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 28: I Ain’t Good-Lookin’, Babe.

US News And World Report’s Jeff Nesbit, on the Keystone XL:

Right now, there is an awful lot of dirty, heavy, crude oil sitting underground in vast areas of the Tars Sands region of Canada. The reserves of this very heavy crude oil – which is more expensive to refine and bring to market than any other type of oil – are big enough that Bill Gates and Warren Buffett once visited the region just to marvel at the untapped economic potential and money to be made there.

The only thing keeping much of this heavy, unrefined crude oil in Canada is cost. It’s why TransCanada and the oil industry needs the Keystone XL pipeline. It now costs $17 a barrel to ship this oil by rail. The cost would drop to $10 a barrel if it’s shipped through a pipe. That’s enough of a cost differential to matter – and potentially keep much of the oil locked up in Canada if Keystone isn’t built.

By some accounts, the Tar Sands reserves are as big as anything in Saudi Arabia or Venezuela. All by itself, financial analysts say, the Tar Sands could supply all of the United States’ energy needs for the next 30 years if 170 billion barrels of oil are recovered. It’s that big.

But should it be recovered? That’s the question that no one ever asks. TransCanada, Exxon Mobil, Suncor and every other big company looking to make trillions of dollars from the Tar Sands region just assumes that the answer is…well, yes, of course. They are already making money from the Tar Sands region. They just expect to make a lot more, with a bigger profit, if the Keystone pipeline is built.

But should it be built? That’s another question that no one ever really asks, largely because it runs counter to the history and notion of innovation that has defined America. People invent things, companies innovate, new industries are born, and economic winners enjoy the spoils of victory.

Yet it’s a question that needs to be answered sooner rather than later now that we know, with scientific certainty, that we only have a limited amount of time in this generation – and a finite budget of carbon that we can burn globally – before we tip the earth’s climate system towards an unstable and inhospitable state. The science question is settled. The economic one isn’t yet.

Kill it before it kills us! December 14:

The assertion that a transcontinental pipeline will reduce the cost of Alberta’s Tar Sands oil ignores several troublesome facts. Pipelines leak, and the crude intended for transport in the Keystone XL is a particularly toxic variety. Let it contaminate an aquifer en route, and the price goes up to include countless thousands of human lives.

More importantly, the CO2 emissions from the project would trigger runaway climate change an order of magnitude more severe than anything we’ve yet experienced. Such a planetary disaster would carry costs of Brobdingnagian proportions — damages which our trivia-obsessed political establishment seems incapable of imagining.

Let the exploitation of the Tar Sands proceed, and all of these consequences are inevitable — natural consequences of a business plan that profits from environmental destruction. We’d be better off minimizing and eventually eliminating fossil fuels from our energy economy, and leaving all that dirty crude in the ground.

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 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 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 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 10: Used To Wander Through The Park, Shadowboxing In The Dark…

In my heart I have always lived up the road a bit, in The People’s Republic of Cambridge. The Cambridge Chronicle talks about some of the good guys:

Cambridge —

When it comes to climate change, top-down approaches haven’t worked well, at least not according to a group of environmental organizations at MIT.

Earlier this month, the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence’s Climate CoLab together with the MIT Energy Initiative, the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, and MIT Sloan Sustainability, sponsored a conference to explore the role new technology-enabled approaches – like crowdsourcing, social media, and big data – could have in combating climate change. The Climate CoLab is an MIT project that seeks to crowdsource citizen-generated ideas on a range of topics related to climate change.

“Top-down approaches haven’t worked very well,” said Laur Fisher, community and partnerships manager for the MIT Climate CoLab. “Now, new information technologies—especially the Internet—are making it possible to organize and harness the intelligence of huge numbers of people in ways that have never been possible before in the history of humanity.”

By constructively engaging a broad range of scientists, policy makers, business people, investors and concerned citizens, Fisher said the hope is that the Climate CoLab will help develop and gain support for climate change plans that are more effective than past efforts.

“We know how to make real progress on climate change, what we must create is the political will to achieve it. Creating that will require all of us to engage. It can’t be a top-down process,” said Fred Krupp, Environmental Defense Fund president and the event’s keynote speaker. “The arch of the moral universe may bend toward justice, but the line on the graph of global emissions won’t bend until we make it do so.”

This letter is a bit of a hash, but it came out OK, I think. November 28:

To be meaningful, attempts to address climate change must be both polycentric and polytemporal; they must operate on scales of size from individuals to nations, and must reflect both long- and short-term thinking. Crowdsourcing initiatives like that of the MIT’s Climate CoLab are essential; the hegemony of old notions about society, energy and sustainability has delayed progress for far too long. We need dedicated and innovative people, families and communities anticipating and out-thinking the inevitable infrastructural and agricultural disruptions that will accompany an intensifying greenhouse effect. But there is no denying the urgent need for large-scale national policies which can support a wide range of individual, local, and regional initiatives. Unfortunately, as the recent inconclusive Warsaw conference once again demonstrates, the industrialized world’s governments are systemically unable to take the problem seriously.

It will take enormous political will and engagement to wrest the controls of our government from the hands of the corporate interests which no longer even pretend to have our interests at heart. The fossil fuel industry’s grossly disproportionate influence on our political system demonstrates that when it comes to making progress on climate change, oil is not a lubricant.

Warren Senders