Month 7, Day 16: You Can’t Always Say What You Want…

My original draft of this letter to Ben Nelson led off with the phrase, “you unspeakable turd,” but I decided to be more polite.

Dear Senator Nelson,

I was distressed to read that you plan on voting against cloture on the upcoming climate bill. Leaving aside the question of the political implications of a failure to support your own party in a simple cloture vote, I want to say that your unwillingness to support meaningful climate legislation is based on faulty reasoning.

You are quoted as saying that “A carbon tax or trade piece would significantly increase the utility rates in Nebraska for businesses, agriculture and individuals,” and thus make it clear that you are placing the interests of your state above the interests of the nation as a whole, and the world as a whole.

Fine. That’s your prerogative. But your stated position is remarkably shortsighted. A recent study by Purdue University scientists predicts that because of the effects of climate change, the upcoming decades will see a dramatic increase in so-called “killer heat waves” in the Western and Central United States. Let’s say your state gets through the 2030s with only three or four crippling heat waves (fewer than expected for your neighbors to the South); that doesn’t mean the following years are going to get better.

They’re going to get worse. A lot worse. And it won’t just be in the Western United States. Everywhere around the globe people are recording the hottest temperatures they’ve ever seen, and not just on isolated occasions, but day after sweltering day after sweltering day.

We are at a point in history where only strong action today can prevent a catastrophic future for our children and their children. No matter how you look at it, that’s more important than this year’s utility bills. If we don’t act now, our great-grandchildren may not be alive to curse us for our inaction.

Please change your mind, and support cloture on climate/energy legislation.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 7, Day 14: O.F.F.S.

Senator Jeff Bingaman thinks we need to be very cautious about how we build a climate bill.

Dear Senator Bingaman,

I was disturbed by a report that quoted you as saying, “There is a big gap between what the scientists say we should do to deal with climate change, and what the politics of the Congress today, and particularly the politics of the Senate, will allow us to do.”

Now, I’m not suggesting you’re misrepresenting things. There is such a gap, and it has had a terrible effect on our nation’s ability to make and implement policies that can actually have an impact on people’s lives. What upsets me is that you appear to be treating this “gap” as a reason to do as little as possible of what climatologists say we have to do.

What you and your Democratic colleagues in the Senate need to be doing is making the point, day after day, that we are facing a planetary emergency that is more urgent than anything humanity has yet contended with….and that the Republicans choose to believe Sean Hannity and Sarah Palin rather than an overwhelming majority of the scientists who actually study the field and know something about it.

Your quote is an excellent example of “learned helplessness.” Faced with an ideologically driven opposition that is ignorant and proud of it, you choose to avoid conflict, instead producing a measure that does not significantly reward utilities for being the first to have their carbon emissions capped, and blocks the EPA from regulating industrial sources’ greenhouse gas emissions for another eight years.

Senator, the 1992 Rio conference made it clear that this problem was not going to go away. President Clinton said good words but delivered nothing…and President Bush made matters infinitely worse. Are we going to kick the can down the road yet again?

But look on the bright side: if biologist Frank Fenner’s predictions are correct, climate change will bring about human extinction within this century — so our descendants won’t be able to curse us for our inaction.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 7, Day 11: Sunday POTUS

Just a generic POTUS letter. I discovered that it had been over a week since I’d written one.

Dear President Obama,

The process of generating a workable climate/energy bill is looking uncomfortably like the process of generating health-care legislation. That is, lots of giveaways, lots of concessions in advance, lots of delays — all culminating in a bill that is just barely better than nothing, and significantly less than what the country needs.

But there is a big difference between a climate bill and a health-care bill. A climate bill is ultimately a contract with the laws of physics and the forces of nature, and they do not negotiate. The window of time available to us is rapidly closing; all the critical indicators show that climate change is moving faster and more powerfully than any scientists anticipated.

Please use your considerable persuasive powers to motivate our Senators to do the right thing for our nation, for our descendants, and for our planet. There is no time to waste on a bill that puts a band-aid on a near-mortal injury; we need strong climate legislation now if we as a species are to survive. Please abandon your hands-off approach and twist some arms.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 7, Day 5: Tiny Little Glimmers. Just Tiny Little Glimmers.

The striking thing isn’t that a famous scientist thinks humanity is likely to go extinct within a century. The striking thing is that many other scientists agree with him.

Dear Senators Kerry and Reid –

The continued forward motion of climate legislation is heartening to those of us who are concerned about the Earth’s future. It is sickening to watch the obstructionist tactics of the opposition party, and those Democrats who, placing narrow interests above that of the nation as a whole, continue to support “business as usual” (BAU for short).

Because it is daily more evident that BAU is not going to work any longer. The Australian biologist Frank Fenner states baldly that continued population growth and unchecked consumption (key elements of BAU, needless to say) are going to bring humanity to extinction within the century — and other scientists nod grimly and say things like, “While there’s a glimmer of hope, it’s worth working to solve the problem. We have the scientific knowledge to do it but we don’t have the political will.”

We need to recognize the nature of the crisis and educate one another, and we have to do it in a hurry.

Which is why I’m writing, begging you: don’t capitulate any more.

Don’t capitulate to the oil interests.
Don’t capitulate to the coal interests.
Don’t capitulate to the natural gas interests.
Don’t capitulate to the financial interests.
Don’t capitulate to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Don’t capitulate to the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page.
Don’t capitulate to the Dominionist Christians who anxiously await armageddon as promised in the Book of Revelations.
Don’t capitulate to Lindsey Graham’s political exigencies.
Don’t capitulate to Glenn Beck’s conspiracy theories.
Don’t capitulate to President Obama’s accomodationist bipartisan instincts.

Don’t capitulate. Make the bill stronger. We need a price on carbon. We need to make the cost of carbon reflect its true cost to our planet and ourselves. How much will it cost to clean up the mess we’ve made? Trillions of dollars, at minimum — and the longer we go on with Business As Usual, the more costly and inconvenient it’s going to be. Those trillions need to be added to the price of carbon, as soon as possible.

We have fooled ourselves that fossil fuels are cheap. They are anything but — and the sooner our economic thinking changes to reflect the true cost of oil and coal, the more likely it is we can avoid the fate Dr. Fenner has predicted.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 6, Day 30: Oh, How I Wish Martha Coakley Had Been A Better Candidate!

Scott Brown doesn’t want to help out a climate bill.

Scott Brown is my junior Senator.

Scott Brown is an idiot.


Dear Senator Brown –

As the home of many important research centers and universities, Massachusetts is one of the nation’s scientific focal points. Consequently, our elected officials owe it to themselves and to the people they represent to understand enough about science and scientific method — not a lot, mind you, but enough that they’re not an embarrassment to informed citizens of the Commonwealth.

As one of your constituents, I am outraged that a Senator from Massachusetts is embracing an anti-science position. There is no significant scientific dispute over global climate change; ninety-seven percent of the world’s climatologists concur unanimously that the world is warming, that humans are the cause, and that the results will be catastrophic. The other three percent, for the most part, think more studies are needed. A few of that group are on the payroll of oil and coal companies.

If you went into a restaurant, and ninety-seven out of a hundred food inspectors told you that the kitchen was filthy and unsanitary, would you still eat there? If you were looking at a house, and ninety-seven out of a hundred home inspectors told you that it was a dump, would you still make an offer? If you found a lump, and ninety-seven out of a hundred oncologists told you to start therapy immediately, would you wait?

It appears that only in the area of climate science is the testimony of experts so irrelevant. Whose testimony is meaningful to you, Senator Brown? That of oil company representatives, coal lobbyists, FOX News commentators and your Republican leadership?

I thought you were supposed to be representing the citizens of Massachusetts, who overwhelmingly want you to support robust climate legislation that includes a price on carbon emissions.

I guess I was wrong. Funny how that happens.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 6, Day 29: Harry Reid, Mensch.

Well, this is looking better and better. I finished faxing my Friday letter to all the Senators over the weekend (there were four senatorial fax machines out of order, so I didn’t quite make it), but if that DK article is on the level, Harry Reid is really sticking his neck out here. So I wrote him a letter of support.

Dear Senator Reid,

I write to express my enthusiastic support for your plan to get a strong climate bill passed before the August recess. The facts and figures from around the world tell a terrifying story: the climate has reached a serious “tipping point,” and there is absolutely no time to waste in bringing about very serious reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Even with emissions reductions at the highest level that is politically possible, we (all of us on the planet) are looking forward to a world that will be drastically less livable; a world in which a steady climate cannot be taken for granted; a world with more unexpected torrential floods and more sustained droughts. We’re past the point where we can get back to the climate you and I grew up in.

But if we act soon, and act strongly, we may be able to give our children’s children a world they can grow up in. That’s why it’s absolutely crucial that a strong climate bill get passed in the Senate as soon as possible — and that’s why I’m writing to support you.

Thank you for what you are doing. Please don’t let denialists and cynical opportunists weaken this bill. We can’t afford inaction, we can’t afford delay — and we can’t afford Republican obstructionism. Stand firm.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 6, Day 27: The World’s Greatest Deliberative Body, or just a Pack of Twits?

The LA Times ran an article about the Senate Democrats’ attempt to get a good climate bill. This is a pretty generic letter; I’m very tired and kind of groggy. Overslept; didn’t write it last night.

As extreme weather becomes the norm around the world, the position of climate-change denialists is becoming harder and harder to sustain. Unfortunately, quite a few of those denialists are U.S. Senators, and their obdurate refusal to recognize the facts of nature is imperiling their fellow citizens and the rest of the planet. Senate Democrats are to be commended for working towards a meaningful climate/energy bill. While a restricted carbon cap is a disappointing half-measure, it is certainly better than nothing. What we really need, of course, is to put a price on carbon. If we can find the political strength and the national readiness to start paying for our pollution now rather than later, we’ll spare our descendants a crippling burden of shattered ecosystems and weather-related destruction. We need a robust bill from the Senate; let us hope that the denialists don’t make it impossible.

Warren Senders

Month 6, Day 22: Passing the word along…

The National Resources Defense Committee is requesting people to contact the Senators who’ll be going to the Wednesday meeting at the White house (they’re all listed at the bottom of this post) and deliver something akin to the following message:

Dear Senator,

As you go to the White House on Wednesday for the Climate and Clean Energy Meeting with the President, please keep some of these things in mind.

The American people want comprehensive energy and climate legislation. A recent Pew poll on June 14 indicated overwhelming support for measures like limits on greenhouse gases, higher efficiency standards, and a requirement that utilities produce more energy from renewable sources. This is one of the rare times when the popular thing to do is also the right thing.

There is no time to lose, and no time to waste. The polar ice caps are melting and nearly every day registers record-setting high temperatures all over the world. Our addiction to oil is crippling both our national security and and our economy — and every day the Gulf of Mexico reminds us that this is a substance of extraordinary toxicity. Our elected representatives have been unable to develop a serious, long-term, sustainable national energy plan for many decades, and now is the time. Failure cannot be an option.

With a billion dollars a day going to buy foreign oil, with our trade rivals investing heavily in clean energy industries, our economy is under assault from within; our century-long addiction to oil has finally reached the point where its unsustainability is obvious to all but a few oblivious deniers. Add catastrophic climate change to the picture and it is self-evident that we cannot afford to procrastinate; inaction, as the President said, is not an option.

Senator, we are hoping against hope that you will come out of Wednesday’s meeting with an agreement that gives us some reason for optimism. Don’t let us down.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Harry Reid: 202-224-7327
John Kerry: (202) 224-8525
Joe Lieberman: 202.224.9750
Lindsey Graham: (202) 228-5143
Richard Lugar: 202-228-0360
Barbara Boxer: 202-224-0454
Lisa Murkowski: 202-224-5301
Susan Collins: 202-224-2693
Debbie Stabenow: 202-228-0325
Judd Gregg: 202-224-4952
Sherrod Brown: 202-228-6321
Maria Cantwell: 202-228-0514
Jay Rockefeller: (202) 224-7665

Month 4, Day 24: Dammit, dammit, dammit.


Dear Senators Kerry and Lieberman,

I am close to despair. I’ve just finished reading the details of the upcoming climate legislation you’ve been working on with Senator Graham. It appears that, in your eagerness to bring big oil interests on board, you’ve given away the store. I was never particularly optimistic that we would get the bill we need, which is to say, a bill that shuts down the fossil fuel industry as quickly as possible — but I had hopes that we would get a bill that didn’t completely capitulate to the demands of our Corporate Overlords.

Seriously — removing the EPA’s authority to regulate CO2? That’s not just a concession, that’s abject surrender. Removing the ability of individual states to set tougher standards than the Federal government? This is specifically a measure designed to undercut California’s emissions requirements, and is in every respect a giveaway.

The whole bill is loaded with goodies for oil, gas and coal companies. And what’s there for the planet? For all of us whose children’s children are going to be struggling for survival on a planet rendered uninhabitable by our collective failure to act in our own best interests? Almost nothing.

And the best part? I’m willing to bet that you won’t get more than a single Republican vote for this piece of craven capitulation. In fact, it would not surprise me if Senator Graham were to vote “No.”

But perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps there are hidden gems buried in the fine print that will help us apply genuine regulation to CO2 emissions. Perhaps you’ve figured out how to persuade oil company CEOs that their companies will stop being profitable around the time the human race becomes extinct. Perhaps you’ve figured out how to persuade James Inhofe that waiting for the Rapture is not a viable energy policy. Perhaps you’ve figured out how to persuade Don Blankenship that we need to stop burning coal.

If you can do those things, I’m sure you can persuade me that the long-anticipated climate legislation is an excellent and honorable piece of work. I will await your response.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders