Year 4, Month 11, Day 15: Gotta Walk The Line

The Central Pennsylvania Patriot-News runs a good op-ed by CCL’s Richard Whiteford:

Scientists believe that we can’t allow the preindustrial global temperature to rise higher than another 2 degrees Celsius or human survival will be very challenging. We are almost half way there now.

The oil, gas and coal industries and their paid henchmen like the Heartland Institute and certain bought politicians distract the public with red herring issues like claiming that switching to clean energy will hurt the economy, kill jobs, and cause energy shortages.

What is mostly overlooked by them and the media is that if humans want to survive on this planet we have to stop burning fossil fuels as soon as possible.

Scientists say that we can’t put much more than another 565 gigatons of CO2 into the atmosphere without disastrous results. At this time, financial analysts calculate that there is already 2,795 gigatons of CO2 contained in readily available oil, gas and coal reserves. That’s five times more CO2 than we can afford to burn and expect to survive yet the plan remains to drill baby drill!

There is enough carbon in the Canadian Tar Sands oil deposits to send the global temperature above the 2 degree limit. That is the reason environmentalists are protesting the Keystone XL Pipe Line. We just can’t afford to burn that carbon and expect to survive.

Have a nice day. November 5:

As the evidence supporting both the reality and the danger of anthropogenic global heating continues to mount, the anti-expertise wing of American conservatism finds itself increasingly isolated. Propped up by mountains of fossil-fuel cash, the science-denying politicians and media figures are still muddying the national discussion of an accelerating global emergency with debunked “facts,” cherry-picked statistics, and — all too often — outright lies.

Why? The answer lies in the intersection of two factors. First, the short-term fiscal motives embedded in the language of corporate charters; companies are required by law to focus on profits above all other objectives. Second, the pro-apocalyptic orientation of fundamentalist religion, which eagerly embraces notions of a fiery Armageddon while rejecting the inconvenient conclusions of scientists. With one providing the money and the other providing the zealotry, these two combine to create a political force which is impervious to logic, data, or the notion of good environmental stewardship.

Eventually, of course, they will lose. The laws of physics and chemistry will overcome fanaticism and greed alike. The question is whether the rest of us will survive the consequences of this toxic blend of cupidity and stupidity.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 8, Day 10: Is That A Solar-Powered Electric Chair Around Your Neck?

The Victoria BC Times-Colonist insists on a “faith” perspective on climate:

Christian teachings can shed light on this dilemma of economic and environmental policy. The theology of the United Church, as with most other Christian traditions, clearly identifies the fundamental role of humans in creation as one of responsibility. There are many scriptural references to God’s charge to humans that they should use the fruits of a productive Earth wisely and steward the resources provided to them. The evidence suggests we are failing in this sacred duty. We are causing unprecedented damage to the ecological systems and the climate that supports productive life on our small planet, and we will pay the price one way or another.

Typically, policy makers present the situation as an unavoidable tradeoff: We can improve the environment and make our society more sustainable, but only at the cost of economic investment and jobs.

Leaving aside the ecological and economic fallacies in this argument, the moral and spiritual imperatives are clear. The United Church of Canada has been one of many faith communities who have repeatedly pointed out that sustainability cannot be traded off. More than 20 years ago, the general council of the United Church called for the protection of the planet’s life-sustaining environment to fulfil humanity’s sacred obligations of stewardship and to ensure the rights of generations yet unborn to benefit from the abundance and productivity of our shared heritage of complex living systems. This call arose out of a spiritual vision that affirms the rich diversity of life on Earth as a sacred gift, and in which love is the basis for our relationships with one another and with nature. The general council affirmed 12 key ethical principles that guide the church’s work on ecological issues including economic justice, human responsibility, sustainable life styles, the protection of biodiversity and ensuring the rights of future generations.

There is a long way to go, but the warning signs should be spurring us on to action now.

Okay. But rein in the fanficcers, please? July 21:

It is self-evident not just to those of faith, but to any thinking person, that morality demands a commitment to a sustainable future for our posterity. But it’s equally self-evident that many of the self-professed faithful are antagonistic to the findings of climate scientists, believing either that humanity possesses a special exemption from the laws of physics and chemistry which govern the accelerating greenhouse effect, or that the events foretold by Revelations will supersede atmospheric CO2 when it comes to ending Earthly life as we know it.

Environmentally cognizant religious organizations will have a significant role to play in addressing those eagerly anticipating the End Times, and persuading them to leave its timing to their deity of choice, rather than loading the dice by refusing to recognize the wholly mundane nature of the climatic apocalypse our species currently confronts. Let’s not make Armageddon a self-fulfiling prophecy.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 7, Day 21: Haters Gotta Hate

The New York Times notes that Republicans are, predictably, assholes:

When President Obama announced strong measures to combat climate change last week, environmentalists who felt he had long soft-pedaled the issue for political reasons rejoiced.

But many Republicans were just as gleeful — in the belief they had been handed a powerful issue to use against Democrats in the 2014 midterm elections in energy-rich states from Texas to Minnesota.

Elected officials and political analysts said the president’s crackdown on coal, the leading source of industrial greenhouse gases, could have consequences for Senate seats being vacated by retiring Democrats in West Virginia and South Dakota, for shaky Democratic incumbents like Mary L. Landrieu of energy-rich Louisiana, and for the Democratic challenger of Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader.

In ordering limits for the first time on carbon dioxide emissions from up-and-running power plants, Mr. Obama jabbed that opponents belonged to “the Flat Earth Society.” But in coal country, it was Mr. Obama who was called out of touch, with predictions of job losses and spiking energy bills.

Republicans immediately went on the attack against Democratic House members in mining states, posting Web ads with a 2008 sound bite of Mr. Obama predicting regulating carbon emissions would cause electricity prices to “necessarily skyrocket.”

Asked about the impact of the president’s actions on his own re-election prospects next year, Representative Nick J. Rahall II, Democrat of West Virginia, said, “They don’t help.”

They never get any better; they only get worse. July 3.

Republican readiness to exploit President Obama’s climate initiatives in their quest for the electoral upper hand is politically savvy but morally reprehensible. It reflects a confluence of three significant and malign influences on American politics: the short-term profit motivation of fossil fuel barons and the legislators they control, the scorched-Earth politics of personal destruction pioneered by Newt Gingrich and brought to unprecedented heights by the current majority in the House of Representatives, and the theocratic Biblical literalists whose eagerness for a fiery Armageddon is only matched by the vehemence of their denials that our planet is warming.

Combine an inability to think in the long term, an ethically bankrupt propensity for fighting dirty, and a visceral desire for an apocalyptic conclusion to Earthly life, and you get the face of today’s GOP — a snarling visage more appropriate for a cartoon villain than the erstwhile party of Lincoln and Eisenhower.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 6, Day 26: Wading In The Kiddie Pool

The Christian Post says that evangelicals need to address climate change if they want to bring their youth back into the fold. Sheesh:

A five-year study by the Barna Group, a leading research organization focused on faith and culture, found that three in five young Christians leave the church after reaching the age of 15. As a result, over the past five years the percent of young evangelicals fell 4 points to a mere 13 percent, while the percent of young agnostics/athiests grew by the same amount to 35 percent.

Most evangelical leaders point to the widening gap between traditional Christian views and those of a changing American culture – especially on issues like same-sex marriage, abortion, and pre-marital sex – as the primary cause of this problem. The reality is that for many of today’s young Christians, who are more immersed in mainstream culture than ever before through digital and social media, holding on to the church’s teachings amid such overwhelming opposition is often too difficult a task.

And there don’t appear to be any easy solutions. Evangelicals, whose social views are based primarily on Biblical teachings, cannot, and should not, change them just to better align with modern culture. And in today’s vastly interconnected world, young people can no more easily remove themselves from the conflicting influences.

However, there are issues on which we evangelicals can reengage our youth – without compromising our values.

Climate change is the perfect place to start. A large majority of young Americans view climate change as a serious problem facing their generation. And to date, American evangelicals have been among the slowest to recognize the problem. Far from compromising our values, helping to address the world’s changing climate – which the United Nations Development Program says “will reverse decades worth of human development gains” – would help us fulfill Christ’s command to care for the poor in a way that unites our faith tradition with America’s youth and the broader society.

Some kinds of stupid can’t be fixed. June 11:

If evangelicals want to prove they’re genuinely serious about addressing climate change, they’ll need a stronger rationale than simply needing to draw youth back into their faith communities. The climate crisis transcends the marketing and membership requirements of even the most fervent religious group. When agriculture collapses due to extreme weather and prolonged drought, the starving will include those of every creed; when rising seas submerge coastlines and remove island nations from the map entirely, issues of religious affiliation will be irrelevant.

Young people everywhere around the world can see that their elders have not only failed to solve the problem, but have all too often denied that a problem exists in the first place — scarcely a way to inspire confidence in those who are supposed to be examples of leadership, wisdom, and responsibility. Those who ardently anticipate the End Times cannot be credible advocates for long-term environmental sustainability.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 5, Day 15: Shut Up He Explained

This study is red-hot, and most newspapers aren’t going to touch it. But the Central Michigan Morning Sun’s Eric Baerren takes it on. Good for him:

Will Christianity destroy humanity? Is it making the End Times a self-fulfilling prophesy?

That’s only a half-fair assessment. To be truthful, religious beliefs don’t shape people’s general attitudes. They only reflect them. People who are prone to hating homosexuals, for instance, are prone to find reason in their religious tomes for doing it.

A study a few years back found that 76 percent of Republican voters believe that the end of times will come soon, kicking off one final epic conflict between God and the Antichrist. After God wins, he’ll clean up the planet and all of God’s believers get to spend eternity in paradise. Growing up, I attended a church attended by people who believe this. It was also in a part of the state notable for using religion as an excuse to rave on about the Apocalypse. And, let’s be clear about what this means: About 35 percent of the electorate is reliably Republican. If the poll is accurate, that means that the percentage of the American electorate who believes that the Biblical end is near is about 25 percent.

People who believe in the End Times are also statistically more prone to opposing things intended to curb climate change, which is the point of this. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. Conservatism is underpinned by a fear of change, and doing things to mitigate climate change means changing the way we do things. If you fear change, then you don’t want to do that, so naturally you find excuses not to like denying climate change or pretending that it’s all part of God’s plan.

Damn hard to get all this into 175 words. May 3:

While it’s true that religious beliefs don’t necessarily direct individual attitudes, it is indisputable that they can profoundly shape a society. Western civilization has been steeped for centuries in Christian theology; regardless of whether particular men and women believe in a Biblical apocalypse, there is no doubt that New Testament conceptions of time, progress and eschatology have steered our nominally secular society towards a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In every aspect of our culture — symphonies, movies, fairy tales — we observe “ways of ending” similar to those in the Book of Revelations: a dramatic final conflict, and a happy resolution. Study of other cultures shows that these models of closure are by no means universal.

End-times Christian opposition to significant action on climate change is only the visible face of a broader societal inability to imagine any other way to end our collective story. Believers see themselves living happily ever after; climate scientists, however, are much less sanguine about the coming centuries of life on Earth if we fail to address the unsettling facts of a runaway greenhouse effect.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 3, Day 24: Happy Birthday, Everybody.

The University World News (an international online bulletin for higher education) sounds the tocsin:

An international team of researchers has issued a stark warning about the perils the world faces in the near future because of mounting evidence confirming the carbon dioxide effects of a 5º C increase in the temperature of the Arctic Ocean.

Rapid melting of ice in Greenland and the Arctic Ocean last year showed catastrophic acceleration in 2012, qualifying the effects in the Arctic as “dangerous climate change” under the UN Climate Convention.

The researchers, from Australia, Norway, Spain and Sweden, conducted a series of eight cruises between July 2007 and July 2012 to assess the annual metabolic balance of Arctic plankton communities. This determines their role as carbon dioxide (CO2) sinks or sources and was resolved for the first time.

The five-year-long research revealed that the two-week spring algal bloom occurring each April, as the Arctic emerges from its winter darkness and the sea-ice starts to thin, is so productive it can fuel the food web for the entire year and remove significant amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere annually.

But experiments involving temperature manipulations conducted in the Svalbard Islands, about 650 kilometres north of mainland Europe, indicated that the plankton community switches from acting as a sink to becoming a source of atmospheric CO2 as seawater temperatures exceed 5º C.

When people call me an “alarmist,” my response is, “the situation is fuckin’ alarming.” If you’re not an alarmist, you’re a fucking idiot. There. I said it. March 12:

When we look at the predictions of climate scientists about the impact of climate change, it’s vitally important to take those forecasts with a great many grains of salt. Remember that these authorities, for all their scientific credentials and expertise, are wrong more often than not.

They were wrong about the rate of planetary warming, about the extent of ice melt, about species extinction and the loss of biodiversity. They were wrong about the likely dates of glacier loss, about the probability of droughts, about the interaction of the various climate forcers.

So if the world’s most-informed climatologists get it wrong so often, why should we be concerned about climate change? The answer is a simple one: because scientific writing is required to avoid extreme language (a phrase like “statistically significant” is a scientist’s way of shouting), so climatologists’ public statements have consistently underestimated climate change’s speed and severity. The fact that predictions have regularly fallen short of reality isn’t a failure of science, but a wake-up call to the governments of the world: there is no time to waste.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 2, Day 22: The Fire This Time

USA Today links the sensitive fee-fees of the god-botherers to the environmental crisis in a touching piece entitled, “God and Climate Change.”

Today, new prophets tell us that our modern sins will lead to rising seas, stronger hurricanes and longer droughts. If we don’t reform our sinful ways, global catastrophe on a biblical scale looms. Billy Graham could hardly have said it better.

Hearing God’s call

In traditional Christian theology, there are two direct ways to access the thinking of God: the “Book of the Bible” and the “Book of Nature.”

Until Charles Darwin, Christians believed that the earth was not much changed from its creation about 6,000 years ago, meaning the design of the natural world offered a glimpse into the mind of God. John Calvin would thus write that God “daily discloses himself in the whole workmanship of the universe.” The plant and animal kingdoms are “burning lamps” that “shine for us … the glory of its author.” To eliminate a species or damage the earth is to limit our knowledge of God.

In some ways, environmentalism should be seen as a secularized version of Calvinism, minus God. Obama has brought God back into the environmental conversation, even if his theological knowledge is incomplete.

Go ahead. Tell me I’m angry. Tell me something I don’t know. February 14:

To the extent that their creeds encourage them to act in the interests of our collective survival, religious believers are important participants in the struggle against devastating climate change. But the sword of faith cuts both ways; the fact is that most major world religions deny the reality and finality of the world, viewing it instead as an illusory prelude to a hypothetical afterlife. Whether in the extreme form of those eagerly anticipating the fiery Armageddon described in Revelations, or in the less apocalyptic thinking of religious liberals who simply wish that death wasn’t so, um, deadly, these eschatologies are ultimately incompatible with the idea of long-term sustainability.

Climate change is a global phenomenon unintentionally created by human behavior and detected by human perceptions; it won’t be solved by the prayers of the faithful but by the concerted work of billions of humans seeking to preserve their shared planetary heritage.

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 6, Day 23: Above Us Only Sky…

Heh. Here’s a head-scratcher, from the Christian Post:

When it comes to the issue of global warming, the label conservative and liberal won’t necessarily help you determine if an evangelical Christian is a proponent or skeptic. Why? Because even within the inner core of conservative evangelical circles people are divided over the issue, with both sides asserting that science is clearly on their side. Take The Christian Post, for example: Dr. Richard Land, CP’s executive editor, is among those who are skeptical that humans tip the scales toward global warming, while Dr. Joel C. Hunter, CP’s senior editorial adviser, believes controlling human behavior may be in order.

Moreover, the prospects for a global decision to control carbon because of warming have dropped precipitously over the last three years because of a worldwide economic downturn, much to the consternation of evangelical and secular activists alike. Skeptics are delighted. But activists also point to a recent article in The New Yorker, which reports that President Barack Obama will make climate change a priority if he gets elected to a second term.

So which side is correct? And how should Christians view the future of the global warming debate, both inside the Christian community and out?

These god-botherers make my guts tired. Imagine there’s no heaven. It’s easy if you try. Sent June 12:

When it comes to climate change, believers face two crucial questions.

The first addresses their relationship to scientific expertise: since climatologists are, in effect, planetary physicians, can members of the faith community accept the data and analyses of climate scientists just as they accept the advice of a medical specialist?

The second addresses an pillar of many Christian faiths: are believers who eagerly anticipate the Rapture ready to concede that our civilization is instead threatened by global warming — a wholly profane immolation of believers and infidels alike?

As an atheist, I’ll take my chances with an End Times of genuinely Divine origin, but describing a civilizational collapse caused by industrial CO2 emissions as a fulfillment of the Book of Revelations is the eschatological equivalent of cheating at solitaire. If evangelicals look forward to the End Times, they must combat climate change, lest they find themselves fooled by a secular Apocalypse.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 6, Day 18: Oh, Not HIM Again!

More on the Barnosky study, from the San Francisco Chronicle:

Barnosky, who tracks longtime changes in the fossil record, and 22 other scientists spent two years in conferences and research to produce their review. It is timed for a U.N. conference on sustainable development – known as the Rio+20 Conference – that is scheduled for Rio de Janeiro from June 22 to 24. The conference will mark 20 years since the first “Earth Summit” at Rio, involving delegates from 172 governments, produced the first international conventions on climate change and biodiversity.

In their report in Nature, the scientists say their research shows many combined factors are thrusting the world toward the tipping point they foresee. Among the problems are these:

— The rapid growth in the world’s human population – to 9 billion or more by 2050 and possibly 27 billion by the end of the century – is quickly consuming available resources.

Fossil fuels are being burned at a rapidly increasing rate, increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by 35 percent since the industrial revolution began. At the same time, ocean acidity has risen by 5 percent in the past 20 years.

— Ocean productivity is being diminished by vast “dead zones” where no fish swim, while 40 percent of Earth’s land mass that was once “biodiverse” now contains far fewer species of crop plants and domestic animals.

— More animal species than ever are becoming extinct, and many plant and animal species are being forced by global warming to seek new ranges that could place them at risk of extinction, as well.

— Within the next 60 years, the average global temperature “will be higher than it has been since the human species evolved.”

And look who got the call to be the voice of doubt! Sent June 7:

While the doctrine of false equivalency demands that a nominal “skeptic” be represented in any discussion of the rapidly accelerating greenhouse effect and its consequences for humanity, it’s a measure of climate-change deniers’ desperation that the only climate scientist still available for this role is Dr. Richard Lindzen.

When asked to comment on the study led by Dr. Anthony Barnosky which assembles an impressive (and genuinely terrifying) array of evidence for an imminent climatic “tipping point,” Lindzen remarks that “no one thinks anything terrible will happen in anything like the future they see.” Of course, the report’s 23 co-authors might beg to differ. If Lindzen mistakes twenty-three scientists for “no one,” what does this say about his statistical acumen?

Oh, yes: while it’s irrelevant to the climate debate, it’s nevertheless noteworthy that Dr. Lindzen continues to dispute the statistical validity of another important scientific consensus — the one linking cigarette smoking to lung cancer.

Warren Senders