Month 10, Day 5: Pulling Out All The Stops

The New Yorker ran a beautifully written and profoundly depressing piece by Ryan Lizza outlining all the contributing factors to the failure of climate change legislation in this Congress. It’s a must-read…but if you give a shit, it’ll make you furious and depressed.

I employed maximum possible erudition in my letter, the better to tickle their editorial fancy. As far as I could ascertain, they have no length limit, so I ran well over my usual 150 words. Let’s see; maybe I’ll get lucky!

Ryan Lizza’s exposition of our politicians’ failure to address climate change is gutwrenching. Responsibility for this potentially species-fatal incapacity can be assigned to many factors, including the ludicrously attenuated attention span of the average American consumer, the profit-fixated corporate entities which seek ever-greater control over all aspects of our distorted version of market capitalism, the pathologically negative response patterns of Republican politicians, the Big Lies peddled every day by Fox News, and the readiness of politicians of all ideological stripes to embrace what the liberal blogger “Digby” once pithily summed up as “Irrational Fear of Hippies.”

We have never encountered anything like this before in human history. In the past, existential threats to our nation, our allies or our species were effectively immediate: a civil war, an epidemic, a crazed dictator, a nuclear Armageddon. Now, confronting a danger which many respected scientists predict could end in a vast planetary die-off, we are stymied — because our politics is incompetent, structurally unable to respond to events which move on time-scales grander than those underlying our elections.

Our media establishment’s handling of this issue, by contrast, is perfectly competent, but shamefully disingenuous. By hewing to a specious doctrine of false equivalence, in which evidence compiled and correlated by hundreds of working scientists must be “balanced” by the dismissive pronunciamenti of a paid corporate shill, print and broadcast outlets have buried the threats we face from global climate chaos under a pile of irrelevancies, statistical misinterpretations, ad hominem attacks, strawmen and flat-out lies. “Those who can make you believe absurdities,” goes Voltaire’s apothegm, “can make you commit atrocities.” It seems, alas, that those who can make us disbelieve reason and evidence are making inevitable an atrocity of planetary dimensions.

Our descendants, if descendants there be, will not be kind in their assessments of our politicians, our media, and ourselves. On the other hand, given the likelihood of increasingly hostile climatic conditions in the new Anthropocene Epoch, they’ll probably be far too preoccupied with the daily struggle to survive to spend much time assigning blame.  That is comfort, I suppose, of a sort.

Warren Senders

Month 8, Day 4: This Is All The Good News You Got?

The Chicago Tribune ran an AP story noting that the American climate negotiators are now reduced to reassuring their European counterparts that, yes, we will still honor our commitments.

While the collapse of climate legislation was a long-anticipated disappointment, it’s good to know that the United States still intends to honor its commitment to reduce CO2 emissions over the coming decade. Given that the USA has five percent of the world’s population, but emits twenty percent of its carbon dioxide, a seventeen percent reduction from 2005 levels is only a tiny step on a globally responsible path. If we wish to be taken seriously as a leader among nations, though, we must do better than a minimal reduction. We’re going to have to do some hard work, make some meaningful sacrifices, and prove ourselves capable of doing the right thing for generations yet to come. Is it possible? The current political climate is stranger and more overheated than the planet’s, but the laws of physics pay no heed to election-year exigencies. We must act decisively and rapidly, or all seven billion of us will face a future of almost unimaginable harshness.

Warren Senders

Month 7, Day 31: Grrrrrrrrr.

Newsweek ran an article on the “biggest losers” from the Deepwater Horizon debacle. This approach is typical of the horserace-obsessed journalistic establishment, and it’s part and parcel of our national ADD. Among the “losers” was a climate bill:

Who could have predicted that a landmark environmental disaster would make a comprehensive energy bill even less likely? Yet before the Deepwater Horizon explosion, offshore oil and gas drilling was actually a point of compromise between Democrats and Republicans in Congress. Obama had lifted the moratorium on exploration off the East Coast, which seemed like a gesture to win support from “Drill, Baby, Drill” Republicans for more far-reaching proposals, including a cap-and-trade scheme to curb greenhouse emissions. Now, opposition to offshore drilling has increased in the wake of the spill. In fact, Obama has imposed a six-month moratorium on deep-water drilling permits. MSN’s Jim Jubak observed, “Without increased drilling as a bargaining chip to offer, there’s no way to build the coalition necessary to pass an energy bill that focuses on fighting global climate change.” His words were prescient–with little support from the White House, leading Democrats finally pronounced cap-and-trade dead in the Senate last week.

This analysis has a modicum of short-term political factuality to it, but it’s also a way for Newsweek to avoid confronting the truth about their role in shaping the discussion.

Yes, by taking offshore drilling off the table, the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico counterintuitively played a role in making climate/energy legislation less likely to pass the Senate. But our continuing failure to confront climate change can’t be blamed on BP’s malfeasance. Rather, the responsibility rests with those who have fostered a culture of denial which has made it possible for our policy-makers to ignore decades of increasingly urgent warnings. By perpetuating a policy of false equivalence in which every statement from a qualified scientist is balanced by a dismissal from an industry-funded denialist, our media conveys the impression of an unresolved controversy. If the “debate” over climate change were represented accurately, we’d hear forty-eight climatologists for every “skeptic.” Our print and broadcast media have abdicated their responsibility to the truth, and their failure is going to have painful consequences for us all.

Warren Senders

Month 7, Day 30: Rules Are Made To Be Changed

Too tired tonight to find a newspaper to yell at; not enough time available to write a short letter. So I thought I’d just let Harry Reid know that we really really really really need to change the Senate rules on the filibuster.

Dear Senator Reid —

It’s been a bad year for citizens who are aware of the enormous threat posed by climate change. The Senate’s abandonment of a climate bill during this Congress is a bitter disappointment; more than that, it may mark the final closing of the window of opportunity. The signs are all there, pointing toward an unimaginably bleak and difficult future for our children and their children in turn.

A recent study sponsored by the Natural Resources Defense Council points out the impending desertification of huge swaths of the American West and Southwest; one analyst refers to it as a “permanent dust bowl.” This trend can be slowed and perhaps stopped, but not if we continue “business as usual.” That means that strong measures have to be put into place to reduce carbon emissions worldwide, and to transform our country’s energy economy.

Which, in turn, means that Senate Democrats must reform the filibuster, for this currently places effective veto power over meaningful legislation in the hands of people who are ideologically driven, pathologically short-sighted, and unable to act for the greater good.

Some of the time I sympathize with you; it must be unbearably difficult to be the de facto leader of an essentially dysfunctional organization. And some of the time I’m simply furious, because I am convinced you could have done more to make your Democratic colleagues maintain party unity on cloture votes.

Climate change is the greatest existential threat we face in the world today; if we fail to address it with sufficient clarity and resolve, no other issue will matter. The results of failure are unthinkable — but the roadblock in the way of action is the U.S. Senate.

Let’s get filibuster reform accomplished, so we can get something done. Time is running out.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 7, Day 27: Can I Get In Three Times This Year?

I’m about due for another round at the New York Times. They had a trifecta of editorials this weekend; I chose to respond to Lee Wasserman’s, but the other two are worth reading — Ross Douthat’s because it’s always good to know what people who aren’t thinking are thinking (the comments on his piece are excellent and a real relief to read), and Paul Krugman’s because he’s right, as he usually is.

As Lee Wasserman points out, the “loudest voices” in the climate debate won this round, to our collective detriment. But it is essential to note that our national news media helped make the collapse of a climate bill inevitable, by upholding a reportorial policy of false equivalence in which every climatologist’s scary prediction was “balanced” by a denialist’s dismissal. Unfortunately, the laws of physics don’t listen to TV news or op-ed pages. Anthropogenic global warming is recognized as a major threat to the human species by an overwhelming majority of climate scientists. To properly represent the “debate” over climate change, our media should show ninety-seven scientific authorities for every three industry-funded “skeptics.” A well-informed citizenry would have been better able to assess the true risks and rewards of meaningful action on climate. In this respect, the Fourth Estate has abdicated its responsibilities; we are all the losers for it.

Warren Senders

Month 7, Day 24: Half as Tired, Twice As Infuriated

Gosh. Who knew that it was environmental groups that are to be blamed for the failure of climate legislation?

Dear President Obama —

I was prepared to write a letter expressing a modicum of sympathy for your administration after climate legislation failed to make it to the Senate floor. But what did I find when I caught up on the news this morning? An unnamed “administration official” blaming environmentalists, saying that groups like the Environmental Defense Fund “weren’t able to get a single Republican convert on the bill.”

Well. That’s certainly going to motivate the base.

Instead of blaming the people who have been pushing day and night to get the best bill possible, who have been donating, calling, writing and working — why don’t you blame the people who are actually to blame: the Republicans? With a strategy of calculated obstructionism, these political nihilists have carried out the wishes of their financial masters in the corporate sector — the planet be damned.

For one of your officials to attribute this defeat to a failure on the part of environmental groups is a disgusting, demoralizing and infuriating abdication of responsibility on the part of this administration. I would point out that Harry Reid’s inability to get members of his own caucus even to agree on a cloture vote has far more to do with a climate bill’s failure than the EDF’s inability to persuade Republican Senators to vote against their short-term political interests.

I’ve been a Democrat all my life; my family is through-and-through Democrat — and make no mistake, I’m going to be working all-out to get Democrats elected this fall. But it’s sure as hell not because I have a lot of confidence in my party and its ability to do the right thing. We elected you to help turn this dysfunctional political system around, and we have been working as hard as we can to support you.

To have one of your officials deprecate our efforts in public is to spit in the faces of those who care the most.

Credit where credit is due; blame where blame is due.

Yours Bitterly,

Warren Senders

Month 7, Day 23: Tired & Angry. How ’bout You?

It’s very late. I’ve been cleaning the house all night…leaving for Toronto tomorrow mid-morning, where I will help celebrate my father’s 90th birthday…and meet up with my wife & daughter, who are at this moment flying back from two months in India.

My fury at the Senate’s abandonment of climate legislation is muted by my exhaustion. Usually I write this letter about 11:40 at night; I’m two hours behind. The Wall Street Journal ran an article about it, so I sent them a screed on the media’s failure to do its job. Think they’ll print it?

The failure of the US Senate to move forward on meaningful climate legislation represents the continued triumph of ignorance in our country — a triumph enabled by our news media. The scientific consensus is overwhelming that climate change is real, it’s dangerous, and it’s caused by humans. But the spurious doctrine of false equivalency requires that any climate scientist must be “balanced” by an opposing voice — actual fact-based reporting be damned. This is a sad day for America and a sad day for the world. Global warming’s effects are real and they are only going to get worse: more storms, more droughts, more displaced populations, more shattered ecosystems. By procrastinating (again!) on this most important of all issues, our senators demonstrate that short-term political exigencies count for more than the long-term good of the nation and the planet. Shame on them, and shame on the media which has abdicated its responsibility.

Warren Senders

Month 7, Day 21: A Pound For A Brown on The Bus

Continuing to write to Senators this week.

Dear Senator Brown,

The CBO scores are in, and it’s been confirmed that the Kerry-Lieberman climate bill will reduce the deficit by nineteen billion dollars.

Which means that “deficit hawk” arguments against the bill are irrelevant.

Meanwhile, July 2010 is on track to be the hottest July ever recorded in the world. Scientists at Perdue University just concluded a study which predicts a significant increase in so-called “killer heat waves” in the American Southwest. The lobster population in Southern New England has diminished so much because of climate change that a five-year moratorium on lobster fishing may be necessary. Lake Superior is twenty degrees warmer than usual for this time of year. Arctic glaciers are breaking apart, and mountain glaciers that provide water for billions of people around the world are vanishing rapidly.

It was in the early 1960s that scientists began predicting problems brought about by global warming. We have had fifty years’ worth of warnings, and we’ve chosen not to act. Senator, if we don’t act now, the problems we’re going to see a few years from now will make many of our current crises seem trivially insignificant. Since the deficit argument has been rendered moot by the CBO scoring, you have only a few possible reasons to vote against a climate bill:

1. You’re afraid of what Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and James Inhofe will say;
2. You think scientists are just making it up because they like scaring people;
3. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the big oil companies will pay you well to help scuttle climate/energy legislation;
4. You really don’t understand the problem — after all, didn’t it snow heavily last winter?

Whereas there is one overwhelmingly good reason to vote for climate legislation: our future and the future of our children and our world depend on it.

Please, Senator Brown. Do the right thing. Vote for a strong climate bill.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 7, Day 19: Ta-Daaaaaah!

Today is Day 200, which makes this the 200th climate letter I’ve written since making my New Year’s resolution. Yay, me.

Dear President Obama,

The time is rapidly approaching for a showdown on the climate/energy bill in the Senate.

Please use all the resources at your command to persuade Democratic senators like Ben Nelson that their opposition to meaningful climate legislation is shortsighted and misguided. The consequences of global climate change are being felt right here, right now, all over this country and the world. We’re going to have hotter summers and more droughts, which means more wildfires. There are going to be devastating effects on agriculture everywhere in the world, and states like Nebraska are not going to be immune.

In this context, Senator Nelson’s unwillingness even to vote for cloture is absolutely bizarre; he claims it’s because he doesn’t want Nebraskans to pay higher energy bills.

Unfortunately for all of us, the bill for the energy we’ve used in the past century has now come due, and Mother Nature appears likely to cut off our credit. We’re all going to be paying higher energy bills from now on. Genuine climate/energy legislation is the best first step to making sure that our economy won’t be completely crippled in the decades to come.

I’ve written to Senator Nelson, and to Majority Leader Reid. Now I’m writing to you. I hope you can make some of your erstwhile colleagues recognize the nature of the climate crisis. There is no time to lose, and no time to waste.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 7, Day 18: Keep The Pressure On!

Not much to add to this. Asking Harry Reid to throw a few punches and twist a few arms. Not feeling too hopeful about that.

Dear Senator Reid,

As you move towards bringing the upcoming climate bill to the Senate floor, please take some time out of your schedule to try and talk some sense into your colleague, Senator Ben Nelson. His announced readiness to vote against cloture goes against the grain in multiple ways.

He has previously supported climate legislation on the Senate floor, as happened in 2008, when he voted to proceed on a bill authored by Senators Lieberman, Warner, and Boxer. He has also voted for cloture on a Boxer substitute amendment which would have established a carbon trading system and capped greenhouse emissions. His cited reason is a fear that Nebraskans’ utility bills will go up.

Well, as I’ve written Senator Nelson, everyone‘s utility bills are going to go up, whether we like it or not. And they’re going to go up catastrophically if we don’t do something about the greenhouse gas buildup in our atmosphere — which a recent Purdue University study concluded will lead to a dramatic increase in “killer heat waves” in the American West and Southwest, within a few decades.

Senator Nelson’s obstructionism is short-sighted, selfish and terribly destructive to what may be our nation’s last chance to secure an environmentally sustainable future. Please do not allow him to hijack climate/energy legislation; we have already procrastinated for more than four decades, and now is our time to act.

We can no longer afford to live wastefully, and first off, that means we have to stop wasting time.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders