never be dug up and burned?

If governments were determined to implement their climate policies, a lot of that carbon would have to be left in the ground, says Carbon Tracker, a non-profit organisation, and the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change, part of the London School of Economics. Their analysis starts by estimating the amount of carbon dioxide that could be put into the atmosphere if global temperatures are not to rise by more than 2°C, the most that climate scientists deem prudent. The maximum, says the report, is about 1,000 gigatons (GTCO2) between now and 2050. The report calls this the world’s “carbon budget”.

It took a while to find the hook for this letter. May 4:

“Either governments are not serious about climate change or fossil-fuel firms are overvalued” reads the subhead on your May 4th article, “Unburnable Fuel.” But the two propositions are hardly mutually exclusive. It is obvious that the governments of the world’s developed nations are averse to the political risk-taking demanded by meaningful action on climate — and the staggering long-term costs of oil and coal demonstrate that the real price of these energy sources has been profoundly miscalculated.

Once disaster mitigation, public health impacts, and runaway global warming (not to mention the various expensive wars fought over oil) are considered, it is apparent that unburned fossil fuel reserves are only “assets” if a stockpile of unexploded nuclear bombs is likewise valued.

No, it’s far from an either/or proposition. Rather, it is precisely because fossil-fuel corporations are grotesquely overvalued that industrialized governments aren’t serious about addressing the climate crisis.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 5, Day 15: Shut Up He Explained

This study is red-hot, and most newspapers aren’t going to touch it. But the Central Michigan Morning Sun’s Eric Baerren takes it on. Good for him:

Will Christianity destroy humanity? Is it making the End Times a self-fulfilling prophesy?

That’s only a half-fair assessment. To be truthful, religious beliefs don’t shape people’s general attitudes. They only reflect them. People who are prone to hating homosexuals, for instance, are prone to find reason in their religious tomes for doing it.

A study a few years back found that 76 percent of Republican voters believe that the end of times will come soon, kicking off one final epic conflict between God and the Antichrist. After God wins, he’ll clean up the planet and all of God’s believers get to spend eternity in paradise. Growing up, I attended a church attended by people who believe this. It was also in a part of the state notable for using religion as an excuse to rave on about the Apocalypse. And, let’s be clear about what this means: About 35 percent of the electorate is reliably Republican. If the poll is accurate, that means that the percentage of the American electorate who believes that the Biblical end is near is about 25 percent.

People who believe in the End Times are also statistically more prone to opposing things intended to curb climate change, which is the point of this. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. Conservatism is underpinned by a fear of change, and doing things to mitigate climate change means changing the way we do things. If you fear change, then you don’t want to do that, so naturally you find excuses not to like denying climate change or pretending that it’s all part of God’s plan.

Damn hard to get all this into 175 words. May 3:

While it’s true that religious beliefs don’t necessarily direct individual attitudes, it is indisputable that they can profoundly shape a society. Western civilization has been steeped for centuries in Christian theology; regardless of whether particular men and women believe in a Biblical apocalypse, there is no doubt that New Testament conceptions of time, progress and eschatology have steered our nominally secular society towards a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In every aspect of our culture — symphonies, movies, fairy tales — we observe “ways of ending” similar to those in the Book of Revelations: a dramatic final conflict, and a happy resolution. Study of other cultures shows that these models of closure are by no means universal.

End-times Christian opposition to significant action on climate change is only the visible face of a broader societal inability to imagine any other way to end our collective story. Believers see themselves living happily ever after; climate scientists, however, are much less sanguine about the coming centuries of life on Earth if we fail to address the unsettling facts of a runaway greenhouse effect.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 5, Day 14: An Inconvenient Tooth

The Norfolk Virginian-Pilot (VA) reports on what a bunch of shrill tree-hugging hippies had to say:

A panel of speakers laid out a grim scenario for Hampton Roads’ future Monday night, predicting devastating effects if the region fails to adapt to escalating climate change.

It is a scenario that is particularly troubling to the Navy because of its enormous footprint in the area, said Rear Adm. Philip Hart Cullom, deputy chief of naval operations for fleet readiness and logistics.

Cullom was one of five speakers at a town hall meeting at Nauticus organized by Operation Free, a national coalition of veterans and security experts that portrays climate change as a threat to national security.

“We have to figure out how we’re going to adapt,” Cullom said. “There are good futures. There are bad futures. It depends on what path we choose.”

Hampton Roads is threatened by rising sea level, increased flooding and more frequent natural disasters, said Joe Bouchard, a retired Navy captain and a former commanding officer of Norfolk Naval Station.

Taking another opportunity to mock Teapublicans. May 2:

If Virginia wants to prepare for the rising seas and increasingly severe weather that is certain to accompany Earth’s climbing atmospheric temperatures, the state’s politicians must recognize that they cannot legislate climate change out of existence. All over America, Republican lawmakers have declared open hostility to scientific method, in which hypotheses are tested, experiments analyzed, and false results rejected. Instead, these legislators have chosen to exalt a kind of politicized wishful thinking, in which inconvenient facts are either erased from the record or not allowed in the first place. South Carolina’s recently enacted law requiring the use inaccurate projections of sea-level rise is one of many examples.

When it comes to climate, ideology trumps reality in the minds of conservative politicians. This is the worst sort of magical thinking, endangering the lives and livelihoods of millions of people through deliberate and cynical pandering to the forces of ignorance and denial.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 5, Day 13: See The U.S.A. In Your Chevrolet

Well, that’s a relief. The Detroit Free Press:

General Motors officially acknowledged today that implementing policies to prevent climate change is “good business.”

GM became the first automaker to sign the “Climate Declaration” pledge, which is promoted by nonprofit Ceres’ Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy (BICEP) coalition.

The decision to sign the pledge comes as GM has been pressuring the U.S. government to establish a national energy policy focused on promoting energy security with a diverse range of sources, including natural gas and renewables. The automaker sends no waste to landfills from 105 of plants, and is trying to boost that figure.

GM CEO Dan Akerson told the Fortune Green conference on Tuesday that “sustainability is woven into our global strategies.”

“It’s not a regional strategy; it’s a global strategy for us,” Akerson said, adding that it’s “pretty hard not to be convinced that something is going on in the world” with the climate.

I remain unconvinced. May 1:

While it’s good news that General Motors acknowledges the existence of climate change and the importance of a robust strategy for combating the greenhouse effect, this turnaround in corporate thinking won’t make much of an impact unless we address some of the root causes of the problem. Our national addiction to fossil fuels goes hand in hand with our consumer society; as long as we continue to believe that we can buy our way out of trouble, we will never be able to make the broader societal transformations necessary to provide happiness and prosperity for our descendants.

There are deeper questions that need asking. Can profit-fixated corporate systems function sustainably over the long term? Is an economy focused on consumption good for our species or our planet? Yes, preventing climate change is “good for business,” and allowing it to continue is “bad for business.” But is business good for us?

Warren Senders