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 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 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 18: A Little More Lovely Than It Was Before You

The Spokesman-Review takes note of a new study on the Rockies’ rapidly disappearing snowpack:

Last weekend’s doozy of a storm followed a classic Northwest weather script.

Winds gusting to 40 mph blew moisture-rich air from the ocean into the Cascades and Northern Rockies, dumping snow on the mountains while leaving lower elevations bare.

The winds – called “winter westerlies” – are vital to a region that depends on mountain snowpack for its water supply. But a new study suggests that climate change is disrupting the winds, with stark implications for future water availability.

“Those winds are being slowed down by climate change,” said Charlie Luce, a research hydrologist at the Rocky Mountain Research Station in Boise. That means fewer storms will reach the mountains, or smaller water droplets will drift over the peaks as fog instead of falling as snow, he said.

Either scenario would mean additional headaches for Northwest policymakers preparing for an altered climate.

Warmer temperatures already are expected to shift some Northwest precipitation from snow to rain and cause the snow that does accumulate to melt earlier in the year. The net effect is reduced runoff during the spring and summer, when the water is needed for irrigation, hydropower, fisheries and other uses. Complicating matters, Luce’s study suggests there will be far less water to begin with.

The “Missing Mountain Water” study was published last week in Science magazine by Luce and researchers from the University of Idaho and the U.S. Forest Service.

This letter is a pastiche from previous efforts. December 6:

The newly released study of the Northwest’s shrinking snowpack offers further support to an enormous body of research that confirms a distressing planetary trend. Human greenhouse emissions have achieved quantities sufficient to warm the Earth’s atmosphere and affect ecosystems all around the world in unpredictable and disruptive ways. This loss of water resources in the Rockies and Cascades is exacerbated by those politicians and media figures whose rigid ideologies compel them to reject the implications of scientific inquiry and analysis.

Our national case of ADD has blinded us to the fact that when it comes to the planet’s health, we’re all in this together. Perhaps the climate crisis may finally help us realize that what we do in our own neighborhoods can affect people’s lives on the other side of the globe — and that what we do today will shape the lives of our descendants in the distant future.

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 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 12: Like A Second Marriage

In the Asbury Park Press, CCL’s Joseph Robertson reaffirms the triumph of hope over experience:

There is deep and lasting trauma, reasonably rooted in lived experience along the coastal areas of our region, from the impact of superstorm Sandy. Some towns worry they need to be integrated into neighboring municipalities if they cannot rebuild or attract new investment. Homeowners and business owners are determined to rebuild, but face daunting obstacles.

Congress has not been eager to provide the disaster relief funding promised. Leaders focused on solving problems have found fissures that run along party lines can be a great obstacle to progress for real people.

There are a number of seasoned, rational, service-oriented conservatives in New Jersey, who are in a unique position to open a new way through the ideological divisions holding us back. For a long time, conservatives have been pressured to refuse to respond to the need for climate change mitigation policy (like a price on carbon emissions or a cap on overall emissions). Sandy made that position all but untenable for anyone representing real people facing real and unprecedented problems. Those conservatives who understand the problem, and who are willing to lead, can now do so in a new context.

The fifth consensus report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — a strict, detailed and conclusive examination of scientific evidence endorsed even by oil-dependent nations like Saudi Arabia and Iran — has answered many of the most pressing questions posed by climate policy skeptics. The science is now settled, the evidence is clear and the report shows we have already burned through half of global civilization’s lifetime carbon fuel budget.

Tea-partiers. The apotheosis of vicious stupidity. November 2:

Joseph Robertson’s plea for “climate skeptics” to support a carbon tax is a sensible and well-crafted argument built on common sense, scientific reality, and a nuanced understanding of conservative values. That is to say, it doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of persuading those now controlling the conservative movement and the Republican party.

Today’s GOP is not the party of Lincoln. It’s not the party of Eisenhower. It’s not the party of Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan, but of ideologically-driven fanatics who fear and detest scientific expertise.

In a political environment where a plurality of primary voters still cling to bizarre birther notions and zombie conspiracy theories, even acknowledging the existence of climate change is electoral suicide. Unlike, say, the human causes of global warming, the idea that “seasoned, rational, service-oriented conservatives” will risk their careers for the good of the planet has — unfortunately — no supporting evidence whatsoever.

Warren Senders