Year 4, Month 11, Day 7: God Damn, Well I Declare — Have You Seen The Like?

The Times of Trenton (NJ) talks about the ongoing post-Sandy reconstruction effort:

As the first anniversary of the storm that forever changed the Jersey Shore approaches, the region is looking back at the checkered record of state aid and federal funds that have been delivered to those in need — and the millions still entangled in red tape.

New Jersey officials have done a good job in some areas to address the immediate problems spawned by Sandy. But far too many people are still waiting for the promised help to repair their homes so they can move back to the neighborhoods where they’ve lived all their lives.

Particularly in the northern part of the state, the individual stories are full of uncertainty. Every storm forecast triggers fear for some; others remain displaced living in whatever shelter they can find; and some, who haven’t received the loans they’re counting on, don’t know where to begin picking up the splintered pieces.

New Jersey may be stronger than THE (caps or ital, please) storm, but what about the next one or the one after that?

Climate change is a certainty. And as the polar ice melts, one of the irrefutable effects is the ocean’s slow swallowing of the barrier islands — and its creeping reach from the back bays onto the coastline. An Army Corps of Engineers construction project is expected to begin next year that will result in dunes standing sentry along the 127-mile oceanfront. Communities that had dunes withstood the forces of Sandy better than places without the protection but, eventually, the sea will vanquish the sand.

I’ve got so many letters now, it’s really easy to revise them and crank out new versions. October 28:

Why do we ignore climate change in talking about post-Sandy reconstruction? Several reasons: humans are no good at long-term thinking, and most people simply want their normal lives back as fast as possible. Even though Earth’s climate is changing incredibly fast, most of us simply cannot imagine the lives of our descendants as they struggle to survive in the world we’ve left for them.

Another factor is that simple causality doesn’t apply to a complex system like our climate; we can’t describe single events like Superstorm Sandy as definite consequences of the greenhouse effect, even though our CO2 emissions have loaded the dice for extreme weather.

Last but hardly least is the inconvenient fact that fossil fuel corporations have spent massively to influence politicians and media to avoid reality-based discussion of climate change — because such discussion would highlight the central role of oil and coal in creating the crisis, inevitably impacting their profit margins.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 6, Day 4: Oh Yeah, Oh Yeah.

The New York Daily News, on Sheldon Whitehouse and Oklahoma:

A Democratic Senator who came under fire for linking turbulent weather in Oklahoma to Republican politicians who don’t believe in climate change has apologized for the ill-timed remarks.

Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse on Wednesday said he wasn’t aware that deadly tornadoes were hitting Oklahoma at the same time he made his statement, in which he criticized Republicans who take issue with climate change but still seek out federal relief funds after natural disasters.

“Tragically and unbeknownst to the senator at the time, a series of tornadoes were hitting Oklahoma at the same moment he gave his remarks,” a Whitehouse spokesman told

“Senator Whitehouse regrets the timing of his speech and offers his thoughts and prayers to the victims of yesterday’s storms and their families, and he stands ready to work with the senators from Oklahoma to assist them and their constituents in this time of need,” the spokesman added.

As you value your sanity, avoid the comment thread on this article. May 23:

Sheldon Whitehouse’s weekly speeches frequently note the impact of extreme weather events on different states in the US. While his apology for the timing of a recent address is gracious and welcome, he’s got nothing to be ashamed of. Oklahoma’s own Senators, by contrast, are a different story. Tom Coburn’s “fiscal conservatism” is a kind of derangement in which spurious principles are misapplied to the detriment of his own constituents — while James Inhofe’s career is based on denying basic science when it conflicts with his ideological prejudices and the desires of his paymasters in the fossil-fuel industry.

Storms are caused by heat; a hotter world feeds more storms. Insurance companies are already observing a steady rise in storm-caused property damage, which is going to cost them real money, which is why, unlike Mr. Inhofe and his denialist colleagues in Congress, they’re taking the problem seriously. Like Senator Whitehouse.

Warren Senders


Year 4, Month 6, Day 3: The Music Goes Round And Round

Lee Sandlin, in USA Today, on the OK Tornadoes:

The truth is that tornadoes like this are rare but not unheard-of. They have been part of the reality of life in the American heartland for centuries. So why do people have the idea that there is something so horribly sinister about this newest one?

Partly, of course, it’s the sheer overwhelming violence and terror of the tornado itself, transmitted in real-time and viewed over and over again by millions of people on news websites and the Internet. This naturally has the effect of dulling the memory of previous catastrophes.

There is also the current tendency of the news media to treat every meteorological event in apocalyptic terms. But now there is also our growing urgency about climate change. In much of the online discussion about what happened in Moore, we can hear the repeated fear that there’s something unnatural going on with the weather, that this one event — and if not this one, then surely the next — will be the tipping point for global disaster.

Among meteorologists there is a widespread consensus that climate change is real, but very little concern about what one specific tornado may or may not prove about it. In the first decade of this century, there were only three EF-5 tornadoes anywhere in North America; nobody knows why. In 2011 alone there were six.

What should concern us is what a tornado like the one in Moore says about the heedless way we occupy the American landscape. The heartland is being enormously overbuilt. Tornadoes are going to be more frequent occurrences in densely inhabited areas because there are going to be fewer empty places for them to touch down.

Whatever happens to the larger climate, events like Moore are increasingly going to be the norm.

Much of this letter was cribbed from information in Greg Laden’s blog. May 22:

Science can’t say definitively that climate change was responsible for a specific tornado, or any other example of extreme weather, but it can confirm that the accelerating greenhouse effect is clearly linked to an overall increase in storminess.

Tornadoes are so variable in distribution and strength that they’re poor indicators — but storms in general result from unevenly distributed heat in tropical areas (like the Gulf of Mexico) which moves Northward via air and water currents. A hotter world means more food for storms; although it’s impossible to say what particular types of storms will increase, we can see a steady rise in storm-caused property damage. Unlike the reality-detached denialists in Congress, insurance companies use real numbers, and stand to lose real money, which is why they’re making plans to address the problem. Isn’t it time America’s lawmakers started taking the threat of climate change with the seriousness it deserves?

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 4, Day 8: Thar She Blows!

Newsweek revisits the New Jersey coastline months after Sandy’s landfall:

Months after Hurricane Sandy, the Jersey Shore is full of talk of rebuilding, but still struggles to accept the march of global warming’s angry waters. Will we be able to keep living where nature doesn’t want us?

The sand was the thing we noticed first. Mostly because it hadn’t been there yesterday, or any day before yesterday, and now it was absolutely everywhere.

For the first 23 hours after the storm, we hadn’t been able to see much of anything at all. On October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy had made landfall just south of Long Beach Island, New Jersey, the narrow strip of coastline where I spent my childhood summers and where my parents have lived, full time, for the past eight years. Now a day had passed, and information was hard to come by. My parents were fine; they had evacuated earlier that week to friend’s place 45 miles inland. But the power was out, and the 18-mile-long barrier island, which is home to 20,000 year-round residents, was basically abandoned, so we still didn’t know how much damage our house in North Beach had sustained, or if there were even any houses left in North Beach to sustain damage. Also, the rumors were starting to spread. The Ferris wheel at Fantasy Island has collapsed. A shark is swimming around Surf City. The waves breached the dunes. The ocean met the bay. Whole towns have been washed out. The rumors were not helping.

And still they deny it. March 26:

“Will we be able to keep living where nature doesn’t want us?” Actually, it seems all too evident that nature has a point. Human industrial civilization has introduced hundreds of millions of years’ worth of fossilized carbon into the atmosphere in a geological instant, essentially breaking the Arctic and triggering consequences that are going to reverberate for centuries to come.

A post climate-change future will bring extreme environmental unpredictability. Optimistic forecasts include the destruction of billions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure and the likelihood of increased geopolitical instability (a polite euphemism for wars). The damage inflicted by Hurricane Sandy is just a preview of coming attractions. The pessimistic forecasts suggest that our carelessness has condemned our descendants to a losing battle against implacable environmental forces.

If we are to secure happiness and prosperity for our posterity, we can no longer afford to irresponsibly ignore the frightening factuality of climate change.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 2, Day 20: I Am The Eggman! I Am The Walrus

The Cumberland County Daily Journal (NJ) notes that victims of Sandy are agitating for the President to address climate change in the SOTU (which will be long past, by the time this page appears on the site):

WASHINGTON — Congressional lawmakers from New Jersey want President Barack Obama to address a variety of issues, including the deficit, the sluggish economy, immigration reform, climate change and gun violence, in his State of the Union address Tuesday night.

“Without a doubt the No. 1 issue confronting the nation is the state of the economy, and it’s not nearly as strong as any of us would like,” said GOP Rep. Leonard Lance. “I’d like to hear him focus on that.”

Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone named the economy as the top issue, but said he also wants the president to address immigration reform, gun violence and climate change.

Action on climate change is “important for the shore” and is a job-creator, he said.

Alyssa Durnien of Keansburg couldn’t agree more. She joined a group of Hurricane Sandy victims at a news conference in front of the White House on Monday to call on Obama to address climate change in his address before Congress.

“My message to Obama is, instead of flying over my community, put on a pair of boots and come see what it’s like,” she said. “I want him to see the devastation that is still there 98 days after the storm.”

We badly need to change how we think about economics, don’t we? Sent February 12:

Perhaps the single most pervasive misconception in our politics today is the notion that the interests of the environment and the economy are opposed. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Yes, the consumer economy is predicated on the desirability of infinite expansion, but an obvious impossibility on a finite planet. The true measure of economic health is not continuous growth, but long-term sustainability — which is obviously aligned with the policy initiatives necessary to respond to the threat of climate change.

Those who lost their homes to Superstorm Sandy can testify that global warming is not an abstraction. The ramifications of the accelerating greenhouse effect are destroying agriculture, infrastructure, and ecosystems all over the world — and without these resources intact, our economic longevity can be measured in months. Earth needs people to preserve environmental “capital” for our descendants, not simply turning a quick profit, heedless of the consequences.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 2, Day 16: If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home Now

Time Magazine takes another whack at the argument from personal incredulity:

As the blizzard-bound residents of the mid-Atlantic region get ready to dig themselves out of the third major storm of the season, they may stop to wonder two things: Why haven’t we bothered to invest in a snow blower, and what happened to climate change? After all, it stands to reason that if the world is getting warmer — and the past decade was the hottest on record — major snowstorms should become a thing of the past, like PalmPilots and majority rule in the Senate. Certainly that’s what the Virginia state Republican Party thinks: the GOP aired an ad last weekend that attacked two Democratic members of Congress for supporting the 2009 carbon-cap-and-trade bill, using the recent storms to cast doubt on global warming.
(See pictures of the massive blizzard in Washington, D.C.)

Brace yourselves now — this may be a case of politicians twisting the facts. There is some evidence that climate change could in fact make such massive snowstorms more common, even as the world continues to warm. As the meteorologist Jeff Masters points out in his excellent blog at Weather Underground, the two major storms that hit Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., this winter — in December and during the first weekend of February — are already among the 10 heaviest snowfalls those cities have ever recorded. The chance of that happening in the same winter is incredibly unlikely.

Stupid is as stupid does. Feb. 8:

While the notion that a warming planet could trigger more extreme snowstorms is counterintuitive, the fact is that if nature always corresponded to our intuitions, there would be no science. Our species’ innate intuitive sense of how things work doesn’t include bacteria, DNA, irrational numbers, subatomic particles, or radioactivity — but they’re real beyond any doubt. So, too, are the localized manifestations of a steadily rising global temperature, which include extreme rain and snow, droughts, heat waves, superstorms, and increasingly unpredictable weather everywhere around the planet.

Indeed, many of the processes attendant to global heating are complicated and unobvious, which is why scientific insights are essential. Climate-change deniers, unable to understand the mechanisms whereby a hotter atmosphere turns once-in-a-century storms into frequent occurrences, reject the science entirely, shamefully rendering America’s energy and environmental policies captive to the intellectual failures of our most willfully ignorant and superstitious politicians.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 12, Day 24: Give Peace A Chance

The Vancouver Star anticipates problems:

METRO VANCOUVER – The combination of a king tide and a surging storm that pummelled parts of Vancouver’s iconic seawall Monday are symptomatic of what climate change and rising sea levels could mean for the region, according to an expert.

Oceanographer Susan Allen said that in coming years, the flooding seen in parts of Metro Vancouver’s waterfront could occur outside a “coincidence” like Monday’s heavy wind and rain that combined with the so-called king tides, which are nearing the end of their month-long peak in British Columbia.

“In the future we won’t have to have quite so high a tide at the time of a storm surge to get exactly what we had today because the water will be a little higher,” Allen said. “The important thing is “and.”

“If you get global warming and a big tide and a storm surge then we (have) problems.”

No argument there. Sent December 18:

As Arctic ice continues to melt, the world’s coastlines are going to be dramatically transformed. And with these changes will come a new assortment of dangers, exemplified in such recent weather disasters as Superstorm Sandy and Typhoon Bopha. Cities up and down the coastline of North America will need to start planning for such events with the certainty of “when,” not the ambiguity of “if.”

This means that a great many things will have to change. Urban planners can no longer assume a business-as-usual model when it comes to the impact of a transformed climate on major population centers. To avoid tragedies of Brobdingnagian proportions during the coming centuries, the world’s nations must prepare carefully and cooperatively. Infrastructure must be strengthened, emergency response mechanisms augmented, and worst-case scenarios prepared for; all these are expensive propositions, until you consider the alternative: gigadeaths on a scale dwarfing all of humanity’s wars combined.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 11, Day 26: Casey Jones, You’d Better Watch Your Speed.

The Delmarva News (VA) hears some of them expert-ish types predictin’ mighty big troubles comin’ down the pike:

WALLOPS — Coastal communities including the Eastern Shore of Virginia need to begin to prepare for changes in the climate, according to two experts who spoke at the NASA Visitor’s Center at Wallops about adapting to climate change.

The climate is changing at “an increasingly rapid rate,” so much that scientists can no longer use the past to predict the future, said Joel D. Scheraga, Senior Advisor for Climate Adaptation at the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Policy. Scheraga in addition to his role at the EPA has worked with the World Health Organization and the 2007 Nobel Prize-winning United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“The bottom line is, climate change is making it more difficult for our communities to attain the goals that they want to get to in their communities. We have to begin to adapt,” he said.

More hippies. Sent November 21:

Given that scientific language is usually conservative and understated, climatologists’ use of phrases like “an increasingly rapid rate” when discussing climate change should be a warning to us all: big troubles ahead. Between rising sea levels brought on by melting Arctic ice and the rising probability of extreme weather events like superstorm Sandy, the twenty-first century is going to be a dangerous one for the Eastern US coastline, which is going to change shape dramatically in the blink of a geological eye.

While an ounce of planning in 2012 will be worth a pound of FEMA in 2030, the grim fact is that the proper time to start preparing for runaway climate change was around 1970. The last forty years of inaction (sponsored by fossil fuel lobbyists in Congress and the White House, along with the increasingly powerful anti-science wing of the GOP) is going to have painful consequences n the decades to come. Any further procrastination may make the difference between serious inconvenience and utter catastrophe.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 11, Day 24: Did You Think About That?

The High Country News’ Heather Hansen talks about what needs to happen:

I have a file on my desktop called “Cool Ideas.” It’s filled with news items on practical steps Westerners are taking to address climate change. I collected them over this election year while the issue drew platitudes and punch-lines from the candidates but little meaningful discussion on the national level. Some highlights from my file include:

The plan to build a biomass plant in Eagle County, Colorado is forging ahead. When it starts humming in 2014 it will burn wood chips from beetle-killed pines and other “junk” wood, to generate 11.5 megawatts of electricity.

Not far from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, at the Fighting Creek Landfill, trash is treasure. Earlier this year Kootenai County and the Kootenai Electric Cooperative debuted their multi-million dollar plant which uses garbage gas to power 1,800 homes.

The Aspen Ski Company is plunking down over $5 million to capture methane vented from coal operations at the Elk Creek Mine in western Colorado. The project will both prevent the powerful greenhouse gas from entering the atmosphere and will generate three megawatts of electricity, or roughly the amount the company uses for its annual operations.

The West is a hotbed of research and testing for the underground storage of carbon dioxide. One project, Rocky Mountain Carbon Capture and Sequestration, is studying a site near Craig, Colorado to potentially store 4.6 billion tons of carbon from power plants, natural gas processing plants, cement plants, oil shale development and other industries.

An unusual consortium including Montana Hutterite farmers, an Idaho wind energy developer and the federal government have joined forces to build the first silo-shaped wind turbine, capable of producing 100 kilowatts of electricity.

Kootenai ElectricIn his victory speech last week, President Obama said, “We want our children to live in an America that…isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.” This coincided with three related news items: First, the release of a study by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder which concludes that earth warming is likely to be “on the high side of current predictions.” That means an 8-degree Fahrenheit increase in global temps by late this century.

Voices of the West. Good. November 19:

Heather Hansen is absolutely right: it’s about time that climate change becomes item number one on our national agenda. After all, it’s only been a few months since drought ravaged some of the world’s most fertile cropland, decimating crops and making farmers’ lives even more tenuous and threatened. And it’s only been a few weeks since superstorm Sandy clobbered the East Coast, leaving thousands homeless, hungry and cold. And, of course, those are only the things that made the nightly news. Everywhere around America and the world local and regional ecosystems are under assault from the consequences of a runaway greenhouse effect.

But nowhere else is the outright denial of climate science so much a part of government. Because the Republicans in the House of Representatives plan to block any meaningful legislative action on climate, their ridiculous anti-science posturing is extremely dangerous. How much more damage must our nation sustain before these ideological extremists abandon their ignorance and let us all get on with the hard work of preparing for the coming climate crisis?

And to those insisting that climate-change mitigation is “too expensive” — it’s a sure bet that failure in the face of disaster is far costlier than that same disaster averted.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 11, Day 20: Ch-ch-ch-changes…

The Rochester City-Times (NY) acknowledges Andrew Cuomo’s acknowledgement:

In an op-ed published yesterday, Governor Andrew Cuomo says that “extreme weather is the new normal” and that New York needs to “act, not react” to prepare for the events.

Cuomo’s article acknlowedges climate change, and touches on the human activities that are exacerbating it. He writes that the state needs to be smarter about where it locates power infrastructure, that way it avoids storm damage. He also writes that New Yorkers need to reduce their energy consumption, which would reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Otherwise, Cuomo stuck to what needs to be done to prepare for future storms. Mostly, that means infrastructure improvements and better infrastructure planning. New York needs to do this; damages from Superstorm Sandy are estimated at $30 billion.

Cuomo’s forming three committees to examine the problems and make recommendations. But because any changes are likely to be complex and expensive, I’m skeptical that any but the easiest changes will happen.

Indeed. Sent November 16:

Post- Hurricane Sandy, it’s no longer impossible for politicians to acknowledge the obvious fact that climate change is a threat to our security at all levels: individual, local, regional, national, and planetary. Governor Cuomo’s readiness to adopt what would have been a controversial position six months ago is evidence enough that the winds of change are blowing a little more heavily outside the walls of our politics.

But global warming won’t be put off with anodyne acknowledgements any more than a mugger will be dissuaded by a sympathetic gesture. The accelerating planetary greenhouse effect will turn very costly over the next few decades; our cities and states must start preparing now for the next superstorm, outrageous heat wave, or crippling drought.

Yes, it’ll be expensive. Perhaps it’s time to ask the fossil fuel corporations to contribute some of their $137 billion profits toward mitigating the damage their products have caused.

Warren Senders