Month 9, Day 7: By “God,” Do You Mean “The Industrialized West?”

The New York Times had a front page story on Pakistan and its misery. It’s taken them a while.

HATA SIAL, Pakistan — When the governor of Punjab Province arrived recently in this small town with truckloads of relief goods for flood victims, his visit was as much a political mission as a humanitarian one. His message to the hundred or so displaced people gathered under an awning was that the government was there for them. Long after floodwaters subside, Pakistanis will face a lack of housing, food shortages and price spikes, among other hardships.

“The people say this was an act of God,” the governor, Salman Taseer, said in an interview after reassuring the crowd. “But what comes now, they say, is the act of man. If we don’t deliver, they will not forgive us.”

The “act of God/act of man” construction gave me a nice hook for the letter.

To the suffering Pakistanis, the floods that have destroyed their lives may seem an “Act of God,” and their government’s paralysis an “act of man.” But the grim reality is that the greenhouse effect brought about by the West’s profligate consumption of fossil fuels drastically increases the probability of catastrophic weather events. Thus, the floods are as much an act of man as the dysfunctionality of the Pakistani government. And just as Zardari’s administration is stymied and near-helpless in the face of this disaster, America’s national politics is mired in a quicksand of anti-science rhetoric that has rendered it unable to address humanity’s most pressing problem, or even to acknowledge that the problem exists. Global climate chaos is going to give us many Pakistans, each with an overwhelming share of human misery. Will we admit our own responsibilities, or will each new climate disaster still be an “Act of God?”

Warren Senders

Month 9, Day 5: Keeping It Local

We appear to have dodged a bullet here on the East Coast. I sent this to my local paper, the Medford Transcript. This one got written early; I’m on my way to a family reunion and don’t expect to be back till late in the day tomorrow.

While it looks as though the Massachusetts coastline has been spared the worst effects of Hurricane Earl, the fact is that over the coming decades, we are going to see more hurricanes, more often. The climatic effects of even a one-degree rise in global atmospheric temperature include dramatic increases in extreme weather, like the catastrophic floods that have rendered Pakistan helpless, and disrupted the lives of more people than live in New England. Of course, it is impossible to say that a specific weather event is directly caused by the greenhouse effect; the laws of physics and probability don’t work that way. But climatologists have predicted for decades that increased atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases would lead to exactly the kinds of weather we’re seeing all over the globe: heat waves, torrential flooding, anomalous precipitation, droughts, and overall volatility and unpredictability. “Global warming” is an inadequate term; we should call it by its true name: “climate chaos.” And we — all of us — need to wake up to the need for rapid and robust action to mitigate its effects.

Warren Senders

Month 8, Day 31: Can I Keep It? It Followed Me Home!

The New York Times is doing good reporting on Pakistan. Climate Change is of course the rhinoceros in the living room — rarely mentioned and carefully tiptoed around.

Tumultuous though it is on the ground, Pakistan’s disaster unfolds in slow motion from this side of the globe. A newly homeless population greater than New England’s, a nation’s resources destroyed, an epidemiology textbook’s worst-case scenario — these may seem abstract from a comfortable distance, but we ignore them at our peril. In our newly-created Anthropocene epoch, catastrophes like Pakistan’s can unfold anywhere. By definition, freakish weather events are unexpected; the conditions foretold by climate scientists will make accurate prediction increasingly difficult (which perhaps is one of the reasons many meteorologists are loath to accept the evidence for anthropogenic climate chaos). Pakistan’s suffering holds a message to all the nations of the globe: the storms of the coming centuries are here, and we must change our ways of living if we are to last them out.

Warren Senders

Month 8, Day 27: We Brought It Upon Yourselves

More misery in Pakistan. Another letter to the Times.

While America’s mass media look the other way, Pakistan’s tragedy grows ever more horrifying. Imagining the entire population of New England rendered homeless by climatic upheaval conveys the size of the catastrophe. But it is more than the people whose lives have been overturned; it is more than the shattered infrastructure and threat of disease; more than the likely political upheavals — Pakistan’s affliction is an ugly picture of a post-global-warming world. While those extreme monsoons cannot be specifically attributed to anthropogenic climate change, climatologists have long predicted upheavals of just this type as a consequence of an increased concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. As we begin to see the humanitarian consequences of climate change, it is no wonder our punditocracy usually chooses to look away. A final irony: unlike that of the USA, Pakistan’s contribution to atmospheric CO2 is negligible. They did not create climate chaos. We did.

Warren Senders

Month 8, Day 24: Pulling Out All The Stops

I figured I’d make one last plug for world peace before I go back to chastising the news media for ignoring climate change.

Dear President Obama,

By substantially altering the nature of the world’s climate, humanity has created and entered the Anthropocene Epoch. Indications for the long-term survival of our species in this eponymous age are less and less favorable.

The short-term effect of global climate change is of course to create ever more chaotic and damaging weather patterns — leading to devastating events like Pakistan’s floods and Russia’s fires. While it’s impossible to say that a specific calamity was specifically triggered by climate change, the greenhouse effect is predicted to increase extreme weather exactly the way it’s happening today.

The short-term effect is disaster, deprivation, and misery. A longer-term effect is the likelihood of political instability. Resource wars brought about through weather-induced food shortages; water wars catalyzed by droughts; governments toppled because of a failure to respond appropriately to a climate catastrophe…these are among the “coming attractions” for our species.

Unless we act thoughtfully and carefully to head them off.
The U.S.A. must set an example to the world by enacting strong climate legislation, rewarding organizations and individuals who make important contributions to reducing greenhouse gases, and investing heavily in renewable energy systems. If America is to be a world leader, we must lead, not wait for China and India to get their houses in order, as some of the procrastinators in the Senate would have us do.

But this is only the beginning. We (and the rest of the world) must gaze unflinchingly at what’s going to be coming at us over the next centuries, and make plans for how we will cope with a global increase in droughts, fires, storms, blizzards, floods and famines. Can humanity unite in the face of a common enemy? If humanity is to survive climate chaos, we can no longer afford war.

Never has the case for world peace been of such urgency.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 8, Day 18: Will Rupert Murdoch Give A Million Dollars To Pakistan?

Incredibly tired. The New York Daily News had an article about Pakistan’s misery, so I used my LTE template to save time.

Good night, all.

As devastating floods hammer Pakistan, it’s easy to dismiss both the extreme weather and the twenty million people whose lives have been shattered from our minds. After all, Pakistan is a long way off. But their extreme weather is a manifestation of the same complex set of phenomena that gave New York its most recent heat wave: anthropogenic global warming. If we as a nation are to undertake meaningful action on behalf of the planetary systems that sustain us, we must ensure that our citizenry is genuinely informed about these issues, no matter how complex or daunting they may seem. The fact that the phrase “climate change” does not appear at all in an article on Pakistan’s misery is a demonstration of how poorly our news media handle the most important threat humanity has ever faced.

Warren Senders

Month 8, Day 15: Shhhhh! Don’t Mention The War!

Time Magazine runs an opinion piece by Michael Mandelbaum, stating that we must reduce the impact of the Middle East on our foreign and domestic policy. Duh. Naturally, the closest he comes to mentioning climate change is in these paragraphs:

Lower U.S. oil consumption would also weaken oil-dependent leaders outside the Middle East who pursue anti-American policies: Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and Vladimir Putin of Russia. While the world will not be able to do entirely without Middle Eastern oil for many decades, substantially lowering the amount of oil we use would reduce the region’s significance while shifting the balance of power between producers and consumers in favor of consumers — that is, in favor of the U.S. and its friends. (See what Barack Obama needs to do to improve five international areas.)

The best way to reduce oil use is to raise the price of gasoline. People would then use less of it. In the short term, they would drive less and make more use of public transportation. Over the long term, they would demand fuel-efficient vehicles. At the same time, higher gasoline prices would make renewable fuels like ethanol and electrically powered cars economically viable.

While West European countries and Japan impose high taxes on gasoline, the U.S., the world’s largest consumer, does not. Compared with what the U.S. national interest requires, gasoline is ruinously cheap for Americans. The refusal of the U.S. to charge itself as much for gasoline as is good for it (and for other countries) is the single greatest foreign policy failure of the past three decades.

So I wrote a letter trying to draw a connection.

Michael Mandelbaum has perfectly articulated almost all the reasons that America needs to transform its relationship with the Middle East. He notes correctly that US petroleum pricing polity is self-destructive — by subsidizing fossil-fuel consumption so heavily, we’ve created an economy in which waste is rewarded, with all-too-predictable results. Cleaning up after the past century’s profligacy isn’t going to come cheap, and coping with the effects of global warming (heatwaves, fires, floods, catastrophic storms, oceanic acidification, and drought, to name a few) is going to be very expensive indeed. We (and our children) will be paying the bill for the energy we (and our parents) thought was almost free. It’s too bad that Mandelbaum didn’t mention the looming climate crisis, for of all the consequences of our addiction to Middle-Eastern oil, global climate change is the one which will do the most damage in the long run.

Warren Senders

Month 8, Day 14: Peat Fires

Jeebus. This sounds really depressing:

Firefighters laid down a pipe to a nearby lake and pumped 100 gallons of water every minute, around the clock, until the surface of what is known as Fire No. 3 was a muddy expanse of charred stumps.

And still the fire burned on.

Under the surface, fire crept through a virtually impenetrable peat bog, spewing the smoke that — until the wind shifted on Thursday, providing what meteorologists said was likely to be temporary relief — had been choking the Russian capital this summer.

The peat bogs were drained up to ninety years ago, when Soviet electrical generators burned peat. Naturally, nobody thought to reflood them after they’d been harvested. Now they’re just sitting there up to fifteen feet deep. And when they catch on fire, the firefighters’ lives really really really suck:

Fighting peat fires is an exhausting, muddy job, taking weeks or months, in which hardly a flame is visible. Matted, rotting vegetation smolders and steams deep underground.

In my letter, I tried to make the peat fires a specific example of a broader trend of disregarding the long-term consequences of ecological destruction…consequences which are going to affect all of us, sooner rather than later.

Russia’s peat fires are the disastrous result of an earlier failure to respect an ecosystem’s integrity. The early Soviet engineers who drained the peat bogs to fuel their generators but never reflooded them couldn’t have anticipated a smoke-filled Moscow. The Russian crisis is emblematic of the global one; our fossil-fueled economy (so rewarding in the short run) has triggered unintended long-term consequences all over the globe. Smoke, fires, drought, flood, wind, rain, weirdness.

The first rule of getting out of a hole is to recognize that you are in one. Our information economy must recognize and address the connection between global climate change and local environmental crises like the one choking Russia. The second rule is to stop digging. Our energy economy must move off fossil fuels as rapidly as possible.

Warren Senders

Month 8, Day 13: L.A. Heat Edition.

There’s a heat wave expected in LA this weekend, says the LA Times.

Not a standard boilerplate LTE.

A midsummer heat wave is not particularly remarkable. They happen all the time. But there are more and more of them happening these days, in the U.S. and around the world. As a consequence of climate change, we’re getting very extreme weather, and we’re getting it more often. While it’s impossible to say that global warming caused a specific weather event, climatologists have predicted for two decades that it will bring about ever more frequent extremes of temperature and precipitation. In the past, climate change was something that would happen in the future. But the past is gone and the future is now. Climate change is happening to us. News media must begin including this information as part of their print and online articles on weather conditions. People need to understand what’s going on so they can make informed decisions; ignorance is no longer an option.

Warren Senders

Oh, and for what it’s worth, I only became aware that there was a TV show by that name a few seconds before hitting “publish.”

Month 8, Day 9: Fake Astroturf Redux

Man, this thing works great. The Boston Herald ran an AP article on Russia’s fires, so I zipped through this one in 10 minutes.

At first glance the Associated Press story on the fires currently raging through Russia are unexceptionable. Closer examination reveals that important facts have been left out: the devastating heat wave that has triggered those wildfires is part of a worldwide trend of increasingly severe weather — a consequence of global warming, or climate change, or global heating, or, to use the most accurate term, climaticide. Floods, heatwaves, tropical storms, droughts — we’re going to see more and more of them, and they’ll do more damage and destroy more lives than ever before. To respond appropriately to the threats posed by the climate crisis, the citizenry must by fully and accurately informed. By failing to connect the crisis in Russia to the broader crisis that affects all of us on Earth, the Associated Press has failed in its responsibility to journalism and to the American People.

Warren Senders