Year 4, Month 12, Day 29: Stately, Plump, Buck Mulligan…

The Port Huron Times-Herald reports on Michigan’s farmers, who are getting smacked upside the head by climate change:

Tim Boring knew it wasn’t a normal drought when the fields on his Stockbridge farm started to dry up during the summer of 2012.

Nobody escaped the magnitude of heat and dryness that year. Certainly not farmers.

“That drought impacted everyone,” said Boring, who produces corn, soybeans and wheat at his family-owned O’Brien Farms when he isn’t working his job as Michigan Soybean Promotion Committee research director. “It was certainly one of our biggest cases of severe weather lately.”

The drought wiped out a variety of crops, from corn to soybeans, and sent crop prices surging. Pictures of dried up, fractured grounds, stained corn leaves and livestock agonizing under the extreme heat were inescapable.

The dry conditions finally faded away, but not before earning the mark of the worst drought in a nearly a quarter-century, according to the Michigan State University Extension.

Severe weather events such as these, some experts and farmers worry, are on the rise.

I’ve used this letter many times in many different guises: epistodiversity! December 15:

Michigan’s farmers aren’t the only ones coming face to face with climate change’s troublesome realities. Extreme and unpredictable weather is disrupting planting schedules, making for increasingly uncertain harvests everywhere on Earth.

Coping with the accelerating climate crisis will require growers to change many of their ways. The era of massive monocropping is coming to an end; the potential for catastrophic crop failures from environmental disruptions or invasive pests is all too real, and highlights the importance of diversity in our agricultural system. A world-wide re-enactment of the Irish potato famine is a nightmarish thing to to contemplate.

There are countless viewpoints about the best strategies to prepare for a climatically-transformed future, but one thing’s absolutely certain: we’ll never successfully address the problem if we cannot admit its existence. Just like farmers in Michigan, our media figures and elected representatives must realize that the time for climate-change denial is long past.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 12, Day 9: There Is Danger At Your Door

The St. Louis Times-Dispatch gives some space to a former denier named Larry Lazar, who seems to have seen the light:

Five years ago, I was a climate change denier.

Now, I give talks in the St. Louis area about the dangers of climate change and our obligation to do something about it — like speaking out for strict limits on carbon. I changed my views on climate change because my dad taught me to pay attention to the world around me … and it’s obvious that something is wrong with the weather. It’s like the weather is on steroids — and getting worse.

The record heat wave in March 2012, when the temps in the high 80s made it feel like it was July, comes to mind.

My dad and I talked about that heat wave while picking apples for cider a few weeks ago. He reminded me that he lost his apple crop that year for the first time in 40 years. We went on to talk about how the weather has changed over his 85 years, especially in recent decades.

My dad is 85 years old and still spends his most of his day outside: cutting wood, working in the garden, hunting and fishing, and trimming Christmas trees (only $10, except the church, they get theirs for free). When you are outside as much as my dad, it is obvious and undeniable that the weather is changing. It hits you over the head — again and again.

“I don’t know what it is, but something isn’t right,” he told me.

Good luck to you, buddy. November 27:

It is only because of our terribly irresponsible news media and the corporate interests for whom they speak that there is any significant climate change denial in America. For decades, the oil and coal industries have funded conservative “think tanks” which supply broadcast and print outlets with authoritative-sounding pundits who stridently reject the work of climatologists, arguing instead that we as a nation need to continue our profligate overconsumption of fossil fuels. It is surely just a coincidence that these companies continue to enjoy the highest profit margins in history.

While the luck of geography has ensured that the US hasn’t been hit as hard by climate change as some other places on the planet, this state of affairs won’t go on much longer. The devastating storms and droughts of the past year are signs that our century-long fossil-fuel binge is having its inevitable consequences. By now, a warming Earth is unavoidable, but we can still make a profound difference to the lives of our descendants by acknowledging the reality of human-caused climate change, and working actively to mitigate its effects.

Warren Senders

Competitive Eschatology and Climate Denial

This post dates from 2011, but I think it deserves to be front-paged again.

For many years I have been thinking a lot about group minds and collective intelligence, with influences ranging from Thomas Malone (of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence) to E.O. Wilson’s detailed examination of insect colonies and the nature of the “superorganism.” As I tried to extend the “group mind” concept across larger timespans, I found myself both depressed and elated. Elated because I was understanding more about why the “powers that be” didn’t seem to give a shit — and depressed for the same reason.

Thinking About Collective Intelligence

Accepting the reality of collective intelligence is not as big a leap as James Lovelock requests of us when he posits the Gaia Hypothesis, but it’s still a leap.

more »

Year 4, Month 7, Day 1: Tyrannosaurus Rex

Breaking News: Rex Tillerson is still an asshole. The Cleveland Plain-Dealer:

It was the second time in 13 months that Tillerson articulated Exxon’s new acceptance that climate change appears to be a reality.

And it was the second time that Tillerson suggested the problem may not solvable. Previously Exxon did not acknowledge the possibility of climate changes, let alone how it might be dealt with.

“There are some things we know and understand about it,” Tillerson said of the forces behind the changes in average global temperatures. “There are a lot of things about it that we don’t know and don’t understand. “We’re not sure how this is going to turn out.”

If industrialized society is in fact changing the world’s climate, then steps can be taken to “mitigate” the risk, Tillerson said.

Exxon strongly supports energy efficiency, he said, referring to the tough automotive mileage standards the Obama administration issued a year ago as an example of mitigation. Those rules require automakers to achieve an average of 541/2 miles per gallon in 2025.

Better auto fuel economy and the decisions of electric companies to switch power plants from coal to natural gas are ways to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions, while not crippling the economy, Tillerson said.

“But what am I going to do if it turns out that none of my mitigation steps make any difference?” he asked the crowd packed into the City Club. “What if it turns out that this is happening for a lot of reasons that I don’t understand? What’s Plan B?

“Plan B means you had better start thinking about what kind of adaptation measures are going to be necessary if the consequences that people are concerned about present themselves.”

Despite that sobering assessment, Tillerson said he does not support a “carbon tax,” referring to proposals advocated for years by environmentalists to have Uncle Sam tax the use of fossil fuels, basing the charges on the amount of carbon dioxide produced.

“We still have a lot of gains to be made through technology and other less intrusive policies on the economy,” Tillerson said. “And it is a global problem. We are not going to set the carbon tax policy for China.”

One upside to our imminent extinction-level evolutionary bottleneck is that our successors won’t have any fossil fuels left to extract. June 15:

Rex Tillerson may be breaking new ground for fossil fuel executives in his repeated admissions that climate change not only exists, but has the potential to cause profound damage to our civilization. But his pronouncements have the slightly desperate feeling of a man and an industry finally overtaken by inconvenient facts; the man is plainly grasping at straws.

Let’s review: for decades Exxon and the rest of the world’s oil industries denied the reality of global warming, co-opted our political system to their own ends, poured millions of dollars into pseudo-scientific attempts to rebut the overwhelming climatological consensus, and helped make the national discussion of a clear and present danger into a hotbed of conspiracy theories and anti-science nonsense. Just because Exxon’s CEO has reversed course on climate change’s existence doesn’t mean that the rest of his statements automatically gain credibility.

It’s like listening to a tobacco executive saying that even though his product is harmful, quitting is hard, so we’ll be fine if we just learn to live with emphysema, heart disease and lung cancer. When Mr. Tillerson speaks of people “adapting” to climate change, we must recognize that it’s a disingenuous euphemism for another, less reassuring word. Dying.

Warren Senders


Year 4, Month 4, Day 6: I’m Not The Only One

Elisabeth Rosenthal has an excellent piece in the NYT on our visions for a future energy economy:

WE will need fossil fuels like oil and gas for the foreseeable future. So there’s really little choice (sigh). We have to press ahead with fracking for natural gas. We must approve the Keystone XL pipeline to get Canadian oil.

This mantra, repeated on TV ads and in political debates, is punctuated with a tinge of inevitability and regret. But, increasingly, scientific research and the experience of other countries should prompt us to ask: To what extent will we really “need” fossil fuel in the years to come? To what extent is it a choice?

As renewable energy gets cheaper and machines and buildings become more energy efficient, a number of countries that two decades ago ran on a fuel mix much like America’s are successfully dialing down their fossil fuel habits. Thirteen countries got more than 30 percent of their electricity from renewable energy in 2011, according to the Paris-based International Energy Agency, and many are aiming still higher.

Could we? Should we?

Waxing epistemological here for a minute. March 24:

Resistance to social and technological advances is always rooted in a poverty of imagination. American conservatism’s failure to entertain hypotheticals ensures that their anticipated futures are merely copies of the past — thinking vividly on display in our political and media culture as the necessity of shifting rapidly away from fossil fuels becomes obvious in the light of the climate crisis.

Actually, two mutually reinforcing failures of imagination are at work here. On one hand, the resistance to renewable energy sources, while partly explained by the undeniable cupidity of corporate interests, is at its core a refusal to allow any alternative to the approved vision of a future energy economy. On the other hand is the incapacity to imagine the terrifying realities of the present moment, in which a runaway greenhouse effect is dessicating farmlands, breaking the Arctic, and casting in doubt the future of our civilization and our species.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 1, Day 4: Because The Wind Is High…

The Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel thinks there is No Denying Climate Change:

Earth is growing warmer; the records prove that. Some still doubt human activity has anything to do with it, but it’s past time for the rest of us to face reality.

We need, first, good leadership. The United States should provide it, as it has repeatedly promised but failed to do. And Florida should be a leader among the states, because it is among those most threatened with ecological problems and rising sea levels.

Tallahassee should take its cues from South Florida, where local governments have long recognized the dangers associated with climate change. Raising seawall heights, moving drinking-water wellfields farther inland and imposing tougher development regulations for particularly vulnerable areas — ideas once unthinkable — are now part of a regional climate-change plan designed to help local communities address a changing environment.

While the flooding and saltwater intrusion now seen in South Florida occur regularly, far more devastating effects are happening in other parts of the world. According to the Climate Vulnerable Forum, a 20-nation consortium of developing countries, failure to act will result in about 100 million deaths worldwide by 2030 from mega-droughts, floods, disease, crop failure and major water shortages. The forum puts the economic costs of climate change at $1.2 trillion a year now, and says it will double by 2030. Some nations could lose 11 percent of GDP. Oxfam, an anti-poverty group, puts potential agricultural and fishery losses alone at $500 billion a year by 2030.

Skeptics may pooh-pooh the climate forum’s report as commissioned by those nations most at risk, which makes them most in need of help. But its findings are consistent with those from the world’s most important climate-change organization, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

A generic let’s-get-our-shit-together-soon letter, sent December 29:

There would be no significant climate change denial in America were it not for the egregious irresponsibility of our news media and their financial co-conspirators. Over the past several decades, conservative “think tanks” heavily funded by the oil and coal industries have created a denialist cottage industry, supplying our broadcast and print media with authoritative pundits whose voices have stridently rejected the findings of climate scientists in favor of the convenience of continued consumption (which, by an odd coincidence, result in the highest corporate profit margins in history).

While geographical serendipity has kept the US off the “front lines” of our rapidly transforming climate for years, 2012’s massive storms and devastating droughts make it clear that we can no longer avoid the impacts of our century-long fossil-fuel binge. A drastically warming Earth is inevitable, but acknowledging climatic reality now may make a profound difference to the lives of our descendants.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 11, Day 9: Fair And Balanced: 50% Truth, 50% Lies

The Arizona Daily Star reprints Eugene Robinson’s column from the Washington Post, in which he wonders:

We’ve had two once-in-a-century storms within the span of a decade. Hurricane Sandy seems likely to be the second-costliest storm in U.S. history, behind Hurricane Katrina. Lower Manhattan is struggling to recover from an unprecedented flood and the New Jersey coast is smashed beyond recognition.

Will we finally get the message?

How, at this point, can anyone deny the scientific consensus about climate change? The traditional dodge – that no one weather event can definitively be attributed to global warming – doesn’t work anymore. If something looks, walks and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. Especially if the waterfowl in question is floating through your living room.

For decades now, researchers have been telling us that one of the effects of climate change would be to make the weather more volatile and violent. Well, here we are.

And here we will remain, perhaps for the rest of our lives. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, when humans began burning fossil fuels in earnest, the concentration of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by an incredible 40 percent. We have altered the composition of the air.

Rupert Murdoch has a lot to answer for. He’s not the only one, but he’s a biggie on the list of climate criminals. Sent November 3:

Hurricane Sandy’s devastation has indeed brought the metastasizing greenhouse effect back in the national spotlight. But is our chronically distracted American media up to the challenge of addressing a long-term issue fraught with compounded interdependencies and complex variables? Because this country’s politicians are for the most part creatures of the media, taking their cues from the opinions of well-paid professional pundits, this is a crucial question.

Any scientist who’s experienced media coverage of his or her work can attest that the standard of scientific literacy in our print and broadcast media is shockingly low. Statistics are misunderstood, misrepresented and misreported; tentative conclusions are broadcast as breathless fact; robust correlations are dismissed; false equivalencies are rampant.

Can an accelerating planetary crisis motivate our news establishment to handle climate change with higher standards of reportorial accuracy and integrity? Far beyond Tuesday’s election, this is the crucial question of our time.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 11, Day 6: Because…Freedom!

The Erie Times-News is one of a number of papers featuring this article about the scientific perspective on our recent FrankenStorm:

WASHINGTON — Climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer stood along the Hudson River and watched his research come to life as Hurricane Sandy blew through New York.

Just eight months earlier, the Princeton University professor reported that what used to be once-in-a-century devastating floods in New York City would soon happen every three to 20 years. He blamed global warming for pushing up sea levels and changing hurricane patterns.

New York “is now highly vulnerable to extreme hurricane-surge flooding,” he wrote.

For more than a dozen years, Oppenheimer and other climate scientists have been warning about the risk for big storms and serious flooding in New York.

Still, they say it’s unfair to blame climate change for Sandy and the destruction it left behind. They cautioned that they cannot yet conclusively link a single storm to global warming, and any connection is not as clear and simple as environmental activists might contend.

It would be a good thing to learn about systemic causation. Sent October 31:

When it comes to climate change and the increasing likelihood of catastrophic storms like Hurricane Sandy, we need a new way of discussing causation. It is absurd to say that global warming “caused” Sandy — but it’s also absurd to say that a particular cigarette “caused” a case of lung cancer. There are direct causes (the baseball that caused your broken window), and there are “systemic” causes, which are no less real for being harder to isolate. The relationship between smoking and lung cancer is one example of systemic causation, as is that between drunk driving and auto accidents, and that between increased atmospheric CO2 and the likelihood of extreme weather.

While precise scientific language won’t allow responsible climatologists to claim direct causation, hardly any doubt that global heating systemically causes events like Hurricane Sandy.

Here’s another example of systemic causation: the relationship between statistical ignorance and climate-change denialism.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 10, Day 23: As Dry As An Elephant’s Sigh…

The San Antonio Express-News notes that there is a developing problem out there in flyover country:

WASHINGTON — Joe Waldman is saying goodbye to corn after yet another hot, dry summer convinced him that rainfall won’t be there when he needs it anymore.

“I finally just said uncle,” said Waldman, 52, surveying his stunted crop about 100 miles north of Dodge City, Kansas.

Instead, he will expand sorghum, which requires less rain; let some fields remain fallow; and restrict corn to irrigated fields.

While farmers nationwide planted the most corn this year since 1937, growers in Kansas sowed the fewest acres in three years, instead turning to less-thirsty crops such as wheat, sorghum and even triticale, a wheat-rye mix popular in Poland.

Meanwhile, corn acreage in Manitoba, a Canadian province about 700 miles north of Kansas, has nearly doubled over the past decade because of weather changes and higher prices.

Shifts such as these reflect a view among food producers that this summer’s drought in the United States, the worst in half a century, isn’t a random disaster. It’s a glimpse of a future altered by climate change that will affect worldwide production.

But we don’t need to do anything, because Al Gore is fat. And besides, FREEDOM! Sent October 16:

Scientists have estimated that for each 1 degree Celsius increase in global temperature, we’ll experience a 10 percent drop in agricultural productivity. International climate conferences have produced position papers and draft agreements predicated on a 2-degree rise, but this number is already looking absurdly low; experts warn that we’re on track for triple that by the end of the century.

Aside from drastically boosting the number of storms and extreme weather events, such a temperature increase will cripple agriculture throughout the world. Are we ready for the food shortages and refugee crises that inevitably follow crop failures? When these geopolitical and environmental pressures collide with the American conservative strategy of politicized ignorance and obstruction, horrifying results are guaranteed.

Deny-and-delay ceases to be effective political strategy when millions of human lives hang in the balance. We must address the climate catastrophe before it forces us into what biologists coyly call an “evolutionary bottleneck.”

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 10, Day 13: Fever!

Charlie Pierce normally writes about politics for Esquire, but he noticed that Hantavirus was showing up in a place it wasn’t expected. You should read the whole piece:

Just to get your weekend off to a happy start, there seems to be an outbreak of the hantavirus in Yosemite, and folks aren’t entirely sure that it will stay there, or that it will be the only little biological horror to visit these shores.

Sent October 6:

The news that climate change has triggered outbreaks of Hantavirus in Yosemite National Park should surprise no one; it is common epidemiological knowledge that a major illness brings minor ones in its wake. The metastasizing greenhouse effect is such an illness, crippling the planetary “immune system” that has allowed both an effulgent biodiversity and a richly complex human civilization to flourish over the past few tens of thousands of years.

Look around carefully and you’ll find similar “sicknesses” at different levels of scale throughout Earth’s interdependent ecologies. Whether it’s acidified oceans, beetle-infested forests, tropical diseases in New England, droughts in Iowa, floods in Pakistan, or methane bubbling from the surface of the Arctic ocean, these manifestations of a grave underlying condition can no longer be denied or ignored.

The widespread rejection of scientific reality in American society is a symptom of another sort, for major illness is often accompanied by cognitive impairment and disorientation. Is not the climate-change denial pervading our media and politics just such a systemic delirium?

Warren Senders