Year 3, Month 5, Day 6: Here’s Your Allowance For The Next Decade, Sweetheart. It’s All In Pennies.

The New York Times reports on a scary new study:

New research suggests that global warming is causing the cycle of evaporation and rainfall over the oceans to intensify more than scientists had expected, an ominous finding that may indicate a higher potential for extreme weather in coming decades.

By measuring changes in salinity on the ocean’s surface, the researchers inferred that the water cycle had accelerated by about 4 percent over the last half century. That does not sound particularly large, but it is twice the figure generated from computerized analyses of the climate.

If the estimate holds up, it implies that the water cycle could quicken by as much as 20 percent later in this century as the planet warms, potentially leading to more droughts and floods.

That’s pretty fucking alarming. Sent April 27:

A projected twenty percent acceleration in Earth’s water cycle holds the potential for catastrophic ripple effects throughout our lives and those of our posterity. Without a steady supply of water throughout the growing season, agriculture on civilization-feeding scales will become exponentially more difficult. While its impacts on farming will be profound, the drought-or-deluge model predicted by Paul Durack and his colleagues can be expected to transform beyond recognition many of the local and regional ecosystems our forbears took for granted.

To avoid the worst-case scenarios implicit in these findings, we must begin planning for a future in which water supplies will be irregular and extreme. We’ll need expanded and reinforced storage and conservation, water-stingy techniques of manufacturing, a completely re-imagined waste-processing system, and the infrastructure required by a host of other functions. Most difficult of all, we need to make our paralyzed political system respond constructively to an imminent crisis.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 6, Day 29: Sense and Sensibility…

The Ocala Star-Banner editorializes about the need for energy conservation:

The key to energy independence — as well as cleaner energy and a sustainable environment — is to reduce consumption through conservation. And Americans can do that. In fact, we have done it.

As part of a national campaign to reduce oil and gasoline use and foster energy independence, Congress should again enact conservation strategies such as those recommended in a 2009 report by the business consultant McKinsey & Co.

McKinsey cited research showing that — through energy efficiency alone — “the U.S. economy has the potential to reduce annual non-transportation energy consumption by roughly 23 percent by 2020.”

The recommendations include: 1) better consumer education on potential energy-efficiency savings; 2) tighter efficiency requirements for appliances, and 3) stronger financial incentives for energy improvements.

I figured a little support was in order. Sent June 14:

Looking at the social history of the word “conservation,” it’s obvious that Ronald Reagan’s fundamentally wasteful worldview has become the national norm. The simple facts of energy efficiency would seem to make it an inherently attractive proposition — burn less, save more. Leaving aside the spurious debate about global climate change, the steadily rising cost of energy should make this a no-brainer. But many of our fellow citizens have absorbed the notion that conservation is somehow alien to the American character; listening to Rush Limbaugh and others of his ilk inveighing against anything that would change our rate of consumption is deeply disturbing. We should remember that recycling and reduced usage patterns were part of what brought America to victory in World War II, and are key to establishing our energy independence today. “Conservation” is a social good in every respect; it is “waste” that is, literally, a dirty word.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 3, Day 27: You Call THAT a Disaster? Hah! I’ll Show YOU a Disaster!

John Sanbonmatsu has a piece in the Christian Science Monitor that pulls no punches in its headline: “Japan’s nuclear crisis pales in comparison to destruction from global climate change.” It’s well worth a read.

Sent March 18:

The Fukushima disaster is sure to have extensive generational repercussions, although it’s essentially a short-lived phenomenon; an isolated failure of technology in response to an extreme seismic event. As John Sanbonmatsu makes clear, the ongoing crisis of climate change is a slow-motion catastrophe of much greater magnitude and significance. Japan’s agony provides an opportunity to realize how inadequately we’ve prepared for worst-case events, combining a touching faith in technological solutions with a blinkered inability to address problems before they become emergencies. We need increased investment in renewable energy; we need a “smart grid”; we need updated infrastructure. But more importantly, the national philosophy underlying our approach to energy must be completely transformed. American energy policy must be based first and foremost on principles of efficiency and reduced consumption; the petrocentric Cheneyism that snidely decreed conservation merely a “sign of personal virtue” is in its essence both anti-American and anti-human.

Warren Senders

Month 6, Day 1: A Sign Of Personal Virtue.

I am a great fan of appropriate technology, and as such I don’t respond in a reflexively negative way to people like Nathan Myhrvold — even when he comes off as dismissive of environmental concerns, as in his interview with Fareed Zakaria in this week’s Newsweek:

Zakaria: Why do you think that people in the environmental community dismiss geoengineering?

Myhrvold: They have this attitude for two reasons. One is that much of the environmental movement is anti-technology. They’ll say, “Isn’t there going to be an unintended consequence?” And I say, yes there is! When a heart surgeon does bypass surgery on you, you’re left with a big scar—but it saves your damn life. I think another reason is more political. A lot of environmentalists feel that if everyone believes there’s a simple fix, they’ll demand that. And then they’re never going to get rid of their SUVs and they’re never going to tax carbon.

The interview reads like the transcription of a television appearance, further illustrating the inability of our media (even with someone as perspicacious as Zakaria involved) to handle intellectual complexity. But to me, what was significant was a word that never appeared. This is the first time to my knowledge that I have used the phrase “vocabula non grata” in my discourse. I am pleased.

Nathan Myhrvold is correct in stating that America’s energy needs can never be met completely through the use of renewable sources, but his interview with Fareed Zakaria is notable for a significant omission: neither man ever mentions energy efficiency and waste reduction. Ever since Ronald Reagan took the solar panels off the White House roof, discussion of conservation has been ridiculed by politicians and the media, and the word is now vocabula non grata in “serious” discussion. Which is, to put it bluntly, stupid. In every single area of our national patterns of energy usage there are opportunities for significant reduction in demand, most of which would actually improve our quality of life. If Americans decided to make carpooling into the rule rather than the exception, petroleum use would diminish drastically and traffic congestion would ease. The fact that these measures are not now the norm in our country shows how the disdain for conservation has crippled our ability to respond to circumstances like B.P.’s destruction of the Gulf of Mexico. When Dick Cheney sneered, “Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy,” he illuminated the mindset that has brought us to this pass. The likelihood of catastrophic climate change may not be a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive conservation policy, but it should be.

Warren Senders

Day 30: POTUS

In the wake of President Obama’s fine SOTU speech and his epic spanking of the House Republicans, I thought I’d send him a fax/letter combo. Some diarists at Kos were pointing out, rather ruefully, that while he’d called for nuclear power, offshore drilling and “clean coal” in the SOTU address, he didn’t mention the “C” word. Which, of course, has been entirely stigmatized by its association with Jimmy Carter and his cardigan sweater in the attention-deficit-raddled minds of our punditocracy.

So I thought I’d bring it up.

Dear President Obama,

Congratulations on a brilliantly delivered State of the Union address, and on an equally brilliant exchange with the House Republicans. Your words on “tone” were entirely correct. Sadly, I have grave doubts that you will ever find the Republicans to be any more than a Disloyal Opposition; the habit of rhetorical posturing in the service of partisan political maneuvering is too deeply ingrained in them for your polite admonitions to have much effect. I sincerely hope I’m wrong, and I’m grateful to you for trying.

I write today, however, to urge you to use the Presidential “bully pulpit” to educate Americans about the importance of energy conservation as one of the most important ways of expanding our energy resources. While it’s a decidedly “unsexy” word, especially when compared with “drilling,” conservation will probably be the single biggest contributor to our nation’s energy reserves. The proper approach to this is to call on the nation to “eliminate waste.”

Just as you propose eliminating wasteful policies, programs and spending, so too should our citizenry be actively engaged in finding new ways to eliminate wasteful energy use. Local, regional, statewide and national competitions for energy-saving ideas could be incorporated into school science fairs and community events; citizen-generated proposals could be given prominence on a dedicated White House website. Let’s harness the vast ingenuity of the American people to make our energy usage leaner and more efficient. We could reduce our CO2 emissions, our particulate pollution, and our energy expenses — without affecting our lifestyles noticeably (granted, much in our lifestyles should probably be sacrificed for the greater good — but that’s for another letter).

Thank you for all you do.

Yours sincerely,

Warren Senders

Have you written your president today?