Year 4, Month 2, Day 20: I Am The Eggman! I Am The Walrus

The Cumberland County Daily Journal (NJ) notes that victims of Sandy are agitating for the President to address climate change in the SOTU (which will be long past, by the time this page appears on the site):

WASHINGTON — Congressional lawmakers from New Jersey want President Barack Obama to address a variety of issues, including the deficit, the sluggish economy, immigration reform, climate change and gun violence, in his State of the Union address Tuesday night.

“Without a doubt the No. 1 issue confronting the nation is the state of the economy, and it’s not nearly as strong as any of us would like,” said GOP Rep. Leonard Lance. “I’d like to hear him focus on that.”

Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone named the economy as the top issue, but said he also wants the president to address immigration reform, gun violence and climate change.

Action on climate change is “important for the shore” and is a job-creator, he said.

Alyssa Durnien of Keansburg couldn’t agree more. She joined a group of Hurricane Sandy victims at a news conference in front of the White House on Monday to call on Obama to address climate change in his address before Congress.

“My message to Obama is, instead of flying over my community, put on a pair of boots and come see what it’s like,” she said. “I want him to see the devastation that is still there 98 days after the storm.”

We badly need to change how we think about economics, don’t we? Sent February 12:

Perhaps the single most pervasive misconception in our politics today is the notion that the interests of the environment and the economy are opposed. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Yes, the consumer economy is predicated on the desirability of infinite expansion, but an obvious impossibility on a finite planet. The true measure of economic health is not continuous growth, but long-term sustainability — which is obviously aligned with the policy initiatives necessary to respond to the threat of climate change.

Those who lost their homes to Superstorm Sandy can testify that global warming is not an abstraction. The ramifications of the accelerating greenhouse effect are destroying agriculture, infrastructure, and ecosystems all over the world — and without these resources intact, our economic longevity can be measured in months. Earth needs people to preserve environmental “capital” for our descendants, not simply turning a quick profit, heedless of the consequences.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 2, Day 15: You Can’t Fool Me.

USA Today let us know: the farmers are f**ked:

A comprehensive USDA study concludes rising temperatures could cost farmers millions as they battle new pests, faster weed growth and get smaller yields as climate change continues.

WASHINGTON — Climate change could have a drastic and harmful effect on U.S. agriculture, forcing farmers and ranchers to alter where they grow crops and costing them millions of dollars in additional costs to tackle weeds, pests and diseases that threaten their operations, a sweeping government report said Tuesday.

An analysis released by the Agriculture Department said that although U.S. crops and livestock have been able to adapt to changes in their surroundings for close to 150 years, the accelerating pace and intensity of global warming during the next few decades may soon be too much for the once-resilient sector to overcome.

“We’re going to end up in a situation where we have a multitude of things happening that are going to negatively impact crop production,” said Jerry Hatfield, a laboratory director and plant physiologist with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service and lead author of the study. “In fact, we saw this in 2012 with the drought.”

It’s a hoax! I saw it on FOX! Sent February 7:

As the song puts it, the farmer feeds us all. However, many Americans, raised in a consumer economy where produce sometimes travels thousands of miles to local stores, lack the experience to understand the implications of a phrase like “devastated agriculture.” Industrialized farming has created a food system capable of feeding huge numbers — but only under absolutely predictable conditions. The encroaching threat of climate change is certain to render those conditions anything but predictable. The result? A farm system that decades ago moved to monocropping — taking advantage of economies of scale at the expense of resilience and flexibility — will become enormously vulnerable to changing environmental conditions, rapidly evolving pests, and diseases which can eradicate entire harvests in an eyeblink.

In the late 19th century, Irish monocroppers facing devastating potato blight had two alternatives: die of starvation, or emigrate. What choices will Americans face in the coming decades?

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 12, Day 10: Have You Met Miss Jones?

The Virginian-Pilot has a good op-ed, titled, “Struggling to care about climate change”:

The world, with the exception of Europe, has done almost nothing to arrest global warming. Despite a treaty or two and decades of hand-wringing, the pull of prosperity has been simply too strong, especially in Asia and the Americas.

U.S. politicians have done a shameful nothing, too many pretending that settled science remains in doubt, too many grubbing money from coal and oil and electricity companies, which have it to give.

In the meantime, the Obama administration – as others have before – talks a better game than it delivers on climate change, arguing that meager progress amounts to moving mountains. It is no more persuasive from this White House than it was from its predecessors.

The problem grows worse. Developing nations are burning coal because it’s cheap and wood because it’s handy, so greenhouse gases continue to flow. With emerging nations eager for energy-hungry technologies, and wanting to replace bicycles and transit with cars – who can blame them? – the continued progress of planetary warming is no great surprise.

Still, surprises come.

According to a new study released at the largely ignored United Nations climate change talks in Qatar, the world’s seas are rising faster than projections. Temperatures are climbing, too.

All fine and good, but that phrase in the first paragraph sets my teeth on edge. Sent December 4:

Advocates for action on global warming need to avoid the misleading economic perspective setting “prosperity” and the environment at odds with one another. Americans’ reluctance to move forward with sensible policies on climate change is not just because we’re addicted to oil; it’s also because we’re addicted to shopping.

If we are to face the threats posed by the metastasizing greenhouse effect, we must transform our relationship to the things we buy, and to our notion of economic well-being. Ultimately, Earth’s resources are the foundation of all wealth; without air to breathe, water to drink, and food to eat, the gaudiest baubles of our consumer economy offer no solace. If the economy is the metabolism of our civilization, then the “prosperity” of unbridled consumerism is the equivalent of a junk-food diet — fast and habit-forming, but unhealthy and wasteful. Genuine prosperity, by contrast, is like a home-grown, home-cooked meal, eaten slowly with friends.

I know what I like. How about you?

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 2, Day 16: Just Put Your Lips Together And Blow

The LA Times runs a report on climate change’s impact on the Valentine’s Day celebrations of the future:

Let’s face it, climate change is incredibly un-sexy. We don’t care how many nude protesters are involved. But it’s about to get worse. A new mini-report from the environmental group Climate Nexus points out that climate change is poised to wreck Valentine’s Day, or at least change it significantly, by threatening chocolate production.

That’s right. Global warming is very bad for chocolate.

As reported by The Times, research from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture found last year that as temperatures rise, the principal growing regions for cocoa could shrink, especially in Ghana and Ivory Coast, the sources of half the world’s supply. Production could fall off dramatically by 2050, making cocoa less available and more expensive.

Play it, Sam. Sent February 11:

While global warming’s impact on chocolate production is certainly going to make a difference in the way we observe Valentine’s Day in the coming decades, we don’t need candy for romance — after all, “moonlight and love songs are never out of date.”

But another love story’s coming to an end. Our culture’s century-long infatuation with consumption cannot survive the economic and infrastructural transformations coming in the wake of worldwide climatic disruption. Since the early twentieth century we have come to believe that if we purchase the right goods and services, our frustrations will be relieved, our suffering mitigated, our status enhanced. But as our civilization grows up, we must learn to make choices that are in the best interests of our descendants. When confronting the reality of a slow-motion planetary catastrophe, consumerism turns out to be fickle, inconsiderate, and wasteful — hardly the right material for a long-term relationship.

Warren Senders

On Consumerism and Daddying

I am alone.

My wife and daughter are in India, dealing with the recent passing of my father-in-law. The past two weeks have been hysterical; as the stay-at-home-and-work component of our marital pair, I’ve been responsible for organizing tickets, organizing passport renewals (thanks to Ed Markey’s office for their support!) and emergency visa authorizations. And, because I have massive amounts of work (including a Very Important Concert), I couldn’t go with them.

I am, instead, trying to clean and straighten the house, so that when they return in mid-summer there is order instead of uproar. Which means that I’m currently dealing with a problematic epiphenomenon of 21st-Century American Childhood. To wit, a serious stuffed toy problem.

My daughter is five, and I think her teddy-bear count is somewhere in the low thirties, with stuffed penguins running close behind. How in Sam Hill did this happen?

more »

Month 2, Day 20: Dis is a system?

Continuing on the theme of economic reformation, and using a rather intellectual mathematical analogy to convey why our present system of economics is fatally flawed. Thanks to G2Geek at Kos for that; it’s not something I would have thought of, and it makes me look really really smart.

Dear President Obama:

I supported you vigorously in the election, volunteering, donating, phonebanking and advocating as strongly as I could over the course of the campaign. In the past year, however, you’ve hired a number of people who I believe compromise your Administration’s ability to strive toward the goals we all share.

Your economic advisers are locked into a faulty and destructive model of economics. Lawrence Summers and Timothy Geithner, for example, are advocates of “limitless” economic growth as a universal good. But it is self-evident (or should be) that we live on a finite planet. Advocating indefinite and continual economic growth in a closed system like Earth is analogous to mapping an infinite plane onto a Euclidean solid. Which is impossible. An infinity cannot be a subset of an integer.

Leaving aside the ethical questions of putting the same people who broke the economy in charge of fixing it, leaving aside the obscene profits accrued by individuals and firms who are closely linked to Geithner, Summers and Bernanke, the most important thing is that you need economic advisers who understand that “limitless” economics does not work on a limited planet.

If we remain a society of consumers, we shall all of us be consumed. It’s happening now, Mr. President, and it’s not pretty.

Respectfully yours,

Warren Senders

Month 2, Day 19: Consumption Used to Mean You Went to Switzerland or Arizona

This one goes to both of my Elected Representatives. I had the germ of an idea about providing more useful environmental information on the things we buy. I know my purchasing habits would be very different if I knew how much ecological devastation had gone into the manufacture of some geegaw I was ogling, or how many thousands of miles a package of strawberries had to travel. Why not get that information, apply some sort of scoring algorithm, and incorporate it into product labeling?

Dear Representative Markey and Senator Kerry — I write as a citizen concerned about the looming climate crisis. It is my belief that many ordinary people would like to do more — both to help forestall the disastrous effects of climate change, and to help make our culture more environmentally conscious in general. I have a suggestion for a program which could have an impact on the way Americans think about the environment and our role in transforming it.

Our national purchasing habits could be dramatically altered if Environmental Impact information was displayed on product labels. We require such statements for large-scale construction and civil engineering projects; the “Energy Star” labeling program has had a demonstrable impact on consumer buying habits for household appliances — why not make this part of our purchasing equation for foodstuffs and consumer goods? An “Environment-friendly” scoring system would take into account the amount of waste involved in production, packaging and shipping; the sources of raw materials involved, and the likely lifespan of the product. A negative rating would describe an overpackaged product that used many toxic or ecologically detrimental raw materials, which required extensive transport before arriving at the point of purchase or warehousing, and which had a short expected lifespan before disposal; a positive rating would reflect minimal packaging, sustainable use of raw materials and efficient use of transport.

A measure such as the one I’ve suggested will help change attitudes and purchasing habits. Ultimately, of course, that won’t be enough. Our national habits must change profoundly. To be a “consumer” can no longer reflect a positive American value, because the word implies a “taking out” without a corresponding “giving back.” In the nineteenth century, “consumption” was a euphemism for tuberculosis: a wasting disease, almost always fatal. For the long-term health of our planet, human beings in general (and Americans in particular, since we are the examples held up to the rest of the world) must stop taking out without giving back. We have seen the results of ungoverned consumerism emerge in the catastrophic synergy of environmental degradation, oceanic acidification, soaring GHG levels and an ecosystem under assault from thousands of varieties of toxic trash — and we can no longer afford it. Granted, our population may not be emotionally ready to end consumerism as it exists today…but make no mistake, if we don’t end it, it will surely end us.

Thank you for your consideration.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 2, Day 8: Help! I am Trapped in a Consumerist Fortune Cookie Factory!

I just sat down and wrote this thing, and then spent the next hour wondering who to send it to. For the moment, faute de mieux, it’s going to my local newspaper. If anyone has any suggestions, please pass them along.

If humanity as a species is to survive, we must change the way we treat our environment. But for this to happen, we must recognize that the ongoing destruction of our planet’s biodiversity, atmosphere, and oceans is the result of a disastrously misguided conception of economic values. Americans have been told over and over again that our contribution to the common good is to consume. After September 11, then-President Bush famously instructed Americans to go shopping.

When we go shopping, what do we do? We buy thousands of dollars’ worth of plastic merchandise, manufactured in the Third World and packaged in vast quantities of plastic armor which is immediately torn off and thrown away. The products themselves are likely to get used up, destroyed and discarded before too many months have gone by; a trip through an American suburb on “garbage night” shows innumerable trinkets and appliances destined for the landfills. From this perspective, our economy appears to be entirely based on buying things and turning them into trash as quickly as possible.

And, obviously, this economic model is bad for the long-term health of our society. Aside from the fact that ultimately we’ll run out of resources to destroy (the most immediate of which is “peak oil,” the point where our store of hydrocarbon fractions begins to dwindle inexorably), a consumerist model is bad for our mental health. We exhort our children to give back as much as they take, but unless we exemplify these values in our own lives, it’s just moralistic prattle for the youngsters — another example of grownup hypocrisy.

The next few decades will determine whether we live in a world that offers our children and their children the hope of a meaningful future, or a blighted, poisoned landscape clogged beyond recognition with toxic trash. We can’t fix the climate unless we transform our economy. And the way to transform the economy is to focus all (that’s ALL) our power and attention on living in ways that give back more to the Earth than we take out. Americans are woefully ignorant of how to do this; I know I am. But for our grandchildren’s sake, we’d better start learning.

Warren Senders

Day 26: To the Belly of the Beast

I’m going to send some letters to the business community — hoping to carry the message of my Open Letter to Our Corporate Overlords directly to them. This one is going to Business Week Magazine.

America’s fate is linked with consumption. We have learned to buy things to soothe ourselves, to satisfy our transient urges, and to Support the National Economy. But a consumer’s lifestyle also creates ever-increasing amounts of trash. As the planet’s biggest per capita producer of trash, America leads the world in subtracting value from lives, systems and things. From our grotesque pop culture to the millions of plastic bottles we throw away every day, from the cynical culture of planned obsolescence to the terrifying increase in CO2 emissions in our atmosphere, the evidence is overwhelming: Consumer Culture is killing us. It’s killing our curiosity, it’s killing our common sense, it’s killing millions of species of life all across the world, and it’s ultimately going to kill our planet if we keep it up.

Humanity desperately needs a new kind of culture that’s based, not on taking value out, but on putting value in. One way forward is to adopt a new system for indicating the overall health of an economy; the notion that economic well-being is a function of ever-increasing consumption (as measured by the GDP, for example) is obviously absurd.

Yet it is a measure of how far we have strayed from simple common sense that stating the obvious (if we keep turning the world around us into trash, eventually there will be nothing left) is interpreted as being “anti-business” or “anti-capitalism.” No, it’s not; it’s the only way that Business and Capitalism will be able to survive in the long run. What good is maximizing profits over the next century if the result is a world so choked in toxic waste that no life can survive?

Warren Senders