Year 4, Month 3, Day 15: The Doctor Has No Face

The Washington Post covers some of the problems with natural gas:

Two guys in a black Pontiac Vibe cruise the streets of Washington’s residential neighborhoods. The only sign of what they are up to is a gray plastic tube hanging out of the trunk. And the fact that they get out of the car frequently to place a black box on manhole covers and study its readings.

Measuring how much methane gas is leaking from pipes under the District could help answer a key policy question. As natural gas production expands in the United States, do its benefits for the climate far outweigh its dangers?

Methane, the main component of natural gas, is about 25 times more powerful as a heat-trapping gas than carbon dioxide, the largest human contributor to climate change; the atmospheric concentration of methane has doubled since the start of the Industrial Revolution. While it largely dissipates in a few decades and there is far less of it in the atmosphere than CO2, it continues to drive global warming. Depending on how much leaks out in the journey from wellhead to homes and factories, some experts say, it could be enough to offset the advantages natural gas has over coal.

More fun with heroin. March 6:

Natural gas advocates tout it as a “climate-friendly” substitute for dirty fossil fuels, and at first blush this seems a valid assertion. But energy and environmental policy shouldn’t be based on first impressions; more careful studies of natural gas reveal multiple mutually-reinforcing problems with the ostensibly clean energy source.

Leaks are inevitable, and — given that methane is an exponentially more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2 — not easily dismissed. And the extraction technique of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) turns out to have devastating local and regional effects on water supplies, agriculture, and environmental quality.

In late 19th century America, morphine addiction was a serious problem, until the fortunate introduction of a “non-addictive” cure for the condition: diacetylmorphine — marketed under the trade name, “Heroin.” To substitute one fossil fuel for another is at best a stopgap strategy to avoid a cold-turkey withdrawal from our civilization’s oil and coal addiction.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 3, Day 12: When It’s Cold Outside, I’ve Got The Month Of May

One at a time, they’re figuring it out:

I was a global warming skeptic. I questioned the validity of the studies purporting to be factual. You see, since the 1970s seawater temperatures along the coastline of San Luis Obispo County weren’t changing to any great extent. If anything, they’ve been slowly trending downward. What caused this condition if the oceans were supposedly warming?

After careful review of the wind data from the Diablo Canyon meteorological tower, I discovered that the northwesterly winds during the spring and summer months have slowly increased from decade to decade. These onshore winds produce greater amounts of upwelling and cooler seawater temperatures along our beaches.

Our northwesterly winds may have increased in response to a more intense area of low pressure that develops over the Great Central Valley of California as air temperatures warm, especially, during the spring and summer months. As that air rises, northwesterly winds flow from the Pacific to equalize the pressure difference between the ocean and the valley.

However, this condition is the least of the changes we are seeing. Record low amounts of ice in the Arctic Ocean, temperature records that fall like bowling pins, prolonged droughts, increasing wildfires and epic storms and floods have convinced me that the planet is warming at an unprecedented rate.

By the year 5013, we’ll finally have persuaded everyone. March 3:

In a heartfelt rejection of his former “skepticism,” John Lindsey offers a metaphor for the greenhouse effect, comparing the alarmingly high readings of atmospheric CO2 to an elevated blood alcohol level, and pleading “let us not further intoxicate our planet.” While the comparison is apt, it is not our Earth that is intoxicated, but our species.

Just as alcohol lowers inhibitions, lessens foresight, and increases risky behavior, industrial civilization’s century-long fossil-fuel binge has left us almost incapable of careful thought about the future. It’s just our bad luck that the greenhouse emissions from our carbon-burning spree are melting the ice-caps and triggering a series of catastrophic climatic tipping points. A drunk never plans for the inevitable hangover, and we humans are still for the most part in the ebullient phase of a night on the town: cocky, aggressive, full of ourselves — and unlikely to plan for a long and painful morning after.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 3, Day 9: Soothing.

The Barnstable Patriot offers a column from one Richard Elrick, noted as “From the Left.” Because the Right is always wrong:

The fact is that unless we substantially reduce our use of fossil fuels by 50 to 80 percent by 2050, when compared to 2000 levels, we will pass a “tipping point,” and most likely not be able to avoid the most catastrophic effects of a warming world.

The American discussion about climate change and cheap energy will be coming to a crucial crescendo soon when President Obama will have to make a decision about whether to allow the Keystone XL Pipeline to be built. If constructed, the pipeline would cross from Canada down to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico, carrying the dirtiest, most carbon-intensive oil from the tar sands and shale of Alberta.

There will be incredible pressure on the president to allow Keystone to proceed. We are addicted to cheap oil, and the perception exists for some that we “need” Keystone for the jobs and economy.

But the truth, as NASA scientist and climate change expert Dr. James Hansen so eloquently described recently to a Keystone Pipeline supporter, is that, “The climate science is crystal clear. We cannot go down the path of the dirty fuels without guaranteeing that the climate system passes tipping points, leaving our children and grandchildren a situation out of their control, a situation of our making.”

Mr. President, the choice is yours. You can start us down the road to a sustainable energy future, or you can give way to the short-term and short-sighted political forces that need their fossil fuel fix. Posterity’s future awaits your decision.

I brought out the heroin thing again. Sent Feb. 27:

As global warming’s effects get harder and harder to ignore, we can expect a gradual transformation in denialist rhetoric, from “it’s not happening” to “it’s too expensive to do anything.” Statements of this sort are typical rationalizations of addictive behavior, and as Richard Elrick and countless others have pointed out, American civilization is addicted to fossil fuels. In refusing to address climate change, conservatives deny the grim facts of our national dependency. Similarly, attempts to promote fossil-fuel “alternatives” ostensibly less damaging to the planet’s climate, such as “clean coal” or natural gas (extracted by the process of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”), are nothing more than the desperate bargaining attempts of an addiction.

Let’s consider these claims in the light of history — in particular another national dependency of a little more than a century ago. In 1895, millions of Americans were hooked on morphine, which was freely available over the counter. It was an enormous social and medical crisis, finally solved with by diacetylmorphine, a “non-addictive” substitute, marketed under the trade name of “Heroin.” Let’s remember how well that worked out before we put our hopes in natural gas and “clean coal.”

If humanity is to survive and prosper in the coming centuries, we need to transform our energy economy profoundly and completely.

Warren Senders


Year 4, Month 1, Day 28: The Autograph Of The Beast

Thomas Lovejoy tells us in the NY Times just how f**ked we are, in a column entitled “The Climate Change Endgame”:

WHETHER in Davos or almost anywhere else that leaders are discussing the world’s problems, they are missing by far the biggest issue: the rapidly deteriorating global environment and its ability to support civilization.

The situation is pretty much an endgame. Unless pressing issues of the biology of the planet and of climate change generated by greenhouse gas emissions are addressed with immediacy and at appropriate scale, the matters that occupy Davos discussions will be seen in retrospect as largely irrelevant.

This week, in Bonn, out of sight and out of mind, international negotiators will design the biodiversity and ecosystem equivalent to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. A full eight years have passed since President Jacques Chirac of France acted as host at a meeting in Paris to create this “Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.”

Progress has been painfully slow. Only now is the “platform” and its work program — to assess status, trends and possible solutions — being designed. In the meantime, rates of extinction and endangerment of species have soared. Ecosystem destruction is massive and accelerating. Institutional responsiveness seems lethargic to a reptilian degree.

I hate these sports terms. Sent January 21:

If we are to overcome our culture’s systemic aversion to addressing the ever-more-urgent climate crisis, we should stop using the lexicon of sports and entertainment. When Thomas Lovejoy refers to the ongoing and accelerating environmental collapse as an “endgame,” or James Hansen opines that carbon release from the Canadian tar sands would be “game over” for the climate, the terms carry with them the suggestion of another round, a second chance. This framing is also consistent with the notion, derived from Abrahamic religious tradition, that our life on Earth is but a prelude to another phase of existence, an afterlife of bliss and rectitude.

Well, for all the times that afterlife’s been invoked, it’s never been verified, and the “game over” awaiting our children on a drastically warmed planet will be more like a catastrophic football riot writ large than the anodyne mulligan the phrase implies. Earth has no “reset” button.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 12, Day 18: My Sign Is “The End Is Near!” What’s YOUR Sign?

In the High Country News, Megan Kimble writes about her “Date With A Climate-Change Denier.” It’s a good piece:

He nodded and thought this over. “Do you think this whole climate change thing is going to catch on?”

“What do you mean?”

“You know, ‘global warming’?” His voice wore italics and, though his hands didn’t leave the table, his fingers became bobbing quotation marks.

I opened my mouth and paused. He smiled that uncomfortable first-date smile and took a sip of his beer.

Hmm, I thought. Yes. The climate is changing, has changed, and humans are central to the story. Sheets of ice are cleaving away from glaciers and more and more carbon dioxide and methane molecules are swarming through the atmosphere, heating it up, and they will continue to do so whether or not the “idea” of global warming, you know, “catches on.”

My date took another sip of beer and stared at me with the blue eyes that had prompted me to give him my phone number in the first place.

“I think climate change already has caught on?” I said, hating how my voice rose into a question mark. “I think it’s happening? And I think a lot of people agree that, um, it’s a … big deal,” I said.

“Hmm,” he said, and nodded, considering this. He smiled, and in a teasing, flirtatious tone, said, “So you’re all into that, the global warming stuff?”

Some believe that the climate deniers will just die out. Not many in my generation get riled up about interracial marriage, for instance — it is, for most of us, entirely a non-issue — and many say that attitudes toward climate change could similarly shift with time. The academic term for old ideas dying along with old people is called “cohort replacement,” and according to this logic, all we have to do is wait.

According to this logic, however, an eligible young woman does not find herself on a date with a very cute 28-year-old man who puts “global warming” in quotation marks.

“Well … I sort of don’t think climate change is something to be believed in,” I said haltingly. “I mean, it kind of … is.” I hesitated, wondering, should I go further?

This letter was surprisingly difficult to write, perhaps because I couldn’t go with any of the regular formulae that have now become pretty much second nature. Sent 12/12/12:

While it may not be possible to screen your dates for “acceptance of climate change,” as Megan Kimble imagines in her entertaining article on the problems of dating climate-change deniers, there are many reasons to suggest that those who reject scientific evidence are poor relationship material.

Those who deny the ominously accelerating greenhouse effect are choosing to live in their own more convenient version of reality. Uncomfortable facts are excluded, straightforward facts and figures rationalized and massaged, data cherry-picked to demonstrate opposite meanings — these characteristic denialist behaviors are also key ingredients in dysfunctional and abusive relationships. By mocking the overwhelming climatological consensus, Ms. Kimble’s hunky date showed he’s the kind of guy who thinks words and facts mean exclusively what he wants them to mean — no more, no less. It goes without saying he’s hardly relationship material.

Similarly, America’s political and media systems need to end their romance with the well-funded climate denial industry. Both our policies and the public discussion of them must be founded in reality, not rooted in fantasy — and this is nowhere more important than on the issue of climate change, a threat larger than any our species has faced in recorded history.

Warren Senders

UPDATE: This didn’t get into the High Country News, but the article was reprinted on January 12 in the Salt Lake Tribune, so I’ve sent them this letter unaltered.

Year 3, Month 9, Day 23: Show Us Your Lark Pack!

The Tri-City News (Vancouver, BC) has an excellent editorial highlighting the venal and mendacious nature of the denial industry:

There were times this summer when I thought I didn’t need science to tell me global warming is real: sweating in my seat at Theatre Under the Stars, watching the frightening heat waves in the east and avoiding golf because it was too hot.

But luckily, most of us base our conclusions about global warming not on anecdotes about extreme summer weather but on scientific research and consensus.

But not my colleague, who, thanks partly to Exxon Mobil, is one of a group of environmental deniers not swayed by the overwhelming scientific consensus about climate change.

Deniers don’t believe the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; the internationally mandated IPCC, which has, over the last 10 years, compiled four scientific reports based on the work of 2,500 scientists from 130 countries. Each IPCC report warns of the dangers of global warming caused by man-made greenhouse gases.

And deniers don’t believe the body of literature in scientific journals, which, over the past decade, contained 928 articles on global warming, none of which included a scientific denial that man is hastening global warming.

Climate change-denying groups are convinced that global warming is a scientific hoax, a scare tactic dreamed up by environmentalists to frighten us into supporting anti-business laws and regulations.

I agree that there is a conspiracy to misrepresent the facts about climate change but 2,500 environmental scientists from 130 countries aren’t in on it. Exxon Mobil is.

Since 1998, Exxon has doled out $22,123,456 to climate change-denying groups. The Heritage Foundation ($730,000), Frontiers of Freedom, ($1.2 million) and 40 other groups received money from Exxon to help deny climate change. Even B.C.’s Fraser Institute has bagged $120,000 from Exxon since 1998.

Tareyton is Better. Charcoal Is Why.

Sent September 16:

The climate-change denial industry has worked hard for the past couple of decades, spreading confusion and misinformation about the reality, causes, and consequences of a runaway greenhouse effect. These people — the same characters who reassured us for years that nicotine wasn’t addictive and the link between smoking and lung cancer was inconclusive — are skillful, well-funded, and unencumbered by any responsibility to the truth.

But tobacco addiction’s public health consequences were limited to the smokers and their neighbors, with no multi-generational impacts. Climate change is an entirely different story, with effects that will still be felt a hundred, a thousand, or ten thousand years from now. It is as if cigarette smoking brought cancer, heart disease, and emphysema not just to the smokers but to a hundred generations of their descendants. In an odious bargain, the denialists are sacrificing the future of human civilization for short-term personal gain.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 8, Day 15: One If By Land, How Many By Sea?

James Hansen, in the Washington Post: It’s worse than we thought.

When I testified before the Senate in the hot summer of 1988 , I warned of the kind of future that climate change would bring to us and our planet. I painted a grim picture of the consequences of steadily increasing temperatures, driven by mankind’s use of fossil fuels.

But I have a confession to make: I was too optimistic.

My projections about increasing global temperature have been proved true. But I failed to fully explore how quickly that average rise would drive an increase in extreme weather.

In a new analysis of the past six decades of global temperatures, which will be published Monday, my colleagues and I have revealed a stunning increase in the frequency of extremely hot summers, with deeply troubling ramifications for not only our future but also for our present.

This is not a climate model or a prediction but actual observations of weather events and temperatures that have happened. Our analysis shows that it is no longer enough to say that global warming will increase the likelihood of extreme weather and to repeat the caveat that no individual weather event can be directly linked to climate change. To the contrary, our analysis shows that, for the extreme hot weather of the recent past, there is virtually no explanation other than climate change.

Time to break out the Paul Revere analogy again. Sent August 4:

If today’s news media had been broadcasting back in 1775, our forebears would have known that there are always two exactly equal sides to every story. Patrick Henry’s inflammatory words would have been “balanced” by an apologist for King George III, and since the Minutemen of Lexington and Concord would have realized that the issue of whether the British were coming wasn’t entirely settled, they’d have ignored the sound of hoofbeats in the dark.

Fortunately, it didn’t happen that way, and we owe our nation’s existence to the early patriots who rolled out of bed and shouldered their muskets in response to the midnight calls of a known “alarmist.”

On the other hand, it’s happening that way now, with many Americans convinced by a complaisant media that there is still a “debate” on the science of climate change. In his stubborn struggle against complacency and denialism, Dr. James Hansen is the Paul Revere of our time. We ignore his warnings at our peril.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 7, Day 31: I Know Nothink!

The Iowa City Press-Citizen notes that nobody’s talkin’ about it:

The 800-pound gorilla in the Mount Pleasant High School Gymnasium Tuesday was the subject of climate change.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad called for a public discussion on drought conditions in Iowa, and all of the governmental players were there:

• U.S. Department of Agriculture.

• Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

• Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

• Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

• And the Farm Services Administration.

The phrase “climate change” or any analysis of causation for the current drought was absent from the public discussion. This was a meeting about row crop agriculture and related agricultural producers and it was intended to deal with the as-is situation.

The obvious problem, as Mark Schouten of Homeland Security and Emergency Response put it, “you can’t snap your fingers and make it rain.”


It was the Farm Services Agency that raised the issue of environmental groups, saying a group had sued for an environmental impact statement before releasing CRP acres to haying or grazing.

During the public comment section, a truck driver who had just delivered a load of grain stood at the microphone and demonized the environmental groups for trying to influence food production. It got the biggest applause at the event and the governor jumped on board reminding us of his joining a lawsuit in Nebraska against an environmental group.

Trouble in River City. Sent July 20:

It’s unsurprising that people still aren’t drawing the connection between the extreme weather hammering America’s farmlands and the accelerating greenhouse effect caused by excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but blaming environmentalists for devastated crops while ignoring the role of climate change is like blaming oncologists for cancer.

While scientists have been making increasingly scary predictions for several decades about the consequences of uncontrolled greenhouse emissions, their words have gone unheeded; many who’ve tried to sound the warning have been mocked, harassed, and threatened for their pains. Meanwhile, our print and broadcast media have maintained a scrupulous false equivalency between genuine expertise and the pronouncements of petroleum-funded denialists.

The United States owes its existence to the Minutemen of Concord and Lexington, who responded unhesitatingly to a midnight rider’s call. The Paul Reveres of the present day are climatologists; our nation will owe its future to those who heed their alarms.

Warren Senders


Year 3, Month 7, Day 28: Smile When You Say That, Punk.

Buncha slackers:

Amid a summer of record-setting heat, most of Generation X ‘s young and middle-aged adults are uninformed and unconcerned about climate change, says a survey today.

Only about 5% of Gen Xers, now 32 to 52 years old, are “alarmed” and 18% “concerned” about climate change, reports the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research. Two-thirds, or 66%, of those surveyed last year said they aren’t sure global warming is happening and 10% said they don’t believe it’s occurring.

“Most Generation Xers are surprisingly disengaged, dismissive or doubtful about whether global climate change is happening and they don’t spend much time worrying about it,” said author Jon D. Miller.

I’ve used the Arabic translation motif before. This one works pretty well, I think. Sent July 17:

It’d be easier if “climate change” had a scarier name. If we said it in Arabic, jingoistic politicians could warn their constituents that “Aletgheyrat Alemnakheyh” would devastate American agriculture and infrastructure. Flag-waving pundits on cable news could discuss the threat to our way of life, drumming up support for an all-out national effort against an unpronounceable enemy — an epic struggle to preserve our civilization. Young people would be patriotically inspired to enlist.

But as the NSF survey shows, America’s youth are understandably too preoccupied with shorter-term, more immediate issues — paying for their education, finding jobs — to consider the threats posed by climate change. And who can blame them? It is the job of a society’s elders to think in the long term, to avoid convenient falsehoods and easy generalizations. Our generation has evaded its responsibilities to the future; it is theirs that will pay the price.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 7, Day 24: I Never Understood The Designated Hitter Rule

Making up for lost time, the Washington Post continues its shrill campaign:

Most Americans say they believe temperatures around the world are going up and that weather patterns have become more unstable in the past few years, according to a new poll from The Washington Post and Stanford University.

But they also see future warming as something that can be addressed, and majorities want government action across a range of policies to curb energy consumption, with more support for tax breaks than government mandates.

The findings come as the federal government released a report Tuesday suggesting the connection between last year’s severe weather and climate change. According to the study issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, changes fueled by the burning of fossil fuels made the 2011 heat wave in Texas 20 times more likely to occur compared with conditions in the 1960s.

In the report, the scientists compared the phenomenon to a baseball or cricket player’s improved performance after taking steroids.

“For any one of his home runs (sixes) during the years the player was taking steroids, you would not know for sure whether it was caused by steroids or not,” they wrote in the report, which will be published in a forthcoming Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. “But you might be able to attribute his increased number to the steroids.”

This was fun to write. Sent July 13:

After years of muted scientific language, the American public’s got something it can understand: climate change’s influence on weather is like that of steroids on the performance of professional athletes, according to the recent report from the NOAA. Performance-enhancing drugs affect muscle size, response time, and a host of other factors — but it is impossible to attribute any single home run or touchdown to them. Rather, they “load the dice” in favor of extreme athletic accomplishment. Similarly, atmospheric carbon dioxide is a performance enhancer for Earth’s weather systems.

Steroid use “…makes the body behave unnaturally,” as columnist George Will noted in a 2010 interview with the Wall Street Journal; greenhouse emissions make our climate behave unnaturally, while triggering side effects that may very well endanger the future of our civilization, professional sports and all. Perhaps Mr. Will, a legendary baseball fan and a climate-change denier, will grasp the NOAA’s analogy.

Warren Senders