Year 4, Month 11, Day 18: These Foolish Things Remind Me Of You

The Tennessean runs an Op-Ed deploring the state of our media:

It is often the case that what is absent from the nightly news sheds more light on media priorities than what is actually covered.

The lack of any serious coverage, for example, of a topic that is front and center in most other countries is one indication of very low media quality. It’s the reason that I have had to read about the release of the latest report from the International Panel on Climate Change from foreign news sources, such as The Guardian, or by reading selected U.S. sources online.

The efforts of the IPCC represent one of the largest consensus-building undertakings in human history, and deal with an issue that affects not only the present, but also future generations. The panel’s exhaustive work, both pro bono and peer-reviewed, produces policy guidelines for world leaders. As has been the case since the group’s founding in 1988, the recent report continues to confirm the dire predictions for life on this planet under the business-as-usual model.

A key update in the report is the change of a 90 percent confidence level to 95 percent concerning man’s role in the changing climate. Converging to a 95 percent level of confidence from such a diverse body of scientists is no trivial matter, and impossible to write off even for the most relentless of conspiracy theorists.

Nothin’ to see here, folks. Move along. November 8:

In an extraordinary mixture of journalistic irresponsibility and simple laziness, American news media and their financial enablers have succeeded in trivializing and minimizing what is unarguably the most important issue of our times. Observe their ludicrous false equivalence, which “balances” the overwhelming majority of the world’s climate scientists with the unsupported rhetoric of petroleum-industry shills. Observe their relentless coverage of electoral horse-races and scantily-clad starlets, while a crisis of global proportions builds unremarked. How have we come to this pass?

For decades, the oil and coal industries have funded conservative “think tanks” which supply our media outlets with authoritative-sounding voices stridently rejecting the findings of climate scientists. They do this to perpetuate an economy built on convenience and consumption (while, oddly enough, reaping profits higher than any in our nation’s history).

America’s “can do” reputation is in tatters thanks to this ill-conceived strategy of calculated ignorance and greed. The time for denialism is over; the first step in solving the problem of climate change is to recognize its existence.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 8, Day 19: Boys, This Car’s Hotter’n a Two-Dollar Pistol.

The Winnipeg Free Press writes about the debacle at Cold Lake:

CALGARY – The Alberta Energy Regulator has ordered Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. to restrict the amount of steam it pumps into two oilsands projects following four spills earlier this year.

The move comes three weeks after the AER reported an emulsion of oilsands bitumen and water had been released into an unnamed water body on the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range in eastern Alberta.

The watchdog says Canadian Natural (TSX:CNQ) must restrict steam injection, enhance monitoring and speed up clean up efforts at its Primrose and Wolf Lake projects, which use a method called high-pressure cyclic steam stimulation to extract the bitumen.

“Although there have been no risks to public safety, until we investigate these incidents, better understand the cause of these releases, and what steps CNRL will to take to prevent them, we are taking these measures as a precaution,” said AER CEO Jim Ellis.

The AER ordered the suspension of steaming operations within the eastern part of Primrose earlier this year following three bitumen emulsion releases.

In late June, Canadian Natural reported a fourth release, prompting the AER to order CNRL to take further measures, including suspending steaming within one kilometre of the leak and restrict steaming throughout the northern and southern parts of Primrose.

High pressure cyclic steam stimulation — sometimes described as a “huff and puff” method of extraction — involves injecting steam into a reservoir through a well, letting it soak for a while and then drawing the softened bitumen to the surface through the same well.

It differs from steam-assisted gravity drainage, or SAGD, which uses two wells — one to inject the steam, and one right below it to flow the bitumen to the surface. The reservoir is also fractured using cyclic steam, whereas in SAGD it is not.

More on the addiction analogy. July 27:

Industrial civilization grew up on a diet of coal and oil, the liquid fossils of Earthly life from an unimaginably distant past. Like the “crack babies” of urban legend, our consumer culture was born addicted to these carbon-based fuels, and like any other addicts, we employ extraordinary creativity and resourcefulness to maintain the supplies of our chosen drug.

The destruction wrought in Eastern Alberta is a vivid example of the kind of unintentional sociopathy that is all too characteristic of addicts. Just as the junkie who burgled your apartment didn’t want to violate your privacy, nobody wanted a beautiful lake and a vibrant ecosystem to be destroyed — but in both cases, the demands of the habit took precedence over any- and everything.

Cold lake is a small and beautiful ecosystem now endangered by a single disastrous engineering decision. And what of Earth – a medium-sized planet in an unimportant galaxy — and its denizens? We too are endangered by societal choices made in the thrall of a crippling addiction.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 11, Day 8: When You Need Advice On Running An Army, Be Sure To Ask A Hippie

Well, it looks like Wall Street got wet. Forbes Magazine asks, “What If Mike Bloomberg Is Right And A Climate Change Nightmare Is Here?”

Lower Manhattan was almost entirely without power, probably until tomorrow. Staten Island was devastated. At least 38 New Yorkers are dead. The devastation in the nearby Jersey Shore is even worse. Nobody knows when the subway system will be running between Manhattan and other boroughs again. It’s true, as ProPublica pointed out, that the hospital evacuations are part of an epidemic of hospital generators failing during natural disasters, and that the generators were, in the words of NYU Langone trustee Gary Cohn, “not state-of-the art and not in the most state-of-the art location.” We couldn’t come to emotional terms with the destruction a fourteen foot wall of water could do to this city. Now we don’t have any choice.

“In just 14 months, two hurricanes have forced us to evacuate neighborhoods — something our city government had never done before. If this is a trend, it is simply not sustainable,” wrote New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg in his endorsement of President Barack Obama. “Our climate is changing. And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it might be — given this week’s devastation — should compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.”

Why not ask some climatologists for advice on your investment strategies? That’d probably work as well or better than asking an apologist for capitalism for his opinion on climate. Sheesh. Better late than never, I suppose. Sent November 2:

What if Mike Bloomberg is right on climate change? A very good question indeed, but not the one that really needs asking.

If it takes an extreme weather event of Sandy’s magnitude to get him to recognize that climate scientists knew what they’ve been talking about all along, what does that say about the ability of the private sector to recognize and acknowledge expertise in any area? If environmentalists’ predictions are coming true, can the business community even realize that it’s been on the wrong side of both science and history?

If business leaders finally acknowledge that climate change is real, human-caused and dangerous to humanity, can they take the next step, and recognize that our planet’s resources and resilience are finite, and cannot support an economic model predicated on continuous growth? Can market capitalism transform itself into an agent of long-term sustainability rather than accelerating consumption and waste?

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 6, Day 22: The Check Is In The Mail…And I Love You.

Color me unconvinced:

Call it the greening of Wall Street.

In the wake of a $30 billion commitment to new environmental investments by Wells Fargo in April and a $40 billion promise from Goldman Sachs this month, Bank of America will announce a 10-year, $50 billion initiative of its own on Monday.

Facing bad publicity on practically every front, the big banks are highlighting what has quietly become a hot growth area in recent years — backing projects and companies in sectors like renewable energy, emissions reduction and reduced-carbon transportation.

Bank of America officials said the initiative encompassed steps including underwriting initial public offerings for so-called green companies, making loans to consumers who buy hybrid vehicles and helping developers to retrofit old factories as well as investing in renewable energy.

I’ll believe it once I see Bank Of America stuff and mount Don Blankenship on a pedestal in their lobby, naked, with a carrot up his keister. Sent June 11:

It’s difficult to describe $50 billion over the next decade as a half-hearted first step, but that’s exactly what Bank of America is doing. With its long history of providing finance for the fossil fuel industry, BoA has an environmental record entitling it to more than a modicum of suspicion. Yes, energy efficiency (mostly from reducing its own emissions), energy infrastructure, transportation, and the other areas mentioned are important and worthy of support — but the bank’s continued funding of the coal industry (almost seven billion dollars in 2010 and 2011 alone) provides powerful evidence that this is a Potemkin investment strategy designed to deflect criticism without making any meaningful changes.

The announcement’s timing (one week before the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development) is also suggestive of a public relations strategy rather than a robust commitment to protecting our environment at a time when the climate crisis looms over our posterity.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 5, Day 23: If You’re So Rich, How Come You Ain’t Smart? Or Nice?

The Baguio Sun-Star (Philippines) notes that their area is getting hit harder and harder:

BENGUET is not free from the effects of climate change, according to a study conducted by Benguet State University-Institute of Social Research and Development (BSU-ISRD).

The study showed that there are changes in the climate that directly and indirectly affects agriculture, biodiversity and the role of women.

Titled “Vulnerability and adaptation capacity assessment in Benguet,” the study chose four municipalities of the province representing low, medium, and high elevation areas to differentiate the experiences in the different areas.

Low elevation is represented by Barangay Bayabas in Sablan and Taloy Sur in Tuba. The medium elevation is represented by Barangay Loo in Buguias, while the high elevation is represented by Barangay Paoay in Atok.

Observed changes in climate based on 1976 to 2009 records of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) and Benguet State University-La Trinidad are increase in temperature, warmer noon and colder afternoons, longer droughts and irregular rainfall.

The study also noted some perceived effects of climate change. These are increase or introduction of new plant pest and diseases, increase or introduction of new animal plant pest and diseases, lesser crop yield, lesser water yield and increase incidence of human diseases.

In agriculture, the study found changes in the farming activities or routine. The farmers had to work at 5 a.m. until 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. until it gets dark because of the intense heat of the sun.

Also, the study discovered that there is an increase of incidence of pest and diseases, thus the farmers have increased the use of inorganic fertilizers and pesticides to correct low fertility and reduce the effects of pest and diseases.

Farmers have also looked for alternative livelihood other than farming due to low production (because of pest infestation) and low prices.

The study also revealed that farmers became careful in choosing crops and cropping systems and identifying alternative crops that are tolerant to drought and increasing temperature.

But as George H.W. Bush said, the American way of life is not up for negotiation. Sent May 13:

The industrialized West has been protected from global climate change by the exigencies of geography, even though it’s been responsible for the overwhelming majority of greenhouse gas emissions over the past century. Even now, wealthy corporate interests are hindering essential policy initiatives, while their control over news and opinion media has succeeded in confusing public discussion of the crisis. Who could have anticipated that the much-vaunted mechanisms of the “free market” could be implicated in such planetary irresponsibility?

Citizens of island nations cannot avoid the consequences of the developed world’s acts; the typhoons, droughts, out-of-season rainfalls and gradually rising sea levels are crystal-clear evidence that something’s seriously wrong. There is an extremely robust scientific consensus on the nature of the problem, and the experts’ recommendations for action are unambiguous. Will citizens of the world’s richest nations finally recognize that their profligate lifestyles are triggering catastrophic effects elsewhere on the planet?

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 2, Day 6: Hats Back On, Gentlemen.

Behold! An idiot. Meet James “Smokey” Shott:

— — More bad news for environmental alarmists came last week when 16 more well-known and well-respected scientists signed on to a Wall Street Journal article titled “No Need to Panic About Global Warming: There’s no compelling scientific argument for drastic action to ‘decarbonize’ the world’s economy,” adding their names to a large and growing list of scientists opposing manmade climate change dogma.

This one was fun. Sent January 31:

“Smokey” Shott tells us that the established scientific foundation of global climate change has been dealt a terrible blow — a double blow, at that. How? First, he notes a piece just published in the Wall Street Journal criticizing the broad scientific consensus on climate change — and written by 16 (sixteen! count ‘em!) scientists and engineers (almost none with actual climate science backgrounds). Omitted from his report is the fact that six of the Journal’s signatories have been linked to fossil-fuel interests, or that when 225 (two hundred and twenty-five! count ‘em!) genuine climatologists submitted a paper providing scientific facts and analysis of the question, they were rejected out of hand by the WSJ (the paper was eventually published in Science Magazine).

And then Mr. Shott delivers what he clearly believes to be the coup de grace: an article from the UK’s Daily Mail, a paper notorious for its sensationalist, factually-challenged journalism. Quoting “fringe” scientists propounding a thoroughly-debunked “global cooling” hypothesis, the article has already attracted widespread derision in scientific circles.

Getting science from the WSJ is as silly as getting investment advice from a climatology journal. Getting science from the Daily Mail, on the other hand, is as silly as looking for celebrity gossip in the pages of “Global Biogeochemical Cycles.”

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 11, Day 22: If You’re So Rich, How Come You Ain’t Smart?

The Wall Street Journal runs a piece on the latest IPCC report, which is chock full of hideous news:

KAMPALA Uganda—Climate change is leading to at least some cases of more extreme weather events across the globe, according to a report released on Friday by a United Nations-led scientific panel on the subject.

The scientific link between climate change and extreme weather isn’t uniformly clear, according to the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body established in 1988 to assist global policy makers with climate change.

As usual with WSJ articles, the comments on this piece are a critical mass of stupidity. What’s with these people? Sent November 18, from Logan Airport while waiting for my plane:

You’d think that once a critical mass of evidence has accumulated, climate-change denialists would have no choice but to change their minds. Indeed, it’s interesting to ask self-styled “skeptics” what evidence would suffice to convince them that human-caused climate change is genuinely dangerous. Many say that nothing will alter their opinions — in which case they cannot be “skeptics.” Some require proof so definitive as to be unachievable — in which case they misunderstand both scientific consensus and the nature of the situation.

Even before the most recent IPCC report, evidence supporting anthropogenic global warming far exceeded the critical threshold required for unilateral action in other policy areas. The “Cheney doctrine” held that even a 1% chance of Iraqi WMDs was sufficient to justify an invasion, a level of likelihood acknowledged by even the stubbornest denialists. Our only remaining excuse for inaction is a toxic combination of cupidity and willful ignorance.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 9, Day 30: “The Ideology Of The Cancer Cell”

The Iowa City Press-Citizen discusses “Moving Planet,” in the wake of Saturday’s planet-wide action:

The event was held in conjunction with the nearly 2,000 other Moving Planet rallies around the world over the weekend, including eight in Iowa, sponsored by the global environmental organization 350.org.

Carsner urged rally goers to call upon local business to invest in renewable energy, and demand that their elected officials initiate better energy standards and make it more conducive for homeowners and small businesses to generate clean energy through wind and solar power.

“We think there is plenty we can do on a local level,” said Carsner, the head of the Iowa City Sierra Club group. “… We think it’s important to take action, it’s important to gain information and it’s important to be part of a movement.”

I’m continuing with the “let’s reform capitalism” theme. Heh heh heh. Sent September 26:

The people all over the globe who joined Saturday’s “Moving Planet” action are giving voice to the most urgent need of our times. It’s not just that we must address climate change — the greenhouse effect is a symptom of a deeper problem that we have barely begun to think about.

Our economic thinking is based on the idea that continuous growth is both possible and desirable. It is neither. When almost seven billion humans spend environmental capital far faster than it can be replenished, it is time to change our ways.

If humanity is to survive and prosper in the coming centuries, we need to stop consuming the Earth’s resources and start renewing them — which can only happen when our economic models are based on sustainability, not growth. This is the ultimate message of “Moving Planet,” and it’s one the world needs to hear — now, more than ever.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 7, Day 10: Go Directly To Jail. Do Not Pass Go. That’ll Be Two Hundred Dollars.

Matthew Kahn, a “guest blogger” at the Christian Science Monitor, embodies much that is deplorable in our culture in these paragraphs in a June 24 article titled “Is There A ‘We’ In Climate Change? Or just an ‘I’? “:

How will individuals, as moms and dads, as consumers, choose to live our lives given the world we have unintentionally created by producing so much GHG emissions? Vice President Gore embraces a “collective” solution that “we” must band together.

A more realistic vision is that people will differ with respect to their ability and willingness to “perceive important and complex realities”. Those who do have these skills will be more likely to thrive in the tough days ahead and they are likely to make $ as entrepreneurs as they anticipate the others’ future suffering.

Well, by Bald-headed Christ, that sounds pretty un-Christian to me. Unless you’re talking about the modern Corporate Jeebus, in which case it’s entirely consistent with what I’ve observed.

Sent June 24:

Matthew Kahn’s response to Al Gore is built around an erroneous framing. Rejecting the former VP’s suggestion that the struggle against global warming requires collective action, Mr. Kahn offers the reassuring thought that people with better survival skills and adaptive capability are “more likely to thrive in the tough days ahead,” and furthermore, can make substantial profits from the suffering of others! Apparently the preservation of thousands of years’ worth of culture is an inadequate motivator; to persuade people to take climate change seriously, they need to know there’s money to be made and suckers to be fleeced!

Effective responses to climate change must be both individual and collective, and greed shouldn’t be part of the recipe. Remember the filling station owner who tripled his prices after 9/11? There’s an example of individual entrepreneurship for you; such attempts to exploit others’ misfortune exemplify the worst aspects of our shared humanity.

Warren Senders

Month 12, Day 13: Not Bad News

The Cancun climate conference ended on a friendly note, with mild intimations of progress all around. Lots of handshakes and polite applause, with only a few dissenting notes.

Yvo de Boer, who stepped down this year after four years as executive secretary of the United Nations climate office, said that the success of this year’s conference was in large measure attributable to the modesty of its goals.

“This process has never been characterized by leaps and bounds,” he said in an interview. “It has been characterized by small steps. And I’d rather see this small step here in Cancún than the international community tripping over itself in an effort to make a large leap.”

In all, the success of the Cancún talks was a shot in the arm for a process that some had likened to a zombie, stumbling aimlessly but refusing to die.

Is it just me, or is that last paragraph a desperate journalistic attempt to reconfigure the “climate zombie” meme?

It’s vaguely reassuring that the Cancun conference did not end with walkouts and public squabbles on the issues surrounding climate change. When representatives of the world’s countries gather to discuss the gravest existential threat our species has ever faced, and conclude with a modest agreement that further progress needs to be made, that’s good news. That is to say, it’s good news if you think about the alternative: contentious squabbling over trivialities as a means of ignoring the looming, slow-motion disaster that imperils us all. As Michael Levi notes, the most significant work will likely take place in areas that are not addressed by the U.N.’s decisions, which means individuals and communities at the smallest levels of scale, and multinational corporations at the largest. The question emerges: can transnational corporate entities acquire enlightened self-interest quickly enough to make a difference to the planetary systems upon which their customers’ survival depends?

Warren Senders