Year 4, Month 12, Day 21: Crying All The Way To The Bank

The Portland Press-Herald’s Bill Nemitz has some words for Maine’s Governor LePage:

Ahoy, Governor LePage!

Not sure if you can hear me over the wind and the waves, but I can’t let another day pass without congratulating you on that epiphany you had last week before a crowd of transportation industry types:

You finally believe in global warming!

What’s more, now that you’re an ocean-is-more-than-half-full kind of guy, you’ve gone from denying that the Earth’s climate is rapidly changing to embracing it as the second coming for Maine’s frozen economy.

“Everybody looks at the negative effects of global warming, but with the ice melting, the Northern Pass has opened up – the new sea traffic is going across the north,” you told the Maine Transportation Conference on Wednesday. “So maybe, instead of being at the end of the pipeline, we’re now at the beginning of a new pipeline.”

No argument there, Big Guy. The more those Arctic waters stay open, the more Maine’s deep-water ports stand to benefit as jumping-off points for an endless parade of not-so-slow boats to China.

Well spoken, sir. December 8:

Now that denying the existence of a planetary environmental crisis is no longer viable, expect the talking heads of our media and political environment to start asserting that we must “balance” climate change mitigation with economic expansion, a stance which has the advantage of being temporarily plausible until we remember that infinite growth is impossible on a finite surface.

By asserting the fiscal returns to be expected from a melted Arctic, Governor LePage goes a step further, embracing a global catastrophe as a potential profit center. Which is, quite simply, insane.

Remember the old saw, “health is our greatest wealth?” The Earth’s health is the foundation of all human prosperity, and our planet’s resources (water, food, the environment’s ability to process our wastes) are limited. Impressive quarterly returns won’t protect our grandchildren from rising sea levels, agricultural collapses, oceanic acidification, and the other consequences of an accelerating greenhouse effect.

Warren Senders

Published

Year 4, Month 12, Day 20: Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One

The Topeka Capitol-Journal (KS) runs a story headlined, “Senator, farmer, rabbi speak on climate change”:

Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, joined with a rabbi and a farmer from her district Friday to urge action on climate change and blast the American Legislative Exchange Council for attempting to roll back renewal energy standards.

Friday’s news conference at the Statehouse coincided with national meetings of ALEC, a group that brings together state legislators and corporate lobbyists who write “model bills” that are then introduced in Statehouses across the country.

“ALEC denies, despite all the overwhelming scientific evidence, that climate change even exists and the legislative proposals it backs attempt to overturn good policies that are already on the books,” said Moti Rieber, a rabbi and state director of Interfaith Power & Light, a group of religious leaders concerned about environmental issues.

Bill Meierling, a spokesman for ALEC, said the organization “maintains no model policy on climate change.”

“We do have policies that support free market policies and market-based environmentalism, but nothing that pertains specifically to climate change,” Meierling said via email.

This one went pretty easily. December 7 (now putting me 13 days ahead):

It sounds like a setup line: a farmer, a rabbi and a Senator walk into a news conference. But the American Legislative Exchange Council’s interference in our nation’s politics is anything but funny. ALEC’s malign influence on the legislative process is by now reasonably well known; their “model legislation” is routinely enacted without change by lawmakers too lazy or too corrupt to do their jobs responsibly.

And there’s nothing at all to laugh about when it comes to climate change. The accelerating greenhouse effect is on track to catastrophically disrupt agriculture, infrastructure, and the other support systems of our civilization — yet ALEC, the Koch Brothers, and other ultra-conservative forces have used their financial resources to seriously hobble national or regional efforts to prepare for disastrous outcomes.

This irresponsibility to the long-term survival and prosperity of our species is driven by the most venal of motives: greed. And that’s no joke.

Warren Senders

Published.

Year 4, Month 12, Day 19: Made The Bus In Seconds Flat

The Boston Globe notices Sheldon Whitehouse, courtesy the AP:

CRANSTON, R.I. (AP) — U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse says he’s optimistic Congress could consider comprehensive legislation to address the causes of climate change before President Barack Obama leaves office.

The Rhode Island Democrat made his comments Friday at a taping of WJAR-TV’s ‘‘10 News Conference.’’

Whitehouse, who co-chairs a congressional climate change task force, says he believes pressure from voters and increasingly dire concerns about the effect of climate change will spur action in Washington.

Whitehouse says taxes on carbon emissions could be one way to address the problem. He cited warming oceans and rising sea levels as a particular concern to Rhode Island.

He says that if the United States takes significant action in response to climate change other nations will likely follow.

This letter always gets results. December 7:

When the Minutemen of Lexington and Concord responded to a midnight alarm and catalyzed the struggle for a new nation, they indelibly a part of history. Where would our nation be if these patriots had ignored those early warnings and returned to bed? Now, a modern Paul Revere is transmitting urgent news from the world’s climatologists, despite resistance from a cowardly, co-opted political system and a complacent media. Will America heed the clarion calls from Sheldon Whitehouse — or whack the snooze button as we have done so many times before?

With an accelerating greenhouse effect predicted to bring unimaginable damage on our civilization, the time for the United States to become a world leader in robust responses to climate change is now. Senator Whitehouse is correct: if America shoulders the responsibility for addressing the climate crisis in a comprehensive and scientifically-grounded way, other industrialized nations will follow our example.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 12, Day 18: A Little More Lovely Than It Was Before You

The Spokesman-Review takes note of a new study on the Rockies’ rapidly disappearing snowpack:

Last weekend’s doozy of a storm followed a classic Northwest weather script.

Winds gusting to 40 mph blew moisture-rich air from the ocean into the Cascades and Northern Rockies, dumping snow on the mountains while leaving lower elevations bare.

The winds – called “winter westerlies” – are vital to a region that depends on mountain snowpack for its water supply. But a new study suggests that climate change is disrupting the winds, with stark implications for future water availability.

“Those winds are being slowed down by climate change,” said Charlie Luce, a research hydrologist at the Rocky Mountain Research Station in Boise. That means fewer storms will reach the mountains, or smaller water droplets will drift over the peaks as fog instead of falling as snow, he said.

Either scenario would mean additional headaches for Northwest policymakers preparing for an altered climate.

Warmer temperatures already are expected to shift some Northwest precipitation from snow to rain and cause the snow that does accumulate to melt earlier in the year. The net effect is reduced runoff during the spring and summer, when the water is needed for irrigation, hydropower, fisheries and other uses. Complicating matters, Luce’s study suggests there will be far less water to begin with.

The “Missing Mountain Water” study was published last week in Science magazine by Luce and researchers from the University of Idaho and the U.S. Forest Service.

This letter is a pastiche from previous efforts. December 6:

The newly released study of the Northwest’s shrinking snowpack offers further support to an enormous body of research that confirms a distressing planetary trend. Human greenhouse emissions have achieved quantities sufficient to warm the Earth’s atmosphere and affect ecosystems all around the world in unpredictable and disruptive ways. This loss of water resources in the Rockies and Cascades is exacerbated by those politicians and media figures whose rigid ideologies compel them to reject the implications of scientific inquiry and analysis.

Our national case of ADD has blinded us to the fact that when it comes to the planet’s health, we’re all in this together. Perhaps the climate crisis may finally help us realize that what we do in our own neighborhoods can affect people’s lives on the other side of the globe — and that what we do today will shape the lives of our descendants in the distant future.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 12, Day 17: I Don’t Feel So Well Myself

USA Today, on the new face of climate-change: disease.

SACRAMENTO — Software engineer Andres Chavez is used to doing things quickly, efficiently and correctly. So he knew something was seriously wrong when, on a business trip in 2009, he was so confused he could barely sign a stack of paperwork.

“I felt like I was living a quarter-second in the past,” he says of the onset of Valley Fever, a disease caused by a soil fungus. It took months for his doctor to finally suggest that might be the cause of Chavez’s episodes of “getting stupid,” as his wife calls it.

“He called and asked me if I spent any time down in the Central Valley, and I said of course I did, my family lives in Livingston, Calif.,” Chavez, 43, remembers.

The soil there and in much of the arid Southwest carries the Coccidioides fungus. In dry months, the dust scatters in the wind and can be breathed into the lungs, infecting humans, dogs and cats and other mammals. The incidence is rising dramatically in the Southwest, where reported cases increased tenfold from 1998 to 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Weathering the Change logo

The series will look at different regions of the country.(Photo: USA TODAY)

Valley Fever is one of multiple diseases experts say are spreading in part because of climate change. They include a brain-eating amoeba showing up in northern lakes that were once too cold to harbor it and several illnesses carried by ticks whose range is increasing.

Sounds attractive, no? December 5:

The climate-change denialists in politics and media are subject to frequent interludes of confusion and disorientation, rather like those afflicted by Coccidioides. While it isn’t as foreign-sounding as, say, “West Nile virus”, the fact is that an increasing incidence of “Valley Fever” is yet another unanticipated consequence of the accelerating greenhouse effect: the expansion of disease vectors into new areas. As climate change becomes a fact of our daily lives, America’s doctors can expect to encounter hitherto exotic ailments more and more often.

Congressional Republicans are still, of course, obsessed with their attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. If these anti-science lawmakers took their jobs seriously, they’d realize that these spreading insects, viruses and bacteria are a far graver threat to our economy than a mild regulatory regime for health insurers. Apparently lobbyist cash has an even more debilitating impact on the brain than a dust-scattered soil fungus.

Warren Senders

Published.

Year 4, Month 12, Day 16: Coming Down The Home Stretch

The Denver Post discusses the need for more and better science:

Government-backed U.S. scientists on Tuesday urged for the creation of a warning system to help people anticipate the impact of climate change on food, water and cities.

Early warnings would give more time to adapt, but they will require much closer monitoring of warming oceans, increasing greenhouse gas emissions, and extinctions of plants and animals, according to the scientists and a report unveiled by a National Research Council committee.

There are too many blind spots to be able to anticipate change and its impacts, said Jim White, the University of Colorado-based committee chairman.

Ocean temperatures should be monitored near the ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland, he said. And the number of points where the heat-trapping greenhouse gas methane is measured is inadequate, with funding for global monitoring networks cut by 30 percent since 2007, he said.

“We’re not watching closely enough,” he said. “Think about walking in a dark cave. You need a candle. This monitoring is our candle.”

Scientists in their report said surprises resulting from climate change are inevitable and that a warning system could allow mitigation before impacts are severe.

The comments are depressing. December 4:

A phrase we hear often from conservative politicians is “nobody anticipated.” For example, “nobody anticipated” New Orleans’ failing levees, or the Iraq invasion’s mishandling, or the failure rates of oil pipelines, or that slashing public works funding leads to major infrastructure collapses. And nobody anticipated pine beetle infestations, crop failures, flooding, drought, newly resurgent tropical diseases, or any of global climate change’s other repercussions around the world.

“Nobody,” but climate scientists, whose reputations (unlike those of politicians and media figures) hinge on the accuracy and reliability of their predictions. Climatologists have been warning us for decades that our fossil-fuel addiction would bring disastrous results, and they’ve only erred in underestimating just how disastrous those results would be. If we are to survive and prosper as a society, as a civilization, and as a species, we need to put less energy into ideological posturing and more into research, analysis, and forecasting.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 12, Day 15: That’s Not A Feature

The New York Times, on New Jersey’s pine beetle problem:

BLUE ANCHOR, N.J. — “Heads up!”

Deep in the woods, the whine of chain saws pierced the fall air, and Steve Garcia shouted a warning to fellow loggers as a 40-foot pitch pine crashed to the ground.

He was chopping down trees to save the forest as part of New Jersey’s effort to beat back an invasion of beetles.

In an infestation that scientists say is almost certainly a consequence of global warming, the southern pine beetle is spreading through New Jersey’s famous Pinelands.

It tried to do so many times in the past, but bitterly cold winters would always kill it off. Now, scientists say, the winters are no longer cold enough. The tiny insect, firmly entrenched, has already killed tens of thousands of acres of pines, and it is marching northward.

Scientists say it is a striking example of the way seemingly small climatic changes are disturbing the balance of nature. They see these changes as a warning of the costly impact that is likely to come with continued high emissions of greenhouse gases.

I was in the NYT in August, so this is a long shot. But what the hell. December 3:

New Jersey’s outbreak of pine beetles is part of a larger story. The predicament of the Pinelands is shared with the maple trees now producing insufficient sap for Vermont’s syrup industry, and with the Midwest’s drought-ravaged cornfields. Beyond our nation’s borders, the story includes tiny landholders in Bangladesh whose farms are threatened by rising sea levels, and the citizens of island nations gloomily awaiting the day their homelands disappear beneath the waves.

Each individual, community and nation is affected differently by the onrushing greenhouse effect. With a cast of billions, the story of climate change is one of a grave threat to our shared humanity and the future we share.

Climate action needs to be polycentric and polytemporal; diverse local responses should be coordinated with broader regional initiatives — and immediate action must be integrated into a multi-generational effort. When it comes to climate change, “now” means the next millennium.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 12, Day 14: Slowly I Turned, Step By Step, Inch By Inch…

The Tampa Bay Times (FL) is the latest to offer space to former Rep. Bob Inglis, whose hope once again triumphs over experience:

You’re a conservative who thinks it’s time to offer a solution on energy and climate. You’re not alone.

Thousands of conservatives like you are ready to enter the competition of ideas, ready to change what we tax, ready to unleash the power of free enterprise. You might be motivated by the hope of tax reform or by the search for an alternative to EPA regulation of CO2 or the by dream of lighting up the world with distributed energy. Whatever your motivation, there’s a credible conservative movement waiting to be joined.

If your motivation is tax reform, you have many allies who are hoping that Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., will be successful in their attempts to overhaul the tax code. There are others who believe that Camp and Baucus will be successful when tax reform is combined with an overall plan to address our structural deficit. Either way, the opportunity is the same — to change what we tax.

The potential to unify conservatives on this point is huge. What conservative wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to un-tax income and tax almost anything else? If we were to start taxing carbon pollution, we could lighten up on the taxation of income. Art Laffer, President Ronald Reagan’s economics adviser, has called this kind of tax swap a “no brainer.”

December 2:

There can be no reasonable objections to Bob Inglis’ logical and articulate proposal for a sensible conservative approach to the climate crisis. Certainly the general public is anxious for America’s lawmakers to promote ways to mitigate our collective greenhouse emissions, to strengthen our infrastructure in preparation for extreme weather, and adopt factually-grounded policies on the causes, consequences, and cures of climate change.

But “reasonable” is anathema to today’s Republican party. Dominated by Tea-party extremism, the modern GOP is motivated only by hatred of all things Democratic, liberal, and Obama. While Rep. Inglis’ suggestions are perfectly sensible, that’s a liability in the ideologically-driven Republican primary environment, where simply recognizing the reality of climate change means electoral defeat.

When one of America’s two governing parties surrenders its platform to anti-science zealots, reality-based proposals are dead in the water. And that’s bad news not just for Bob Inglis, but for all of us.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 12, Day 13: Run To The Rock For Rescue, There Will Be No Rock

The New York Daily News, on the future of our various forms of sublimated combat:

Hockey fans frustrated with the Rangers, Islanders or Devils might find solace in this vision: their players just disappearing, swallowed by ice rinks turned to pools of water.

As Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler used to ask on “Saturday Night Live,” “Really?”

The prospect is broached by a group making a rare foray into public policy: the National Hockey League, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, National Football League and U.S. Olympic Committee.

On the same day Senate Democrats executed the so-called “nuclear option,” the sports folks were meeting under the Capitol with a House-Senate task force on climate change.

The talk was not of the usual business of preserving antitrust exemptions or fending off calls for better drug testing or safer play.

It was the impact of climate change, which they all concede, on the future of their sports.

Without casting their lot with many specific Obams administration policies, the traditionally cautious and risk-averse assemblage conceded the need to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

“These are great American businesses, great American cultural institutions and there being here means a great deal,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), a sharp former federal prosecutor and son of a career diplomat who’s made 51 Senate floor speeches on climate change.

He rightly rails against climate-change deniers and “phony-baloney organizations designed to look and sound like they’re real,” as well as scientists on corporate payrolls “whom polluters can trot out when they need them.”

What was fascinating is that he was not surrounded by tree-hugging true believers, but top officials from sports leagues mindful of the diverse politics of their fans, and not big on wading into contentious areas.

I don’t care about any sports other than Quidditch and 43-man Squamish, but this was just too tempting to ignore. December 1:

Even leaving aside the questions of carbon footprint, fossil-fuel consumption, and the like, the long-term viability of American professional sports is closely tied to our national handling of climate change. Why? Put simply, our national pastimes are a function of our prosperity; the resources of cash, infrastructure and time not earmarked for our immediate survival needs. When long-term sustained drought cripples corn and wheat production, food prices will climb; when extreme storms devastate coastal regions, athletic stadiums will find more immediate utility as emergency housing for thousands of suddenly homeless families.

And, of course, when the continuity of our lives is increasingly disrupted by the countless small impacts of a transforming climate, we’re going to have less time and energy for all the things we’ve taken for granted that make our lives rich and enjoyable.

Climate change’s implications will be felt everywhere in our cultural life from baseball to ballet.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 12, Day 12: Whatever It Is, I’m Against It.

The Lincoln Journal-Star (NE) on the relative unpreparedness of coastal vs. inland states for the impacts of climate change:

Eighteen states, including Delaware, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Wyoming and others, were ranked as Category 1, meaning that their plans either mention nothing about climate change or discuss climate change with confusing, dismissive or inaccurate information. Colorado, California, New York and eight others that included the most thorough and accurate discussion of climate change were ranked as Category 4, while the remaining states fell between the two categories.

“By identifying the most thorough plans that have been prepared, we hope to provide planners in other states with models that can serve as a place to start in upgrading their own plans,” said Michael B. Gerrard, director of Columbia University’s Center for Climate Change Law, which conducted the survey.

Since the data were gathered, about half the states have begun revising their hazard mitigation plans. Some revisions that have been completed are not accounted for in the survey, he said.

The hazard mitigation plan for Colorado, the only western land-locked state the report ranked in Category 4, focuses on how climate change could have a significant impact on drought and water resources in the state. Colorado recently has experienced numerous climate change-influenced extreme weather events, including a withering drought, the state’s two most destructive wildfire seasons in its history and catastrophic flooding.

“The example of Colorado shows that climate-related hazards are not only coastal; land-locked states have their own hazards, and there are ways to anticipate them and plan for them,” Gerrard said.

States whose hazard mitigation plans ignore climate change entirely are Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, Nevada, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota. The Mississippi and Montana plans discuss climate change only as a source of added complexity when dealing with wildfire, the report says.

A generic Republican-bashing letter. November 30:

The most immediately obvious impact of global climate change is the intensity and frequency of storm activity, so it makes sense that coastal dwellers will be more keenly aware of the crisis. But inland states’ unpreparedness cannot be entirely blamed on geography, for there is nowhere on Earth where the consequences of the accelerating greenhouse effect are not felt, and the facts of climate science are by now well-known.

Did I say “nowhere”? Perhaps I misspoke. It’s surely revealing that of the eight states which ignore climate pressures completely in their disaster planning, all but one are governed by members of a political party which is now dominated by science-denial and magical thinking. Republican lawmakers seem to be completely insulated from the obvious realities of a changing climate — a state of affairs which is a sad comedown for the erstwhile party of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Dwight Eisenhower.

Warren Senders