Year 4, Month 12, Day 25: Stop Making My Head Hurt.

Oh, for fuck’s sake. The LA Times:

WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency plans to substantially reduce inspections and civil enforcement cases against industry over the next five years, arguing that focusing on the biggest polluters would be the most effective way to clean up air and water.

In a draft strategic plan, the EPA proposes to cut federal inspections by one-third from the 20,000 inspections it conducted in the last fiscal year, ended Sept. 30.

Moreover, it plans to initiate about 2,320 civil enforcement cases a year, compared with the 3,000 cases initiated last fiscal year, a 23% reduction.

The EPA said the shift for fiscal years 2014 to 2018 is not a retreat from enforcement but a more effective allocation of resources.

“From our work on the biggest enforcement cases, such as the BP Deepwater Horizon spill, to aggressively pursuing smaller cases that can reduce harmful health impacts and have the greatest environmental benefit, our enforcement work will continue to save lives and protect our environment,” said Alisha Johnson, an agency spokeswoman.

Representatives from industry organizations that frequently criticize the EPA, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Mining Assn., had no comment on the proposed changes.

Well, they wouldn’t, would they? Sheesh. December 11:

It’s hard to find a positive spin on the news that the EPA will be cutting back on its inspections of climate polluters. “More efficient use of resources” is pretty weak tea, at a time when the urgency of the climate crisis is no longer disputed by any reasonable person. What we need is more inspections, not fewer. What we need is more funding for the EPA, and policies in place that will enable the Agency to actually fulfill its mandate to protect our environment.

The history of medicine has shown over and over that intelligent early diagnosis saves both money and lives, and this is equally true for the planet’s health. Environmental inspections are essential for tracking pollution output, and are necessary both for predicting future outcomes and mitigating their impacts on society. Such superficially plausible thrift is a virtual guarantee of far costlier outcomes in the coming years.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 12, Day 24: If You Knew Susie Like I Knew Susie

The Akron Beacon Journal (OH) offers this perspective from Lee Thomas, former EPA head under Reagan:

During the 1980s, the United States and the world faced an urgent environmental challenge. Scientists warned strongly that chlorofluorocarbons, known as CFCs, were destroying the ozone layer. If not stopped, this would wreak havoc on public health — increasing cancer rates, cataracts and worse— and on ecosystems that are essential for agriculture and marine life. The scientists made clear: Humans caused this problem and human must fix it.

Under President Ronald Reagan’s leadership, we decided to act. We engaged with the business community, environmental organizations, government officials and other nations. Less than two years after the discovery of the ozone hole over the Antarctic, many countries negotiated the Montreal Protocol to phase out the use of CFCs.

Reagan was the first head of state to endorse the treaty, and the Senate ratified it unanimously.

This isn’t a history lesson: This matters right now. New international negotiations on climate just concluded this week in Warsaw, Poland. While the world still waits for true leadership, last month’s global science assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned starkly: Climate change is here, it’s getting worse, we’re causing it, and we need to act without delay.

Make no mistake: Climate change is a threat that, once distant, has moved squarely into the present. It demands immediate attention.

In the case of the ozone layer, we can learn from our success. But don’t think it was easy. Skeptical voices railed against the treaty, denying that CFCs were a problem or suggesting that adaptation was the preferred approach. Chemical and equipment manufacturers feared the costs. Those fears proved to be unfounded. Businesses soon adjusted to the new rules and identified opportunities for new products. More than a decade of economic prosperity followed the signing of the treaty, showing that American ingenuity can go a long way toward solving our nation’s challenges.

A generic article merits a generic letter. December 11:

The facts are in, and have been for a long time. Why, then, is there any significant climate change denial in America? The fault lies with an egregiously irresponsible news media and the corporate interests behind them. For decades, the fossil fuel industry has invested heavily in conservative “institutes” and “think tanks” which provide a steady supply of authoritative-sounding pundits who argue for the continued over-consumption of oil and coal. Oddly, these companies continue to make historically unprecedented profits.

While the US hasn’t been clobbered by climate chaos as much as some other nations, our lucky streak won’t go on forever. We are already seeing impacts on American agriculture and infrastructure, and the overwhelming scientific consensus (despite the naysaying of television’s unctuous talking heads) is that it’s going to get significantly worse in the coming decades. Conservative politicians’ irresponsible refusal to craft climate policy around facts rather than ideology is a grave disservice to their constituents and to the nation they claim to serve.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 12, Day 23: So You Don’t Forget, Call Before Midnight Tonight!

Climatologist Katherine Hayhoe has noticed that our media sux donkey dick, according to the Delaware News-Journal.

As the global science of human-caused climate change improves, the public’s inadequate understanding “is definitely a worry,” a top national researcher said Monday.

“I think, for a long time, we’ve been operating under the assumption that the facts are enough,” said Katharine Hayhoe, a Texas Tech University atmospheric scientist retained by Delaware to prepare a climate change forecast.

“In terms of scientific certainty, we’re adding decimal points [to confidence], whereas in public opinion, we could be advancing by tens of percent” through outreach and better communication, said Hayhoe, a lead author for the latest National Climate Assessment. “I think that is what we have to be doing.”

Hayhoe made her remarks at an event hosted by the University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean and the Environment.

A report guided heavily by Hayhoe’s research concluded in June that Delaware’s summers will grow steadily hotter on average in coming decades, with temperatures closer to those of the deep coastal southeast if emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases continue.

Time to spank some talking heads, I suppose. December 10:

Industrial civilization’s CO2 emissions are heating Earth’s atmosphere, making a far less hospitable planet for our descendants to inherit — but this news is apparently less important than the latest fleeting scandal, royal baby, or nubile starlet. Our celebrity-fixated mass media has turned us into an ADD society, perpetually distracted and unable to focus on the genuine and very serious challenges our species faces in the coming decades.

But there’s more to the story than that. For decades, “think tanks” subsidized by the fossil fuel industries have promoted climate-change denialism, supplying news outlets with unctuous and telegenic pundits who stridently reject the alarming implications of climate research in favor of false equivalence and misinformation.

The climate crisis is a civilizational emergency, but without a reformed and responsible news media competent to address science and environmental issues, the majority of our citizens will never know it — until it’s too late.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 12, Day 22: If Looks Could Kill It Would Have Been Us Instead Of Him

Say what you will about Maine’s Governore Paul LePage, he’s a boon to opinion columnists looking for something to mock and deplore. The Bangor Daily News:

I do agree with Gov. Paul LePage on one thing.

It is difficult to keep up with the latest official title of what is basically the warming of our planet.

In this week’s story about LePage offering up the sunny side of this well-established yet heavily disputed and debated phenomenon, he was quoted as telling an audience, “It used to be global warming, I think they call it climate change now, but there are a lot of opportunities developing.”

Actually, further up in the story, BDN reporter Mario Moretto referred to it as “global climate change” and further down a Sierra Club spokesperson called it “global climate disruption.”

Since the governor has pretty much denied its existence or at least any human involvement in it, we probably should let him ease into the idea before expecting him to latch onto the term “global climate disruption.”

Whatever you want to call it, what I know is that there will be no delicate, luxurious Maine shrimp on my table this winter … and that makes me sad.

A totally different tack from yesterday’s letter in response to the same idiocy. December 9:

Now that outright denial of climate change is all but impossible, we can expect conservative politicians and media figures to begin proclaiming that a catastrophically intensifying greenhouse effect is actually a good thing. Cue Governor LePage, who recently suggested that a melted Arctic would be economically beneficial.

And indeed, metastasizing global warming is certainly going to be a job creator. Since complicated lawsuits will multiply, environmental law specialists will be in demand everywhere. Think of all the disaster response experts required to cope with the increasing numbers of severe and devastating storms! Think of the extra training doctors will need as invasive tropical diseases become commonplace, and the oncologists, pharmacists, and funeral directors who’ll be working overtime in the long-term aftermath of the toxic spills inevitably accompanying the extraction and transport of fossil fuels.

Of course, some jobs will disappear, like those of Atlantic fishermen. The Governor sends his regrets.

Warren Senders

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