Year 4, Month 11, Day 5: Gettin’ Better All The Time?

USA Today, on the Power Shift 2013 gathering:

Students from more than 720 campuses and communities attended Power Shift 2013 last weekend in order to discuss climate, energy and environmental justice issues.

Power Shift, hosted by Energy Action Coalition, is a biannual convergence of young activists that seeks to help further the movement to end fracking (the process of fracturing rock layers very deep within the earth in order to extract natural gas or oil), create a clean energy future and divest for fossil fuels.

For the first time, Power Shift was held in Pittsburgh rather than its usual location in Washington D.C.

The weekend offered workshops, keynote speakers and more than 200 panels on how to run campaigns that promote a clean and just energy economy on their own campuses or within their own communities.

For 28-year-old Whit Jones, campaign director for Energy Action Coalition, Power Shift is a time in which the young generation can make its voices heard.

“Our generation has the opportunity to lead our movement and our country into a clean energy economy,” Jones says. “Right now we have both urgent crises around climate change and our economic crisis. If our generation can lead the way into a cleaner economy we can both help stop climate change and also create millions of jobs for our generation.”

Crazy anarchists! October 26:

In the sixties, college students led protests against war and racial bigotry. A few decades later, their campaigned for divestiture from South Africa’s apartheid government galvanized campuses across America. While today’s collegians may at first glance have many possible pathways of activism, ultimately there is only one central cause, and it is exemplified by the young people involved in “Power Shift 2013.”

When you get right down to it, humanity’s been successful because our planet’s climate is pretty benign; letting us feed ourselves and others while still having time to make things better for our society. All our advances — expanding the franchise, gradually eliminating slavery, emancipating women, the crazy notion that children have rights, ending the oppression of LGBT people — rest on a foundation of environmental and climatic stability.

These dedicated young people realize that if we fail on climate, we fail on everything. They deserve our applause and support.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 10, Day 31: I Contain Multitudes

The Miami Herald runs an AP story on how labor unions are trying to work with environmental groups:

PITTSBURGH — The nation’s largest labor unions are ready and willing to help fight global warming, but are cautioning environmentalists that workers need new clean-energy jobs before existing industries are shut down.

The four-day Power Shift conference in Pittsburgh is training young people to stop coal mining, fracking for oil and gas, and nuclear power, but organizers also want workers to join the battle against climate change.

Union leaders say their workers want to help build a new, green economy.

“Global warming is here, and we can work and get it fixed together,” United Steel Workers president Leo Gerard said in a Friday night address at Power Shift.

But other labor groups note that while they share the same long-term clean energy goals with environmentalists, there are challenges.

“It’s not just as simple as ‘No Fracking'” or other bans, said Tahir Duckett, an AFL/CIO representative who spoke at a Saturday Power Shift panel that sought to promote dialogue between environmentalists and workers.

Duckett said workers need new jobs to make a transition to clean energy, noting that shutting down industries such as coal “can turn entire communities into a ghost town. We cannot bury our heads in the sand and pretend like people aren’t fighting for their very survival.”

This is an interesting conundrum. October 21:

When labor unions say that having new clean-energy occupations in place is a prerequisite for ending old dirty-energy jobs, they oversimplify complex economic realities — and overcomplicate simple environmental ones.

Our country’s economy is largely founded on the (ultimately false) notion that fossil-fuels are cheap energy sources. The extractive industries that bring us oil and coal are some of the most profitable in the world, and their corporate leaders among the planet’s most influential people. As such, they have striven to protect their own interests by blocking public sector investment in renewable energy sources. New “green jobs” are the harbingers of a different economic model built on sustainable principles, and while most of us think that’s desirable, there are powerful forces working against such a transformation; it’s going to take time.

On the other hand is the irrefutable fact that the planet is teetering on the brink of runaway climate change triggered by our civilization’s greenhouse emissions. If we can’t turn this around, our concerns about employment are going to be supplanted by far more elemental worries: surviving on an Earth turned chaotic and hostile. There is no time to spare.

To resolve this contradiction, we must recognize its existence.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 10, Day 29: Jump Like A Willys

The Palm Beach Daily News reports on Bill Koch, who is (surprise!) an asshole:

As someone who states that he has energy in his DNA, billionaire oil-and-gas mogul Bill Koch says those who think carbon is bad should get a reality check.

Koch addressed an audience of 600 on Thursday for the Palm Beach Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting at The Breakers, peppering his remarks with off-color jokes and self-deprecating humor.

“Eighty-four percent of the energy used in the world comes from carbon,” he said, explaining that decayed primeval forests below the Earth’s surface are the source of the coal, oil and gas that powers the global economy.

Those who call for taxes on carbon dioxide emissions are “on LSD,” Koch said, making the point that humans produce their share of carbon dioxide naturally and taxes aren’t levied on them. He suggested planting trees as the most efficient way to counter higher carbon levels.

The reliance on fossil fuels is not going away, he said, noting that coal is relatively low in price, that oil has been “pretty cheap” until recently and that there is an abundance of natural gas, available at a price almost competitive with coal.

Spoken like a man who’s never tripped. October 19:

When arch-conservative energy bazillionaire Bill Koch claims carbon-tax advocates are “on LSD,” he’s offering powerful evidence of his own detachment from reality. Yes, human beings produce CO2, and yes, planting more trees is an excellent policy. But the plain fact is that industrial civilization’s carbon dioxide emissions are accelerating, and unless we slow them down, all the trees we can possibly plant aren’t going to scrub our atmosphere rapidly enough to mitigate catastrophic global heating. The greenhouse effect is a scientifically demonstrated phenomenon discovered over 150 years ago and confirmed by countless studies; Mr. Koch’s sneering dismissal of climate science is based only on ideology and has no foundation in fact.

Fossil-fuel advocates like the Koch brothers ignore expensive “externalities” for which we (or our descendants) will eventually have to pay: pollution, health impacts, massive environmental cleanups, global climate change, and a great many expensive and pointless wars. If coal and oil are “cheap” forms of energy, then high-interest credit cards are a source of free money.

Bill Koch’s glib denialism demonstrates that vast quantities of money distort reality far more effectively than any drug.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 10, Day 25: Unraveling

The Vancouver Sun notes that there’s trouble in the waters:

A $32-million commercial fishery has inexplicably and completely collapsed this year on the B.C. coast.

The sardine seine fleet has gone home after failing to catch a single fish. And the commercial disappearance of the small schooling fish is having repercussions all the way up the food chain to threatened humpback whales.

Jim Darling, a Tofino-based whale biologist with the Pacific Wildlife Foundation, said in an interview Monday that humpbacks typically number in the hundreds near the west coast of Vancouver Island in summer. They were observed only sporadically this year, including by the commercial whale-watching industry.

“Humpbacks are telling us that something has changed,” he said. “Ocean systems are so complex, it’s really hard to know what it means. For one year, I don’t think there’s any reason to be alarmed, but there is certainly reason to be curious.”

Not a single fucking fish. Not one. What would they do if they only caught one, I wonder? Would it get interviewed on “Oprah”? October 15:

While there can be no doubt that economically-driven overfishing has been a huge factor in the extraordinary collapse of many fish populations, the evidence is now overwhelming that another ingredient in this toxic mix is the impact of climate change. As Earth’s oceans absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, they are becoming ever more acidic, which has devastating consequences for many forms of sea life. Furthermore, this change in the water’s chemical makeup is exacerbated by a global increase in temperature — a double-whammy which is forcing many species out of ecological niches they have occupied for centuries or millennia and into a stressful and failure-prone struggle for survival.

The interdependence of oceanic ecosystems is still poorly understood, but the empty fishing nets of the sardine industry provide tangible testimony to the unraveling fabric of aquatic life. By muddling the public discussion of this crucial issue, climate-change deniers in industry, politics, and the media are contributing to an ongoing environmental and humanitarian disaster.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 10, Day 23: Use It Up, Wear It Out

The Sierra Vista Herald (AZ) announces a talk on regional impacts by a local climatologist:

A University of Arizona climate expert will discuss how increasing climate instability will affect the residents and landscapes of the U.S. Southwest during the Huachuca Audubon Society meeting on Oct. 15. The meeting is free and open to the public.

Gregg Garfin, deputy director for science translation and outreach at the UA Institute of the Environment, will outline regional climate change issues and challenges, from strained water resources, to more tree-killing pests, to threats to agriculture, energy, and human health, during his 7 p.m. talk in Room 702 on the Sierra Vista campus of Cochise College.

Garfin’s presentation highlights findings presented in a new book, “Assessment of Climate Change in the Southwest United States,” which details current and projected regional climate impacts and offers information that can help ensure the wellbeing of the region’s inhabitants in the decades to come.

This is a pretty generic letter. I’ve got stuff to do today. October 13:

Arizona and its neighbors in the Southwest aren’t alone in coming face to face with the troublesome facts of change. Everywhere on Earth, people are discovering that the bill for a century-long carbon binge is coming due. Scientists have important predictions for agriculturists — whether they’re monocropping factory farmers in the corn belt or peasants in the world’s poorest nations — and those predictions are unanimously anticipating that unpredictable and extreme weather is going to bring increasingly uncertain harvests. That translates into a humanitarian disaster just around the corner.

There’s may be arguments about the best ways to get ready for the impacts of an onrushing greenhouse effect — but we are absolutely certain to fail if we cannot accept the existence, causes, and harmful potentials of climate change. Corporations who fund climate-denying media figures and politicians are acting in the worst interests of our species, sacrificing the prosperity of our posterity for a few extra points of profit or a flash of fame on the boob tube. Denial is no longer an option.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 10, Day 22: That Voodoo That You Do So Well

Derrick Jackson, in the Boston Globe, asks:

Are lobsters the new symbol of climate change?

The answer, increasingly, is yes. Lobster populations are exploding in the Gulf of Maine, but are plummeting in the waters of southern New England. In 2012, the Gulf of Maine set a record catch of 126 million pounds, double the average of a decade before and six times the average of the 1980s.

Meanwhile, annual lobster landings in Buzzards Bay were just 72,000 pounds last year, down from 400,000 pounds in the late 1990s and from just under a million pounds in the 1980s, according to Massachusetts state lobster biologist Bob Glenn.

The population loss is likely due to warmer waters and disease that may be associated with such water. “We just watched a geological event occur in about a decade,” Glenn said. Scientists speculate that the population boom in Maine is also due to record warm waters, which fueled massive early productions, as well as the overfishing of ground fish that eat lobsters.

The lobster catch in Maine had a record value of $340 million. But the bounty backfired for many individual lobstermen, who were stuck with the lowest per-pound prices in nearly 20 years.

I never liked lobsters, so climate change doesn’t concern me. October 12:

Massive shifts in lobster population off New England’s coastlines may temporarily favor Maine, but in the long run, climate change is going to bring everybody a bumper catch of pain. Fishermen everywhere are encountering catastrophic declines; there may be brief interludes of plenitude, but overall, it’s indisputable that we’ve reached Peak Fish. The two most immediate oceanic impacts of climate change are heating and acidification, which will bring increasingly catastrophic disruptions in the coming decades.

Given that several billion people directly or indirectly get their sustenance from the seas, this is a genuine humanitarian emergency. Factor in the greenhouse effect’s impact on agriculture, and it’s a grim harbinger of future sorrows.

The fossil-fuel industry’s support for climate-change denial in politics and the media is a grave error. With billions of lives at stake, these corporations have elevated the easy lure of quarterly profits over our species’ long-term happiness and prosperity.

Warren Senders


Year 4, Month 10, Day 21: They’ll Drive You Crazy, They’ll Drive You Insane

USA Today runs a good column from Dan Becker and James Gerstenzang, explicitly drawing a link between tobacco denialists and climate denialists:

Half a century ago, the tobacco industry tried to preserve its market by misleading Americans about the scientific validity of research demonstrating that smoking causes cancer. To weaken efforts to fight global warming, the “climate change denial machine,” in the words of the Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society, has been using that same strategy. For more than 20 years it has sought to cast doubt on the science that demonstrates that the climate is changing and pollution is to blame.

Why is anyone still paying attention?

The denial lobby is using pseudo-science and cherry-picked data to present the fringe view that global warming is nothing more than what Sen. James M. Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, famously called “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.”

Once again it has reprised its tired — and false — arguments to debunk the premier scientific assessment of global warming, produced by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. On Sept. 27, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization declared with near certainty that human activity is causing the climate to change. The panel’s previous assessment, issued in 2007, was only slightly less certain — 90% versus the 95% in the new report. An overwhelming majority of climate scientists endorsed it.

In short, the global warming deniers are as wrong as the smoke-blowers who said in the 1960s that a pack a day was fine. No one seriously argues today that tobacco isn’t bad for you — and if they did, no one would listen. But the Marlboro Men of global warming still draw attention as they deny the consensus conclusion that burning fossil fuels in power plants, cars and factories is trapping heat in the atmosphere. They deny that this will raise sea levels, bring more violent storms, and worsen droughts and heat waves. What are they smoking?

So I pulled something out of the files and shuffled things around, and sent it in. October 11:

As long as corporations can reap substantial profits at the expense of ordinary citizens, there’ll always be lucrative job openings for professional liars. So it’s unsurprising that many of the individuals and organizations busily disseminating misinformation about climate change did the same thing years ago for cigarette manufacturers.

But there is a far more significant analogy just below the surface: the psychology of addiction.

Every smoker has lots of excuses. “I’ll cut down,” “it helps me relax,” “my aunt smokes and she’s 99,” “I’m too busy to quit.” These phrases are oddly similar to the fossil-fuel industry’s rhetoric against meaningful policies addressing climate change. Consumer culture is hooked on oil and coal, and this addiction is destroying our planet’s health. The misleading rationalizations of industry-paid denialists arguing against the threats of global climate change are eerily similar to a heavy smoker’s hacking contempt for the warnings of his oncologist.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 10, Day 19: I’ve Been In Some Big Towns, And Heard Me Some Big Talk…

In the Boston Herald, a report about the campaign to get uber-swine David Koch off the WGBH board of directors:

Draped in a WBUR windbreaker,
Lee Stewart of 
Jamaica Plain called Koch — who has 
donated $18.6 million to ’GBH, 
including $10 million to the science program “NOVA” — “a climate 
denier, a polluter.”

“His presence is extremely 
offensive,” Stewart said. “People who are actively fighting to destroy the climate should not have equal political voice.”

Small and Stewart were among some 50 sign-waving activists who protested outside Channel 2’s Brighton studios before presenting a petition of 119,000 online signatures calling for Koch’s resignation. Among the protesters was an activist in an Elmo costume carrying a sign that read, “Elmo Love WGBH Elmo No Love Koch Lies.”

WGBH board chairman Amos Hostetter defended Koch, telling the protesters there’s no “political litmus test” for board members.

“Diversity is something we 
highly value,” he said.

“It’s not because we disagree with Mr. Koch politically,” Small said. “It’s because he is about the destruction of politics in America as we know it.”

Hostetter denied that trustees have any control over programming, and the board quickly moved on to 
other business.

The protest came just hours 
before “NOVA” aired a special on rising sea levels in the 
aftermath of Megastorm 

A Koch spokeswoman said he had no “immediate plans” to resign.

“He particularly enjoys WGBH’s outstanding program ‘NOVA,’ which he 
believes educates the public in a very entertaining way,” said spokeswoman Cristyne Nicholas. “As for climate change, Mr. Koch 
is interested in ensuring 
that energy policies are 
informed by sound science and economic reality,” she said.

But the activists said they’re just getting started.

“People aren’t going to let this go,” said Brad Johnson of Forecast the Facts. “We’re not going to stop.”

The Koch brothers are a blight on the world. October 10:

When his spokeswoman asserts that arch-conservative David Koch wants energy policies that are based on “sound science and economic reality,” it’s a little window into the thinking of a bazillionaire whose mindset is steeped in the McCarthy-era anti-communist hysteria of the John Birch Society.

Mr. Koch probably learned to trust medical expertise over the course of his experience as a cancer patient. I wonder: if 97 oncologists diagnosed a malignancy, while 3 said more tests were needed, would he start therapy…or would he decide that “sound science” demanded a rejection of the medical consensus?

Climatologists are our planetary physicians, and their diagnosis of the human causes and profound danger of climate change is overwhelmingly certain — as conclusive as the causal connection between smoking and cancer. Mr. Koch’s denialism isn’t based on sound science, and his rejection of policies that will end our dependence on fossil fuels is anything but economically realistic.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 10, Day 10: Shadow-Boxing In The Dark

The Grand Falls/Windsor Falls Advertiser (Newfoundland) discusses fisheries specialist George Rose’s recent presentation:

Rose told the approximately 250 conference delegates the collapse of cod stocks, and the moratorium, was mainly due to overfishing.

However, looking ahead — whether the subject is cod, caplin, lobster, crab, shrimp or any other species — determining what amounts to a sustainable fishery is about gathering the information that will provide the best, most detailed understanding of the ever-changing situation within offshore ecosystems.

Temperatures, acidity levels, and even the amount of plastic floating in our waters all need to be considered, he said.

On climate change, “I’ve read recent reports from as diverse places as Norway, the Northeastern United States and China … all basically reporting similar phenomenon: massive changes in production of their local waters,” he said.

Rose said climate has long been recognized as “a major, major — probably the most important influence” on fisheries.

Revised an earlier letter and sent it off. October 2:

Even if we ignore the looming threat of climate change, Newfoundland’s fisheries are already feeling the devastating impact of overfishing, where the abundant catches of decades past are no longer attainable even with the most advanced technologies. Once we include heating and acidification (the two most significant oceanic impacts of the rapidly accelerating greenhouse effect) in our assessments, there’s no getting around the inevitability of catastrophic declines. There’ll be fewer fish in the coming decades, and they’ll be increasingly difficult (and expensive) to catch. You’ve heard of Peak Oil? We’ve already reached Peak Fish.

With as much as a third of Earth’s population directly or indirectly relying on the ocean for food, this constitutes a humanitarian emergency. Add climate change’s likely impacts on agriculture, and it’s a grim warning to humanity: storm clouds are gathering, and we’re in for a hell of a ride.

The fossil-fuel industry’s myopic readiness to subsidize climate-change denial in politics and the media is a grave mistake. With billions of lives hanging in the balance, these corporations are elevating the easy lure of quarterly profits over the long-term happiness and prosperity of our species.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 10, Day 8: I’m Gonna Live Forever…

The Athens News (OH) runs a great article by the always-great Amy Goodman:

Last week, far out in the Arctic Ocean, the Greenpeace vessel Arctic Sunrise approached a Russian oil-drilling platform and launched a nonviolent protest, with several protesters scaling the side of the platform. They wanted to draw attention to a dangerous precedent being set.

The platform, the Prirazlomnaya, owned by Russian gas giant Gazprom, is the first to begin oil production in the dangerous, ice-filled waters of the Arctic. The Russian government responded swiftly and with force, deploying special-forces soldiers, their faces masked by balaclavas, threatening the peaceful Greenpeace activists with automatic weapons, destroying their inflatable boats by slashing them, arresting 30 and towing the Greenpeace ship to the northern Russian port of Murmansk. At last report, the protesters faced a potential charge of piracy.

This protest is remarkable for its sheer audacity. But it is by no means the sole protest lately against runaway fossil-fuel extraction and consumption. People are speaking up around the globe, demanding action to combat global warming. In North America, a broad coalition has been growing to stop the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, as well as to stop the exploitation of Alberta’s tar sands, which the pipeline is designed to carry.

The corporate persons aren’t just sociopaths, they’re stupid. September 30:

The recently released IPCC report confirms the urgency of the climate crisis.  While widespread citizen action to advocate sane climate policies in America and around the world is a good sign, it’s distressing that the business and financial communities have been both tardy and inadequate in their approach to the problem: a decade late, a trillion dollars short.

The plain facts are simple: action now to mitigate damages will save us money, time and lives in the future. That our government has failed to take even the most anodyne steps to address the metastasizing greenhouse effect is testimony to an ugly reality: the corporate sector which dominates our politics is itself dominated by a toxic mix of scientific ignorance and greed.

The facts are simple: excessive CO2 emissions are damaging our planet’s health and are on track to disrupt and destroy much of our civilization over the coming century, while bringing humanity closer to what evolutionary biologists coyly term an “evolutionary bottleneck” — a delicate euphemism for extinction-level global trauma. I may be naive, but I can’t see how letting your customers get wiped out is good for long-term profitability. Business needs to wake up and support climate action.

Warren Senders