Year 4, Month 2, Day 13: Too Much Confusion Going On, I Can’t Get No Relief

The Canberra Times runs an op-ed by a chap named Nicholas Stuart, who gets the brass ring:

Even if you still believe there is doubt about the specific linkage between carbon dioxide emissions and the rising global temperature – and I do not believe there is – there can be no doubt about the increasing incidence of extreme climatic events. The hottest January on record resulted in terrible bushfires across the nation, while at the same time we’ve suffered devastating floods in the tropical north: Australia can no longer rely on ”global action” to avoid the catastrophe that climate change represents.

Yet you would not know this listening to what passes for political debate in this country. Politicians still seem to believe that all that is required during a natural disaster is for them to tour the affected area, nodding sympathetically and promising relief.

Environmental catastrophe is framed as the ”work of nature” and therefore inexplicable. By pretending we cannot comprehend why this is happening we absolves ourselves from dealing with reality. This means that individuals can avoid the hard choices about the future while society pretends it can still afford to ”nationalise” the losses. A far better way of coming to terms with the way the climate is changing is provided by the internal workings of insurance companies.

Businesses don’t deal in academic theory. They deal in reality. That’s why the cost of insuring against damage caused by natural disasters is climbing, because the companies realise that the chance of these events is increasing. There’s nothing ideological about this and certainly no pro-Labor bias at work.

The opposition needs to explain immediately how it will deal with climate change because the holes in its current program are so large, and urgency so absent, that one inevitably returns to the possibility that Tony Abbott doesn’t believe in climate change at all.

Aye. Sent Feb. 5.

Nicholas Stuart has it exactly right in his description of climate change as an existential crisis. We humans have faced other crises of our own creation before this; the life-shattering forces of war and the morally overwhelming phenomena of slavery and genocide come to mind. But these, all-encompassing and inescapable though they may be, have always played out on a planetary stage that has changed its shape slowly if at all. The climate crisis, rendering our feeble political systems incompetent and impotent, is a threat of an entirely different nature.

War, slavery, and injustice transpire on a historical timescale of decades and centuries, while climatic processes have taken place over millennia, over eons. Now, climatic transformations are happening with the speed of war. With our wasteful consumer economies and our fossil fuel addictions, we have unwittingly an auto-immune response from the natural environment upon which our lives depend. Our species’ continued survival hinges on how rapidly we can understand these facts and their implications.

Warren Senders


Year 4, Month 2, Day 3: Of Course. Why Do You Ask?

The San Antonio Express-News (TX) runs a rather grim op-ed from Carolyn Lochhead, who wonders if it’s too late already:

In his inaugural address last week, President Barack Obama made climate change a priority of his second term. It might be too late.

Within the lifetimes of today’s children, scientists say, the climate could reach a state unknown in civilization.

In that time, global carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels are on track to exceed the limits that scientists believe could prevent catastrophic warming. CO2 levels are higher than they have been in 15 million years.

The Arctic, melting rapidly and probably irreversibly, has reached a state that the Vikings would not recognize.

“We are poised right at the edge of some very major changes on Earth,” said Anthony Barnosky, a biology professor at the University of California at Berkeley who studies the interaction of climate change with population growth and land use. “We really are a geological force that’s changing the planet.”

Short answer: yes. Long answer: below. Sent January 27:

If what we’re aiming for is the preservation of the status quo, an Earthly condition in which a largely benign climate supports the continued growth and prosperity of our species, then yes, we’re definitely too late to arrest the consequences of global climate change. It’s barely possible that had we heeded the calls of environmentally conscious leaders like Jimmy Carter back in the 1970s, we would not be facing such a crisis today — but just barely possible. The power and complexity of a planetary fossil-fuel economy is beyond our comprehension, and it’s been growing unchecked for well over a century.

The question is not whether we’re too late to avert catastrophe; we’re not, and it is ironic that our inability to understand the crisis was facilitated by “conservatives” whose fear of social and economic change prevented them from acting in time to avert a tragedy of planetary scope. Humanity’s best hopes now rest with science and communication: in expanding our ability to understand a rapidly transforming climate, and bypassing our wholly-owned politicians to apply these insights to species-wide action.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 3, Day 24: Dangerous Lack Of Minds

The Springfield, MI News-Leader runs another version of the fact-check on Rick Santorum:

Santorum’s “tell that to a plant” crack begs the question — how dangerous can carbon dioxide be? Too much is definitely a bad thing. Exposure to high levels of CO2 can cause “headaches, dizziness, restlessness, a tingling or pins or needles feeling, difficulty breathing, sweating, tiredness, increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, coma, asphyxia to convulsions,” warns the Wisconsin Department of Health, “and even frostbite if exposed to dry ice,” which is solid CO2. Poor air circulation in buildings and high carbon dioxide in soil seeping into basements can lead to high levels of the gas.

Plants do, in fact, absorb CO2. But even plants might not like too much of it. A 2008 study conducted at the University of Illinois found that instead of increasing organic matter in soil, higher carbon dioxide levels actually led to less organic matter. Increased CO2 also may limit plants’ ability to cool the air. A 2010 article in Science Daily said that a study by researchers at the Carnegie Institution for Science found that carbon dioxide’s effect on vegetation was causing some of the earth’s warming.

Santorum is entitled to his own opinion, of course. But voters shouldn’t be misled into thinking carbon dioxide isn’t a problem, or that climate scientists don’t overwhelmingly agree that global warming is real and human activities are making it worse.

So I wrote another version of my “Rick Santorum is a dangerous idiot” letter. Sent March 18:

Rick Santorum’s words on climate change demonstrate what happens when American anti-intellectualism gets carried to ludicrous extremes. The former Pennsylvania senator no longer has any need for facts, for the worldview held by his core constituency is entirely conditioned by ideology. No reality need apply.

These hard-line denialist conservatives are eager to believe any rhetoric that reinforces their preconceptions, which makes them easy marks. Let’s look at those preconceptions briefly, shall we? On the one hand, Santorum’s followers are addicted to the convenience of cheap fossil energy; on the other hand, they are fervently awaiting the Biblical apocalypse. In short, they’re a demographic group for whom conservation and long-term thinking are not just pointless, but actively evil.

If Mr. Santorum believes his own words, then he’s just another mark — as gullible as his followers. If he doesn’t, he’s a con artist. Either way, he has no business leading America.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 3, Day 21: Only When The Last Tree Has Been Cut Down…

The Tuscon Sentinel notes the frothy mixture of god-bothering and just plain dumb that makes up Senator Santorum’s public statements:

Rick Santorum calls global warming a “hoax.” If he were a scientist, he would be in a small minority.

“The dangers of carbon dioxide? Tell that to a plant, how dangerous carbon dioxide is,” Santorum said at the Gulf Coast Energy Summit in Biloxi, Miss., on March 12. He made similar comments in early February in Colorado Springs, Colo., saying that global warming was a “hoax” and that “man-made global warming” and proposed remedies were “bogus.”

Santorum isn’t the only climate change skeptic, but skeptics are rare among scientists who actually study the climate. A paper published in 2010 by the National Academy of Sciences found that 97 percent to 98 percent of climate researchers “most actively publishing in the field” agreed that climate change was occurring.

To my knowledge, no journalist has yet asked Santorum about his views on apocalypse. It would be a very interesting question…although we already know the answer. Sent March 15:

Just when we thought the 2012 election couldn’t get any more idiotic, we’re treated to Rick Santorum’s recent remarks on climate change. Judging from the former Pennsylvania senator’s eager rejection of scientific research, his backers must be terribly nostalgic for the good old days…when the sun revolved around the earth.

Mr. Santorum’s constituents are ready to ignore the science of global warming for two reasons. First, because they’ve been lied to and manipulated by a group of cynical, profit-driven corporate entities; second, because their collective eagerness for a Biblical Armageddon renders irrelevant any notion of planetary long-term thinking. Ronald Reagan’s Interior Secretary, James Watt, famously remarked, “We don’t have to protect the environment — the Second Coming is at hand.” Mr. Santorum’s theologically-driven ignorance of basic science shows that he’s cut from the same cloth.

Any politician this anxious for apocalypse should never be entrusted with the levers of power.

Warren Senders

Year 1, Month 1, Day 13: A Letter to The Secretary of State

In over ten whole minutes of web searching, I could not find a fax number for the Secretary of State’s office, so this one is going off by snailmail.

Dear Secretary Clinton,

Over the long run, there is no issue more likely to contribute to profound global instability than runaway global warming. Projections of the sociopolitical effects of climate change include severe disturbances to farming economies caused by erratic weather, increased risk of near-apocalyptic fires in forested areas affected by severe heat, “water wars” triggered by drought and the elimination of glacial melt as a source for important rivers and aquifers, and, of course, the inevitability of millions of climate refugees, many in the world’s poorest nations.

Add to this the increasing likelihood that oceanic acidification will profoundly affect the food chain of much of earth’s life, and the terrifying prospect of gigatons of arctic methane being released into our atmosphere and bringing a greenhouse effect of unimaginable magnitude, and the possibility of a planetary enactment of a Biblical apocalypse becomes disturbingly likely. While some Dominionists may view this as desirable, hoping for the Rapture is not a valid environmental policy.

As the leader of the free world, the United States needs a diplomatic strategy that simultaneously fosters long-term thinking among the world’s governments (because a multi-decade gap between cause and effect is inherent in the processes of climate) and prompt and vigorous action (because the window of time in which our actions can make a difference to our descendents is rapidly closing). It is absolutely crucial that we take the initiative to bring about a worldwide agreement to reduce atmospheric CO2 to 350 ppm or less, as recommended by Dr. James Hansen and other climatologists.

Please make sure the world knows that America is ready to lead, both in finding ways to mitigate the unavoidable effects of climate change and in preventing further catastrophic changes from coming to pass.

Failure in this area is a guarantee of failure for all of us — all six billion of us.

Thank you,

Warren Senders

A little long, but what the hell. Writing a shorter letter would have taken an extra fifteen minutes or so.