Year 4, Month 9, Day 20: Rinse And Repeat

The Somerville Journal (MA, next town over from me) argues for divestment:

There is currently a global movement to get cities, universities, and other institutions to divest from the fossil fuel industry. Cities such as Seattle, San Francisco, Portland, Madison, Providence, and our neighbors in Cambridge have already agreed to do so. I and others in Somerville believe that our city should be at the forefront of this movement.

We have known for quite some time now that we cannot keep releasing carbon dioxide into the air indefinitely without terrible consequences for the ecosystem and the sustainability of our way of life. This point has recently been underlined by an analysis from the Carbon Tracker Initiative ( showing that we can only burn around 20 percent of currently known fossil fuel deposits and keep climate change within internationally accepted limits.

And yet, despite this knowledge, fossil fuel companies continue to try to increase extraction, extract from currently untapped deposits, and find new deposits. This is their business model, this is their reason to exist, and their profitability depends on extracting the fossil fuel deposits they own and have rights to. They will continue to use their enormous wealth and power to make sure this happens.

I revised yesterday’s letter and sent it along. September 13:

When William Lloyd Garrison began agitating to end the great societal evil of slavery, the Civil War was decades away, and much of the public couldn’t have cared less about the issue. “There have always been slaves; without them our economy would collapse.” But the dedication of Massachusetts’ voice of conscience helped build a movement that transformed our society and hastened the end of a humanitarian crime.

Today we are beginning to recognize our collective servitude to the giant multinational corporations which sell us fossil fuels, sources of energy which we now realize are compromising our planet’s health and the lives of our posterity, most of the public still couldn’t care less. “We have always burned fossil fuels; without them our economy would collapse.”

The campaign for Massachusetts to divest from fossil fuels is the economic and moral inheritor of the fight against slavery, a hundred and fifty years ago.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 9, Day 19: Just The Word I Was Looking For!

I sure am proud to be from Massachusetts. The Boston Globe:

Some Massachusetts lawmakers want the state to join a growing national movement that is fighting climate change by pressuring institutional investors such as pension funds and university endowments to divest holdings in companies that produce, distribute, and support fossil fuels.

Fossil fuels include oil, natural gas, and coal, which, when burned, produce carbon dioxide, the major culprit in climate change. Earlier this week, the Legislature held its first hearing on a bill that would require the state pension fund to unload over five years some $1.4 billion in investments — about 2.6 percent of the $54.4 billion fund — in oil companies, mining companies, refiners, and similar corporations. An estimated 200 people rallied in support of the bill in front of the State House Tuesday.

If the legislation is approved, Massachusetts would become the first state in the nation to divest its fossil fuel holdings, said state Senator Benjamin B. Downing, a Pittsfield Democrat sponsoring the bill. He argued that divestment makes economic sense given the quickening adoption of wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources.

“At some point, those fossil fuel companies will not be a good investment, and that will have an impact on our pension fund,” Downing said. “We need to transition away.”

This sprang naturally to mind. September 12:

It was in 1831 that Massachusetts’ voice of conscience, William Lloyd Garrison, excoriated public indifference to the evils of slavery, writing, “The apathy of the people is enough to make every statue leap from its pedestal, and to hasten the resurrection of the dead.” His dedication, and that of countless other abolitionists motivated by a profound sense of justice, helped hasten the end of a crime against humanity.

We now confront another kind of bondage — a servitude to the giant multinational corporations which profit hugely by selling us oil and coal to heat our homes, run our automobiles, and power our infrastructure — but which we now know are damaging our planet’s health in ways which will make our descendants’ lives all but intolerable. The movement to divest from fossil fuels is morally and economically analogous to Garrison’s tenacious campaign against another “peculiar institution” one and a half centuries ago.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 9, Day 18: That Thesis Has Been Proven Invalid

The Press-Enterprise (CA) editorializes mendaciously:

Taking the temperature of climate scientists provides no useful information about the Earth’s climate. Yet the claim that “97 percent of scientists agree!” has become the anti-carbon-dioxide crowd’s No. 1 argument for why climate action can wait no longer. Those who set policy would do better to follow the facts than succumb to red herrings and peer pressure.

Environmental Research Letters, an electronic journal of environmental science, in May published a paper by two climate bloggers. The paper, by, Dana Nuccitelli and John Cook, purported to “quantify the consensus” on climate change in scientific literature. They reviewed 12,000 published papers and concluded that 97 percent of the abstracts that took a position “endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming.”

But the “consensus view” into which the survey pigeonholes papers is extremely broad. And given the buzz the paper has generated, the climate czars in Washington should have had a few follow-up questions: “What does this tell us about the role of humans versus natural variability?” “How severe is the phenomenon you identify and what do you recommend that we do about it?” “What data lead you to that conclusion?” And maybe even, “Who are you guys?”

But no. President Obama — or those who fill his Twitter feed — immediately took up the cause, not only accepting the findings uncritically but exaggerating them: “Ninety-seven percent of scientists agree: #climate change is real, man-made and dangerous.”

It makes me sooooo tired. September 11:

The editorial purporting to demonstrate methodological flaws in a recent study of the consensus among climate scientists is, ironically, far more factually-challenged than the research it tries to criticize. To begin with, the study wasn’t produced by a pair of “bloggers”, but by nine separate authors, all practicing professional scientists. Furthermore, this particular paper was deliberately confined to examining a significant discrepancy between popular perception and scientific opinion on climate change; it is inherent in the nature of such research to tackle one problem at a time.

More significantly, while there are many aspects of climate change which remain still uncertain, human causation isn’t one of them.

In politics and media, pre-existing political orientations often influence “factuality,” as was tragically demonstrated by the buildup to the Iraq war. But science doesn’t work that way: scientific method requires stringent self-correction as a way of getting at the truth. When climatologists all over the planet agree that humans are causing the greenhouse effect, this consensus arises from decades of steady examination and analysis of multiple types of evidence. Widespread agreement doesn’t prove that global warming is anthropogenic; rather, the evidence has created the agreement.

Your column was ill-conceived, irresponsible and without foundation.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 9, Day 17: My Mama Done Told Me, When I Was In Knee-pants

The Glenns Falls Post-Star (NY) has a nice editorial denouncing fossil fuel corporations and their grossly disproportionate influence on our politics:

While many people wring their hands over climate change and the warming of the Earth, Congress twiddles its thumbs.

All reasonable people now know the Earth’s climate is changing because of the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

One of the largest contributors to the production of greenhouse gases is the burning of fossil fuels, and one of the most creative ways people have come up with to curb that production is a revenue-neutral carbon tax.

A revenue-neutral carbon tax charges the producers of fossil fuels, but uses the revenue to lower other taxes, such as the income tax. That way, if a carbon tax leads to higher energy prices, the public doesn’t suffer because it gets the money back through lower income taxes. And channeling the money back to consumers ensures the tax does not create a drag on the economy.

Along the way, pollution is reduced and fewer greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere.

But to ensure carbon tax legislation never passes, conservative business interests and lobbyists have targeted key members of Congress they think can be turned against the idea. One of the five congressional districts targeted in an anti-carbon tax radio campaign this August was our own 21st District, represented by Democratic Congressman Bill Owens.

It always feels good to tell the truth, dunnit? September 10:

When politicians abandon their responsibility to the greater good, they deserve neither the respect or the votes of their constituents. This is especially true when it comes to climate change, an issue which knows no local, state, or national boundaries.

The loud voices of “denialists” in politics and the media demonstrate how easily giant financial interests can influence public understanding. The “Senior Policy Analysts,” “Energy Research Fellows,” and “Energy Strategy Experts” on your television are the creations of multinational corporations which resist anything — anything at all, no matter how important for the public welfare — that would reduce their quarterly profit margins. These malefactors of great wealth invest heavily in creating diversions and distractions in order to muddle the public discussion, co-opt legislators, and ensure that meaningful policy initiatives are impossible to enact.

The massively-funded climate-change denial industry is run by the same people who fought tooth and nail to deny any link between cigarettes and lung cancer. When small minds meet big money, it’s always bad news.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 9, Day 16: Because The World Is Round

The Miami Herald sends intrepid reporter Nancy San Martin to Greenland:

QAQORTOQ, Greenland — — On an inlet nestled between soaring cliffs, huge chunks of ice shimmer from a distance like precious stones on a cocktail ring.

The icebergs take on various formations — a swan, a whale, a ship, a floating island. Some are as white as the shaved ice on a snow cone. Others as glaring as Superman’s kryptonite. The thickest blocks look utterly alive with blue lines running through them like veins, the result of melting and refrozen crevices within the layers of ice that broke away from the glaciers that once covered the nearby cliffs.

Amidst the slow-moving icebergs, the sound of lapping water is interspersed with cracks and pops, similar to the noise that comes from pouring warm water over a frozen ice tray. Up close, one can hear the drip, drip, drip of melting ice. As the sun gets hotter, the drips become a trickle, then a steady flow like rain pouring through a gutter after a heavy storm.

This is a snapshot of climate change.

The melting is taking place thousands of miles away, but its effects can be felt in South Florida in the form of rising sea levels. According to recent studies, the sea level has risen nine inches since the 1920s and if the sea-rise trend continues to accelerate — as some predict — parts of the state could eventually be submerged under water.

Since Miami is populated by retirees, they’ll all be dead by then, so who gives a shit? September 9:

Nancy San Martin’s report on how Greenlanders are coping with a radically changing world makes for compelling reading. It is self-evident to all but the willfully deluded that the transformations they see around them are harbingers of unwelcome and dangerous changes for those of us in more temperate latitudes.

For too long, climate change has been seen as a problem only affecting people and nations far from us, or times far from now. Given the effect rising sea levels are likely to have on Miami within our children’s lifetimes, this type of denial is no longer a viable option.

As droughts, extreme storms, heatwaves, and wildfires make clear, the greenhouse effect’s consequences are not going to stay comfortably outside American borders; we’re all starting to feel the hangover from our civilization’s century-long carbon binge. Soon enough, Floridians will have more in common with Greenlanders than either group can imagine.

Warren Senders


Year 4, Month 9, Day 15: I Need A Cigarette

David Suzuki takes apart the conspiracy theorists, in the Timmins Press (Ontario):

TIMMINS – I recently wrote about geoengineering as a strategy to deal with climate change and carbon dioxide emissions.

That drew comments from people who confuse this scientific process with the unscientific theory of “chemtrails.”

Some also claimed the column supported geoengineering, which it didn’t.

The reaction got me wondering why some people believe in phenomena rejected by science, like chemtrails, but deny real problems demonstrated by massive amounts of scientific evidence, like climate change.

Chemtrails believers claim governments around the world are in cahoots with secret organizations to seed the atmosphere with chemicals and materials — aluminum salts, barium crystals, biological agents, polymer fibres, etc. — for a range of nefarious purposes.

These include controlling weather for military purposes, poisoning people for population or mind control and supporting secret weapons programs based on the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program, or HAARP.

Scientists have tested and used cloud and atmospheric seeding for weather modification and considered them as ways to slow global warming.

With so many unknowns and possible unintended consequences, these practices have the potential to cause harm.

But the chemtrails conspiracy theory is much broader, positing that military and commercial airlines are involved in constant massive daily spraying that is harming the physical and mental health of citizens worldwide.

I don’t have space to get into the absurdities of belief in a plot that would require worldwide collusion between governments, scientists and airline company executives and pilots to amass and spray unimaginable amounts of chemicals from altitudes of 10,000 metres or more.

Well, that was fun. September 8:

Even as the factual evidence for catastrophic climate change piles higher and higher, conservative zealots continue to reject its existence, severity, and causes. This dismissal of expertise, insight, facts and physical reality is a long-standing feature of the kind of paranoia which flourishes at the intersection of religious fundamentalism and scientific illiteracy. Those asserting the literal truth of ancient scriptures are trapped at the outset in a web of contradictions, gaining lots of practice in the White Queen’s ability to believe six impossible things before breakfast — while those who reject scientific method are ready to embrace superficially plausible notions at the expense of logic and data.

In the paranoid’s world, the more complex an explanation, the better: climate change is not a result of the greenhouse effect, a physical phenomenon first documented over a century ago, but the fabrication of an international cabal of scientists secretly in league with either the Lizard People or the Illuminati. The fact that there is no evidence for such bizarre assertions is proof that “the conspiracy goes all the way to the top.”

In any other context such delusional thinking would be the stuff of comedy. When the long-term future of Earthly life is at stake, however, it’s no longer a laughing matter.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 9, Day 14: Well, That’ll Make Them Sit Up And Take Notice

The Sowetan (South Africa) alerts us to a resolution from the Pacific Island Nations:

Pacific island nations on Thursday night signed a declaration promising action on climate change to counter “the greatest threat to the security, livelihoods and well-being of the peoples of the Pacific.”

The declaration was agreed at a forum in Majuro, the capital of the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

“We want our Majuro Declaration for Climate Leadership to be a game-changer in the global fight against climate change,” said Marshall Islands President Christopher Loeak. “We need the rest of the world to follow the Pacific’s lead.”

A number of commitments were made in the declaration. The Cook Islands pledged to have 50 per cent of electricity needs met by renewable energy by 2015; the Federated States of Micronesia said it would decrease the import and use of imported petroleum by 50 per cent by 2020; and Niue said it aimed to have 100 per cent of its electricity generation from renewable sources by 2020.

I’m recycling today. September 7:

The Majuro Declaration for Climate Leadership underlines a cruel irony: the nations most immediately affected by climate change are almost always the ones contributing least to the carbon footprint of our industrialized civilization. While planetary temperatures continue to rise and polar ice continues to melt, the world’s largest developed countries seem paralyzed in the face of the crisis. By geographical serendipity, many of these superpowers are less immediately threatened by extreme weather and the profound climatic transformations now endangering Pacific island nations, which apparently makes it easier for them to ignore or downplay their responsibilities to the international community.

Island states, on climate change’s front lines, have no such luxury. Christopher Loeak is correct in calling on the rest of the world to follow the lead of the Pacific nations, for while there may still be time to mitigate the worst of the coming storms, there is none to waste in petro-political posturing.

Warren Senders

Year 9, Month 9, Day 13: Sick Comedy

The Hindu (India) notes that climate change is going to bring us some issues with insects:

How will wind strength impact the migration and affect the flight range of mosquitoes? These and several other parameters are being studied at the micro-environmental level by scientists as part of a national project on climate change to forecast spectrum of vector-borne diseases.

With climate change influencing all aspects, including health and agriculture, CSIR through its network of institutions is seeking to develop sustainable mitigation strategies at local level. As part of this, a national project — Integrated Analysis for Impact, Mitigation and Sustainability — has been initiated to leverage multi-disciplinary expertise available at CSIR for developing suitable models by taking into account various geographical variations.

Pesky little buggers, aren’t they? September 6:

A common prognostication from those who are attentive to the geopolitical implications of climate change is that unimaginably large numbers of people are likely to become “climate refugees” in the coming decades. Indeed, as rising sea levels wipe out coastal lands, disappearing glaciers no longer provide sufficient water for agriculture in mountainous areas, and intensifying drought bakes the areas in between, it’s a fair bet that millions will lose their land and their hopes, if not their lives.

But humans are only the tip of the (rapidly melting) iceberg when it comes to climate-caused displacement. Countless plant, animal and insect species are going to be racing to new habitats; these lifeforms, just like human beings, will be struggling to survive on a transforming planet — but their interests aren’t always going to align easily with ours. The increased prevalence of insect-carried diseases like dengue fever is a case in point.

While diplomatic preparations will be necessary in a post-climate-change world to avoid resource wars and border conflicts, it is equally necessary to develop medical communications and infrastructure to cope with these smaller (but equally significant) “refugees.”

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 9, Day 12: And So I Quit The Police Department

The Greensboro (NC) News-Record discusses local farming and climate change:

BURLINGTON — Small farmers are some of the most vulnerable people in the country to the effects of climate change, area leaders said Wednesday at a roundtable discussion organized by the American Sustainable Business Council.

“There’s so much about climate change that will affect North Carolina’s ability to function as a prosperous state,” said Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Greensboro Democrat who served on the panel.

She said the state’s large agricultural sector combined with the vulnerability of being a coastal state make it a crucial issue — but one that the Republican-controlled legislature continues to pretend doesn’t exist.

“We can’t even really talk about climate change, which is unfortunate given the current scenario facing our state,” Harrison said.

The “it’s happening to farmers everywhere” letter is one I can do practically in my sleep by now. Sept. 5:

North Carolina’s farmers aren’t the only ones confronting planetary climate change. Agriculturists everywhere on Earth are anticipating a future of increasingly unpredictable weather, disrupted planting, hindered plant growth, and ever more uncertain harvests.

This slow-motion crisis makes a powerful case for diversity in our food systems. Monocrops are vulnerable to disease and pests (for a good example of the problems of relying on a single vulnerable staple, think of the Irish potato famine), and increase the likelihood of catastrophic failures from environmental disruptions.

There are many views about how to prepare for the multiple consequences of the accelerating greenhouse effect — but one thing is certain: the problem will never be successfully addressed by those who refuse to admit its existence, like the scientifically ignorant politicians in North Carolina’s halls of government. The time for denial is past; just like farmers, our politicians and media figures must acknowledge these new climatic realities.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 9, Day 11: This Dusty Old Dust Is A Gettin’ My Home

The San Francisco Chronicle makes some obvious associations which are usually ignored, presumably because everybody loves kids:

California has 157 endangered or threatened species, looming water shortages, eight of the 10 most air-polluted cities in the country and 725 metric tons of trash washing up on its coast each year.

California also has 38 million people, up 10 percent in the last decade, including 10 million immigrants. They own 32 million registered vehicles and 14 million houses. By 2050, projections show 51 million people living in the state, more than twice as many as in 1980.

In the public arena, almost no one connects these plainly visible dots.

For various reasons, linking the world’s rapid population growth to its deepening environmental crisis, including climate change, is politically taboo. In the United States, Europe and Japan, there has been public hand-wringing over falling birthrates and government policies to encourage child-bearing.

But those declining birthrates mask explosive growth elsewhere in the world.

In less than a lifetime, the world population has tripled, to 7.1 billion, and continues to climb by more than 1.5 million people a week.

A consensus statement issued in May by scientists at Stanford University and signed by more than 1,000 scientists warned that “Earth is reaching a tipping point.”

An array of events under way – including what scientists have identified as the sixth mass extinction in the earth’s 540 million-year history – suggest that human activity already exceeds earth’s capacity.

It’s been nice. September 4:

It’s possible that our species’ fate was sealed the moment we discovered agriculture. The increased quantities and enhanced predictability of our food supply encouraged our numbers to grow — and after twelve thousand years or so (an eyeblink in geological time) we’ve gone far beyond the planet’s carrying capacity.

But this doesn’t even begin to tell the whole story. The futurist visionary Buckminster Fuller coined the term to measure our ability to influence our environment through the expenditure of energy. One “energy slave” equals 250 days per year of an adult male’s physical labor — and thanks to mechanized agriculture, manufacturing, and infrastructure, we who live in the industrialized world now command thousands of them with the flick of a finger. There may be seven billion human bodies on Earth, but the transformations we force on the planet demand that our energy slaves be included in the census — a thousandfold increase.

With a population numbered in the trillions, it’s no wonder that we are now coming face to face with what biologists coyly call an “evolutionary bottleneck.”

Warren Senders