Year 4, Month 11, Day 25: It Ain’t Necessarily So

The Christian Post gives column space to Pastor Darren Ferguson, who wants his flock to start facing the facts:

Whenever talking heads and political pundits start debating climate change, I honestly wish that I could turn the clock back one year and a few days to when Hurricane Sandy hit the Northeast. Rush Limbaugh and other climate change deniers would likely be saying drastically different things if they had spent a few days here with us in Far Rockaway, NY. They would have trouble explaining the fact that in this New York City peninsula where I live and pastor a church, the Atlantic Ocean and Jamaica Bay had not met in over 50 years, but that is exactly what they did on October 29th, 2012.

I would invite them to read climatologist Dr. Kevin Trenberth’s article, Hurricane Sandy mixes super-storm conditions with climate change, in which he says that “the oft-asked question of whether an event is caused by climate change” is “the wrong question. All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be.” I would invite them to listen as I advocate within my church and community for environmental stewardship, which, in my opinion, means that we have to be faithful with the earth that God has given us. Finally, I would invite them to walk through my “hood” to see homes still abandoned one year later, families still displaced one year later; a community devastated and families still fragmented one year later. These are the human and communal costs of our continued faithlessness – the effects of what Christians call sin – to our inattention to, and destruction of, our environment and planet.

I know it’s unlikely that I’ll ever be published in the Christian Post, but I didn’t mention my atheism in this letter. Let’s see. November 15:

Darren Ferguson’s plea for evangelical Christians to recognize the reality of global climate change is a welcome embrace of science-based public policy in the United States — something which communities of faith too often reject. Make no mistake: the accelerating greenhouse effect is a scientific fact — predicted over a hundred years ago, confirmed by experiment and observation, and strongly correlated with industrialized civilization’s CO2 emissions. By the way, the language of researchers is always measured and precise; phrases like “strongly correlated” are how scientists shout.

It bodes ill for our nation and the world that the undisciplined and vociferous voices of climate-change denial are still louder than the soft and careful words of the scientific community — and it reflects poorly on the faithful that those voices are overwhelmingly those of religious fundamentalists.

The “historian” David Barton, a prominent public face of evangelical Christianity, recently stated that global warming is real, but claimed it’s Divine punishment for abortions rather than the result of accumulated greenhouse gases in the upper atmosphere. Such absurd assertions (does Mr. Barton really believe that if we outlawed abortion, God would re-freeze the Arctic?) do a grave disservice to the faith of people like Pastor Ferguson — a man who’s faced the climate crisis personally and is in no doubt about the dangers it poses.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 11, Day 15: Gotta Walk The Line

The Central Pennsylvania Patriot-News runs a good op-ed by CCL’s Richard Whiteford:

Scientists believe that we can’t allow the preindustrial global temperature to rise higher than another 2 degrees Celsius or human survival will be very challenging. We are almost half way there now.

The oil, gas and coal industries and their paid henchmen like the Heartland Institute and certain bought politicians distract the public with red herring issues like claiming that switching to clean energy will hurt the economy, kill jobs, and cause energy shortages.

What is mostly overlooked by them and the media is that if humans want to survive on this planet we have to stop burning fossil fuels as soon as possible.

Scientists say that we can’t put much more than another 565 gigatons of CO2 into the atmosphere without disastrous results. At this time, financial analysts calculate that there is already 2,795 gigatons of CO2 contained in readily available oil, gas and coal reserves. That’s five times more CO2 than we can afford to burn and expect to survive yet the plan remains to drill baby drill!

There is enough carbon in the Canadian Tar Sands oil deposits to send the global temperature above the 2 degree limit. That is the reason environmentalists are protesting the Keystone XL Pipe Line. We just can’t afford to burn that carbon and expect to survive.

Have a nice day. November 5:

As the evidence supporting both the reality and the danger of anthropogenic global heating continues to mount, the anti-expertise wing of American conservatism finds itself increasingly isolated. Propped up by mountains of fossil-fuel cash, the science-denying politicians and media figures are still muddying the national discussion of an accelerating global emergency with debunked “facts,” cherry-picked statistics, and — all too often — outright lies.

Why? The answer lies in the intersection of two factors. First, the short-term fiscal motives embedded in the language of corporate charters; companies are required by law to focus on profits above all other objectives. Second, the pro-apocalyptic orientation of fundamentalist religion, which eagerly embraces notions of a fiery Armageddon while rejecting the inconvenient conclusions of scientists. With one providing the money and the other providing the zealotry, these two combine to create a political force which is impervious to logic, data, or the notion of good environmental stewardship.

Eventually, of course, they will lose. The laws of physics and chemistry will overcome fanaticism and greed alike. The question is whether the rest of us will survive the consequences of this toxic blend of cupidity and stupidity.

Warren Senders

Competitive Eschatology and Climate Denial

This post dates from 2011, but I think it deserves to be front-paged again.

For many years I have been thinking a lot about group minds and collective intelligence, with influences ranging from Thomas Malone (of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence) to E.O. Wilson’s detailed examination of insect colonies and the nature of the “superorganism.” As I tried to extend the “group mind” concept across larger timespans, I found myself both depressed and elated. Elated because I was understanding more about why the “powers that be” didn’t seem to give a shit — and depressed for the same reason.

Thinking About Collective Intelligence

Accepting the reality of collective intelligence is not as big a leap as James Lovelock requests of us when he posits the Gaia Hypothesis, but it’s still a leap.

more »

Year 4, Month 10, Day 24: Move Over, Little Dog

The Washington Times haz a sad:

The Los Angeles Times has stirred a dust-up over global warming with a newly announced policy barring letters to the editor that deny the existence of man-made climate change.

“Simply put, I do my best to keep errors of fact off the letters page; when one does run, a correction is published,” said Paul Thornton, letters editor of the editorial page, in an Oct. 8 column. “Saying ‘there’s no sign humans have caused climate change’ is not stating an opinion, it’s asserting a factual inaccuracy.”

On the surface, climate-change skeptics say they have no problem with the policy, because nobody with any substance is saying that humans don’t cause climate change. Cutting down a forest causes climate change. Planting crops causes climate change.

“Obviously, humans do have an impact on climate,” said Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and a leading global-warming skeptic. “The question is whether burning fossil fuels like coal and natural gas is leading to the rapid warming of the planet, and notwithstanding the Los Angeles Times‘ position on the issue, the evidence is that it isn’t.”

Whether that’s enough to get Mr. Ebell bumped from the letters-to-the-editor page is unclear, but he says the newspaper’s policy is emblematic of a broader debate.

In his column, Mr. Thornton also states that many letter-writers insist “climate change is a hoax, a scheme by liberals to curtail personal freedom.”

I don’t usually write the WT, but when I do, I have fun. This one was a blast. October 14:

The Los Angeles Times’ decision to ban letters rejecting the science of climate change is an example of liberal fascism at its worst. This tendency to ban ideologically inconvenient opinions can also be seen, for example, in the policy of many American newspapers to ignore letters asserting that medicine must acknowledge the theory of Humours, a comprehensive approach to human health which was accepted doctrine for far longer than the unproven accomplishments of modern medicine. It can be seen in a similar policy silencing the voices of those who cast doubt on the inverse-square law’s ostensible connection with gravitational attraction, and those who likewise recognize the fact that acquired characteristics can be inherited across generations. The liberal hegemony in our nation’s press even conspires to silence those who rightly reject the veracity of NASA’s account of the moon landings. The American people need to hear both sides of the argument!

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 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

Year 4, Month 9, Day 9: The Fool Hath Said In His Heart…

The Baxter Bulletin (AR) features a columnist named Tina Dupuy, who takes on the science-accepting science-rejecters:

We believe as a culture — as a community — that if science, in the form of medical care, can improve and prolong life then we’re required to enable it to do so. People of faith can concede God gave us medicine and we can all forgo the horrors of life before penicillin and aspirin. Zero controversy.

See, the Schaibles and hundreds of parents like them think pneumonia and other illnesses stem from a lack of faith, a life of sin. They’re bacteria deniers. As a constitutional government we don’t care what they believe until they’re culpable in a child’s death (in this case two deaths). Our government believes in science over biblical diagnosis.

So it is therefore not a stretch, not in any way contentious or unreasonable, to simply accept climate change as a reality for one simple reason: It’s science, and we believe in science.

There are two types of climate change deniers: Those who take a faith-based exemption citing God’s divine plan, and those on energy company payrolls.

Good article, but she doesn’t go far enough. Time for some epistemological updating. September 3:

While political and social conservatives have no problem, as Tiny Dupuy points out, with using the products of scientific thinking for their own convenience and enjoyment, this acceptance does not automatically translate into an informed understanding of science itself. The late Arthur C. Clarke famously remarked that, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” and therein lies the key: creationists and their political fellow-travelers are magical thinkers, relying on updated and digitized superstitions to make a confused and contentious world once again orderly and safe. From this perspective, the conservative rejection of climate change, evolution, or other inconvenient facts is no more paradoxical than adherents of one religion denying the claims of another.

Scientific method, by contrast, privileges the search for truth, letting the chips fall where they may. No magic required, only rigorous examination of data and a readiness to admit error in the face of fresh evidence — both of which are impossible for magical thinkers.

In prehistoric times, these modes of thought would have little consequence outside an individual’s own sphere of influence. Now, alas, scientific illiteracy may well be the deciding factor for our species’ future on a climatically-transformed planet.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 9, Day 6: Be Sure To Hide The Roaches

The Christian Post runs an Op-Ed by two evangelical climate scientists, desperately trying to shake off the Limbaugh-stink:

Rush Limbaugh doesn’t think we exist. In other words that evangelical scientists cannot subscribe to the evidence of global warming.

Specifically, during a recent segment on his radio show Limbaugh stated, “If you believe in God, then intellectually you cannot believe in manmade global warming.”

Talk radio personalities often make hyperbolic statements. It is what their listeners expect and want to hear. But in this instance, Rush’s uninformed rhetoric is demeaning to Christians who care deeply about what humans are doing to God’s Creation and ignorant of the consequences that future generations will face if we don’t respond quickly to the challenge of climate change.

We are both atmospheric scientists who study climate change, having earned advanced degrees in our respective fields and having devoted our lives to increasing knowledge through scientific research. We know climate change is real, that most of it is human-caused, and that it is a threat to future generations that must be addressed by the global community. We are also evangelical Christians who believe that God created the world in which we live.

Good luck with that. Sept. 1:

It’s reassuring that some evangelicals acknowledge the existence of the burgeoning climate crisis, and recognize the urgency of action. On this issue, the nature of one’s faith is a trivial factor in comparison with the magnitude of the emergency.

That said, it is not enough for Katharine Hayhoe and Thomas Ackerman just to rebuke talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh’s assertion that Christianity is incompatible with accepting the evidence of climate science. The evangelical community must recognize the role it has played in supporting those institutions of denial which stand in the way of action. The Republican party owes its current power to evangelicals who were cynically and callously manipulated by politicians far more concerned with their own fortunes and those of their corporate paymasters than with the lives of their constituents. Now these same lawmakers are obstructing meaningful legislation on climate issues, thereby increasing the probability of a catastrophic temperature increase over the coming century — a secular Armaggedon wholly explainable by the laws of physics and chemistry.

And regardless of your faith, that’s not Good News.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 8, Day 27: What It Don’t Get, I Can’t Use

Delaware Online notes their state’s response to POTUS’ initiatives:

Delaware officials gathered in Wilmington and Rehoboth Beach on Wednesday as part of a nationwide chain of rallies supporting the Obama administration’s new climate change initiatives, producing both calls for action and ominous warnings.

“We need to think through the various tradeoffs, the economics, but the only way we can do that is to keep it at the top of the agenda,” Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Secretary Collin P. O’Mara said. “The only way we can keep it at the top of the agenda is if all of you and all of us keep bringing it up over and over again.”

O’Mara’s comment came at the end of a small group meeting at Wilmington’s Riverfront, supported by a coalition of business, labor, government, health and environmental groups backing Obama’s proposal last month to curb power plant emissions of carbon dioxide. That proposal immediately came under fire from skeptics and conservative politicians, with a Senate committee releasing a report earlier this month questioning the science behind Obama’s initiative.

Supporters have focused on a need for action to deal with growing evidence that human-caused pollution and fossil-fuel burning has set the stage for disastrous global warming and climate shifts before the century ends.

Threats range from sea-level rise and more intense storms, to flooding, extreme weather, longer and more-intense droughts, and changing agricultural and water supply conditions that Defense Department officials warn could increase global suffering and political instability.

I don’t remember specifically conflating economic and theological fairy tales before. I like it. Aug. 1:

Lawmakers, business leaders, and media figures are all fond of telling us that the imperatives of addressing climate change must be balanced with the requirements of economic expansion. Unlike the anti-science screeds of conservative climate-change denialists, this stance seems entirely plausible at first glance. And indeed, public statements of allegiance to the doctrine of continuous economic growth are as essential to a politician as professions of religious faith.

Perhaps it’s time to reconsider this shibboleth. After all, those photographs of Earth from space have been part of our consciousness for four decades. We live on a finite planet; our resources, whether they’re water, food, or the capacity of the environment to absorb our waste products, are likewise limited — and it is logically absurd to assert that infinite growth is possible under these circumstances.

As the saying goes, “Health is our greatest wealth,” and the health of our planetary home is ultimately the only “economy” that matters; a massive quarterly return isn’t going to keep our grandchildren from suffering the consequences of our civilization’s profligate and wasteful fossil-fuel binge. That can only happen through a concerted effort to address the causes and consequences of climate change.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 8, Day 13: I’ve Enjoyed About As Much Of This As I Can Stand

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette publishes the driveling of an unintentional apologist for our corporate overlords:

The resolution on climate change approved last month by the General Synod of the United Church of Christ has garnered mostly admiring attention from the news media. But I admit to a degree of perplexity and sorrow over the document, which seems to place the blame for our heavy use of fossil fuels mostly on the companies that produce them — not the consumers who demand them.

The resolution is intended to create a path toward divestment of church funds, including pension money, from “fossil fuel companies” unless they meet certain benchmarks. The text never defines “fossil fuel companies,” but it’s a good bet that the target is oil and mining enterprises.

The resolution also calls upon church members to “make shareholder engagement on climate change an immediate, top priority for the next five years” and to “demand action from legislators and advocate for the creation and enforcement of carbon-reducing laws.”

Poor pathetic little sociopaths. Sheesh. July 21:

Yes, when it comes to our societal dependence on fossil energy, we’ve all got to go beyond the call of ordinary duty to reduce our consumption of the prehistoric carbon which has fueled our civilization and triggered a rapidly accelerating greenhouse effect. But to feel “perplexity and sorrow” over deploring the roles played in the climate crisis by oil and coal companies is breathtakingly naive. In the service of higher profits, these corporate miscreants have invested countless millions of dollars in manipulative media campaigns, and even more millions in the co-optation of US lawmakers, resulting in hopelessly muddled public discussion of climate issues, and a legislative paralysis which would be hilarious if it weren’t tragic.

These “corporate persons” are the worst sort of planetary citizens, and they deserve the worst sort of reputation. There’s plenty of blame to go around, but there’s not enough blame for them.

Warren Senders