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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 12, Day 22: If Looks Could Kill It Would Have Been Us Instead Of Him

Say what you will about Maine’s Governore Paul LePage, he’s a boon to opinion columnists looking for something to mock and deplore. The Bangor Daily News:

I do agree with Gov. Paul LePage on one thing.

It is difficult to keep up with the latest official title of what is basically the warming of our planet.

In this week’s story about LePage offering up the sunny side of this well-established yet heavily disputed and debated phenomenon, he was quoted as telling an audience, “It used to be global warming, I think they call it climate change now, but there are a lot of opportunities developing.”

Actually, further up in the story, BDN reporter Mario Moretto referred to it as “global climate change” and further down a Sierra Club spokesperson called it “global climate disruption.”

Since the governor has pretty much denied its existence or at least any human involvement in it, we probably should let him ease into the idea before expecting him to latch onto the term “global climate disruption.”

Whatever you want to call it, what I know is that there will be no delicate, luxurious Maine shrimp on my table this winter … and that makes me sad.

A totally different tack from yesterday’s letter in response to the same idiocy. December 9:

Now that outright denial of climate change is all but impossible, we can expect conservative politicians and media figures to begin proclaiming that a catastrophically intensifying greenhouse effect is actually a good thing. Cue Governor LePage, who recently suggested that a melted Arctic would be economically beneficial.

And indeed, metastasizing global warming is certainly going to be a job creator. Since complicated lawsuits will multiply, environmental law specialists will be in demand everywhere. Think of all the disaster response experts required to cope with the increasing numbers of severe and devastating storms! Think of the extra training doctors will need as invasive tropical diseases become commonplace, and the oncologists, pharmacists, and funeral directors who’ll be working overtime in the long-term aftermath of the toxic spills inevitably accompanying the extraction and transport of fossil fuels.

Of course, some jobs will disappear, like those of Atlantic fishermen. The Governor sends his regrets.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 12, Day 21: Crying All The Way To The Bank

The Portland Press-Herald’s Bill Nemitz has some words for Maine’s Governor LePage:

Ahoy, Governor LePage!

Not sure if you can hear me over the wind and the waves, but I can’t let another day pass without congratulating you on that epiphany you had last week before a crowd of transportation industry types:

You finally believe in global warming!

What’s more, now that you’re an ocean-is-more-than-half-full kind of guy, you’ve gone from denying that the Earth’s climate is rapidly changing to embracing it as the second coming for Maine’s frozen economy.

“Everybody looks at the negative effects of global warming, but with the ice melting, the Northern Pass has opened up – the new sea traffic is going across the north,” you told the Maine Transportation Conference on Wednesday. “So maybe, instead of being at the end of the pipeline, we’re now at the beginning of a new pipeline.”

No argument there, Big Guy. The more those Arctic waters stay open, the more Maine’s deep-water ports stand to benefit as jumping-off points for an endless parade of not-so-slow boats to China.

Well spoken, sir. December 8:

Now that denying the existence of a planetary environmental crisis is no longer viable, expect the talking heads of our media and political environment to start asserting that we must “balance” climate change mitigation with economic expansion, a stance which has the advantage of being temporarily plausible until we remember that infinite growth is impossible on a finite surface.

By asserting the fiscal returns to be expected from a melted Arctic, Governor LePage goes a step further, embracing a global catastrophe as a potential profit center. Which is, quite simply, insane.

Remember the old saw, “health is our greatest wealth?” The Earth’s health is the foundation of all human prosperity, and our planet’s resources (water, food, the environment’s ability to process our wastes) are limited. Impressive quarterly returns won’t protect our grandchildren from rising sea levels, agricultural collapses, oceanic acidification, and the other consequences of an accelerating greenhouse effect.

Warren Senders


Year 4, Month 12, Day 17: I Don’t Feel So Well Myself

USA Today, on the new face of climate-change: disease.

SACRAMENTO — Software engineer Andres Chavez is used to doing things quickly, efficiently and correctly. So he knew something was seriously wrong when, on a business trip in 2009, he was so confused he could barely sign a stack of paperwork.

“I felt like I was living a quarter-second in the past,” he says of the onset of Valley Fever, a disease caused by a soil fungus. It took months for his doctor to finally suggest that might be the cause of Chavez’s episodes of “getting stupid,” as his wife calls it.

“He called and asked me if I spent any time down in the Central Valley, and I said of course I did, my family lives in Livingston, Calif.,” Chavez, 43, remembers.

The soil there and in much of the arid Southwest carries the Coccidioides fungus. In dry months, the dust scatters in the wind and can be breathed into the lungs, infecting humans, dogs and cats and other mammals. The incidence is rising dramatically in the Southwest, where reported cases increased tenfold from 1998 to 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Weathering the Change logo

The series will look at different regions of the country.(Photo: USA TODAY)

Valley Fever is one of multiple diseases experts say are spreading in part because of climate change. They include a brain-eating amoeba showing up in northern lakes that were once too cold to harbor it and several illnesses carried by ticks whose range is increasing.

Sounds attractive, no? December 5:

The climate-change denialists in politics and media are subject to frequent interludes of confusion and disorientation, rather like those afflicted by Coccidioides. While it isn’t as foreign-sounding as, say, “West Nile virus”, the fact is that an increasing incidence of “Valley Fever” is yet another unanticipated consequence of the accelerating greenhouse effect: the expansion of disease vectors into new areas. As climate change becomes a fact of our daily lives, America’s doctors can expect to encounter hitherto exotic ailments more and more often.

Congressional Republicans are still, of course, obsessed with their attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. If these anti-science lawmakers took their jobs seriously, they’d realize that these spreading insects, viruses and bacteria are a far graver threat to our economy than a mild regulatory regime for health insurers. Apparently lobbyist cash has an even more debilitating impact on the brain than a dust-scattered soil fungus.

Warren Senders


Year 4, Month 12, Day 16: Coming Down The Home Stretch

The Denver Post discusses the need for more and better science:

Government-backed U.S. scientists on Tuesday urged for the creation of a warning system to help people anticipate the impact of climate change on food, water and cities.

Early warnings would give more time to adapt, but they will require much closer monitoring of warming oceans, increasing greenhouse gas emissions, and extinctions of plants and animals, according to the scientists and a report unveiled by a National Research Council committee.

There are too many blind spots to be able to anticipate change and its impacts, said Jim White, the University of Colorado-based committee chairman.

Ocean temperatures should be monitored near the ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland, he said. And the number of points where the heat-trapping greenhouse gas methane is measured is inadequate, with funding for global monitoring networks cut by 30 percent since 2007, he said.

“We’re not watching closely enough,” he said. “Think about walking in a dark cave. You need a candle. This monitoring is our candle.”

Scientists in their report said surprises resulting from climate change are inevitable and that a warning system could allow mitigation before impacts are severe.

The comments are depressing. December 4:

A phrase we hear often from conservative politicians is “nobody anticipated.” For example, “nobody anticipated” New Orleans’ failing levees, or the Iraq invasion’s mishandling, or the failure rates of oil pipelines, or that slashing public works funding leads to major infrastructure collapses. And nobody anticipated pine beetle infestations, crop failures, flooding, drought, newly resurgent tropical diseases, or any of global climate change’s other repercussions around the world.

“Nobody,” but climate scientists, whose reputations (unlike those of politicians and media figures) hinge on the accuracy and reliability of their predictions. Climatologists have been warning us for decades that our fossil-fuel addiction would bring disastrous results, and they’ve only erred in underestimating just how disastrous those results would be. If we are to survive and prosper as a society, as a civilization, and as a species, we need to put less energy into ideological posturing and more into research, analysis, and forecasting.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 12, Day 12: Whatever It Is, I’m Against It.

The Lincoln Journal-Star (NE) on the relative unpreparedness of coastal vs. inland states for the impacts of climate change:

Eighteen states, including Delaware, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Wyoming and others, were ranked as Category 1, meaning that their plans either mention nothing about climate change or discuss climate change with confusing, dismissive or inaccurate information. Colorado, California, New York and eight others that included the most thorough and accurate discussion of climate change were ranked as Category 4, while the remaining states fell between the two categories.

“By identifying the most thorough plans that have been prepared, we hope to provide planners in other states with models that can serve as a place to start in upgrading their own plans,” said Michael B. Gerrard, director of Columbia University’s Center for Climate Change Law, which conducted the survey.

Since the data were gathered, about half the states have begun revising their hazard mitigation plans. Some revisions that have been completed are not accounted for in the survey, he said.

The hazard mitigation plan for Colorado, the only western land-locked state the report ranked in Category 4, focuses on how climate change could have a significant impact on drought and water resources in the state. Colorado recently has experienced numerous climate change-influenced extreme weather events, including a withering drought, the state’s two most destructive wildfire seasons in its history and catastrophic flooding.

“The example of Colorado shows that climate-related hazards are not only coastal; land-locked states have their own hazards, and there are ways to anticipate them and plan for them,” Gerrard said.

States whose hazard mitigation plans ignore climate change entirely are Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, Nevada, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota. The Mississippi and Montana plans discuss climate change only as a source of added complexity when dealing with wildfire, the report says.

A generic Republican-bashing letter. November 30:

The most immediately obvious impact of global climate change is the intensity and frequency of storm activity, so it makes sense that coastal dwellers will be more keenly aware of the crisis. But inland states’ unpreparedness cannot be entirely blamed on geography, for there is nowhere on Earth where the consequences of the accelerating greenhouse effect are not felt, and the facts of climate science are by now well-known.

Did I say “nowhere”? Perhaps I misspoke. It’s surely revealing that of the eight states which ignore climate pressures completely in their disaster planning, all but one are governed by members of a political party which is now dominated by science-denial and magical thinking. Republican lawmakers seem to be completely insulated from the obvious realities of a changing climate — a state of affairs which is a sad comedown for the erstwhile party of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Dwight Eisenhower.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 12, Day 2: Just Tryin’ To Make A Livin’ And Doin’ The Best I Can

The Tampa Bay Times, on rising waters and insurance rates:

ST. PETERSBURG — Nearly 40 real estate agents packed the sweltering conference room in downtown St. Petersburg this week to hear flood insurance expert Pete Travis describe the new — and expensive — world coming Oct. 1.

He didn’t pull any punches.

Many older homes in flood zones have long benefited from a big subsidy that kept flood insurance rates very low. Starting next month, those homeowners will typically see annual rates jump more than 20 percent, including a fee for a new reserve fund. A late payment could cost them their subsidy immediately.

If the owner sells the home, the buyer will lose the subsidy. That could, as in one scenario, raise a premium that had been $1,400 a year to $9,500.

Travis wasn’t hopeful of a congressional reprieve in the next couple of weeks.

“Have I demoralized everyone here?” he asked.

Concern about rising flood insurance rates — triggered by the Biggert-Waters Act of 2012 — has been percolating for months. Now, just weeks before the law’s main provisions take effect, real estate agents and communities from Apollo Beach to Treasure Island are galvanizing, worried about falling property values, busted real estate sales and a crippling effect on the broader economy.

People gettin’ hammered, everywhere. November 21:

A phrase we’ve heard all too often from our conservative politicians is “nobody anticipated.” “Nobody” anticipated New Orleans’ crumbling levees in New Orleans, the environmental consequences of oil spills, or the fact that cutting public works funding results in failing infrastructure. And “nobody” anticipated the devastating floods which are becoming a fact of life for coastal Floridians.

“Nobody,” that is, except environmentalists, scientists, and insurance companies. That latter group, of course, depends on accurate predictions for its continued profitability. Unfortunately, when it comes to issues of climate, the Republican Party has now abandoned any attempts at fact-based policy.

Thanks to zealous Tea-Party politicians and their constituents, the measured predictions of insurance companies contemplating a climatically-transformed future no longer have any influence on Republican policy-making.

Apparently nobody anticipated that a political movement built on ideological opposition to science and expertise would bring skyrocketing expenses for homeowners facing the impacts of global climate change.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 11, Day 25: It Ain’t Necessarily So

The Christian Post gives column space to Pastor Darren Ferguson, who wants his flock to start facing the facts:

Whenever talking heads and political pundits start debating climate change, I honestly wish that I could turn the clock back one year and a few days to when Hurricane Sandy hit the Northeast. Rush Limbaugh and other climate change deniers would likely be saying drastically different things if they had spent a few days here with us in Far Rockaway, NY. They would have trouble explaining the fact that in this New York City peninsula where I live and pastor a church, the Atlantic Ocean and Jamaica Bay had not met in over 50 years, but that is exactly what they did on October 29th, 2012.

I would invite them to read climatologist Dr. Kevin Trenberth’s article, Hurricane Sandy mixes super-storm conditions with climate change, in which he says that “the oft-asked question of whether an event is caused by climate change” is “the wrong question. All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be.” I would invite them to listen as I advocate within my church and community for environmental stewardship, which, in my opinion, means that we have to be faithful with the earth that God has given us. Finally, I would invite them to walk through my “hood” to see homes still abandoned one year later, families still displaced one year later; a community devastated and families still fragmented one year later. These are the human and communal costs of our continued faithlessness – the effects of what Christians call sin – to our inattention to, and destruction of, our environment and planet.

I know it’s unlikely that I’ll ever be published in the Christian Post, but I didn’t mention my atheism in this letter. Let’s see. November 15:

Darren Ferguson’s plea for evangelical Christians to recognize the reality of global climate change is a welcome embrace of science-based public policy in the United States — something which communities of faith too often reject. Make no mistake: the accelerating greenhouse effect is a scientific fact — predicted over a hundred years ago, confirmed by experiment and observation, and strongly correlated with industrialized civilization’s CO2 emissions. By the way, the language of researchers is always measured and precise; phrases like “strongly correlated” are how scientists shout.

It bodes ill for our nation and the world that the undisciplined and vociferous voices of climate-change denial are still louder than the soft and careful words of the scientific community — and it reflects poorly on the faithful that those voices are overwhelmingly those of religious fundamentalists.

The “historian” David Barton, a prominent public face of evangelical Christianity, recently stated that global warming is real, but claimed it’s Divine punishment for abortions rather than the result of accumulated greenhouse gases in the upper atmosphere. Such absurd assertions (does Mr. Barton really believe that if we outlawed abortion, God would re-freeze the Arctic?) do a grave disservice to the faith of people like Pastor Ferguson — a man who’s faced the climate crisis personally and is in no doubt about the dangers it poses.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 11, Day 24: They’re Selling Postcards Of The Hanging

The Greenville News (SC) discusses climatic impacts on the dear old Southland:

Dow said higher temperatures could have a variety of impacts on the region and South Carolina, ranging from more diseases in fish to making air quality worse in the Columbia area as smog-forming pollutants rise. Rising temperatures and drought will make crops thirstier. That will make it harder to grow crops without irrigation, the study said.

Even so, state Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley was skeptical about the consequences for South Carolina.

“If you’re talking about (rising temperatures) causing disease and famine, and so forth, that’s simply not the case,” he said. “All you have to do is look to other states with a slightly warmer climate.”

“There’s a reason why a lot of people move to Florida.”

If I lived in South Carolina, I’d move anywhere else in the world, just to get the fuck away from Larry Grooms. November 14:

South Carolina and the rest of America’s South aren’t alone in facing the disastrous impacts of global climate change. All over the planet, from deserts to mountains, people are finally grappling with the facts of steadily more unpredictable and extreme weather, increasingly disrupted agricultural schedules, and reduced crop yields.

There is one place, however, which is well-protected from the consequences of a runaway greenhouse effect. The offices and conference rooms of the Republican Party are insulated from the outside world by vast quantities of corporate money. To these folks, climate change can be a liberal conspiracy, a plot for one-world government, a running joke about Al Gore, a chance for anti-taxation demagoguery — anything but a grave danger to our civilization and our survival as a species.

After another few decades of rising temperatures, Senator Larry Grooms’ quip about people moving to Florida probably won’t seem so funny. Politicians who deny the realities of climate science are ensuring catastrophic outcomes for their constituents — and the rest of the world.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 11, Day 23: But They Are Always Right In The Beginning

The Cleveland Plain-Dealer (OH) tries to make some sort of point:

There is no question Typhoon Haiyan was devastating — some declared it one of the most powerful storms in recorded history. It reportedly had sustained winds near 150 mph and a storm surge of 20 feet. (Some reports say wind gusts exceeded 200 mph.) Initial reports predicting up to 10,000 dead have been scaled back to 2,000 to 2,500 by President Benigno Aquino III. The storm still wiped out large sections of cities and towns, displacing thousands, and has led to an urgent call for aid for survivors.

It also has climate watchers wondering if Haiyan is just the beginning. Like Superstorm Sandy in 2012, Haiyan’s strength and destructive impact is bringing warnings of even more powerful storms in the future because of changes in the climate.

Yeb Sano, the head of the Philippines delegation at the United Nations climate talks currently under way in Warsaw, made it clear where he stands. In a speech Monday, Sano said he will stop eating until “meaningful” progress is made on climate change. From the BBC:

“In solidarity with my countrymen who are struggling to find food back home, I will now commence a voluntary fasting for the climate. This means I will voluntarily refrain from eating food during this Cop, until a meaningful outcome is in sight. What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness, the climate crisis is madness. We can stop this madness right here in Warsaw.”

Bruce McQuain, writing for the website, offers sympathy to Sano and the people suffering in the Philippines. But he also says Sano is wrong about the UN taking action on climate change and says it’s not necessary. McQuain warns that proposed measures to reduce carbon emissions would “ruin” economies and bring only marginal results…

Because a conservative douchebag writing on has so much credibility it’s just awesome. November 13:

Self-styled fiscal conservatives who loudly proclaim that meaningful actions to address climate change would hurt economies simply demonstrate their own inability to think in timespans longer than the next quarterly report. Strategies like strengthening infrastructure, decentralizing our power grid, shifting the global energy economy to renewable sources, and developing less wasteful manufacturing practices are all sound investments in a longer-term future; they are the large-scale equivalent of preparing for flooding by reinforcing levees and stockpiling sandbags, steps which deficit hawks would no doubt deride as too costly or economically damaging.

The science is unequivocal, despite the natterings of denialists. There is no more uncertainty about the human causes of climate change — and the dangers it presents to our civilization — than there is about the causal link between smoking and cancer. Anticipating the damage from a climate-transformed world, and working proactively to minimize its extent, is fiscal common sense. Even more important, it’s the right thing to do for the posterity of our species.

Warren Senders