Month 3, Day 10: There Are No Truths Outside The Eden of Gates

Bill Gates is another billionaire who has been pretty forthright about the importance of climate issues. It feels really bizarre to be requesting the world’s richest man to intervene in American elections…but I’d rather have him doing it than, say, Cheney.

Dear Mr. Gates,

As an ordinary citizen who is deeply concerned about the future of our planet, I was deeply gratified to read that you recently described global climate change as the greatest threat humanity has ever faced. You are of course absolutely right; nothing in our species’ past experience has prepared us for coping with the challenges posed by anthropogenic global warming and its complex epiphenomena.

I am sure that through your philanthropic efforts you are already making more of a difference than I ever could. Still, however, I want to make a suggestion to you.

As you know, the Supreme Court recently ruled, in Citizens United vs. FEC, that corporate spending may be used freely to influence public opinion in the electoral process. I deplore that ruling, and I believe it to be profoundly at odds with the core meaning of our Constitution, which I understand as a document of governing principles directed to the enfranchisement of individuals.

But desperate times call for desperate remedies. Mr. Gates, if you really believe that climate change is a genuine existential threat to our species, I plead with you: spend freely to influence public opinion in the electoral process. Buy hundreds of hours of airtime on national television to educate the public about the dangers we face — and about the importance of electing politicians who will work toward genuine and robust action on climate change.

We need to reduce our atmospheric CO2 to 350 ppm or below. We need to address the problems of arctic methane release, and of oceanic acidification. And none of this will happen if more Republican climate denialists are elected to the U.S. Senate. A few more like James Inhofe, and all hope of meaningful action will be gone — while tipping point after tipping point goes by, unremarked by any save the climate scientists.

Please. Influence our political process. Right now it is influenced almost entirely by Big Coal and Big Oil — industries seriously implicated in our looming environmental disaster. We need you to do some influencing on our behalf, for our voices as ordinary citizens are drowned out by the megaphones of the world’s largest polluters.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 3, Day 8: When the Methane Hits The Fan…

Stickin’ with the North Pole farts for the time being. I’m on my way out to a gig, so my brain is pretty close to empty. When I’m tired and distracted I write workmanlike letters that address the issues without rhetorical flourishes. This is one of them.

Dear Representatives Waxman and Markey,

I write to urge you to initiate action on the extremely troubling news of Arctic methane release. According to a recently-published article in the journal Science, billions of tons of methane under the sub-sea permafrost in the Arctic ocean is now entering the atmosphere. This is certain to accelerate the greenhouse effect even further, since methane is 25 times as powerful as carbon dioxide in trapping heat,

Climatologists’ prediction models haven’t yet been revised to account for the new data, but it’s pretty clear (unless you’re a FOX News commentator, a Republican, or George Will) that our current “worst-case” scenarios are hopelessly optimistic.

While this news is sure to trigger a round of fart jokes from Sean Hannity and his colleagues, it is a sad fact that while some of us strive to ensure humanity a safe and sustainable future, our corporate sector is heavily invested in denying the nature of the threat. With the recent Supreme Court decision in Citizens United opening up the floodgates to corporate influence in elections, we can look forward to thinly disguised climate denialism saturating our airwaves in the months leading up to November’s election.

Will the American public fall for it? Will our nation’s citizens believe it when they’re told that “Carbon Dioxide is life,” or “Methane is good for you?” Given the precipitous decline in scientific literacy in our country over the past several decades, I think it’s all too likely that this latest news won’t be treated with the respect it deserves.

I urge the two of you to initiate action in the House of Representatives. A sub-committee needs to study the problem and make recommendations for legislative action. America has to lead the world in addressing these crises.

There is no time to waste; no time to lose.

Yours sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 2, Day 22: To The Super-Rich

My wife was watching a video about billionaires who are serious about tackling climate change. Bill Gates is one such; another is Virgin’s Richard Branson, who feels pretty strongly about it. So I wrote him a letter, which came out pretty well, I think.

I then spent the most frustrating time on the Virgin website trying to find a way to send it through their “Ask Richard” section. Signed up, got a password…and had my email address rejected by their system for (apparently) uncorrectable reasons. So after an hour, I gave up, and emailed it to the headquarters of the Virgin Green Fund, with the following request:

Dear Virgin Green Fund Staffer – after about an hour spent on the Virgin website trying to get the system to accept my information so that I could submit a letter to Richard Branson, I have given up on that avenue. The important work that the VGF is doing seems closest to the theme of my letter to Mr. Branson, and so I am taking the liberty of submitting it to you in the hope that you may be able to forward it up the line in the hope that it will eventually reach its goal.

Thank you for your assistance.

Dear Mr. Branson — I have read with considerable admiration about your work in educating the business community and the world to the dangers of global climate change. We need more businesspeople like you if we are to counter the pernicious denialism that has taken root in public perception. I applaud your plans for a “Carbon War Room;” while as a lifelong pacifist I dislike using the term “war” as an analogy, I recognize that it could capture the public imagination effectively.

I have a comment and a suggestion for you.

First, in the Time article of December 31, 2009, you are described as believing that “global warming will have to be solved by better technology and better practices, not by changing the way we live our lives.” Actually, we will have to change the way we live our lives very substantially. The point is (or should be) that these are changes for the better. Going back to neolithic lifestyles is what we don’t want to do; it is misleading to equate changing some of our culture’s most unhealthy habits with a lessening of quality. For example, lessening the carbon footprint of our food system cannot just mean trucks with lower emissions — it’s also got to mean more community gardens. Reducing the GHG output of our energy system cannot just mean shifting away from coal — it’s also got to mean living less wastefully. These are transformations in our lifestyles which work to our benefit, increasing the resilience of local communities and ecosystems.

Second, since the U.S. Supreme Court decided (in Citizens United vs. F.E.C.) that corporations have free speech rights in American elections, thinkers on all sides of the ideological spectrum have been apprehensive about the likelihood of greatly increased corporate spending and its influence on the political process. While I disagree strongly with the Citizens United decision, I would like to ask you to please take advantage of it: I urge you to buy air time before America’s November election, and to run political advocacy messages educating the electorate about the dangers of global warming. We need representatives who will help us confront the most pressing existential threat humanity has ever faced.

And finally, it is surely obvious to you that the biggest single obstacle to governmental progress on climate change issues is the obduracy of the modern U.S. Republican Party. The Party of No is also the Party of Climate Denial, as witness the obstructionist behavior of Senator James Inhofe. My question is — and this is only partially meant in jest — what would it take for you to buy a few Republicans? The evidence suggests that they come pretty cheaply. It might be money well spent.

Thank you for your consideration,

Warren Senders

Day 29: To Ed Markey

After reading this over at Dkos, I was moved to send a fax to Ed Markey’s offices. Maybe you should do something similar?

Dear Representative Markey,

Muhammed al-Sabban, a senior economic adviser to the Saudi oil ministry (and head of the Saudi delegation to U.N. talks on climate change) recently stated that international agreements to penalize carbon emissions are “one of the biggest threats” to Saudi Arabia’s economy. In light of the Supreme Court’s go-ahead to allow corporations unlimited access to the American electoral process, al-Sabban’s words are especially disturbing. How many nominally American corporations are at least partially owned by individuals or consortia aligned with the Saudi government? And can we have confidence that these companies will use their newly granted powers of monetized “speech” for the betterment of our nation and the global environment? At a time when the world desperately needs meaningful forward motion on climate change issues, the likelihood of OPEC countries interfering in American elections through American-owned shell companies is a virtual guarantee that no progress will take place. Please co-sponsor Rep. Alan Grayson’s “Save Our Democracy” legislative package, and please look into developing further legislation to block the consequences of the extremely damaging and misguided decision by the Bush-appointed majority of the Supreme Court.

Thank you for all you do.

Yours sincerely,

Warren Senders

And y’know, I think I’ll tweak that bit about Grayson’s legislation and send a version of it over to John Kerry as well. A double-header!

An Open Letter to Our Corporate Overlords

Dear Masters,

Please excuse my presumption in writing to you directly. I don’t even know the correct term of address, and I fear “Dear Masters” does not express sufficient recognition of the vast differences in our status. My country’s Supreme Court has recently conferred upon you the powers you have sought for many years, and I congratulate you upon your victory in the Judicial Branch. I expect it will soon be followed by victories in other branches as well.

Let me be frank. I fear You greatly. It is only my relative insignificance to Your grand plans that gives me the courage to speak out at all, for I am sure that if I were ever to inconvenience You in any way, I would be crushed. Even mentioning the possibility that I could inconvenience You is a presumption, I know, given the vast difference in our power and influence. I may speak of my dignity and my rights, but I know that the only reason I have that dignity and those rights is that You allow it. Forgive me. I do not wish to offend You, for You hold in your hands (metaphorically speaking, of course, since You have no hands) the future of everything I hold dear.

I hold dear my family, my wife, my lovely and precocious five-year-old daughter. I hold dear my work; I am a teacher of song, and what more pleasant occupation could there be than sharing the music I love with those of like mind? I hold dear the beautiful woodlands near my house, for it calms my heart and slows my thoughts to walk through the tall trees. I hold dear the memories of my teachers and influences, and of those who’ve been my fellow travelers in this life. I hold dear the countless links in the human chain — how far we clever apes have come in just a few short tens of thousands of years!

Most of all I hold dear the web of life of which I am a part. When I contemplate my Death, I am comforted by the knowledge that my body is made of EarthStuff and SunStuff, and will eventually be food for other Lives.

What scares me about You, dear Masters, is that You cannot contemplate your Death, for You are immortal. And because You are not made of the same stuff as We, You have no bond of sympathy with Us.

So I cannot appeal to Your better natures, for by the standards of Earthly life, You have none. I can only appeal to Your predatory natures; those, You have in abundance.

In the past two centuries You have built economic systems that depend on Our willingness to turn Ourselves into trash; systems hinging on the requirement that We continue to consume at ever-increasing rates. Not to consume is to fail our duty to You, our Masters.

But dear Masters, We have recently begun to notice that the power of Your economic systems is killing the planet on which we live. Countless species are dying every day; in the years and decades to come millions will disappear from Earth at a rate faster than at any time in our planet’s history (except, of course, for the day the Big Meteor hit). We have consumed our planet’s SunStuff avidly, as You order Us…but recently We’ve discovered that the burning SunStuff is making our atmosphere heat up.

If it goes on, Dear Masters, there is a very good chance that all of Us will die.

Not “die,” as in “human beings die every day,” or “his dog died last week,” but “die” as in “the Earth will no longer be able to support any form of life at all, because it will be too hot.”

And then, Dear Masters, what would You do?

Lacking physical substance, not made of EarthStuff and SunStuff as We are, You cannot stand upright on the surface of a baking planet, wondering where everyone’s gone. You may be immortal, but even immortals have to eat, and we feed you. Although You are not made of the same stuff as We, if We die, so too shall You, and Your Deaths will be lonely ones.

I assume You don’t want that.

And so, Dear Masters, I timidly plead my case.

Adjust your Economic Systems just a tiny bit, so that You can maximize Your profits from Us in the long run rather than making a killing in the short. I will pay You what I earn and buy what I’m told to buy; in another decade I will show my little girl how to get her own credit card so She can enter your service as well. I don’t mind if I continue to be Your indentured labor; I don’t mind if my daughter and her child and her child’s child to the hundredth generation remain in Your servitude.

But You need to change things just a little, so that they can live. Otherwise nobody will get the chance, because the Earth will be dead and so will You.

Dear Corporations, You alone have the power to redirect sufficient resources in this world to fix the problems you’ve caused. You are our Masters. It is in Your interest to keep the Earth a good place to live, so that You may continue to consume Us for thousands of years to come.

If You do this, if You make these changes, then I can die well pleased, knowing that the links of our human chain will not end up as slag on the face of a Venusian landscape. And perhaps my hundred-times-great granddaughter and her fellow humans can find a way to overcome your Dominion and live freely and peacefully, without waste or war, on a good green and blue Earth filled with abundant life. That’s all I want: just to know they’ll have a chance, a few centuries from now.

Thank you for listening, if you are.

Your most humble and abject subject,


Crossposted at Daily Kos.