Year 4, Month 7, Day 21: Haters Gotta Hate

The New York Times notes that Republicans are, predictably, assholes:

When President Obama announced strong measures to combat climate change last week, environmentalists who felt he had long soft-pedaled the issue for political reasons rejoiced.

But many Republicans were just as gleeful — in the belief they had been handed a powerful issue to use against Democrats in the 2014 midterm elections in energy-rich states from Texas to Minnesota.

Elected officials and political analysts said the president’s crackdown on coal, the leading source of industrial greenhouse gases, could have consequences for Senate seats being vacated by retiring Democrats in West Virginia and South Dakota, for shaky Democratic incumbents like Mary L. Landrieu of energy-rich Louisiana, and for the Democratic challenger of Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader.

In ordering limits for the first time on carbon dioxide emissions from up-and-running power plants, Mr. Obama jabbed that opponents belonged to “the Flat Earth Society.” But in coal country, it was Mr. Obama who was called out of touch, with predictions of job losses and spiking energy bills.

Republicans immediately went on the attack against Democratic House members in mining states, posting Web ads with a 2008 sound bite of Mr. Obama predicting regulating carbon emissions would cause electricity prices to “necessarily skyrocket.”

Asked about the impact of the president’s actions on his own re-election prospects next year, Representative Nick J. Rahall II, Democrat of West Virginia, said, “They don’t help.”

They never get any better; they only get worse. July 3.

Republican readiness to exploit President Obama’s climate initiatives in their quest for the electoral upper hand is politically savvy but morally reprehensible. It reflects a confluence of three significant and malign influences on American politics: the short-term profit motivation of fossil fuel barons and the legislators they control, the scorched-Earth politics of personal destruction pioneered by Newt Gingrich and brought to unprecedented heights by the current majority in the House of Representatives, and the theocratic Biblical literalists whose eagerness for a fiery Armageddon is only matched by the vehemence of their denials that our planet is warming.

Combine an inability to think in the long term, an ethically bankrupt propensity for fighting dirty, and a visceral desire for an apocalyptic conclusion to Earthly life, and you get the face of today’s GOP — a snarling visage more appropriate for a cartoon villain than the erstwhile party of Lincoln and Eisenhower.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 7, Day 20: Why Not Rent Out The Empty Space?

The Grand Island Independent (FL) notes the preparations underway in the Keys, arguably the communities most at risk for rising ocean levels:

Seasonal tidal flooding that was once a rare inconvenience is now so predictable that some businesses at the end of Key West’s famed Duval Street stock sandbags just inside their front doors, ready anytime.

“It’s really easy to see during our spring high tides that the sea level is coming up _ for whatever reason _ and we have to accommodate for that,” said Johnnie Yongue, the on-site technician at the fire station for Monroe County’s project management department.

While New York City’s mayor was announcing a dramatic multibillion-dollar plan for flood walls and levees to hold back rising water levels there, sea walls like those that encase the Netherlands wouldn’t help much in the Keys, as a lack of coastal barriers isn’t the island chain’s only problem.

“Our base is old coral reef, so it’s full of holes,” says Alison Higgins, the sustainability coordinator for the city of Key West. “You’ve got both the erosion and the fact that (water) just comes up naturally through the holes.”

The Keys’ plans for adapting to rising sea levels sound a lot like the way they prepare for hurricanes: track the incoming disturbance, adjust infrastructure accordingly and communicate potential risks to residents _ all, hopefully, without scaring off the tourists who treasure the islands for their fishing, Technicolor sunsets, eccentric characters and a come-as-you-are social scene that has attracted the likes of Ernest Hemingway, U.S. presidents and flamboyant female impersonators.

And who doesn’t relish an opportunity to dump on Rick Scott? July 2:

The challenges facing municipal officials in the Florida Keys are unique to their particular circumstances; very few cities anywhere in the world are built on thousands of years’ worth of accumulated coral, and very few are so profoundly vulnerable to the rising sea levels which are now considered inevitable consequences of the melting Arctic. These singular island communities are on the front lines of climate change; eventually all of humanity is going to contend with the impacts of a runaway greenhouse effect over the coming decades, and it’s not going to be pretty.

Key West’s readiness to face these dangers should be an example to those who use their political power to delay action and obscure the truth of global heating. For instance, Rick Scott, whose profit-driven anti-science ideology may enrich him and his cronies in the short term, while ensuring disastrous consequences for the state he purports to lead.

Mr. Scott is one of many conservative politicians who have made meaningful responses to the climate crisis all but impossible. This toxic mix of greed and folly is bad news for Key West, for Florida, and for us all.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 7, Day 19: Nail Your Shoes To The Kitchen Floor

An Op-Ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch demonstrates conservative myopia nicely:

President Obama’s climate plans, which he outlined Tuesday, address a real problem using the sub-optimal methods that have become the hallmark of his administration. As in health care, he would make gargantuan government even bigger, more complex, and more opaque. As in questions ranging from labor relations to Libya, he would act by executive fiat. And as always, he would shift ever more control from private to government hands.

The current plateau in global warming is not unique, and does not invalidate the scientific consensus that human activity is making the planet hotter in ways that will cause significant harm to millions of people. Government has a legitimate role to play in ameliorating that situation.

Unfortunately, Obama has chosen poor means to do so. Setting carbon quotas, appliance standards and mileage rules, for instance, requires armies of bureaucrats to oversee entire industries. A far more efficient and market-friendly answer to the negative externalities inflicted by greenhouse-gas emissions would involve taxing them so producers would have to internalize the costs. This would do much to level the energy playing field and make green energy price-competitive.

But letting market forces do their work is not this president’s way. He prefers the heavy and visible hand of government, preferably his. So he also has proposed further privileging renewable energy, even though some renewables inflict negative externalities that are far harder to quantify. (Wind turbines, for example, kill more than 573,000 birds a year.)

Some of the president’s proposals – such as a quadrennial energy review, similar to the quadrennial defense review conducted by the Pentagon – make good sense. Taken together, however, the package represents an unwieldy attempt to micromanage multiple sectors of the economy without the bother of involving the democratic process. It may become part of his administration’s legacy – but that is no cause for celebration by anyone.

Nothin’ to see here, folks. Move along. July 1:

If President Obama’s climate-change proposals really are big-government overreach, then perhaps it’s time for vocal advocates of market-based small-government solutions to step up to the plate. Where are the Republicans advocating ways to incentivize CO2 reductions? Where are conservative politicians who recognize the dangers of climate change, who seek to enlist the mechanisms of capitalism in the defense of our species, our civilization, and our planet?

Well, I won’t keep you in suspense. They’ve been expelled from their party. Thanks to the Tea Party coalition’s effective control of primary nominations, any member of the GOP who acknowledges the existence of human-caused climate change can expect the fate of former South Carolina Representative Bob Inglis, whose 2010 primary defeat was largely due to his willingness to elevate scientific facts above anti-science ideology.

To criticize the President’s plans without acknowledging that Republican intransigence makes legislative action on the crisis impossible is journalistic irresponsibility.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 7, Day 18: Tied To A Whippin’ Post

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel opines on the POTUS’ speech:

President Barack Obama’s speech last week on climate change was a welcome call to action on one of the great challenges of our time. If the science is right — and there is no reason to believe that it isn’t — climate change is here and could have severe consequences for human health, the environment and the economy. Meeting the challenge will be difficult and costly but also affords opportunities, especially for job growth in green industries.

As the president said Tuesday, “the question is not whether we need to act.”

The problem is that similar calls to action have been issued for decades and not much has been done to curb the belching of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Utilities such as We Energies, car manufacturers and some governments have taken important steps to reduce air pollution from a number of sources and have worked to reduce carbon emissions. They deserve credit for that.

But reductions of carbon dioxide significant enough to have an impact on climate change have remained elusive.

If Obama wants to change that pattern, his administration needs to follow through. The trick will be to do so without harming economic growth. New rules also need to be based on available cost-effective technologies that can actually reduce emissions. It can be done. And while the president’s plan may be light on details, he is at least pointing the country in the right direction.

Obama is directing his administration to launch the first-ever federal regulations on heat-trapping gases emitted by new and existing power plants, boost renewable energy production on federal lands, increase efficiency standards and prepare communities to deal with higher temperatures.

The ideology of the cancer cell. June 30:

It takes extraordinary intellectual insulation to continue rejecting the scientific evidence of global climate change. By analogy, imagine buying a house condemned as unsafe by 97 out of 100 home inspectors, eating in a restaurant that had failed 97 out of 100 health inspections, or the same proportion of oncologists when they tell you to start therapy immediately.

But even those who are prepared to argue forcefully for action on the climate crisis still observe powerful taboos against questioning the desirability of continued economic growth. To fetishize economic expansion ignores the fact that we live on a finite planet with finite resources; it’s like saying that gaining weight is healthy for infants, so it must be good for adults as well.

Infinite expansion is impossible in a bounded area; we can have sustainability or growth, but not both. If we wish a viable long-term future for humanity, this is a debate we need to have.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 7, Day 17: The Rain Continued For An Hour

Krugthulu, in the Times:

It’s always important to remember that what ails the U.S. economy right now isn’t lack of productive capacity, but lack of demand. The housing bust, the overhang of household debt and ill-timed cuts in public spending have created a situation in which nobody wants to spend; and because your spending is my income and my spending is your income, this leads to a depressed economy over all.

How would forcing the power industry to clean up its act worsen this situation? It wouldn’t, because neither costs nor lack of capacity are constraining the economy right now.

And, as I’ve already suggested, environmental action could actually have a positive effect. Suppose that electric utilities, in order to meet the new rules, decide to close some existing power plants and invest in new, lower-emission capacity. Well, that’s an increase in spending, and more spending is exactly what our economy needs.

O.K., it’s still not clear whether any of this will happen. Some of the people I talk to are cynical about the new climate initiative, believing that the president won’t actually follow through. All I can say is, I hope they’re wrong.

Near the end of his speech, the president urged his audience to: “Invest. Divest. Remind folks there’s no contradiction between a sound environment and strong economic growth.” Normally, one would be tempted to dismiss this as the sound of someone waving away the need for hard choices. But, in this case, it was simple good sense: We really can invest in new energy sources, divest from old sources, and actually make the economy stronger. So let’s do it.

“Stronger” should not mean “bigger.” June 29:

As accumulating atmospheric CO2 triggers extreme weather events everywhere on Earth, it underlines a simple, inescapable truth: we live on a finite planet with finite resources. Whether it’s food for the multiplying masses, energy for our industries, or just a safe place to put our waste, there is no dispute: we’re running out.

President Obama’s recent invocation of “economic growth” indicates how hard it is to abandon the delusion that our species can expand indefinitely without paying a terrible price. A healthy baby’s weight may double in a few months, but an adult doing likewise would be very sick indeed. Our species is no longer an evolutionary infant, and we can no longer base our lives on continuous expansion, for there is nowhere left to expand to.

We can have sustainability, or we can have growth, but trying to have both will inevitably lead to tragedy: having neither.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 7, Day 16: GBKW

I don’t have any good news, unfortunately. The Toronto Star addresses melting permafrost, calling it a “Time Bomb”:

…the physical changes already seen in northern landscape is telling, said Dr. Merritt Turetsky, a University of Guelph ecologist who participated in the permafrost study.

“The (International Panel on Climate Change) outlined several scenarios and we are exceeding the worst case scenario,” she said.

Turetsky began her research on Canadian permafrost in the late 1990s. Over the last decade, she travelled to a number of permafrost sites in northern Alberta and the Northwest Territories — and she’s seen the melting permafrost drastically change the landscape.

“In that short time, the transformations are quite drastic,” she said. “It literally turns a forest into a semi-aquatic pool . . . vegetation starts to slump, thaw and sink into the ground. Trees start to pitch. This is causing the landscape to change in ways that most of the community hasn’t quite recognized yet.”

She said “collapse scars,” where trees and other types of vegetation slump over and sink into ponds, are becoming an increasingly common sight across the Canadian North.

In Inuvik, Rodgers said the town has experienced “permafrost stumpage” over the last several years — eroding roadsides and ditches dug in the permafrost that quickly transform into large, gaping holes.

Turetsky said the risks posed by permafrost remain high if human-made greenhouse gases remain on pace.

With nearly half of the country covered by permafrost, the impact will reach beyond already affected northern communities in the coming decades if scientists’ predictions are accurate.

Turetsky said a limit on human-made emissions could help keep some carbon frozen in the permafrost, but added that she fears an enormous amount of damage has already been done.

“The analogy is that it’s a big train about to derail,” she said. “Once it begins, permafrost thaw occurs slowly but you can’t stop it. That lack of control makes anybody feel nervous.”

I do love this world with all its beauty and all its music. So sorry to see it go. June 28:

The language of scientific discourse tends away from emotional intensity. Even the most alarming of conclusions is couched in affectively neutral terms; a scientific description of the Hindenburg disaster might run something like “a near-instantaneous hydroxygen combustion reaction triggered the ignition of carbon compounds, leading to destruction of vehicular infrastructure and a statistically significant mortality rate.” Oh, the humanity.

This detached tone demands careful scrutiny, especially when the subject is something as potentially devastating as melting Arctic permafrost, which could release enormous amounts of greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in a geological eyeblink. When an ecological scientist like Dr. Merritt Turetsky uses phrases like “drastic transformations” and “a big train about to derail,” the rest of us need to recognize that her measured words are the scientific way of shouting “FIRE!”

Ignoring the climate crisis would be the costliest mistake our civilization ever makes.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 8, Day 15: This Is Mine. This Is Mine. All This Is Mine.

The LA Times, on another big attractive animal:

The world’s most endangered feline species may become extinct in the wild within 50 years, researchers say, a victim of climate change.

A new report projects that Iberian lynx could become the first cat species in at least 2,000 years to become extinct, researchers found, largely because of the decline of the European rabbit, which makes up 80% of the cat’s diet.

The report, published Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change, warns that current efforts to boost population of the distinctive tufted-eared cat will only “buy a few decades” for the animal that was once abundant in parts of Spain, Portugal and France.

Rabbit populations have drastically fallen because of overhunting, disease and habitat reduction, researchers said, with climate change a major driver.

Bla, bla, bla. July 23:

If it were only “charismatic megafauna” like the Iberian lynx that face extinction due to the onrush of climatic change, we’d have far less to worry about — although news reporters oriented towards such splashy stories might not notice the difference. Far more troubling than the fate of a single wild cat species is the ongoing decimation of Earth’s most valuable natural resource: the biodiversity which has filled every available ecological niche on the planet with life.

The fewer life-forms present in a large ecosystem, the less resilient the ecosystem. For example, monocropped agriculture is terribly vulnerable; while factory farms may be able to generate huge quantities of food, a single invasive virus or insect pest can destroy their productivity completely. Earth is currently undergoing a mass extinction event thanks to human-caused climate change; the Iberian lynx and the polar bears are just the tip of a (rapidly melting) iceberg.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 7, Day 15: Until The Crowd Got Wise

The Des Moines Register notices that AgSec Tom Vilsack supports President Obama’s climate initiatives:

WASHINGTON — The White House stepped up its campaign for a sweeping new climate change plan Wednesday as Obama administration officials highlighted the effects of recent extreme weather on Iowa and other states.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters the 2012 drought, the worst to hit the United States since the Dust Bowl in the 1930s, and the wet weather and flooding this year demonstrated the need to act. He also pointed to the recent uptick in forest fires, including one near Colorado Springs, Colo., that has burned hundreds of homes and forced residents to flee.

“This is a real issue and something that requires immediate attention,” Vilsack said. “It’s absolutely essential that we respond in a very aggressive way to the challenges of a changing climate.”


Republican lawmakers and other critics criticized the president for unilaterally advancing a plan that they said would hurt the economy, cost jobs and hit consumers with higher energy costs.

They never change. June 28:

When Republicans criticize President Obama’s climate change initiatives, they tell us that plans to reduce CO2 emissions will “hurt the economy” and “raise energy costs” — utterly predictable tropes which collapse under the slightest scrutiny.

The notion that sane environmental policy is economically damaging ignores the fact that our prosperity ultimately hinges on environmental health; no amount of money will magically restore contaminated aquifers or repair a collapsed ecosystem. If our economy is “hurt” by reducing dangerous greenhouse emissions, the problem lies with how we define our economy, not with the notion that we — as individuals and as a nation — should be responsible for cleaning up the messes we’ve made.

And when it comes to increased energy costs, the facts are simple: our tax dollars have been subsidizing the fossil fuel industry for decades, enriching their corporate coffers while keeping prices at the pump artificially low. Furthermore our taxes pay to clean up oil spills, address the public health impacts of oil and coal, and fund the costly wars we wage to protect our sources.

Global climate change is the costliest threat our species has ever faced. Addressing it proactively is both environmentally and economically responsible.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 7, Day 14: Absolute Immobility Is Apparently The Only Option

The Washington Times (Rev. Moon’s vanity project) runs an article by a denialist buffoon, one Chip Knappenberg. He doesn’t think much of President Obama’s climate policy proposals:

Scientific research suggests that global warming is proceeding, and will continue, at a slower pace, with fewer negative impacts than current projections indicate, including those underlying the president’s plan. On top of this, the U.S. relative contribution to climate change is declining year after year as greenhouse-gas emissions from developing nations, such as China, expand rapidly.

Together, this means that the president’s plan for reducing emissions in the United States effectively will have no impact on the local, regional or global climate. Domestic reductions will not produce any demonstrable change in the weather; there will be not be verifiably fewer tornadoes, hurricanes, droughts, floods, wildfires, heat waves or any other manner of extreme weather. The rise in the number of billion-dollar weather disasters highlighted by the president will continue — driven by the fact that there are more people with more stuff in harm’s way, not by human-caused climate change.

The president recognizes that actions in the United States alone will be insufficient to change the course of the climate. A global effort is required. Therefore, what the president really hopes to achieve is not direct climate-change mitigation from reducing U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions, but to gain bargaining power at international talks to address climate change and, ultimately, that low-emitting energy technologies will be developed and deployed rapidly and safely around the world.

Yet there is no guarantee of these outcomes.

There’s no guarantee Chip Knappenberger won’t get run over by a truck, either…but that doesn’t stop him from crossing the street. June 27:

Chip Knappenberger’s contemptuous response to President Obama’s climate-change proposals demonstrates a remarkable readiness to ignore our nation’s long-standing leadership role in the international community.

Mr. Knappenberger argues unpersuasively that since nations like China and India will continue to emit greenhouse gases, there is no reason to reduce our own — and dismisses the President’s proposals as attempts to “gain bargaining power” in future climate negotiations. This is the first time I’ve seen anyone suggest that since “there is no guarantee of these outcomes,” the US has no reason to strengthen its position in treaties and international agreements.

By pursuing unilateral action on carbon emissions on the basis of an overwhelming scientific consensus on the human causes of global warming, our nation may regain some of the credibility we sacrificed a decade ago when we invaded another nation based on evidence which even our own intelligence agencies knew to be spurious.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 7, Day 13: You Know, I Think I Really Like Vanilla.

The WaPo reported (June 26) on President Obama’s Big Climate Speech:

WASHINGTON — Appealing for courageous action “before it’s too late,” President Barack Obama launched a major second-term drive Tuesday to combat climate change and secure a safer planet, bypassing Congress as he sought to set a cornerstone of his legacy.

Abandoning his suit jacket under a sweltering sun at Georgetown University, Obama issued a dire warning about the environment: Temperatures are rising, sea level is climbing, the Arctic ice is melting and the world is doing far too little to stop it. Obama said the price for inaction includes lost lives and homes and hundreds of billions of dollars.

“As a president, as a father and as an American, I’m here to say we need to act,” Obama said. “I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that’s beyond fixing.”

At the core of Obama’s plan are new controls on new and existing power plants that emit carbon dioxide — heat-trapping gases blamed for global warming. The program also will boost renewable energy production on federal lands, increase efficiency standards and prepare communities to deal with higher temperatures. Obama called for the U.S. to be a global leader in the search for solutions.

Same planet, different world. June 26:

Whether it’s the heat wave baking the Arctic, the wildfires raging in Colorado, or the rising sea levels that will soon eliminate island nations from the map altogether, the warning signals of runaway climate change are unequivocal. Naturally, environmentalists (and sensible people everywhere) are pleased with the President’s uninhibited use of the bully pulpit in his recent address on climate change. However, Mr. Obama’s unambiguous articulation of the crisis must be understood in two very different contexts.

Politically, the speech was a bold and dramatic warning shot to conservative lawmakers, and a recognition of the potentials of unilateral executive action.

From a climatological perspective, however, Mr. Obama’s address was an exercise in cautious incrementalism, understating both the magnitude and urgency of the danger.

And therein lies the problem. When the calm statement of undisputed scientific facts is too extreme to be politically palatable, our governance is clearly, perhaps fatally, broken.

Warren Senders