Year 4, Month 6, Day 24: Who’s On First?

The San Bernadino Sun reports on the HFC-limitation treaty. Too little, too late…but better than sitting around doing nothing:

RANCHO MIRAGE — The United States and China agreed to mount a joint effort to combat climate change Saturday, committing to work to cut hydrofluorocarbons (HFC), or “super greenhouse” gases.

In a statement issued after a summit between Presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping here, the two sides committed to phase down production and usage of the gases, which are highly potent contributors to climate change.

“Today, President Obama and President Xi agreed on an important new step to confront global climate change,” the White House said in a statement.

The deal will see Washington and Beijing work together for the first time, along with other countries to phase down the consumption and production of HFCs,” the statement said.

“A global phase down of HFCs could potentially reduce some 90 gigatons of CO2 equivalent by 2050, equal to roughly two years worth of current global greenhouse gas emissions,” the statement said.

The effort will use the institutions of the Montreal Protocol, which is sometimes referred to as the most successful global climate treaty, which was first set up to tackle depletions in the ozone layer.

Written in the Toronto airport on my way back home from a concert, June 9:

A US/China agreement on hydroflourocarbon emissions is a welcome piece of good news about global climate change.

Politics is often called “the art of the possible,” and in this context, such a commitment is a triumph of politics and statecraft.

But it’s not enough. As atmospheric CO2 soared past 400 parts per million last month, catastrophic levels of warming have become essentially inevitable. Avert our eyes though we will, the cold facts are that climatic disruptions are going to devastate agriculture everywhere; there are severe food shortages on the horizon for hundreds of millions of people.

These looming humanitarian crises require more of us. Humanity as a whole, and the industrialized nations of the world in particular, must stop being satisfied with the possible, and begin accomplishing the essential: reducing CO2 below 350 ppm, and putting a brake on the accelerating greenhouse effect. There is no time left for politics as usual.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 1, Day 3: TSTS

Florida Today’s Randall Parkinson has a good analysis of our industrial policy paralysis:

This year, China surpassed the United States as the world’s largest investor in green technology.

The country is rapidly emerging as the world’s leader in clean-energy innovation and manufacturing. It now produces more wind turbines and solar panels each year than any other country.

This was accomplished remarkably fast because China recognized its rising economic power can be sustained only by ensuring access to abundant energy, food and water resources. This requires development of noncarbon-based energy and a stable climate.

Many other countries, like Japan, South Korea and India, also are facilitating the commercial development of green technologies.

Unfortunately, efforts to create a similar technology boom in the United States have paled by comparison, thanks to a very small group of lobbyists.

These merchants of doubt have convinced some members of Congress climate change is not real and the country’s long-term energy policy should focus on more, not less, fossil fuel exploration and production. As a consequence, we have ceded growth in green technology, jobs and related income to overseas companies that now profitably export their goods and expertise to the U.S.

I consider myself a proud American. Watching this shit go on (and on and on and on) is an utter embarrassment. Sent December 30:

Those same political candidates fetishizing American exceptionalism enthusiastically advocate policies that would permanently cement our nation’s status as an also-ran. Nowhere is this disconnect between rhetoric and action more evident than in our laggardly response to the challenge of global climate change. Although scientific evidence demonstrates to all but the willfully deluded that the greenhouse effect is wreaking havoc on the planetary ecosystems that sustain our species, self-styled “deficit hawks” relentlessly advocate for failure.

We must fail to develop new energy sources, to mount a robust response to a genuine existential threat, to retool our infrastructure to cope with the extreme weather events triggered by atmospheric warning, to educate our citizens about the dangers ahead, to take responsibility for our century of massive greenhouse emissions.

Why must we fail? The “fiscally conservative” answer: we can’t afford it. Meet the new face of penny-wise, pound-foolish American exceptionalism: too stingy to succeed.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 7, Day 22: Ad Hoc Geoengineering

The Daily Mail (UK) runs an article on the Chinese sulfur emissions question:

China’s rapid industrial expansion may have halted global warming for much of the last decade, climate scientists claimed.

They said sulphur pollution from China’s coal-fired power stations helped to keep world temperatures stable despite soaring greenhouse gas emissions.

Burning coal releases carbon dioxide which traps heat from the Sun, raising temperatures. But it also emits particles of sulphur that help block the Sun’s rays and cool the Earth.

One of the attractions of the alternate-universes cosmology is the notion that somewhere there is a planet Earth where the humans haven’t fucked things up so completely.

Sent July 6:

The analysis suggesting that Chinese sulfur emissions have helped slow global heating trends is yet another confirmation of a simple fact: the science of climate change is complicated. Of course, that should be no surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention, but the idea that there are multiple inter-relating factors seems to be hard for climate-change deniers to grasp. Given that ending the West’s dependence on fossil fuels will have enormously beneficial economic and environmental impacts, the reluctance of the denialists in our politics and media to move forward on this crucial issue can only be attributed to their fear of change, whether positive or negative. It certainly couldn’t be because they’re financially beholden to multinational energy corporations that will lose a few percentage points of profit; even the most avaricious of politicians surely wouldn’t put short-term profit over the survival of our species or our civilization. Or would they?

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 1, Day 22: Good.

Presidents Obama & Hu agree that climate change is a big deal, and that it’s a good idea to do something about it.

Presidents Barack Obama and Hu Jintao of China, who is in Washington on an official state visit, said in a joint statement this afternoon that they “view climate change and energy security as two of the greatest challenges of our time.” In an open letter today, U.S. environmental leaders urged the presidents to adopt “a wartime-like mobilization” to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Haven’t written to POTUS for a while, so what the hell.

Dear President Obama — I was pleased to hear that your summit conference with President Hu of China dealt with the issue of climate change, which is without doubt the most pressing global security issue humanity has ever faced. The rapid acceleration of worldwide climate chaos has already wreaked havoc on millions of lives, and the coming decades will not see things calming down.

Rather, the weather’s only going to get worse. Predictions made by climate scientists a few years ago have now been shown to grossly underestimate both the magnitude of the world’s transformation and the speed with which it is occurring.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the United States (due largely but not entirely to Republican intransigence) has completely dropped the ball on clean energy research and development — and the ball is in China’s court. We’re not going to eliminate the advantages the Chinese now have in the creation of new and critical technologies; they’ve got a substantial head start, while we remain mired in the political quicksand that is GOP grandstanding.

It is imperative that the USA and China arrive at a robust and meaningful agreement on greenhouse gas emissions. The climatic changes we’re all going through are either going to trigger a new era of international cooperation against a common enemy — or they’re going to bring about a rapid and catastrophic deterioration of civilizational infrastructure. If we as a species are to survive the next millennium, we must have enlightened and forward-looking leadership that is capable of tackling this gravest of all challenges without faltering or capitulation to the political agendas of the ignorant and inattentive.

Congratulations to you and President Hu. Now the really hard work begins. Both countries must make deep cuts in carbon emissions, but the United States’ per capita rates are far higher than anywhere else in the world. If we don’t change our way of life voluntarily, it will be changed for us by terrifying force of circumstance.

We must rise to this challenge.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 11, Day 27: Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Mate!

The Sydney Morning Herald runs an article by Connie Hedegaard, the European Commissioner for Climate Change, laying out the problems and prospects for any sort of agreement at Cancun. Grim.

Commissioner Hedegaard is correct in her analysis, however unfortunate its implications may be. Two of the world’s most significant greenhouse gas emitters are dragging their feet on a meaningful climate treaty. While China’s intransigence reasonably enough reflects its hopes of securing temporary economic advantages (a position it is well suited to exploit due to its recent expansion of investment in “green” energy resources), the United States’ paralysis is rooted in illogical political exigencies — the U.S. Republican party now considers it electorally fatal simply to acknowledge the existence of climate change, let alone consider doing something about it. The glorification of ignorance (and the dismissal of expertise) that began in earnest under Ronald Reagan has created a political party that is pathologically averse to facts and fact-based analysis. Schiller’s apothegm, “Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain,” is well and truly applied to many members of America’s political culture.

Warren Senders

Month 10, Day 11: Meanwhile…

The UK Telegraph’s environmental correspondent, Louise Grey, writes about the likelihood of failure (again) in Cancun this year, in an article accompanied by the single most gratuitously irrelevant photograph imaginable for an article on global climate change. The comments on this article are a mine of stupid.

The inability of the United States and China to reach consensus on reducing greenhouse gases is a single small, depressing chapter in a planetary tragedy. America’s inaction can be ascribed to a few score members of the U.S. Senate who are either in profound denial about the facts of global warming or who wish to avoid offending those of their constituents who are in similar denial. That this is an election year renders it even more difficult; very few American politicians are ready to tackle the famously deep-pocketed fossil fuel interests. China, for its part, has little reason to trust the United States. And thus this year’s attempt to find agreement on the gravest existential threat humanity has ever faced seems likely to founder — just like last year’s. Meanwhile, atmospheric carbon dioxide is at almost four hundred parts per million and rising. The clock is ticking for us all.

Warren Senders

Month 10, Day 10: Stop Making Sense

The Hindu ran a piece noting that the current round of climate talks seems to be going nowhere, thanks (among other things) to the intransigence of a certain world superpower. The letter below is more of a short, polite rant; it consists of a string of rhetorical accomplishments strung together, but lacking anything in the way of a unifying message (beyond, of course, “Aaaaaaaaagh!” which is my default setting these days).

It looks increasingly likely that any meaningful action on climate change by the United States government will fall victim to the grotesque circus of election-year politics. Conservative groups are already vehemently opposed to any initiatives from the Obama administration; when this ideological rigidity is combined with a reflexive suspicion of scientific evidence and the inability of American media outlets to sensibly discuss global heating, we have assembled all the ingredients in a recipe for climatic disaster. While China may have surpassed the US in its total emissions of greenhouse gases, the true picture emerges when we compare each nation’s per capita emissions as a function of its share of world population. Ultimately, all the world’s nations are going to have to change in dramatic ways, for the apparent cheapness of fossil energy is illusory. By freely burning coal and oil, we have offered  humanity’s future as security on a usurious loan.

Warren Senders

13 Sep 2010, 9:08pm
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  • Month 9, Day 14: Shut ’em Down!

    China appears to be getting its shit together. Does this mean that if we are to solve the climate problem, we must abandon the ideals of participatory democracy? It’s beyond me to figure that one out.

    After years of being one of the planet’s most environmentally irresponsible nations, China now seems anxious to make up for lost time, reinforcing investment strategies focusing on renewable energy technology with stricter accountability standards for greenhouse gas emissions. Would that America could do likewise. While there are many bugs remaining in the Chinese bureaucratic systems, the fact is that imposing strict limits on emissions is the right thing to do, at all levels from local to global. Economic health requires environmental health; the idea that these two are necessarily in opposition is a profoundly damaging notion. China’s policy-makers seem to be figuring this out, and in the process offering an example to the rest of the world. The United States, alas, is held captive by the denialists in the Republican party, who seem determined that we will be left behind in the worldwide move to reality-based climate and energy policies.

    Warren Senders

    Month 9, Day 10: Writing Without Understanding

    The NYT ran an article about China’s trade policies and the response of the US Steelworkers’ Union to some of their subsidies. While I tend to glaze over when I read about international economics, this article made a good hook for a letter. If we hadn’t been asleep at the switch, America would be offering to share technology with the Chinese. Instead…

    I welcome our coming national move to third-world status.

    Questionable trade practices or no, China’s readiness to pick up the slack in renewable energy is an object lesson to American entrepreneurs and politicians. By procrastinating on the restructuring of economic incentives to encourage the development of new sustainable sources of power, we have sacrificed our nation’s role as a technological leader and a worldwide source of innovation. If we are lucky, the next decades will include cooperative programs with China and other countries that have taken the lead in the development of green technology. With an increasing likelihood of catastrophic effects from global climate change in the near future, it is absolutely critical for our long-term species survival that we learn to share technologies and techniques across national boundaries. International cooperation on renewable energy initiatives is the only way we can accomplish the most essential element of a long-term strategy for coping with climate change: global reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.

    Warren Senders

    12 Mar 2010, 12:11am


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  • Month 3, Day 12: Boston Global Warming Warning

    No shortage of material these days. I thought it was time to find something in our hometown paper, and sure enough, there was an article (originally from the AP) on China’s admonitions that the United States needs to be doing more about climate change than wringing its hands and capitulating to the Chamber of Commerce and Massey Coal.

    It is a sad commentary on the dysfunctionality of our political system that the United States is now being rebuked by China on climate change issues. Over the past few years, the Chinese government has recognized the immediacy and profound danger posed by the climate crisis; while they’re still burning way too much coal and oil, it’s indisputable that China is leading the world in developing energy sources that won’t add CO2 to our atmosphere. And where is the USA? Locked in a cycle of denial, with Republican senators and Fox commentators opining that an anomalous snowfall in Washington invalidates thousands of peer-reviewed scientific reports (which, by the way, predict such weather events). If ninety-seven out of a hundred oncologists diagnosed cancer, you’d be wise to start treatment immediately. When ninety-seven percent of climatologists state the facts of anthropogenic global warming, they should be rewarded and heeded, not mocked and ignored.

    Warren Senders