Year 4, Month 8, Day 19: Boys, This Car’s Hotter’n a Two-Dollar Pistol.

The Winnipeg Free Press writes about the debacle at Cold Lake:

CALGARY – The Alberta Energy Regulator has ordered Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. to restrict the amount of steam it pumps into two oilsands projects following four spills earlier this year.

The move comes three weeks after the AER reported an emulsion of oilsands bitumen and water had been released into an unnamed water body on the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range in eastern Alberta.

The watchdog says Canadian Natural (TSX:CNQ) must restrict steam injection, enhance monitoring and speed up clean up efforts at its Primrose and Wolf Lake projects, which use a method called high-pressure cyclic steam stimulation to extract the bitumen.

“Although there have been no risks to public safety, until we investigate these incidents, better understand the cause of these releases, and what steps CNRL will to take to prevent them, we are taking these measures as a precaution,” said AER CEO Jim Ellis.

The AER ordered the suspension of steaming operations within the eastern part of Primrose earlier this year following three bitumen emulsion releases.

In late June, Canadian Natural reported a fourth release, prompting the AER to order CNRL to take further measures, including suspending steaming within one kilometre of the leak and restrict steaming throughout the northern and southern parts of Primrose.

High pressure cyclic steam stimulation — sometimes described as a “huff and puff” method of extraction — involves injecting steam into a reservoir through a well, letting it soak for a while and then drawing the softened bitumen to the surface through the same well.

It differs from steam-assisted gravity drainage, or SAGD, which uses two wells — one to inject the steam, and one right below it to flow the bitumen to the surface. The reservoir is also fractured using cyclic steam, whereas in SAGD it is not.

More on the addiction analogy. July 27:

Industrial civilization grew up on a diet of coal and oil, the liquid fossils of Earthly life from an unimaginably distant past. Like the “crack babies” of urban legend, our consumer culture was born addicted to these carbon-based fuels, and like any other addicts, we employ extraordinary creativity and resourcefulness to maintain the supplies of our chosen drug.

The destruction wrought in Eastern Alberta is a vivid example of the kind of unintentional sociopathy that is all too characteristic of addicts. Just as the junkie who burgled your apartment didn’t want to violate your privacy, nobody wanted a beautiful lake and a vibrant ecosystem to be destroyed — but in both cases, the demands of the habit took precedence over any- and everything.

Cold lake is a small and beautiful ecosystem now endangered by a single disastrous engineering decision. And what of Earth – a medium-sized planet in an unimportant galaxy — and its denizens? We too are endangered by societal choices made in the thrall of a crippling addiction.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 8, Day 16: Seven New People Born

NPR’s All Things Considered recently broadcast this story:

A in a mountain range just west of Las Vegas has put at risk the Mount Charleston blue butterfly, a rare species found in the U.S.

The fire is dying down, but it may be weeks before experts can get to the remarkable area where this butterfly lives to see if it made it through.

There are few examples of fires wiping a species off the planet. In fact, fires sometimes help rare animals and plants by clearing overgrown habitat. But experts fear that such extinctions could become a consequence of two factors that are making some endangered species increasingly vulnerable: the loss of habitat and climate change.

I tried to keep this short in the hope that they’ll ask me to read it on-air. Not holding my breath, though. July 24:

A recently circulating photograph taken by the Cassini spacecraft shows Earth as a tiny dot, dwarfed by the rings of Saturn. This beautiful image highlights the fact that we live in an isolated and insignificant ecosystem, cosmologically speaking in the middle of nowhere.

In this context, the plight of the Mount Charleston blue butterfly is a microcosm of humanity’s predicament. As climate change exacerbates droughts and wildfires, a beautiful blue insect in an obscure ecosystem may vanish forever — and the beautiful blue speck which holds all the DNA in the universe is likewise teetering on the brink of catastrophic climatic transformations.

But unlike the blissfully ignorant butterfly, we humans know what is threatening us: our own waste CO2, pumped into the atmosphere — and we have the capacity to change our behavior in times of crisis. Will we?

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 7, Day 18: Tied To A Whippin’ Post

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel opines on the POTUS’ speech:

President Barack Obama’s speech last week on climate change was a welcome call to action on one of the great challenges of our time. If the science is right — and there is no reason to believe that it isn’t — climate change is here and could have severe consequences for human health, the environment and the economy. Meeting the challenge will be difficult and costly but also affords opportunities, especially for job growth in green industries.

As the president said Tuesday, “the question is not whether we need to act.”

The problem is that similar calls to action have been issued for decades and not much has been done to curb the belching of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Utilities such as We Energies, car manufacturers and some governments have taken important steps to reduce air pollution from a number of sources and have worked to reduce carbon emissions. They deserve credit for that.

But reductions of carbon dioxide significant enough to have an impact on climate change have remained elusive.

If Obama wants to change that pattern, his administration needs to follow through. The trick will be to do so without harming economic growth. New rules also need to be based on available cost-effective technologies that can actually reduce emissions. It can be done. And while the president’s plan may be light on details, he is at least pointing the country in the right direction.

Obama is directing his administration to launch the first-ever federal regulations on heat-trapping gases emitted by new and existing power plants, boost renewable energy production on federal lands, increase efficiency standards and prepare communities to deal with higher temperatures.

The ideology of the cancer cell. June 30:

It takes extraordinary intellectual insulation to continue rejecting the scientific evidence of global climate change. By analogy, imagine buying a house condemned as unsafe by 97 out of 100 home inspectors, eating in a restaurant that had failed 97 out of 100 health inspections, or the same proportion of oncologists when they tell you to start therapy immediately.

But even those who are prepared to argue forcefully for action on the climate crisis still observe powerful taboos against questioning the desirability of continued economic growth. To fetishize economic expansion ignores the fact that we live on a finite planet with finite resources; it’s like saying that gaining weight is healthy for infants, so it must be good for adults as well.

Infinite expansion is impossible in a bounded area; we can have sustainability or growth, but not both. If we wish a viable long-term future for humanity, this is a debate we need to have.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 7, Day 12: There Is No God But Albedo

The Christian Science Monitor speculates about what a climate change strategy would look like, but makes a bad analogy:

For a man with his hands tied, President Obama is offering a decent enough plan to fight climate change. In a speech today, he’s expected to announce federal regulation of greenhouse gases at existing coal-fired power plants, increased energy standards for buildings and appliances, and greater development of renewable energy on federal lands. These are moves that he can try without approval from Congress. And while they are halfway measures, they are better than no measures.

But imagine if his hands were not tied. Imagine if they were joined with lawmakers willing to tackle this issue with the urgency and breadth that the government devotes to fighting terrorism.

Americans don’t think about the threat of climate change in the same way as terrorism, but perhaps they should. Climate change has killed individuals through vicious storms, if not by bombs and planes, and the financial damage is just as real.

Sigh. If the war on climate works as well as the war on terror, we’re completely fucked. June 25:

As an abstract noun, “climate change” is amorphous, too large to grasp either intellectually or emotionally (unless you’re a climate scientist, of course). But up close and personal, the accelerating greenhouse effect can drown your city, reduce your house to kindling, dry up your wheatfields, introduce non-native pest species into regional ecosystems, trigger toxic algae blooms, set the stage for gigantic wildfires, and make our lives more miserable and fearful in countless separate but complementary ways.

Which is, of course, what terrorism does. Our national response to terrorism is anything but serious; rather than reducing the root causes of violent extremism, our “war on terror” has enriched corporations and increased secrecy, while treating protesters and whistleblowers like criminals, and making us more fearful, not less. We need a climate change policy that reduces corporate power, increases openness, treats environmentalists as responsible citizens, and offers us reasons for optimism, not despair.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 6, Day 6: Du da du du, du du du-du du-du…

The San Luis-Obispo Tribune notes Jerry Brown’s principled advocacy with an unfortunate term:

Gov. Brown continues climate change crusade

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — Gov. Jerry Brown is set to continue his climate change charge, joining scientists releasing a 20-page call to action on environmental problems including pollution, extinctions and population growth.

Brown plans to address Silicon Valley leaders, as well as climate scientists from University of California, Berkeley, Stanford University and NASA, on Thursday morning at a conference at NASA Ames Research Center.

The governor has repeatedly called for changes in public policy to better address the impacts of the changing climate on the world’s economy and environment.

Berkeley professor Anthony Barnosky, a featured speaker, says the earth is now at a tipping point, and what decisions makers do now “will determine whether or not human quality of life declines over the next few decades.”

Sheesh. May 23:

Unlike the theologically-driven military adventures of the Middle Ages, Jerry Brown’s “crusade” against climate change is based on facts and evidence. The scientific consensus on the human causes of global heating and the dangers it poses is overwhelming. Another difference from the medieval attitude that motivated hundreds of years of pointless violence is that scientific method actively seeks disproof — which means that even in an “overwhelming consensus” there is always room for doubt.

But this fact, which is a feature of science’s epistemology, should not be used as an excuse for inaction. Climatologists are the closest we’ve got to “planetary physicians,” and their advice to us right now is less scientific than practical: don’t wait for the chimera of absolute proof before taking action to fight the accelerating greenhouse effect. When 97 out of 100 oncologists diagnose malignancy, you don’t need the remaining three to agree before starting therapy.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 6, Day 2: Why Are You Worried About You-Know-Who?

The Cleveland Plain Dealer, on climate change’s connection to the OK tornadoes:

So, the actual question is whether climate change is influencing tornado disasters like the one in Oklahoma. Eric Berger of the Houston Chronicle jumped right into the fray and finds that a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration official in 2011 said there currently is no evidence to link tornado activity to climate change … but don’t completely rule it out:

The fact that the United States swung from a record high in 2010-11 to record low in 2012-13 caught the attention of meteorologist Patrick Marsh of NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center. He calculated that the record 12-month tornado maximum of 1,050 EF-1 and stronger tornadoes from June 2010-May 2011 was a 1-in-62,500 year event, and the record 12-month low of 197 EF-1 and stronger tornadoes that occurred from May 2012-April 2013 was a 1-in-3000 to 1-in-4000 year event. In summary, Marsh wrote: “Anyway you look at it, the recent tornado ‘surplus’ and the current tornado ‘drought’ is extremely rare. The fact that we had both of them in the span of a few years is even more so!” Could this be related to climate change? Perhaps climate change is causing more extremes, both and high low. “The extraordinary contrast underscores the crazy fluctuations we’ve seen in Northern Hemisphere jet stream patterns during the past three years. Call it ‘Weather Whiplash’ of the tornado variety,” says Jeff Masters. Nevertheless, when it comes to tornadoes and a warmer world, science really cannot say at this time.

Always, um, happy to resurrect the Cheney Doctrine. May 21:

So we “can’t completely rule out” the idea that climate change might have a role in the tornadoes that just hammered Oklahoma? Good. After all, what likelihood is there that the accelerating greenhouse effect could cause devastating storms, out-of-season precipitation, and extreme weather events? Lets’ make that probability pretty low. Is two percent too much? Okay, reduce it to just one chance in a hundred that the connection is real. Such a small probability shouldn’t trigger action. Or should it?

“Even if there’s just a 1 percent chance of the unimaginable coming due, act as if it is a certainty.” The Cheney doctrine was applied to lead us into a pointless and costly war on the flimsiest of pretexts. By contrast, if the evidence for Iraqi WMDs was as substantial as that for the dangers of human-caused climate change, our troops would have found loose nukes in the bazaars of Baghdad.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 5, Day 19: Clippety-Clop, Clippety-Clop

And heeeeeere’s Plague, right on time. WaPo:

FRESNO, Calif. — California and federal public health officials say that valley fever, a potentially lethal but often misdiagnosed disease infecting more and more people across the nation, has been on the rise as a warming climate and drought have kicked up the dust that spreads it.

The fever has hit California’s agricultural heartland particularly hard in recent years, with the incidence dramatically increasing in 2010 and 2011. The disease — which is prevalent in arid regions of the United States, Mexico, Central and South America — can be contracted by breathing in fungus-laced spores from dust disturbed by the wind as well as human or animal activity.

The fungus is sensitive to environmental changes, experts say, and a hotter, drier climate has increased the dust carrying the spores.

I’ve used this analogy once or twice before and gotten results. May 6:

The problem of illegal immigration is far worse than even the most xenophobic demagogue could imagine. Incomprehensible numbers of unauthorized visitors still barely register on the radar of our governing class.

As climate change intensifies, we’re going to meet disease-carrying insects, fungi, and micro-organisms that have never before appeared in the continental United States. Propelled by the same essential needs that motivate humans — somewhere to live, eat, thrive and reproduce — they’ll move to American soil as environmental conditions transform in response to the accelerating greenhouse effect. The spread of Valley Fever in California is just one example.

Right-wing lawmakers and media figures rail against border-crossers who “parasitically” exploit our economic resources. But these conservative grandstanders cannot acknowledge that the plethora of genuinely dangerous parasites arriving in the wake of the climate crisis will be undeterred by grand border fences, punitive laws, or moats filled with alligators.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 4, Day 18: Ain’t Got No Mash Potato

The LA Times runs an op-ed by James Hansen, which gets picked up by the Register-Guard (Eugene, OR):

In March, the State Department gave the president cover to open a big spigot that will hitch our country to one of the dirtiest fuels on Earth for 40 years or more. The draft environmental review of the Keystone XL pipeline acknowledges tar sands are nasty stuff for the environment, but concludes that the project is OK because this oil will get to market anyway — with or without a pipeline.

A public comment period is under way through April 22, after which the department will prepare a final statement to help the administration decide whether the pipeline is in the “national interest.” If the conclusion is yes, a Canadian company, TransCanada, gets a permit to build a pipeline to transport toxic tar sands through our heartland, connecting to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico, for likely export to China.

Around the world, emissions of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide continue to soar. Australia is now finishing “the angry summer” — 123 extreme weather records broken in 90 days —which government sources link to climate change. Last year, 2012, also was the hottest year on record in the contiguous United States.

More Paul Revere analogies…coming up on Patriot’s Day here in Massachusetts! April 7:

Scientists have been warning us for over fifty years that our CO2 emissions were likely to transform Earth profoundly — perhaps catastrophically. And for over fifty years our elected leaders chose to pass the problem along to someone else to solve. When they weren’t simply trying to keep the scientists quiet, that is.

George W. Bush’s administration censored NASA climatologist James Hansen’s report on climate change, muzzling one of climate science’s most informed and articulate voices. Meanwhile, deranged talk-radio personalities incited their low-information audiences into an anti-science frenzy that brought Hansen and other researchers like Dr. Michael Mann death threats and torrents of hate mail.

Two hundred and thirty-eight years ago, farmers in a few Massachusetts towns hearkened to a midnight call, and our nation’s birth can be traced to their readiness to respond to a clear and imminent danger.

Now, a modern-day Paul Revere is again sounding the alarm. Where will we be in two hundred years if we ignore James Hansen’s urgent warnings?

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 4, Day 15: Hardly A Man Is Now Alive

Mind you, this is the same paper that recently shut down its Environment reporting entirely:

James E. Hansen, the climate scientist who issued the clearest warning of the 20th century about the dangers of global warming, will retire from NASA this week, giving himself more freedom to pursue political and legal efforts to limit greenhouse gases.

His departure, after a 46-year career at the space agency’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in Manhattan, will deprive federally sponsored climate research of its best-known public figure.

At the same time, retirement will allow Dr. Hansen to press his cause in court. He plans to take a more active role in lawsuits challenging the federal and state governments over their failure to limit emissions, for instance, as well as in fighting the development in Canada of a particularly dirty form of oil extracted from tar sands.

“As a government employee, you can’t testify against the government,” he said in an interview.

A hero. Resurrecting the Paul Revere meme for James Hansen. April 2:

Two hundred and thirty eight years ago, courageous patriots sounded a call; a midnight ride alerted the Minutemen to the arrival of the Redcoats — and the consequences are both an indelible part of our nation’s history and an irrefutable testament to the value of an early-warning system.

The modern equivalents are the world’s climate scientists, who have been trying to wake up a complacent citizenry for decades.

Dr. James Hansen’s resignation from NASA in order to devote himself to alerting America and the world to the climate crisis is a measure of the trouble we’re in. Dr. Hansen and his colleagues have received opprobrium and insult simply for doing their jobs responsibly. If Paul Revere had faced an analogous situation in April 1775, he’d have to persuade “every Middlesex village and farm” not only that the British existed, but that King George’s army posed a danger to their lives and liberty.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 4, Day 14: We’re Not Even Peninsulas

The Columbus Dispatch recycles a story from the NY Times on the intertwined fates of the fig and its little insect symbiote:

There are more than 700 species of wild fig in the tropics. Most can be pollinated only by a unique species of fig wasp. In turn, the wasps rely on fig plants as hosts for their eggs. Neither species can survive without the other.

Now a new study from equatorial Singapore, in the journal Biology Letters, finds that the wasps are vulnerable to climate change, meaning that the wild fig plants are, too. And that is ominous news for many other species, the researchers say, including birds, squirrels and other animals that feed on figs.

The scientists found that temperature increases of a few degrees could cut the adult life spans of pollinating fig wasps to just a few hours, from one or two days.

Are we Donne yet? April 1:

The microscopic wasps whose life-cycle is bound up with that of the fig tree offer a revealing analogy to our own species current predicament. Plant and insect are so tightly connected that neither’s existence is possible without the other; thinking of them as two independent species is misleading. Rather, they’re part of a single system of mutual support — a system now critically endangered a runaway greenhouse effect.

Similar intimate connections are found everywhere on our planet; symbiosis and interdependence are the rule, not the exception. Only one species — our own — claims exemption, and by reintroducing hundreds of millions of years’ worth of fossilized carbon into the atmosphere in a geological eyeblink, we have unwittingly rent asunder the tightly woven fabric which sustains us all. The fig-and-wasp partnership is just one of thousands of likely casualties of our hubristic separation from the great web of Earthly life. If we clever apes cannot recognize that no living thing is an island, we’ll find, when we finally ask for whom the bell tolls, that it’s tolling for us.

Warren Senders