Year 1, Month 1, Day 16: The Gray Lady

The New York Times has a length limit of 150 words; I managed to get it down to 149. Tomorrow I’ll be out most of the day making calls for Coakley at a local phonebank. I hate doing it, but it’s not something I feel a lot of choice about. My voice will be wrecked by the evening…with luck I’ll recover before a full day of teaching on Sunday.

Another of the Times’ stipulations is that letters have to explicitly address an issue discussed in a recent article. Fortunately, a few seconds of searching their site found me a recent piece on the possibilities of post-Copenhagen progress on climate, and I framed my letter around that. It was fun getting it trimmed to fit a 150-word maximum; I’ll try again in another week or so.

If you have suggestions for other journals, papers, magazines or forums I can write to, I will be interested in hearing them!

American climate change negotiator Todd Stern’s is cautiously optimistic (“U.S. Official Says Talks on Emissions Show Promise” – John M. Broder, January 14). Unfortunately his caution is more reality-based than his optimism. Stern’s statements are full of conditionals, as witness the end of the first sentence: “…if countries followed through on its provisions.” The dilemma lies, as do so many of our problems, in the Senate, where a significant number of lawmakers have abandoned any notion of crafting policy around scientific consensus, basing it instead on poll numbers or ideological opposition to the current administration. And because our mass media has for years downplayed the threat posed by global climate change, the public has not grasped the terrifying reality of anthropogenic climaticide for what it is: a planetary emergency of unparalleled scale. Our failure to address this crisis with the requisite urgency may be the final failure of our species.

Warren Senders

Year 1, Month 1, Day 15: Chastising the Washington Post

Daughter announced this morning that she wanted to stay home, and “make up a school at home.” I agreed, with the caveat that she would have to spend a bunch of time alone, as I had work to do and some students later in the morning. In a minute or so I’m going to make some calls for the Coakley campaign. Today’s letter is a remix of several earlier items; I’m now at the point where I have enough material to dissect and reassemble my output in multiple combinations. It’s less work, or it would be if the prose wasn’t on such a harrowing topic.

Each day brings new news about the magnitude of the looming climate crisis; most recently we learn that the Pine Island Glacier, largest of the glaciers making up the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet, has passed a “tipping point” and is now inexorably melting. Simultaneously levels of atmospheric methane over the Siberian Shelf in the Arctic Ocean now range between a hundred and a thousand times normal, indicating that gigatonnes of this powerful greenhouse gas which have been frozen under the tundra for tens of thousands of years are now starting to enter the atmosphere. The most significant thing about the predictions of climatologists is that they are without exception too conservative; tipping points projected for the end of this century now loom at the end of this decade.

The best-case scenarios for runaway global warming lead to terrifying dystopias, with millions of displaced climate refugees, worldwide food and water shortages, resource wars and devastatingly unpredictable weather patterns. The worst-case scenarios could lead to global temperatures soaring to levels inhospitable to any life at all. Venus, in short. And the scientific evidence (again, based on conservative projections) suggests that the probability of bad-to-worst-case outcomes is statistically significant. This country’s rush to war in 2002 was based on evidence far less robust than that for human causes of global climate change: if the evidence of Iraqi WMD’s was as strong as that for anthropogenic global warming, our troops would have found stacks of nuclear weapons freely sold in the bazaars of Baghdad.

And where is the Washington Post in all this? Firmly ignoring science and continuing to publish the glib (albeit erudite) misinformation propagated by George Will. The Post should correct this shortsighted policy immediately; there has never been a time in human history when enabling ignorance could have such devastating consequences.

Warren Senders

Year 1, Month 1, Day 14: Ed Markey Hears From Me Again

Last night I was doing bookkeeping for 2009, so I didn’t write anything. This morning I’m strapped for time, so this letter came out kind of blunt. I also included some footnotes for the first time. This was prompted by the scariest thing I have ever read, over at Daily Kos.

January 14, 2010

Dear Representative Markey,

Thank you for your work in the area of climate change and environmental protection. As we are now discovering, the predictions of climate scientists have been profoundly erroneous. Without exception, climatologists’ projections of the rate and severity of climate change are turning out to be too timid. The world is heating up faster than they expected. Much faster. Much, much faster.

The latest news reveals that we face what is surely the most pressing existential crisis in humanity’s history. The recent discovery of atmospheric methane levels over the Arctic ocean ranging between a hundred and a thousand times normal is a terrifying augury of things to come (see below). Once the gigatonnes of frozen methane locked in the tundra begin to melt, climatic tipping points are going to arrive faster and faster, and the best-case scenarios will look like dystopian nightmares. The worst-case scenarios can be summed up in one word: Venus.

Unless we can learn to set aside international and intra-national differences of opinion and personality conflicts, the outlook for coming generations is dire. Your leadership is needed now more than ever.

Thank you again for your efforts in this field.

Yours sincerely,

Warren Senders

1. “Scientists have uncovered what appears to be a further dramatic increase in the leakage of methane gas that is seeping from the Arctic seabed.”


2. “Fairbanks, Alaska—A team led by International Arctic Research Center scientist Igor Semiletov has found data to suggest that the carbon pool beneath the Arctic Ocean is leaking.

The results of more than 1,000 measurements of dissolved methane in the surface water from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf this summer as part of the International Siberian Shelf Study show an increased level of methane in the area. Geophysical measurements showed methane bubbles coming out of chimneys on the seafloor.”


Year 1, Month 1, Day 12: NPR Hears From Me

Driving home today, I switched back and forth between NPR and the Thom Hartmann show on Boston’s progressive AM station (for which FSM be thanked!). NPR News ran a story on freezing weather in Florida, focusing on the damage citrus groves were taking from ice and snow, and mentioning that virtually the entire tropical fish supply of North America was jeapordized by the extreme cold (I never thought about thousands upon thousands of goldfish being raised in outdoor tanks in Florida, for sale to households across the nation, but there you are).

Naturally, the NPR announcers didn’t say a thing about the role that global climate change has in freak weather events like this. So after I finished teaching this evening, I went to the NPR ombudsperson’s page and submitted the following:

Fruit Freezes in Florida…

… and I heard the story on NPR News this evening.

While I found the story of potentially frozen citrus groves and iced tropical fish farms interesting, I was saddened (although not surprised, alas) that NPR did not do analysis of this story in light of the unfolding crisis of global climate change. A story like this one is a perfect vehicle to illuminate the fact that increased temperatures in some parts of the world can trigger freak weather (including unreasonable and unseasonable cold) in others.

Polls have shown that a significant proportion of Americans don’t believe that global warming is happening at all, or don’t believe that it is due to human agency. The current spell of extreme cold will inevitably trigger more statements along the lines of, “Global warming? Ha! Ha! Can’t you see it’s snowing outside!”

It is the responsibility of a news organization to help its audience figure out what the news means. The story of frozen fruit and fish in the American South would have been a perfect opportunity for NPR to do exactly that: teach its listeners a little bit about the difference between weather and climate, and why a warming planet can cause icicles in orange groves.

The future of the human species hangs on developing our ability to make sense of phenomena outside our accustomed scales of time and magnitude. The climate crisis is a perfect example; it is increasingly likely that our distractability and ignorance will prevent our taking meaningful action until it is too late to make a difference.

By failing to see this story for what it really is, NPR is enabling those who seek to deny the reality of our ongoing climaticide.

Warren Senders

If any of you happen to hear them reading this on the air, please let me know!

Year 1, Month 1, Day 11: To The Cambridge Chronicle

It’s just after midnight, and I’ve got a busy day tomorrow. So I composed this one before going to bed. I think I’ll try and make this a part of the routine as my schedule starts to get crazier in the coming weeks.

How easy it is for us human beings to fool ourselves! Because it’s cold in Massachusetts, we conclude that “there’s no such thing as global warming.” Tell that to residents of Bulgaria, and to Puerto Ricans, who’ve both had record high temperatures. Tell that to people in Greenland, where the thermometer is hovering at around fifty degrees Farenheit. In January. The fact that large parts of the Northern United States are experiencing freezing temperatures only serves to demonstrate that local weather isn’t the same as climate. But we, steeped in American exceptionalism, cannot imagine that the story of the Earth’s climate isn’t a Story About Us. And, steeped in the false notion that an economic model based on unending consumption is somehow good for the world, we cannot imagine making the sacrifices necessary for the survival of the planet.

It is a tragedy in the making, aided and abetted by a thrill-seeking, ignorance-abetting media more focused on celebrity scandals and “he-said, she-said” stenography than the urgent planetary need for accurate information and analysis. It is a tragedy of selfishness and shortsightedness, enabled by politicians who play rhetorical games with one another while gigatons of Arctic methane begin to thaw under the tundra. Yes, it’s cold in Massachusetts. But it’s getting hotter and hotter here on Earth.

Warren Senders

Have you written a letter today?

Year 1, Month 1, Day 10: To a Local Paper

Very tired; very spaced out. Wife & kid were on their way out to a dance class and the car battery died, so this one was composed in the short interval between scrambling around with jumper cables and the arrival of a student.

Anyway, it went off to the Arlington Advocate, a local newspaper. We’ll see.

UPDATE: They’ll only publish letters from Arlington residents or businesspeople. So I’ll send it along to the Boston Globe this evening.

Polls suggest that a significant proportion of the American people “don’t believe in global warming.” This represents a tragic failure in education and a tragic failure in communication. In the wake of Sputnik, science education in America became a national priority and we collectively accomplished wonders; in the wake of Reagan and the rise of the evangelical movement, science has been downgraded and degraded, and we collectively remain oblivious to a looming disaster. Our inability to understand the scary facts of global climate change is also a failure of imagination: surrounded by exhortations to “live for the moment” and reminded daily that “it’s all about YOU,” Americans cannot conceive of a multi-decade interval between cause and effect, cannot imagine that the tragedy of climaticide will affect them in any way. Our politics, our media, our educational system and our economic system are all contributors; this is a perfect example of a systemic problem.

Unfortunately, we are running out of time. The failure to achieve a meaningful climate treaty in Copenhagen and the unwillingness of science-ignorant senators to act on climate-change legislation may be the precursor to a “perfect storm” of devastating magnitude.

Warren Senders

Year 1, Month 1, Day 9: Happy birthday!

She got up this morning and opened presents; this afternoon we’re having a party for the five-year-old birthday girl. Mid-morning she had a swim class, and while she was splashing around, I wrote a fax to the White House:

Dear President Obama,

Congratulations on nearing the end of your first year in office. I hope that among your accomplishments you can also recognize the extraordinary degree to which your political opposition has dedicated itself to frustrating and hindering your political and legislative agenda. You have bent over backwards to accommodate the Republicans, and over and over your readiness to accommodate has been treated as a weakness, leading to a dilution of your policy initiatives.

In the long run, the looming climate crisis is without doubt the single most important problem that you (or any leader) will be called upon to address. It is imperative that you use your communication skills to educate the public on this subject; there is no time left for us, for our culture and civilization, for the web of biodiversity upon which all planetary life depends. I beg of you, sir, to publicly acknowledge the importance of Dr. James Hansen’s work — and to vigorously promote the absolute necessity for America to lead the world in the reduction of atmospheric CO2 to 350 parts per million.

Time is running out, and the Republican strategy appears to be, simply, to wait for the Rapture. We can’t afford inaction.

Thank you,

Warren Senders

Have you contacted your President today?

Year 1, Month 1, Day 8: To the Local Murdoch

The Boston Herald is the paper equivalent of FOX News here in Boston. They’re owned by Murdoch, and they’re about as likely to print my letter as they are to endorse a Bernie Sanders presidential campaign (on the other hand, they’ve done some good arts coverage in the past; I have some nice clips from the Herald back in the day). I wasn’t feeling particularly inspired this morning, but I thought a few 9/11 references might up the sensationalist content of my letter. Perhaps that will, er, stimulate them.

The evidence indicating human causes for global climate change is overwhelming and points to a rapidly approaching crisis of unimaginable magnitude. Our media choose instead to ignore or ridicule mountains of scientific research, instead highlighting one or two oil-funded denialists who argue to the contrary. Let’s put it in perspective. Remember the build-up to the Iraq war? Our print and broadcast media became cheerleaders for the Bush administration’s preemptive attack on another nation, an attack predicated on the flimsiest of evidence. If the evidence for Iraqi WMDs had been as strong as the evidence for human causes of climate change, we would have found piles of nuclear warheads on every street corner.

Or, to put it another way: the media’s dismissal of decades of validated research is painfully reminiscent of a chief executive who received a Presidential Daily Briefing in August of 2001 headed “Bin Laden Determined to Attack in US”; a president who responded to urgent warnings from intelligence officials by saying, “There, now you’ve covered your ass.” The eagerness of our news establishment to downplay the most urgent threat our civilization has ever faced in favor of celebrity scandals and fashionable irrelevancies is just another version of “Now watch this drive.”

Warren Senders

Go ahead. Write to your local Murdoch fishwrap. Use small words.

Year 1, Month 1, Day 7: Boston Globe

Sent this morning to the Boston Globe. In keeping with the doctrine of recycling, if they don’t print it, I’ll send it to some other papers in the next couple of days.

The writer Brian Aldiss defines civilization as “the distance man has placed between himself and his excreta.” Our civilization has done a wonderful job of distancing us from our waste in general, as witness the fact that while the world’s largest landfill contains millions of tons of plastic trash and occupies an area as large or larger as the continental United States, it’s smack in the middle of the Pacific ocean, out of sight and out of mind. Similarly, our emissions of carbon dioxide (even as they reside in our atmosphere, all around us) are kept at a great mental distance; it’s much easier to think about Tiger Woods’ marital problems and the latest episode of a popular television program than it is to confront our own waste and wastefulness. Emerson said that the human race will “eventually die of civilization.” The ever-increasing likelihood of catastrophic global climate change makes the Sage of Concord’s words ring all too true.

A properly functioning print and broadcast media would be educating the public about these issues, making a clear distinction between scientific truth and irresponsible denialism. Instead we are treated to a never-ending parade of distractions and irrelevancies, while the world’s ecosystems crumble and the possibility of a happy and sustainable life for future generations grows ever dimmer.

Warren Senders

Have you written to your local branch of the Corporate Media today? You should. It will give you a few fleeting seconds of satisfaction.

Year 1, Month 1, Day 6: A Fax to Ed Markey

I woke up ahead of the alarm this morning, with thoughts of Arctic methane bubbling in my head. The notion of planetary life being extinguished by a massive global fart banished sleep entirely. (Warning: if you wish to retain peace of mind, do not click on that link.)

After I dropped my daughter off at preschool I came home and started to write a note to my Representative, Ed Markey. Here’s what scrolled through his fax machine this morning:

Dear Congressman Markey,

I live down the street from your Medford Square office; a few days ago my daughter and I walked past, and I pointed out your name on the window. “That’s Mr. Markey’s office,” I told her, “he’s a good man and he works to help people and the planet. She nodded her not-quite-five-year-old head solemnly, and resumed her happy chatter a moment later.

And yes, I do want to thank you for your leadership on the critical issue of global climate change. But it is a sad commentary on the state of American public discourse that the most visible political leadership on the most crucial issue facing our country and our planet is building arguments based on science that is over a decade out of date. Waxman-Markey, if I understand it correctly, would aim to stabilize atmospheric CO2 at 450 ppm; as I’m sure you’re aware, the current scientific consensus is that the absolute maximum target needs to be 350 ppm. Furthermore, I have waited in vain for you, or any elected representative, to address the grave threats posed by the impending melt of megatons of arctic methane due to higher temperatures — and the terrifying consequences of ocean acidification. Is confronting scientific truth more than We The People can deal with? I hope not.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Washington, DC office: 202-226-0092
Medford, MA office: 781-396-3220
Framingham, MA office: 508-370-8165

I’ll put the fax in an envelope and mail it to the DC office later today. I tried to email the damn thing, but Markey’s email form just gave me a 404 error. Grumble, grumble.