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 11: That Bears A Lipstick’s Traces

The Newcastle Herald (Australia) runs a column from a scientist who notes the leftover tobacco tactics in use:

Replication is the heart of scientific research. We checked our results by asking the actual scientists who authored the climate papers to rate their own research. As a result 1200 scientists rated their own papers. Among papers self-rated as stating a position on human-caused global warming, 97.2 per cent endorsed the consensus.

Just as many independent observations confirm human-caused global warming, there are many independent indicators of overwhelming agreement among climate scientists.

Consensus matters. When people correctly perceive that scientists agree about climate change, they’re more likely to support climate action. Consequently, those who oppose policy to mitigate climate change have sought to cast doubt on the consensus for over two decades.

This is done with the same techniques of the tobacco industry and right-wing ideologues who denied smoking causes cancer.

This is a recycled letter. November 29:

There’ll always be good-paying jobs for professional liars as long as corporations can profit hugely at ordinary citizens’ expense. It’s no surprise that the groups and individuals so busily misinforming the world about climate change were once on the payrolls of tobacco companies, and it’s no surprise that the same tactics are encountered in both situations.

There is something else happening, though, just below the surface. Addiction has its own psychology, whether it’s nicotine or fossil fuels.

Think of every smoker’s excuses: “I’ll just cut down a bit,” “I need to relax,” “my dad is 90 and he smokes like a chimney,” “I’ll quit when I’m not so busy.” How similar these phrases are to the rhetoric of big oil and coal corporations arguing against policies for addressing climate change in any but the most anodyne ways.

We’re hooked on fossil fuels, and our addiction’s destroying the health of our planet. The industry-funded arguments against the reality of this grave threat are eerily reminiscent of a chain-smoker’s rationalizations for ignoring the doctor’s warnings.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 12, Day 5: Gotta Get Out Of This Place

The Times of India notes Defense Secretary Hagel’s recent remarks on climate change and the Arctic:

WASHINGTON: Climate change is shifting the landscape in the Arctic more rapidly than anywhere else in the world, US defence secretary Chuck Hagel has said.

“Climate change is shifting the landscape in the Arctic more rapidly than anywhere else in the world,” Hagel said in his address at Halifax International Security Forum in Nova Scotia, Canada yesterday.

(snip)

The defence secretary said climate change does not directly cause conflict, but it can significantly add to the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty and conflict.

“Food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources, more severe natural disasters all place additional burdens on economies, societies and institutions around the world,” he said.

Hagel said planning for climate change in smarter energy investments not only makes US a stronger military, they have many additional benefits: saving money, reducing demand and helping protect the environment.

Things would be very different if they were not as they are. November 24:

The US Defense Secretary’s remarks about climate change’s impact on the Arctic drastically understate the case. Given that temperatures at the top of the world are now higher than they’ve ever been for tens of thousands of years, putting the entire ice cap on track to melt completely within a few decades at most, “shifting the landscape” seems as inadequate as describing decapitation as a new hair style.

Secretary Hagel is absolutely correct, however, in drawing the connection between climate change and geopolitical instability. It is common sense to reinforce infrastructure and prepare strategic food reserves to prepare for the increased likelihood of extreme weather events and the crop failures and destroyed harvests they’re certain to bring. Furthermore, global heating brings the potential for unprecedented numbers of refugees and the likelihood that border conflicts will escalate into destructive and tragic resource wars. When rising seas, super-typhoons, and mounting temperatures all come together, the lives of billions will hang in the balance, and the horrors of Partition will seem tame in comparison. Hence the critical importance of strengthening diplomatic mechanisms between nations on the front lines of the climate crisis.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 11, Day 29: ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ……

Sheldon Whitehouse, mensch:

In the annals of congressional oratory, it didn’t rival Sen. Rand Paul’s 13-hour filibuster in March over drone policy. But last Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse marked a major milestone of his own — and one welcomed by environmentalists — when he delivered his 50th weekly address on climate change from the Senate floor.

Whitehouse gave his first “Time to Wake Up” address in April 2012. He has returned to the floor every week the Senate is in session to stand before C-Span cameras and shine the spotlight on an issue he says has been alarmingly neglected.

“I am here for the 50th time to urge my colleagues to wake up to what carbon pollution is doing to our atmosphere and our oceans,” he said at the outset of his speech. “Why do I do this? First because it’s real, it’s very real, it’s happening.”

He then turned to charts at his side to present evidence of increases in Earth’s surface temperatures.

In an interview before his speech, Whitehouse explained what motivated him a year and a half ago to launch the approximately 15-minute climate talks.

“I wanted to raise the profile of climate change. We had basically stopped talking about it and the climate-change deniers’ point of view really doesn’t last very well in the daylight,” he said. “It shrivels up under scrutiny. It does better in the dark and we were, I thought, cooperating by allowing the dark to shroud the issue.

Versions of this letter have had remarkable success over the past year or so. November 18:

Two hundred and thirty-eight years ago the Minutemen woke to a midnight alarm and became part of our nation’s history. Responding to the calls of Paul Revere, these patriots helped usher in a new nation, conceived in liberty — while powerfully demonstrating the usefulness of early-alert systems. Now, in the face of a craven political establishment and a lazy media, even more urgent warnings are coming from the world’s climatologists — and from a few unbought politicians like Sheldon Whitehouse.

The accelerating greenhouse effect, if unchecked, will bring incredible damage to our civilization: disrupted agriculture, rising sea levels, huge loss of biodiversity, and extreme storms like Haiyan (Filipinos don’t need reminders of the dangers of climate change).

While the public’s attention is diverted by phony scandals and nubile starlets, a latter-day Revere tries to wake us. Will we listen to Senator Whitehouse — or punch the snooze button once again?

Warren Senders

Published.

Year 4, Month 10, Day 21: They’ll Drive You Crazy, They’ll Drive You Insane

USA Today runs a good column from Dan Becker and James Gerstenzang, explicitly drawing a link between tobacco denialists and climate denialists:

Half a century ago, the tobacco industry tried to preserve its market by misleading Americans about the scientific validity of research demonstrating that smoking causes cancer. To weaken efforts to fight global warming, the “climate change denial machine,” in the words of the Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society, has been using that same strategy. For more than 20 years it has sought to cast doubt on the science that demonstrates that the climate is changing and pollution is to blame.

Why is anyone still paying attention?

The denial lobby is using pseudo-science and cherry-picked data to present the fringe view that global warming is nothing more than what Sen. James M. Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, famously called “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.”

Once again it has reprised its tired — and false — arguments to debunk the premier scientific assessment of global warming, produced by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. On Sept. 27, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization declared with near certainty that human activity is causing the climate to change. The panel’s previous assessment, issued in 2007, was only slightly less certain — 90% versus the 95% in the new report. An overwhelming majority of climate scientists endorsed it.

In short, the global warming deniers are as wrong as the smoke-blowers who said in the 1960s that a pack a day was fine. No one seriously argues today that tobacco isn’t bad for you — and if they did, no one would listen. But the Marlboro Men of global warming still draw attention as they deny the consensus conclusion that burning fossil fuels in power plants, cars and factories is trapping heat in the atmosphere. They deny that this will raise sea levels, bring more violent storms, and worsen droughts and heat waves. What are they smoking?

So I pulled something out of the files and shuffled things around, and sent it in. October 11:

As long as corporations can reap substantial profits at the expense of ordinary citizens, there’ll always be lucrative job openings for professional liars. So it’s unsurprising that many of the individuals and organizations busily disseminating misinformation about climate change did the same thing years ago for cigarette manufacturers.

But there is a far more significant analogy just below the surface: the psychology of addiction.

Every smoker has lots of excuses. “I’ll cut down,” “it helps me relax,” “my aunt smokes and she’s 99,” “I’m too busy to quit.” These phrases are oddly similar to the fossil-fuel industry’s rhetoric against meaningful policies addressing climate change. Consumer culture is hooked on oil and coal, and this addiction is destroying our planet’s health. The misleading rationalizations of industry-paid denialists arguing against the threats of global climate change are eerily similar to a heavy smoker’s hacking contempt for the warnings of his oncologist.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 10, Day 11: The Words In My Heart Reveal How I Feel About You

USA Today, on the divestiture movement:

Students also express their concern for the planet through green majors such as environmental science, sustainability and environmental policy.

Colin Nackerman, a sophomore at George Mason University, was inspired to major in environmental policy after growing up in a small town in Southern California that was affected by environmental issues.

“I kinda wanted to get into the regulation side of policy to hopefully save places like my hometown from being devastated by environmental disasters,” Nackerman says.

At George Mason, he is also involved with the Environmental Action Group, whose goal this year is to fight for more transparency on funding the school receives from the Koch brothers, opponents of climate-change regulations.

Students cite their future as the reason for getting involved with climate change activism on campus.

“We’re the ones inheriting these issues and we’re going to have to be dealing with them in the future, so it behooves us to act now,” Bruck says.

Good luck, kids. You’ll need it, I’m afraid. October 3:

350.org’s founder Bill McKibben and many other environmentalists have frequently likened the movement to divest from the fossil fuel industry with student-propelled social initiatives to end financial ties to apartheid South Africa in business, government, and academia. In the 1980s, young people felt the moral imperative to end the injustices of institutionalized racism, and translated their outrage into action. Today’s environmental activists are likewise driven by a deep sense of social responsibility and the need to disassociate from the wrongdoing of a group of highly irresponsible and extremely powerful economic actors. The similarities are profound. But there is one important set of differences.

Apartheid’s victims lived in a single state on a single continent — and at a single pivotal point in time. That the burgeoning climate crisis will claim its casualties everywhere on Earth for centuries to come is a fact which dramatically strengthens the ethical necessity of divestiture.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 10, Day 3: A World Of Plastic Hungers

A well-informed citizenry. That’s the phrase. The Washington Post, on the IPCC report’s numbers:

WASHINGTON — Top scientists from a variety of fields say they are about as certain that global warming is a real, man-made threat as they are that cigarettes kill.

They are as sure about climate change as they are about the age of the universe. They say they are more certain about climate change than they are that vitamins make you healthy or that dioxin in Superfund sites is dangerous.

They’ll even put a number on how certain they are about climate change. But that number isn’t 100 percent. It’s 95 percent.

And for some non-scientists, that’s just not good enough.

There’s a mismatch between what scientists say about how certain they are and what the general public thinks the experts mean, specialists say.

Ah well, it was fun while it lasted. September 25:

It’s not only that scientists are as certain of human-caused climate change as they are that smoking is bad for your health, or that some of the people most responsible for spreading misinformation about climate change did the same for big tobacco companies. The really significant analogy lies in the psychology of addiction.

Consumer culture is hooked on fossil fuels; like all addicts, we’ll do anything to ensure our supply. Anyone who’s ever tried to quit smoking surely remembers the phrases they used to rationalize their dependency. “Just one more,” “I need to relax,” and “It’s too hard to quit right now” — all these phrases uncomfortably evoke the fossil-fuel industry’s case against meaningful policy approaches to climate change.

Our civilization’s carbon energy habit has gravely damaged our planet’s health, and denialists’ responses to the IPCC report are remarkably similar to a heavy smoker’s hacking contempt for the oncologist’s advice.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 9, Day 2: Remember That Stuff We Had Back In The Old Days? That Was Good Stuff, Man.

South Coast Today (MA) talks about these excellent specimens of humanity:

NEW BEDFORD — Eighty people rallied for green jobs and wind energy Thursday as the six-day long Energy Exodus march from Brayton Point Power Station stopped in both New Bedford and Fairhaven on the way to a Hyannis rally for Cape Wind.

“Today we’re celebrating the construction of (South Terminal) behind us here, showing that there are already jobs coming to the SouthCoast because of the wind industry,” said Craig Altemose, executive director of Better Future Project, which is organizing the 66-mile march to build momentum for clean energy.

“This is not some idealistic dream — there are real, good jobs and there’s a lot more where those came.”

With the hurricane barrier on one side, old mill buildings behind and the Fairhaven turbines off in the distance, the crew of marchers stood at South Terminal cheering New Bedford for its move towards green energy.

No sarcasm here. Only admiration. Wish I was out there with ‘em. August 29:

Almost two hundred and forty years ago, courageous patriots responded to a midnight call, and their actions are not only an indelible part of our nation’s history, but an eloquent argument for heeding early-warning systems.

Today’s Paul Reveres are the world’s climatologists, who have been sounding the alarm for decades, in the face of a complacent citizenry and a complaisant political establishment. And today’s “Minutemen”? They’re the people who recognize the urgency of the warning, and the need for action, whether it’s “positive” (pressing for new sources of renewable energy instead of carbon-polluting fossil fuels) or “negative” (working to block destructive initiatives like the disastrous Keystone XL pipeline).

In a media environment where the majority of the world’s eyes are focused on the latest pop-tart’s scandal du jour, environmentalists face marginalization, hostility, and ridicule as they strive to make possible a world in which our energy consumption no longer imperils our species’ future. The members of the Energy Exodus march are the true patriots of our time.

Warren Senders

Published.

Year 4, Month 8, Day 24: They Don’t Suffer; They Can Hardly Speak English!

The New York Daily News notes the US’ first likely climate refugees:

The northwestern Alaskan village of Kivalina is perched on a remote and narrow strip of sand next to the frigid waters of the Chukchi sea. Its 400 residents are the descendants of an Iñupiat tribe.

And in just 10 years, these folk might just be America’s first climate change refugees.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers predicts that Kivalina will be completely uninhabitable by 2025, a victim of melting ice, coastal erosion and rising sea levels.

Until the shopping malls are covered, ain’t nobody gonna give a damn. July 31:

That an obscure town in the middle of nowhere will probably fall victim to planetary climatic transformations does not at first seem like particularly significant news, for the world is full of tragedies. But Kivalina’s plight merits closer attention. Its 400 residents have contributed next to nothing to the greenhouse emissions which may well seal the fate of their ancestral homes. The melting Arctic ice and rising seas are triggered by industrialized civilization’s essentially instantaneous introduction of hundreds of millions of years’ worth of fossilized carbon into the atmosphere.

These villagers will become climate refugees, with luck moving on to other towns, other lands, other lives, other hopes. Kivalina holds a lesson and a warning for the rest of us. We all live together on an obscure planet in an unremarkable corner of a nondescript galaxy — which we are rapidly rendering uninhabitable. Where shall we send seven billion climate refugees?

Warren Senders

Published.

Year 4, Month 8, Day 21: Bow To Your Arthropod Overlords, Apeling!

Looks like the Clever Apes should start tuning up to join the Great Hum. The Arizona Star:

Vertebrates would have to evolve 10,000 times faster than they ever have to keep up with the pace of change predicted for their climatic niches in the next century, says a University of Arizona researcher.

“If where they live now is going to be outside their climatic niche, they either have to move or acclimate to it,” said John Wiens, UA professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.

Acclimating can be a tricky thing, Wiens said.

Some lizard and tortoise species in warming climates have been known to limit their outdoor exposure when their particular niche warms up, he said. That lessens the physiological impact of heat, but also deprives them of time for food gathering and reproducing, he said.

Wiens and co-author Ignacio Quintero, an ecologist at Yale University, examined and compared the evolutionary paths of more than 500 species, from weasels to frogs to crocodiles, to arrive at their conclusions about what would be needed to survive a predicted rise of 4 degrees Centigrade in average temperatures by the end of the century.

They found that evolution can’t keep pace with the rapid change in climate predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – not by a long shot.

Short but bitter. July 29:

Much of Earthly life will indeed be left behind in the process of evolutionary adaptation to climate change. When environmental transformations unfold over long stretches of time, evolution has a chance to do its work through the slow processes of natural selection — essential for big animals with reproductive cycles covering many years.

Human civilization’s last century introduced millions of years’ worth of previously fossilized carbon into the atmosphere in a geological eyeblink, triggering potentially catastrophic transformations that are going to happen far faster than the capacity of many species to adapt. Creatures like elephants, gorillas, moose, camels, bears, and human beings can’t reproduce rapidly enough to keep up with a climate gone mad.

Of course, Earth has many lifeforms with very rapid generational cycles, and they’ll be doing just fine in the years to come. We should probably start treating flies and cockroaches with a little more respect.

Warren Senders