Year 4, Month 7, Day 31: It’ll Aggravate Your Soul

The Hanover Sun (PA) reprints the AP story on industry pushback against President Obama’s CC proposals. The same querulous whinging from Gary Long is featured:

BOW, N.H.—President Barack Obama’s push to fight global warming has triggered condemnation from the coal industry across the industrial Midwest, where state and local economies depend on the health of an energy sector facing strict new pollution limits.

But such concerns stretch even to New England, an environmentally focused region that long has felt the effects of drifting emissions from Rust Belt states.

Just ask Gary Long, the president of the Public Service Co. of New Hampshire, the state’s largest electric company.

Long says the president’s plan to impose limits on carbon dioxide emissions suddenly raises questions about the fate of the state’s two coal-fired power plants, electricity rates for millions of customers and the ability to find new energy sources. And he also notes that New England has already invested billions of dollars in cleaner energy, agreed to cap its own carbon pollution and crafted plans to import Canadian hydroelectric power.

“New Hampshire’s always been ahead of the curve,” he says. “Does no good deed go unpunished?”

I’m in New Hampshire now, as it happens. July 13:

Gary Long, president of New Hampshire’s Public Service Company, fires off a rhetorical question about President Obama’s climate proposals, asking, “does no good deed go unpunished?”

No, Gary. No good deed goes unpunished, even those of environmentally proactive energy companies. Just ask the citizens of Kiribati, an island nation which is going to vanish beneath rising ocean levels, even though they’ve contributed nothing to the greenhouse effect spelling their doom. They’re getting punished for the irresponsibility of industrialized nations that find it too inconvenient or too costly to do the right thing — and throughout the world, nations with miniscule CO2 output find their stability, their borders, and in some cases their very existence threatened by climate change. In this context, Mr. Long’s inquiry sounds more like whining and less like a reasonable question. The fact is that without concerted effort from all the world’s great industrialized powers, planetary climate change is going to punish us all, good deeds or no.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 7, Day 30: No Left Term Unstoned

DelMarva Now offers a rather pedantic Op-Ed from Harrison Jackson, of the Maryland Coastal Bays Program. He’s working on terminology:

Climate change, as defined by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is a non-random change in climate that is measured over several decades or longer. The change may be due to natural or human-induced causes.

Many people will look outside on an unseasonably cold day and ask, “What ever happened to global warming?” Global warming is no longer used prevalently by climate scientists because it can cause confusion for the public due to weather and climate often being used as synonyms, even though they are different in a number of critical aspects.

Weather is not the same as climate. The best way to describe the difference between these two words is, “You pack your suitcase based on the weather, but you pick where you go for vacation based on climate.”

Weather, as defined by the administration, is the state of the atmosphere with respect to a variety of conditions including wind, temperature, cloudiness, moisture, pressure, etc. This differs from climate, which is defined as the composite or generally prevailing weather conditions of a region throughout the year, averaged over a series of years. Weather refers to atmospheric conditions at a given point in time, whereas climate refers to “average” weather conditions for an area throughout a long period of time.

Climate change can be a difficult and scary thing to talk about, as it has real implications that can dramatically alter the way we live forever. When discussing climate change, it is always best to separate facts from fiction.

This one accidentally turned out at 150 words on the first draft. Huh. July 12:

While it’s true that climate scientists use the phrase “climate change” more often than “global warming,” the history of these terms offers us a very useful perspective.

But aside from academic papers, the person most responsible for shifting the language of public discourse on the subject is Republican pollster and strategist Frank Luntz. In a memorandum to Bush administration officials, Luntz advised using “climate change” because, as he said, “it’s less scary,” and therefore provided President Bush and his team with a way of minimizing public concerns about the environment and the potential consequences of a runaway greenhouse effect.

Climate scientists, of course, had been using the phrase all along, with citations in professional publications going back to the 1950s.

It is ironic that the cynical strategy of a conservative media expert should inadvertently coincide with the exact facts of the situation. Climate change is real; it’s here; it’s dangerous.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 7, Day 29: It Was Easier When Poor People Didn’t Exist

Popular Science notes that economic status has an impact on how people are affected by climate change:

Feel the heat? Sure you do, but not everyone in the U.S. suffers equally. During many heat waves, more non-white Americans die than white Americans. That surely has to do with the links between race and poverty—and thus not having air conditioning—in the U.S., but one team of public health researchers had another idea.

What if some people in the U.S. live in areas that are hotter than the neighbors just across town? The researchers, all from the University of California, Berkeley, decided they wanted to check if access to trees and other green cover, which keeps neighborhoods cool, is correlated with race. Having more trees and less asphalt in an area keeps reduces air conditioning bills and air pollution.

The researchers found that non-white Americans are more likely to live in census blocks that have little tree cover and more asphalt than white Americans. Blacks were the most likely to live in so-called “heat islands” in cities and suburbs, followed by Asians, then Hispanics, then whites.

This means that in the future, if global warming brings on more heat waves, non-whites could be more vulnerable than their white neighbors. To fix this, cities could plan tree-planting initiatives, the Berkeley researchers wrote in a paper they published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. Many major cities, including New York and Chicago, already have new-tree plans in place.

But we knew that already. July 11:

Climate change’s disproportionate impact on economically disenfranchised Americans duplicates in microcosm what is happening throughout the world. Greenhouse emissions produced by privileged societies are endangering the world’s poorest nations; subsistence farmers in Bangladesh are losing their land, their hopes, and their lives to steadily rising ocean levels, despite having carbon footprints that are miniscule in comparison with those of industrialized nations.

In the planetary short-term, it’s “as we sow, so shall they reap.” The fallout of our profligate burning of fossil fuels is going to affect agriculture and infrastructure everywhere: droughts, extreme weather, and increased numbers of invasive parasites and diseases are going to mean shrinking harvests. Which, not to put too fine a point on it, means that more people will go hungry and more people will starve.

This blow to Earth’s poorest people is an unintended consequence of the industrialized world’s wealth and power. It is time for those of us in fortunate circumstances to work relentlessly to head off a catastrophe with profound environmental and humanitarian dimensions.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 7, Day 28: The Only Thing We Have To Fear

Here are the final grafs of an op-ed in the Roanoke Times (VA), titled “The Courage To Act on Climate Change.” Good stuff, if essentially rather anodyne:

As the president pointed out in his speech, there are also impacts of climate change that we must adapt to such as rebuilding homes and infrastructure in New Jersey and New York after Superstorm Sandy. We need to make plans to protect our own coast and infrastructure at Hampton Roads, which remains extremely vulnerable.

We have an obligation to aid our brothers and sisters in adapting to and developing resilience from the full spectrum of climate impacts, be it heat waves, looming wildfire risks or increased public health concerns such as mosquito- or tick-borne diseases.

This is not something one person can do alone — not even the president of the United States. This is something that takes each and every one of us. It starts with supporting the president’s climate plan and includes reducing our own carbon footprint. It includes encouraging our legislators to support these important regulations from the EPA and confirming McCarthy as EPA head.

We can — and we must — create a future in which our children and grandchildren will look back at this time in history and say, “They made the right choice for my future.”

While this piece is written with allusions to “faith” I chose instead to focus on the glib rhetorical trope that provides the header. July 10:

If a hurricane is coming, battening down the hatches is pure common sense. If there’s a tornado watch, it’s just plain reasonable to get into the basement with our families. In times of drought, we’ll let our lawns yellow and take shorter showers in order to conserve water. None of these acts are anything more than sensible preparations for extraordinary circumstances. Why, then, are we so often exhorted to find “the courage to act” on climate change?

Preparing for a climatically-transformed future should be a no-brainer. Reinforcing and rebuilding our infrastructure, planning ahead for the safety of communities likely to be in harm’s way, and introducing reasonable conservation measures for increasingly scarce resources don’t require us to find hidden reserves of strength and fortitude, only to pay attention to the facts and plan accordingly.

Courage is only necessary to face the corporate-funded denialists in media and politics who use their vast resources to obscure the scientific evidence of climate change and irresponsibly attack those who recognize the severity of the crisis.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 7, Day 27: Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down

The NYT discusses divestiture in the context of the POTUS’ speech:

It was a single word tucked into a presidential speech. It went by so fast that most Americans probably never heard it, much less took the time to wonder what it meant.

But to certain young ears, the word had the shock value of a rifle shot. The reference occurred late in President Obama’s climate speech at Georgetown University two weeks ago, in the middle of this peroration:

“Convince those in power to reduce our carbon pollution. Push your own communities to adopt smarter practices. Invest. Divest. Remind folks there’s no contradiction between a sound environment and strong economic growth.”

That injunction to “divest” was, pretty clearly, a signal to the thousands of college students who have been manning the barricades for nearly a year now, urging their colleges to rid their endowments of stock in fossil-fuel companies as a way of forcing climate change higher on the national political agenda.

“The president of the United States knows we exist, and he likes what we’re doing,” Marissa Solomon of the University of Michigan wrote soon after. Other students recounted leaping to their feet or nearly falling off their chairs when the president uttered the word.

Good stuff. I recycled an older letter, which takes exactly as much time as writing a new one. July 9:

Recent studies have demonstrated that college endowments won’t be adversely affected by divesting from fossil fuel companies, but this shouldn’t be the ultimate arbiter in any case. Economic rationales are ultimately secondary to the moral argument which recognizes that big oil and coal corporations rely on a profoundly destructive business model, atmospherizing huge quantities of fossilized carbon every year without regard for the consequences to our climate, our environment, or our posterity.

Higher education’s mission is expected to go beyond mere careerism to inculcate a responsibility to ensure a better future for all. While fossil fuels may be astonishingly profitable, colleges and universities investing in them are voting with their dollars for a future of devastating climate change instead.

Student campaigns for divestiture are environmentally, morally, and economically sensible. As in the long campaign against apartheid, it is the voices of youth which express the better angels of human nature.

Warren Senders

Published (and heavily truncated).

Year 4, Month 7, Day 26: Until You’ve Learned The Meaning Of The Blues

The Iowa Gazette’s Jennifer Hemmingsen thinks it’s time for people to talk about climate:

It’s a cliche, but it’s true: We Midwesterners sure like talking about the weather.

And why not? It’s not only the constant variation (run out of things to say about humidity? Wait a week and we’ll be talking about how dry it’s been), and vital importance to our rural economy, the subject also plays to our strengths.

Chatting about weather levels the field. Anyone can play. You can ante up with wisdom from your grandparents, share what you heard on the Weather Channel or just make your own observations (“Boy, it’s like an oven out there”). You can spout predictions without being confrontational and end disagreements with a smile and a shrug. We’ll get what we get, after all. You can’t control the weather.

And I guess that’s why what should be a breezy transition to talking climate change instead has been so fraught and frustrating: So many of those old rules don’t apply.

We do need clarity in our national discourse. July 8:

With all due respect to Jennifer Hemmingsen, it’s not just Midwesterners who love talking about the weather. From Iowa to India, Iceland to Indiana — it’s one of the most universal of subjects. And no wonder: while daily conditions may vary in interesting ways, the fact is that every aspect of our complex and interdependent culture is built on a single foundation: the relatively benign, relatively predictable climate which has made our agriculture-based way of life possible.

While the weather may vary from day to day (giving us something to discuss), our environment’s current transformations are something altogether different. The accelerating greenhouse effect is trapping heat in the atmosphere, increasing evaporation as the air temperature rises. More humidity means more precipitation — and more heat means more frequent storms, along with a general rise in all sorts of unpredictable extreme weather — all, needless to say, bad for agriculture.

But unlike the weather, everybody’s doing something about the climate (especially the industrialized societies which are responsible for the lion’s share of greenhouse emissions), while nobody’s talking about it. To mitigate what looks ever more like a future of crop failures, infrastructural collapses, and humanitarian crises, our elected leaders and our media establishment must address the causes and consequences of climate change.

Warren Senders


Year 4, Month 7, Day 25: Because A Fire Was In My Head

The Lexington Herald-Leader (KY) notes the work of local activists, who are planting lots of trees:

Advocates of reforesting surface-mined land in Appalachia hope the Obama Administration’s new push to cut carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could boost their efforts.

Trees suck up and store carbon dioxide, after all, and Appalachia has vast areas where trees could be planted.

“These mined lands are a great potential for sequestering carbon,” said Christopher D. Barton, a forest hydrologist at the University of Kentucky who is active in the reforestation effort.

Barton heads a program called Green Forests Work, which focuses on reforesting surface-mined land in Appalachia. People involved in the program will explore whether President Barack Obama’s emphasis on limiting carbon pollution could mean increased money to plant trees, Barton said.

“We’ve been working every angle that we can to get funding,” he said. “I’m hoping this will open some doors — some additional doors.”

In a June 25 news release about Obama’s plan, the White House said the nation’s forests play a critical role in addressing carbon pollution, removing almost 12 percent of the total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions annually.

It’s a part of what must be done — but only a part. July 7:

As the climate crisis intensifies, it’s increasingly clear that we — all of us — need to develop and implement ways to get the carbon we’ve already burned back in the ground rather than in the atmosphere, where it contributes to the greenhouse effect. And it’s pretty obvious that concerted tree-planting efforts are one of the simplest and most effective ways to go about this. But this vital work must be part of a unified approach that also includes drastic reductions in our greenhouse emissions, or the consequences will be too severe for any number of trees to ameliorate.

Those who call emissions cuts “economically damaging” miss the deeper point: there is only one “economy” that matters in the end, and it’s not the Dow Jones Index. Industrialized civilization’s century-long fossil-fuel binge brought us drastically over the limit on our Bank of Earth credit card, and the bill is due.

Warren Senders

Year 7, Month 7, Day 24: Pore Lil’ Thangs….

The Tennessean tells us that Industry isn’t happy about POTUS’ climate-change ideas. Poor things:

BOW, N.H. — President Barack Obama’s push to fight global warming has triggered condemnation from the U.S. coal industry across the industrial Midwest, where state and local economies depend on the health of an energy sector facing strict new pollution limits.

But such concerns stretch even to New England, an environmentally focused region that long has felt the effects of drifting emissions from Rust Belt states.

Just ask Gary Long, the president of the Public Service Co. of New Hampshire, the state’s largest electric company.

Long says the president’s plan to impose limits on carbon dioxide emissions raises questions about the fate of the state’s two coal-fired power plants, electricity rates for millions of customers and the ability to find new energy sources. He also notes that New England has already invested billions of dollars in cleaner energy, agreed to cap its own carbon pollution and crafted plans to import Canadian hydroelectric power.

“New Hampshire’s always been ahead of the curve,” he says. “Does no good deed go unpunished?”

Long raised those concerns in the days after Obama launched a major second-term drive to combat climate change, bypassing Congress by putting limits for the first time on carbon pollution from new and existing power plants. At the core of his plan are controls on power plants that emit carbon dioxide.

See, Gary, in the next century, everybody is going to get punished. July 6:

Gary Long, an energy executive from New England, notes that his company has been proactively engaged in CO2 emissions reduction, but asks rhetorically about the President’s climate change proposals, “does no good deed go unpunished?” What a great question. Let’s find some other places and people to ask it.

How about Bangladesh, where climatic disruptions have made millions of subsistence farmers homeless? Or island nations like Kiribati, soon to be completely submerged under rising ocean waves? Or flood-battered Pakistan? Or, for that matter, Arizona, where a massive wildfire has caused uncountable damage and taken the lives of nineteen brave firefighters?

That many of the nations suffering most from the transforming climate have contributed nothing to the runaway greenhouse effect which now imperils their citizens (and in some cases their very existence) makes Mr. Long’s words sound less like a reasonable inquiry and more like self-entitled whining. It also makes Mr. Obama’s goal of closing coal plants sounds less like “punishment” for a New Hampshire utility, and more like a piece of responsible statesmanship.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 7, Day 23: Paging Celine Dion!

The Detroit News talks about the Obama proposals:

Climate change is potentially the biggest environmental challenge facing this country and the world, and President Barack Obama has now acted forcefully in releasing on June 25 a Climate Action Plan that will help America address the problem. Michigan and the Midwest generally have disproportionately higher greenhouse gas emissions, due in particular to our generally high rate of coal combustion in power plants. Reducing these emissions needs to become a higher priority if we are to avoid significant impacts to our health and the environment in the state and beyond.

We are already seeing climate-related changes in our environment. There has been increased general warming in regional temperatures as compared to those for the freeze-free season, which has ongoing implications for our agriculture sector. The early extreme warming in 2012 followed by frost led to significant losses of Michigan apples and other fruit crops, including a 90 percent decline in tart cherry production in 2012 compared to 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Climate change also poses public health threats in the state and region, including increased incidence of Lyme disease and West Nile virus, increased ozone pollution (which can exacerbate asthma) and increased heat stress. A recent study estimated that under a high global emissions scenario, Chicago could experience heat waves like 1995 (which resulted in nearly 700 deaths) every other year by the middle of the century. Temperature projections for Detroit and other cities in the region are similar.

The barnacles analogy is new; it’s going to take some refining over the coming weeks. July 5:

Thanks to a consortium of politicians with deep financial interests in preserving the status quo, our nation has not yet developed meaningful legislative responses to the threat of climate change. President Obama’s June 25 proposals for executive action offer a variety of rational ways to address the burgeoning climate crisis, but it is stretching things to say that his plan “moves in the right direction.”

From car-friendly suburbs to the complex infrastructures of consumerism, contemporary American society is entirely built on the rapid conversion of coal and oil into other forms of energy. Just as barnacles on the hull of an ocean liner are powerless to affect its progress, we — environmentalists and denialists alike! — are carried toward the treacherous shoals ahead. Obama’s proposals may offer a modest hope of slowing this progress, but until our politicians’ corporate paymasters acknowledge the danger, we’re still on a collision course with disaster.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 7, Day 22: Never Mud-Wrestle With A Pig

The San Antonio Express-News shares news about the looming fight in the Big Sky State:

Obama’s plan to fight climate change announced last week would include executive action to place limits on carbon pollution from new and existing power plants, while expanding development of renewable energy.

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said the president’s energy policy will still embrace traditional energy sources such as coal and oil.

Republican leaders in Montana are unconvinced. They predicted dire consequences for the state, calling the plan a war on energy and a job killer.

“This is a war on Montana energy, Montana families and small businesses and Montana jobs, and I will remain steadfast in the fight to stop the President’s job-killing agenda,” U.S. Rep. Steve Daines said in a statement.

Another Republican, Attorney General Tim Fox, warned the plan will blow a hole in the state’s budget.

“In attempting to rule by decree and legislate by regulation, President Obama has failed to take a balanced approach to energy policy and has failed to recognize the diverse interests and economies of 50 states,” Fox said.

The guy’s an idiot and a jerk. And a Republican…but I repeat myself. July 4:

Perhaps President Obama’s climate-change initiatives do indeed fail, in the words of Montana Attorney General Tim Fox, “to recognize the diverse interests and economies of 50 states.” But there is an important corollary to this criticism: by making legislative action impossible, the climate-change denialists in Congress have failed to act in the common interest of the USA.

Before “In God We Trust” was added to our currency in 1954, we had “E Pluribus Unum” — “Out of Many, One.” This historical motto of the United States calls on us to recognize that while the work of government must maintain a balance between the needs of individuals and those of the nation, our patriotic loyalty must ultimately be to the greater good. Such sentiments are absent in today’s GOP; these cynical anti-science zealots owe allegiance exclusively to their corporate paymasters, and not to the long-term well-being of our nation. Not to mention Earth.

Warren Senders