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 9, Day 15: I Need A Cigarette

David Suzuki takes apart the conspiracy theorists, in the Timmins Press (Ontario):

TIMMINS – I recently wrote about geoengineering as a strategy to deal with climate change and carbon dioxide emissions.

That drew comments from people who confuse this scientific process with the unscientific theory of “chemtrails.”

Some also claimed the column supported geoengineering, which it didn’t.

The reaction got me wondering why some people believe in phenomena rejected by science, like chemtrails, but deny real problems demonstrated by massive amounts of scientific evidence, like climate change.

Chemtrails believers claim governments around the world are in cahoots with secret organizations to seed the atmosphere with chemicals and materials — aluminum salts, barium crystals, biological agents, polymer fibres, etc. — for a range of nefarious purposes.

These include controlling weather for military purposes, poisoning people for population or mind control and supporting secret weapons programs based on the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program, or HAARP.

Scientists have tested and used cloud and atmospheric seeding for weather modification and considered them as ways to slow global warming.

With so many unknowns and possible unintended consequences, these practices have the potential to cause harm.

But the chemtrails conspiracy theory is much broader, positing that military and commercial airlines are involved in constant massive daily spraying that is harming the physical and mental health of citizens worldwide.

I don’t have space to get into the absurdities of belief in a plot that would require worldwide collusion between governments, scientists and airline company executives and pilots to amass and spray unimaginable amounts of chemicals from altitudes of 10,000 metres or more.

Well, that was fun. September 8:

Even as the factual evidence for catastrophic climate change piles higher and higher, conservative zealots continue to reject its existence, severity, and causes. This dismissal of expertise, insight, facts and physical reality is a long-standing feature of the kind of paranoia which flourishes at the intersection of religious fundamentalism and scientific illiteracy. Those asserting the literal truth of ancient scriptures are trapped at the outset in a web of contradictions, gaining lots of practice in the White Queen’s ability to believe six impossible things before breakfast — while those who reject scientific method are ready to embrace superficially plausible notions at the expense of logic and data.

In the paranoid’s world, the more complex an explanation, the better: climate change is not a result of the greenhouse effect, a physical phenomenon first documented over a century ago, but the fabrication of an international cabal of scientists secretly in league with either the Lizard People or the Illuminati. The fact that there is no evidence for such bizarre assertions is proof that “the conspiracy goes all the way to the top.”

In any other context such delusional thinking would be the stuff of comedy. When the long-term future of Earthly life is at stake, however, it’s no longer a laughing matter.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 2, Day 17: Lies From The Pit Of Hell

The Christian Science Monitor extols the potential of new technology for carbon capture:

Global temperatures are rising faster than scientists thought possible even a few years ago. The Arctic icecap is melting at a rate that few researchers had anticipated, and, most ominously, the permafrost is beginning to thaw, which could release vast amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than CO2.

The situation is indeed grave – but not unsolvable. While the majority of scientists agree that we humans have made the problem, new innovations show that we can also solve it. Climate change is a global problem, but the world looks to the US for leadership and solutions.

There are three reasons for this. First, America is the world’s largest economic power. Second, the US has been the main obstructionist at global climate conferences preventing the tough action that needs to be taken to cut the emissions of greenhouse gases and slow the progress of climate change. Finally, and more hopefully, the US remains the world leader in science and innovation.

I saw proof of this when I visited Dr. Klaus Lackner, the chairman of the Earth and Environmental Engineering department at Columbia University in December. He showed me a palm-sized mockup for an “artificial tree” that mimics the photosynthesis of real trees by chemically sucking CO2 out of the air. A single such tree-sized device left standing in the wind, Dr. Lackner told me, would remove one ton a day of carbon from the atmosphere, the equivalent of the greenhouse gases produced by 36 automobiles.

If horses could fly, they’d be airplanes. Or something. Feb 9:

It’s comforting to think that American ingenuity, resourcefulness, and determination can mitigate the rapidly accelerating climate crisis. After all, we’re the nation that initiated the Manhattan Project, that landed men on the moon and brought them back safely. Surely the threat of global heating can be eliminated with good old American know-how and our iconic “can-do” spirit?

Maybe. But putting all that ingenuity, resourcefulness, and determination to work addressing the climate threat will take money, a taboo subject for the Republican lawmakers currently blocking forward motion on meaningful energy or environmental policy. So much for the “can-do” part of the equation. If we can take their public statements on scientific subjects as evidence, those same legislators are notoriously short on know-how.

Yes, scientific and technological innovations may well provide ways to cope with climate change — but only if our politicians fully accept the science and fully fund the innovation.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 10, Day 15: All Right — From Now On, No More Doctor Nice Guy

The Lincoln Journal-Star tells us about some Nebraska climatologists who are speaking out with one well-projected voice:

A warning sign on the first floor directs people to the basement of Bessey Hall in the event of a tornado.

An open door offers a view of an instructor pointing to a video display of the world’s prime monsoon regions.

Upstairs, on the third floor of his City Campus office, Clinton Rowe is dealing with a less familiar task.

He’s explaining why he and four colleagues decided it was time to go proactive, why they needed to issue a joint public statement on the evidence of increasing climate extremes and the potential for more tornadoes, droughts and floods.

The attention they’re getting for raising the alarm about global warming may have less to do with the side they’re on than with their methods.

In his 26 years at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Rowe can’t remember a time when his department has chosen a similar course toward group activism.

“Have we ever done anything like this? Not that I can think of.”

It’s been two weeks since he and four other NU faculty members from climate and climate-related ranks offered their shared view.

“The time for debate is over,” they said. “The time for action is here.”

In the next few decades, they warned, average temperatures in Nebraska will rise by 4 to 10 degrees. Because of diminished snowpack in the Rocky Mountains, flows in the Platte River will drop and Lake McConaughy could become “a ditch in midsummer.”

Enviro-nazis! Sent October 8:

The traditional language of science is restrained and cautious, which is a hindrance for climatologists when it comes to spreading the word about global warming and the dangers it poses to America and the world. When climate experts shout, it’s with careful statements using phrases like “statistically significant relationship” and “robust correlation,” which, while accurate, lack the emotional force necessary to galvanize ordinary citizens into action.

Meanwhile, those who oppose responsible climate and energy policies feel free to misrepresent the science and engage in character assassination, as witness the blizzard of obloquy hurled at Dr. Michael Mann and others who have stood up for the future of our species and our civilization. In the aftermath of their forceful statement on the climate crisis, let’s hope Dr. Clinton Rowe and his colleagues at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln receive respect and gratitude from their fellow citizens, rather than the ignorance and mockery we’ve come to expect from the anti-science politicians of the GOP and their enablers in the print and broadcast media.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 9, Day 26: GOTV!

The Morning Sentinel (Waterville, ME) runs an article by Richard Thomas, titled “Voters must press both parties to address climate change”:

This summer, flooding, hot spells, drought and firestorms are beginning to show us that climate change will be the defining issue of this century.

The drought in middle America already has caused a 10 percent rise in food prices.

Unfortunately, it appears that the impact of climate change will become much more extreme for a number of reasons. Individually, we have little control over this, but we do have a chance during the coming elections to push our government to face this issue more responsibly.

The factors that appear to make extreme climate change inevitable include the length of time required to build a new “green” energy infrastructure, the profit structure of corporations, politics and human nature. The health of our economy depends on cheap portable energy. Now, this means burning huge amounts of oil, gas and coal.

Unfortunately, burning fossil fuels releases a greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, which leads to climate warming. Even the CEO of ExxonMobil now admits that burning fossil fuels is making climate change worse.

A fundamental switch to renewable energy sources, however, will slow, because it will take many years to build the new infrastructure (windmills, solar panels, etc). If we wait until our climate becomes really alarming before we start shifting away from burning fossil fuels, global warming will continue to worsen for many more years.

Good luck with the “both parties” part. I waxed philosophical in this one, bolstered by a 300-word limit. Sent September 19:

When it comes to the climate crisis, both our political and media establishments have been utterly unable to cope with an emergency whose dimensions cannot be reduced to sound bites and sloganeering. The causes of this dysfunction are many and varied, but can be grouped into three major categories: fear, ignorance and greed.

Our fear is easily understood: human beings prefer to avoid bad news. Because climate change unfolds gradually over time, there will never be a single iconic moment which will instantly overcome our collective timidity and galvanize us into concerted action.

Our ignorance stems from failures of education. The same nation that once put humans on the moon now publicly elevates celebrities who believe the Earth is flat. In a political culture that disparages learning and expertise, continued scientific verification of the greenhouse effect can have no impact on the minds of our legislators.

Lastly, while all of us wish to keep our conveniences and augment our lifestyles, the charge of greed is rightly directed at those who reap huge returns from our continued consumption of fossil fuels. The big coal and oil companies are already among the most profitable corporate entities on the planet, and these huge economic powers have no wish to relinquish even the tiniest fraction of their gains, even if humanity’s future hangs in the balance.

These are the three forces we must overcome if we are to address the climate crisis. In November, let us vote in favor of courage, wisdom and responsibility, and against fear, ignorance and greed.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 8, Day 16: Oh, The Water — O-oh The Water…

The Winston-Salem Journal (NC) discusses the state’s ongoing parade of idiocy:

In North Carolina, a state-sponsored science panel warned sea levels could rise by more than 3 feet by 2100. Lawmakers supported by development interests responded with a bill to ban those figures.

During their summer session, legislators moved to mandate that future trends be based solely upon historical data, which doesn’t account for the accelerated sea-level rise expected by many scientists. They said the move prevented the economic burdens of building farther from the coast or higher off the ground.

The North Carolina bill called for preparing for a much smaller 8-inch rise during the same period. The smaller projected rise means less regulation on coastal developments. But after international ridicule and a spot on the satirical television show “The Colbert Report,” lawmakers in the state’s majority-Republican legislature backed off the move — instead opting for a scientific moratorium on any figures until 2016 while more studies are conducted. Gov. Bev Perdue on Wednesday decided to let the bill become law without her signature.


North Carolina is out front of the issue to regulate against what is generally accepted as scientific consensus. But other states have tested the waters, and even more could follow suit.

The vast majority of coastal states do not legislate on “climate change,” which has become a politically charged term after being used as a substitute for the more politicized term “global warming.”

Many states have laws that allow for coastal planning, but rarely do states mandate practices specifically on the rising seas.

In Virginia, legislators removed language about “sea-level rise” from a study bill. They replaced it with the phrase many lawmakers were more comfortable with — “recurrent flooding.”

Politicians felt the previous language was left-leaning.

How about the phrase, “y’all a buncha knuckle-draggin’ morons.” Is that a “left-leaning” term? Sent August 5:

To characterize the phrase “climate change” as “politically charged” is truer even than anti-science conservatives acknowledge. The term was first proposed during the Bush administration by Republican strategist Frank Luntz — as a less-frightening synonym for “global warming.” That Luntz’ coinage is equally accurate and even more frightening has nothing to do with its political implications, but with the nature of climatic reality, which is changing faster and more wildly than all but the most extreme predictions.

When North Carolina legislators respond to problematic facts and analyses by attempting to regulate the terms of discussion, they replace scientific consensus (the result of a planet-wide effort to understand the world we live in) with unscientific cowardice. Future generations of Americans living on a continent with a completely transformed coastline will rightly mock these politicians for their ignorance and cupidity.

As Stephen Colbert once said, reality has a liberal bias.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 5, Day 14: Got Two Reasons Why I Cry

The Decorah Newspapers of Winnishek County, Iowa run a bit of advocacy for the “connect the dots” action. Good for them:

Across the planet now we see ever more flood, ever more drought, ever more storms. People are dying, communities are being wrecked – the impacts we’re already witnessing from climate change are unlike anything we have seen before.

Every time we pick up the newspaper and read about another record-breaking natural disaster, it becomes increasingly clear that climate change is not a future problem – it’s happening right now.

But because the globe is so big, it’s hard for most people to see that it’s all connected. That’s why, Saturday May 5, we will “Connect the Dots” starting at the Decorah Court House.

A revision of the letter for yesterday, which was also sent May 4 (putting me 10 days ahead):

Robust and enduring responses to the burgeoning greenhouse effect must begin with understanding and awareness — without the long-term perspective that allows us to imagine centuries in the future, climate strategies are doomed to fall off our collective radar screens.

Combating climate change doesn’t require a “new Manhattan project” or a “new Apollo program,” although climatology will surely be one of the most important scientific fields of this millennium. While the atomic bomb was an absolute secret until it fell on Hiroshima, successful climate technologies must be transparent and accessible to all. While there was little ordinary citizens could do for the race to the moon (beyond sending pennies to NASA), preparation for global warming’s consequences has to happen in our daily lives, not just in the top echelons of government.

But it all starts with connecting the dots between extreme weather and global climate change. Let’s get to work.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 2, Day 8: What He Was Doing In My Pajamas, I’ll Never Know

The Tuscaloosa News runs an editorial stating that “Climate Change Should Influence Politics”:

Azaleas are budding and daffodils can be found in full bloom along rural roads around West Alabama. Is that proof of global warming?

Hardly, but that doesn’t mean evidence of sustained, rapid climate change isn’t mounting.

Consider this: Nine of the 10 warmest years in the past century have occurred since the year 2000, according to the NASA Earth Observatory. More of the Arctic Sea is melting.

And now the U.S. Department of Agriculture has changed the map that helps gardeners decide when to plant flowers and which will grow well here. Tuscaloosa, which used to be grouped with much of northern Alabama, now falls in the zone with Mobile.

Even all that isn’t conclusive proof of global warming. No, but the case for climate change has convinced more than 97 percent of scientists actively publishing studies in the field of climatology.

They agree that not only is climate change real, but the rapid rise in temperatures around the world over the past few decades is due to human activity.

Yep. Sent Feb 2:

At the moment, it seems as though science is just about the only element in American public discourse that doesn’t influence politics. Presidential candidates vie with one another for the approval of conservative religious groups, not to mention the various deficit-fixated, abortion-fixated, gay-marriage-fixated ideological factions which have dominated the national conversation for years. Meanwhile, Republican legislators are working overtime to reduce the amount of actual science taught in our country’s science classes, and to reduce the government’s funding of actual scientists who are carrying out research projects crucial to our country’s future.

But has there never been a Presidential “science debate” or anything more than the most anodyne public statements from the candidates about the value of science in our lives — and that’s a tragedy, for scientific method is by far the most accurate and comprehensive way to find out what’s actually happening in the real world — and policies that aren’t reality-based are guaranteed to fail.

And nowhere is this more crucial than in the issue of climate change. The scientific ignorance of our political culture is a disaster in the making.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 1, Day 23: Who’s Shrill?

The Washington Post’s Michael Gerson:

The attempt by Newt Gingrich to cover his tracks on climate change has been one of the shabbier little episodes of the 2012 presidential campaign. His forthcoming sequel to “A Contract with the Earth” was to feature a chapter by Katharine Hayhoe, a young professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas Tech University. Hayhoe is a scientist, an evangelical Christian and a moderate voice warning of climate disruption.

Then conservative media got wind. Rush Limbaugh dismissed Hayhoe as a “climate babe.” An Iowa voter pressed Gingrich on the topic. “That’s not going to be in the book,” he responded. “We told them to kill it.” Hayhoe learned this news just as she was passing under the bus.

A theory about the role of carbon dioxide in climate patterns has joined abortion and gay marriage as a culture war controversy. Climate scientists are attacked as greenshirts and watermelons (green on the outside, red on the inside). Skeptics are derided as flat-earthers. Reputations are assaulted and the e-mails of scientists hacked.

Heh. Indeed. Also. Sent January 18:

Conservative politicization of science has borne bitter fruit in the intensifying battle over climate change. It’s worth recognizing that the GOP has been at the center of countless attempts to marginalize expertise for more than fifty years, starting with the McCarthy-era purges of China specialists from the State Department — a electorally expedient move, but one which created a policy vacuum with disastrous repercussions for our later experience in Vietnam. The only experts Republican politicians appear to respect are their political strategists, whose advice on winning elections is often extremely sound.

The problem with climate change is that the laws of physics and chemistry have no ideology; mounting atmospheric CO2 levels and increasing worldwide temperatures won’t vanish when presidential aspirants deny their existence, or ascribe the troublesome measurements to political bias among scientists. A hint to Republicans: if you stop denying scientific reality, scientists may eventually take you seriously again.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 10, Day 12: The Real Threat is Teh Gayz!

The Boston Globe for October 8 notes that UMass Amherst has also gotten one of the Regional Climate Science centers. Good for them:

The federal government yesterday awarded the University of Massachusetts Amherst a multimillion-dollar grant to host one of eight centers around the country to study the local effects of climate change.

The Northeast Climate Science Center will study how climate change affects ecosystems, wildlife, water, and other resources from the Great Lakes to Maine and down to Missouri. The $7.5 million grant over five years will sponsor research at UMass Amherst as well as at institutions in Wisconsin, Minnesota, New York, and Massachusetts.

I used this as the hook for a generic anti-Republican screed. Bad for them. Sent October 8:

It’s good to hear that the Department of the Interior is still funding scientific research, as demonstrated by the recent award to start a regional climate science center at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.

During the hysteria of a presidential election season, we can anticipate criticism of the UMass center and its companions elsewhere in the US from the various GOP aspirants. After all, why should the government spend money on researching climate change, a phenomenon which Republican political strategists assure them doesn’t exist?

There has never been a more determined effort to marginalize actual science than we’re now seeing from the conservative political establishment in this country. At a time when America and the world are facing the single most significant threat in human history in the form of a runaway greenhouse effect, the conservatives’ ideological crusade for ignorance and wishful thinking is a suicidal folly.

Warren Senders