Year 4, Month 12, Day 30: Semolina Pilchard?

The Patriot-News (PA) runs a fine op-ed from Richard Whiteford:

Congressional legislators who deny climate change typically focus on free market economics and fail to acknowledge the destructive impacts and associated costs that we experience now from climate driven extreme weather events.

They grouse about the Obama Administration’s request for a 2014 climate change budget of $11.6 billion and the expansion of government agencies to combat climate change.

While realizing that the Republican party’s platform rests on smaller government and cutting government expenses to the bone, you can’t help wondering why their budget fetish ignores the fact that, according to the U.S. Treasury Department, between 2011 and the first quarter of 2013 extreme weather events cost us more than $136 billion and that doesn’t count the endless numbers of flood, sand storm, drought, and wild fire damages that happened since then.

Props for the man. December 17:

The oil and coal industries won’t relinquish the unimaginable profits they’ve enjoyed for decades without a fight. Because addressing global climate change will cut into their quarterly returns, these corporations have invested heavily in conservative “institutes” and “think tanks” which routinely supply America’s print and broadcast media with authoritative voices loudly denying the realities of climate science. The result? An essential public debate on the issue has been corrupted with half-truths, cherry-picked data, and outright falsehoods, stalling legislative action at a time when it is desperately needed.

Which is more likely — that activists and scientists are pooling their (very limited) resources as part of a secretive global conspiracy to advance a spurious environmental agenda, or that giant multinational corporations with a long track record of greed, mendacity and incompetence are employing wealth beyond the dreams of avarice to derail policies that would impair their profitability?

This is irresponsibility at the planetary level, and it will be justly reviled by our descendants, as they struggle to survive in the world we’ve made for them.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 12, Day 27: Happy Day After Boxing Day!

The Edmonton Journal explores the potentials of the Tar Sands:

Alberta’s oilsands reserves are a gift, blessing the province with jobs, Texas-sized bragging rights and a revenue stream most jurisdictions would envy.

But it is a gift that comes with strings.

As an ongoing Edmonton Journal series exploring the oilsands industry illustrates, some of those strings are difficult to untangle — especially persistent environmental challenges such as tailings ponds and greenhouse-gas emissions.

Let’s start with tailings, which is a problem the industry has wrestled with from the beginning, but the province only started cracking down on in 2009.

Oilsands, as the name implies, is by its very nature heavy on sand. The process of breaking the bonds between oil and sand adds a host of chemicals to the equation.

For decades, the resulting tailings ponds have been a problem with a solution promised just around the corner.

Only a single 220-hectare site has been reclaimed. In the meantime, tailings ponds have blossomed from 50 square kilometres in 2005 to 176 square kilometres in 2010.

Premier Alison Redford promised a Washington, D.C., audience that tailings ponds will disappear from the Alberta landscape in the near future.

Companies are investing in research to solve the problem and there are promising projects. A viable, affordable solution could be close.

But as of this moment, there is still, despite Redford’s statements, no magic bullet to the tailings problem.

There are parallels between the old problem of tailings and the newly appreciated problem of carbon dioxide emissions.

It’s actually a pretty good piece. December 13:

The oil industry’s sales pitch for developing the Tar Sands is full of reassurances. “There won’t be any environmental damage, and if there is, we’ll fix it.” “CO2 emissions will be trapped and sequestered.” “We need the energy to power our civilization.” “Our economy needs the stimulus.” “Nothing can possibly go wrong.”

It’d all be very soothing, if only it were true. If only these fossil fuel companies had a track record of living up to their promises. If only their history of malfeasance, mendacity, venality, incompetence and corruption didn’t give the lie to their assertions. If only our politics wasn’t dominated and controlled by the financial power of these same multinational corporations.

Our society is addicted to the ostensibly cheap energy provided by oil and coal, and the platitudes of their purveyors sound disturbingly like a heavy smoker dismissing a cardiologist’s warnings. We’d be better off overcoming our addictions.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 12, Day 26: Sliding Down The Razor Blade Of Life

The Dallas Morning News, on the belated introduction of fossil fuel corporations to climatic reality:

Exxon Mobil used to spend millions of dollars to lobby against efforts to tax or limit carbon emissions, and even denied the existence of man-made climate change. Now, the energy giant and several other businesses are factoring the likelihood of a carbon tax into their long-range plans.

We applaud this awakening, which research group CDP North America chronicles in a recent white paper. It brings a dramatically new dynamic to efforts to restrict carbon emissions. By CDP’s tally, at least 29 major companies — familiar names such as Wal-Mart, Microsoft, Walt Disney, Wells Fargo, General Electric and at least nine major energy companies — see a carbon tax in their future and are in the process now of building it into their business plans.

It’s (past) time for Congress to do the same.

Several factors underlie the development of this new dynamic, not the least of which is business pragmatism. Opinion polls show strong public support for the need to act on climate change. Legal victories have given the Environmental Protection Agency a stronger hand in regulating emissions. And President Barack Obama has vowed to regulate carbon emissions from coal plants, a major step toward the U.S. meeting its promise to reduce carbon emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and 80 percent by 2050.

Exxon Mobil’s transformation, the first hint of which can be traced to a speech by chairman Rex Tillerson in 2009, is particularly significant. Exxon Mobil is among the nation’s most conservative companies. Its new position puts it at odds with the more conservative wing of the GOP, which denies climate change and opposes policies that would put a price on carbon.

But Exxon Mobil recognizes that fossil fuels, its lifeblood for decades, are falling out of favor around the world and that burning them probably contributes to global warming. Economists concur that establishing a price on carbon pollution would be an effective market-based incentive to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, like oil and coal, and encourage use of lower-carbon natural gas, nuclear energy and renewable energy alternatives, such as solar, wind and battery power.

When your voters are more conservative than Exxon, what are you going to do? December 12:

Republican politicians normally jump to do the bidding of their paymasters in the fossil fuel industry, so the growing readiness of big oil to embrace a tax on CO2 emissions should provide an opportunity for our profoundly dysfunctional government to move forward on policies that actually address some of our civilization’s primary contributions to global climate change. But “should” is a long way from “will.”

These lawmakers are trapped between a corporate rock and a demographic hard place; the tea-party zealots who are the majority of Republican primary voters are reflexively anti-science to the point that simply acknowledging the reality of climate change is electoral poison in many heavily gerrymandered Congressional districts. The result is certain: paralysis and gridlock in the face of crisis.

It’s long past time for our politicians to respect the laws of physics and chemistry and their implications for humanity. A carbon tax is long overdue.

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


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


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 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

Year 4, Month 12, Day 4: We Owe Our Souls To The Company Store

The Hindu (India) notes the latest move from the policy-making arms of our corporate overlords:

US wants poor countries to also pay into the Green Climate Fund. The move left the G77 countries angry and made them officially register complaint against negotiations being conducted in bad faith.

In a late night manoeuvre on Thursday the US backtracked from its obligation to the promise of the $ 100 billion funds by 2020 for poor countries instead demanding that the developing countries too should be asked to contribute.

The move by the US of inserting a new fundamental idea going against the decisions that have been taken in previous years at the UN climate negotiations left the G77 countries angry and made them officially register complaint against negotiations being conducted in bad faith.

One of the G77 negotiators walking out of the meeting at about 3 am on Friday told The Hindu, “Now we are renegotiating decisions that all countries agreed to at previous Conference of Parties (annual climate talks). This is the last day of the Warsaw talks and all some countries are trying to do is throw this critical question of finance into disarray.”

He said, “It was decided earlier that the $ 100 billion annually will be provided by the developed countries by 2020 to help the developing countries fight climate change. They agreed to it. Now they are slipping in the idea that developing countries should also contribute to this fund. Besides this they see private investments as a large part of the funds to begin with. This is plain and simple backtracking.”

Infuriating, but hardly surprising. November 23:

While it’s no longer explicitly advocated by developed nations, colonialism is far from dead. The United States’ recent moves to limit financial commitments to poor countries living on the front lines of catastrophic climate change is a case in point.

This sudden reversal makes an ugly kind of sense when we recognize that all the world’s countries, rich and poor alike, have been colonised by multinational corporations; the US government bends to the will of its owners, who are no longer the people of the United States, but the giant companies which have reaped unimaginable wealth from the extraction and sale of fossil fuels. Where the world’s people recognize the need to avert a rapidly metastasizing climatic disaster, these corporations only see a potential drop in profits. When business interests dominate and direct the world’s climate and energy policies, this is nothing more than corporate colonialism at its most malign.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 12, Day 3: Because I Said So, That’s Why.

Wanna know who they are? Here ya go:

WASHINGTON — Just 90 companies worldwide produced fuels that generated two-thirds of industrial greenhouse gas emissions from 1854 to 2010, according to a new study.

The 90 biggest producers of fuels driving climate change include investor-owned corporations, such as Exxon Mobil and Chevron, and state-owned oil companies, such as Saudi Aramco and Mexico’s Pemex.

The study attributes 914 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases to the fuels extracted by the companies, which is 63% of the total 1,450 billion metric tons of emissions estimated since the mid-19th century.

The study, published in the journal Climatic Change, also found that of the 914 billion metric tons, half was pumped into the atmosphere since 1986, a result of the rapid industrialization of the developing world. The journal focuses on the causes and implications of climactic change.

“This is the most complete picture we have of which institutions extracted coal, oil and natural gas and when,” said Richard Heede, the study’s author and head of the Climate Accountability Institute, a small research group in Snowmass, Colo.

“These are the companies and institutions that have created the products — used as intended — by billions of consumers that have led to persistently higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane,” Heede said.

Disgusting. November 22:

The folksinger and “hobo philosopher” Utah Phillips once remarked, “The Earth is not dying, it is being killed, and those who are killing it have names and addresses.” Indeed. And the new study just published in Climatic Change provides us for the first time with specifics about the corporate entities which have done the most damage to Earth’s environmental stability. Even a few moments’ analysis confirms that these same corporations routinely use their enormous financial power to exacerbate the paralysis of our political system in the face of the extraordinary threat posed by climate change.

Our economic system allows these firms to reap huge profits from the sales of fossil fuels, while providing them with no reason to act responsibly toward the long-term survival and prosperity of our species and our planet. In this post-Citizens-United world, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that these particular “corporate persons” are conscienceless sociopaths.

Warren Senders