Month 10, Day 2: I’m In Washington, La La La La

Note the clever paraphrasing job.

Dear Majority Leader Reid,

A month away from the mid-term elections, it seems likely that Democrats will hold the Senate — so it is in a hopeful mood that I write to urge you to use all the persuasiveness of which you are capable to back filibuster reform when the next session of Congress opens.

The sidelining of meaningful climate legislation by the threat of a Republican filibuster was and is an outrage. While climate change wreaks its havoc too slowly to have an impact on the notoriously short attention span of an American citizen, it is nevertheless the most significant existential threat humanity has ever faced. The legislation crafted by Senators Kerry and Lieberman, while inadequate in many ways, was at least a start. What an ignominy for it to be bluffed into irrelevance!

It is essential for our nation’s survival that the Senate pass a robust climate bill. While a Renewable Energy Standard may be all that we can get in the lame-duck session, I urge you to push as hard as possible to get climate legislation back on the Senate floor, and make sure it passes. Which will require two things: first, having some strong conversations with the Senate Democrats who are unwilling to vote for cloture on a bill that is part of their own party’s political platform (frankly, they seem determined to ensure that the nightmare represented by Democratic control of the Senate never occurs again). And second: ending the abuse of the filibuster.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 9, Day 12: In Some Parallel Universe, We Got Off Fossil Fuels in 1935.

Well, there are small mutterings that the Senate might try to pass a drastically stripped-down version of climate legislation in the lame duck session post-November. To wit, a Renewable Energy Standard, which would provide specific targets for alternatives to fossil fuels, and encourage them with tax credits.

Sometimes I think that writing to Harry Reid will actually put a jinx on it. Then I remember two things. First: I’m not superstitious. Second: Harry Reid has been wimping out on legislation for far longer than I’ve been writing letters.

Sorry, kids. It’s been fun.

Dear Senator Reid,

Environmentally aware citizens have had a steady diet of disappointment over the course of the past eighteen months. We knew that nothing would happen under a Bush presidency, but we did have hopes that the Obama administration would be able to muster the energy and political momentum to get wide support for meaningful climate legislation. Instead, we have witnessed failures of will from Democrats, exacerbated by failures of conscience and intellect from Republicans.

Now we are simply hoping that a single small crumb remains of what could have been a nourishing meal. What’s left of our aspirations for climate legislation? A Renewable Energy Standard.

Such a standard would be America’s first long-term policy supporting clean energy. Without such a policy, investors cannot plan for the long term; infrastructure cannot be developed; markets cannot be nurtured. When we do finally decide to get serious about climate change, we’re going to need those long-term plans, that infrastructure, those markets.

While we dither, China has left us behind; a recent study confirms that China is now the world leader for clean energy investment — a position that once was ours.

An R.E.S. would trigger investments and create jobs — not just jobs rebuilding older infrastructure, but jobs and opportunities for our country’s workers that will keep growing in the decades to come. We need a clear and unambiguous policy signal from our government: clean and renewable energy is the future of America, and we believe in our country’s future.

Please ensure that a Renewable Energy Standard comes to the floor of the Senate. It’s not what we were hoping for, a year and a half ago. But we’ll take it gladly.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 7, Day 30: Rules Are Made To Be Changed

Too tired tonight to find a newspaper to yell at; not enough time available to write a short letter. So I thought I’d just let Harry Reid know that we really really really really need to change the Senate rules on the filibuster.

Dear Senator Reid —

It’s been a bad year for citizens who are aware of the enormous threat posed by climate change. The Senate’s abandonment of a climate bill during this Congress is a bitter disappointment; more than that, it may mark the final closing of the window of opportunity. The signs are all there, pointing toward an unimaginably bleak and difficult future for our children and their children in turn.

A recent study sponsored by the Natural Resources Defense Council points out the impending desertification of huge swaths of the American West and Southwest; one analyst refers to it as a “permanent dust bowl.” This trend can be slowed and perhaps stopped, but not if we continue “business as usual.” That means that strong measures have to be put into place to reduce carbon emissions worldwide, and to transform our country’s energy economy.

Which, in turn, means that Senate Democrats must reform the filibuster, for this currently places effective veto power over meaningful legislation in the hands of people who are ideologically driven, pathologically short-sighted, and unable to act for the greater good.

Some of the time I sympathize with you; it must be unbearably difficult to be the de facto leader of an essentially dysfunctional organization. And some of the time I’m simply furious, because I am convinced you could have done more to make your Democratic colleagues maintain party unity on cloture votes.

Climate change is the greatest existential threat we face in the world today; if we fail to address it with sufficient clarity and resolve, no other issue will matter. The results of failure are unthinkable — but the roadblock in the way of action is the U.S. Senate.

Let’s get filibuster reform accomplished, so we can get something done. Time is running out.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 7, Day 18: Keep The Pressure On!

Not much to add to this. Asking Harry Reid to throw a few punches and twist a few arms. Not feeling too hopeful about that.

Dear Senator Reid,

As you move towards bringing the upcoming climate bill to the Senate floor, please take some time out of your schedule to try and talk some sense into your colleague, Senator Ben Nelson. His announced readiness to vote against cloture goes against the grain in multiple ways.

He has previously supported climate legislation on the Senate floor, as happened in 2008, when he voted to proceed on a bill authored by Senators Lieberman, Warner, and Boxer. He has also voted for cloture on a Boxer substitute amendment which would have established a carbon trading system and capped greenhouse emissions. His cited reason is a fear that Nebraskans’ utility bills will go up.

Well, as I’ve written Senator Nelson, everyone‘s utility bills are going to go up, whether we like it or not. And they’re going to go up catastrophically if we don’t do something about the greenhouse gas buildup in our atmosphere — which a recent Purdue University study concluded will lead to a dramatic increase in “killer heat waves” in the American West and Southwest, within a few decades.

Senator Nelson’s obstructionism is short-sighted, selfish and terribly destructive to what may be our nation’s last chance to secure an environmentally sustainable future. Please do not allow him to hijack climate/energy legislation; we have already procrastinated for more than four decades, and now is our time to act.

We can no longer afford to live wastefully, and first off, that means we have to stop wasting time.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 7, Day 5: Tiny Little Glimmers. Just Tiny Little Glimmers.

The striking thing isn’t that a famous scientist thinks humanity is likely to go extinct within a century. The striking thing is that many other scientists agree with him.

Dear Senators Kerry and Reid -

The continued forward motion of climate legislation is heartening to those of us who are concerned about the Earth’s future. It is sickening to watch the obstructionist tactics of the opposition party, and those Democrats who, placing narrow interests above that of the nation as a whole, continue to support “business as usual” (BAU for short).

Because it is daily more evident that BAU is not going to work any longer. The Australian biologist Frank Fenner states baldly that continued population growth and unchecked consumption (key elements of BAU, needless to say) are going to bring humanity to extinction within the century — and other scientists nod grimly and say things like, “While there’s a glimmer of hope, it’s worth working to solve the problem. We have the scientific knowledge to do it but we don’t have the political will.”

We need to recognize the nature of the crisis and educate one another, and we have to do it in a hurry.

Which is why I’m writing, begging you: don’t capitulate any more.

Don’t capitulate to the oil interests.
Don’t capitulate to the coal interests.
Don’t capitulate to the natural gas interests.
Don’t capitulate to the financial interests.
Don’t capitulate to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Don’t capitulate to the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page.
Don’t capitulate to the Dominionist Christians who anxiously await armageddon as promised in the Book of Revelations.
Don’t capitulate to Lindsey Graham’s political exigencies.
Don’t capitulate to Glenn Beck’s conspiracy theories.
Don’t capitulate to President Obama’s accomodationist bipartisan instincts.

Don’t capitulate. Make the bill stronger. We need a price on carbon. We need to make the cost of carbon reflect its true cost to our planet and ourselves. How much will it cost to clean up the mess we’ve made? Trillions of dollars, at minimum — and the longer we go on with Business As Usual, the more costly and inconvenient it’s going to be. Those trillions need to be added to the price of carbon, as soon as possible.

We have fooled ourselves that fossil fuels are cheap. They are anything but — and the sooner our economic thinking changes to reflect the true cost of oil and coal, the more likely it is we can avoid the fate Dr. Fenner has predicted.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 6, Day 29: Harry Reid, Mensch.

Well, this is looking better and better. I finished faxing my Friday letter to all the Senators over the weekend (there were four senatorial fax machines out of order, so I didn’t quite make it), but if that DK article is on the level, Harry Reid is really sticking his neck out here. So I wrote him a letter of support.

Dear Senator Reid,

I write to express my enthusiastic support for your plan to get a strong climate bill passed before the August recess. The facts and figures from around the world tell a terrifying story: the climate has reached a serious “tipping point,” and there is absolutely no time to waste in bringing about very serious reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Even with emissions reductions at the highest level that is politically possible, we (all of us on the planet) are looking forward to a world that will be drastically less livable; a world in which a steady climate cannot be taken for granted; a world with more unexpected torrential floods and more sustained droughts. We’re past the point where we can get back to the climate you and I grew up in.

But if we act soon, and act strongly, we may be able to give our children’s children a world they can grow up in. That’s why it’s absolutely crucial that a strong climate bill get passed in the Senate as soon as possible — and that’s why I’m writing to support you.

Thank you for what you are doing. Please don’t let denialists and cynical opportunists weaken this bill. We can’t afford inaction, we can’t afford delay — and we can’t afford Republican obstructionism. Stand firm.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 6, Day 25: Okay, I’m In.

Well, I just read this story by RL Miller at DK. She shows signs of optimism that Harry Reid will be able to pull something off. I sure hope so. Friday and this weekend I’m going to try to send this as a fax to every senator. All 100 of ‘em. If Harry’s ready to gamble, so am I.

UPDATE, FRIDAY 3 PM: I’ve faxed forty (40) senators so far. Looks like I’ll be done by tomorrow. Yay me.

Dear Senator — I sent a fax earlier this week, urging your support for a genuinely robust bill that addresses the terrible threat of climate change. This fax is going both to members of the Democratic and Republican caucus. I will address each party separately.

Republicans: Now is not the time to play politics. Now is the time to be attentive to a genuine threat to our nation’s security. The U.S. Military and the C.I.A. both recognize the potential dangers of a world transformed by catastrophic global warming — why doesn’t the Republican Party? I know Rush Limbaugh doesn’t believe it, and I know James Inhofe doesn’t believe it. The thing is, they’re wrong. Climate change is real, it is caused by human behavior, and the question our country faces is whether to address it now, or wait for it to reach horrifying extremes. Do we deal with it when it shows, or when it blows? Please support a strong climate bill.

Democrats: A climate bill is a jobs bill. The technologies needed to get the American people and the world off fossil fuels once and for all can be developed here in the U.S.A. Where is our faith in American initiative, innovation and inspiration? When did we go from being a “can do” society to being one that complains, “it’s too hard”? A powerful climate bill will effect an economic transformation. Please support such a bill.

Whether we pass this bill or not, “Business As Usual” is no longer an option. Our ways of energy consumption are going to change. The only question is whether we change them voluntarily, with enthusiasm and a spirit of national unity and optimism — or whether they’re changed for us, by an out-of-control climate and a poisoned ocean. The choice is yours.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 6, Day 9: Rightly Is They Called Idiots.

When Harry Reid became Minority leader back when Democrats were in the minority, I knew he was trouble. It’s unbelievable how regularly he manages to snatch policy defeat from the jaws of legislative victory.

And now he’s getting ready to do it again. I sent a copy of this letter to Chuck Schumer, as he appears to be involved in this scam, too.

(facepalm)

Dear Senator Reid,

It’s true that the Gulf of Mexico disaster strengthens the case for a new and better energy policy. But replacing the already weakened Kerry-Lieberman bill with the completely powerless American Clean Energy Leadership Act (ACELA) is a terrible mistake.

ACELA is filled with giveaways to polluters. Some analysts believe it will actually increase carbon emissions. This may be a tiny stepping stone towards a new energy policy — but the real lesson of the Gulf catastrophe is that climate change is coming, and it’s coming faster than anyone thought (the climate for sea creatures in the waters off Louisiana has changed pretty drastically in just a few days, hasn’t it?). America needs to take this seriously.

The type of legislative sausage-making that was a source of entertainment in less critical times is no longer an option. To think that further weakening legislation that has already had all its teeth pulled will entice Republican votes is the height of naivete.

If any climate legislation (such as “cap-and-trade”) is offered as an amendment to ACELA, it will be defeated, and the narrow window of opportunity opened by the crisis in the Gulf will have been wasted — just like every other window of opportunity that has opened for Democrats in the past few years.

A climate bill must be offered as part of a linked package: climate-and-energy. There can be no compromise on this; I am asking you to look beyond political exigencies and consider the fact that the scientific evidence is overwhelming: the planet is warming, humans cause it, and everyone who is paying attention knows this to be true. What we really need is a carbon tax. If what we can get in a climate bill is cap-and-trade, we’ll start there.

But cap-and-trade is not analogous to a “public option” — something that we good progressives will eventually abandon in order to get a bill passed. We must have robust climate legislation.

If we fail, our descendants will curse us. We owe it to them to get this right. Any bill that has incentives for dirty energy and puts no price on carbon is a failure.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 5, Day 26: You Get What You Pay For.

I synthesized two separate articles in this one, which goes out to John Kerry and Harry Reid. Subtext: Fix The Damned Filibuster, You Twits!

Dear Senators Kerry and Reid,

While it may not be obvious to your Republican colleagues, it is crystal clear to anyone who’s paying attention that oil and coal are hugely more expensive than renewable energy sources.

Once we learn to count disasters, health effects, long-term environmental degradation, expensive wars and catastrophic global warming as inherent costs of fossil fuels, it’s obvious: we can no longer afford to keep burning.

Right now the B.P. disaster is threatening the native sperm whales, already an endangered species. Scientists say that it would only take a few deaths to condemn the entire Gulf population to extinction. How can we put a price on a sperm whale (ironically, an animal once almost hunted to extinction for its utility as an energy source)?

How can we put prices on the countless human communities along the Gulf coast — communities with unique customs, traditions and ways of life that are now facing similar fates? How expensive is the canary in the coal mine? And how many more canaries are going to die before we notice?

The oil advocates’ crazed eagerness to drill more and deeper sounds desperate at best and well-nigh pornographic at worst. Their insistence on expansion of oil sources regardless of the consequences is revealing: they know that Peak Oil has arrived, and they’re desperate. From now on, oil is never going to get cheaper. A rig like the Deepwater Horizon is incredibly expensive to operate, probably costing millions of dollars a year; Peak Oil means peak operating cost, which is why rig operators routinely ignore safety procedures.

We can either make a switchover to renewable energy sources swiftly, with the full support of the government and the world’s industrial base — or we can make the same switchover after the world’s energy economy has collapsed and the planetary ecosystem has been gravely damaged. Either way, the bill for our fossil foolishness has come due, and it’s time to tell the American people that the days of cheap hydrocarbon energy are officially over.

The crafting of the Kerry-Lieberman bill demonstrated the extent to which political expediency is a determining factor in the content of legislation. Alas, the country can no longer afford political expediency either. We need to get off fossil fuels, and soon.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders
629 Fellsway West
Medford, MA 02155
781-396-0734

Month 4, Day 22: I Never Understood Football, But I Think I Know What “Punting” Means

According to Rollcall:

Democratic leaders are pushing ahead with plans to move comprehensive immigration reform legislation this year — even if it means punting on energy legislation until next Congress.

(snip)

During the meeting, Reid “reiterated his intention to move forward” this year on immigration reform, one aide said, adding that Pelosi agreed it is a top priority, even beyond energy legislation.

“The Speaker did agree that if faced with a choice between energy and immigration, she’d go with immigration,” the aide said.

However, a House Democratic aide insisted that Pelosi’s comments were aimed only at the timing of the two issues, and that she meant that immigration could advance before energy reform.

So….a letter to Nancy and Harry:

Dear Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid,

I was distressed to read in today’s “Rollcall” that the priority treatment accorded to immigration reform is apparently making it more likely that a comprehensive and robust energy and climate bill will have to wait until after the 2010 elections.

There is not much time left for us to get things done if we are to have a hope of making a difference. Many climatic tipping points have already been passed. Arctic methane is beginning to enter the atmosphere; the oceans are approaching dangerous levels of acidity. Atmospheric CO2 is well above safe levels and climbing. The worst-case Venusian scenarios outlined by Dr. James Hansen have moved out of the realm of wild speculation and are now statistically significant probabilities. And meanwhile, our representatives in government are anxious — about their own political safety.

Let me be clear: there will never be a time when it is “politically safe” to make robust and meaningful climate/energy legislation come to pass. Why? Because the time lag between climate action and climate effect is longer than the elected term of a U.S. Senator, let alone a Representative. Thus, there is no mechanism in our electoral system that encourages longer-term thinking. But this is an explanation, not an excuse.

America and the planet need this bill to be passed; we need it to be comprehensive and robust, and we need it to have regulatory teeth. The lives of our descendants hang in the balance. There is no time to lose; no time to waste. We’ve put off genuine climate action for decades. Don’t put it off again.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders