Year 3, Month 2, Day 5: It’s All About The Benjamins

The Bangor Daily News’ Dana Wilde talks about why Climate Change is real:

Several readers, with helpful intentions I’m sure, reassured me earlier this month with a few pats on the head that climate change, if it’s even happening, is a natural occurrence that’s nothing to do with us and moreover, to jog me out of naivete, that global warming is a hoax. Don’t worry, be happy, we were sagely advised in the 1980s.

Here are some of the points I’ve heard that are meant to reassure me there’s no need to worry about climate change or global warming:

• It still gets cold in winter.

• Earth’s climate has always changed and always will change.

• Global warming is just a theory.

• There is no proof the exhaust from my car hurts anything.

• Scientists are often wrong.

• Scientists fake climate research findings.

• Global warming is not mentioned in the Bible.

• There was no Y2K disaster.

The problem I have with these arguments is that I believe in the existence of computers, cellphones, penicillin, bone marrow transplants and internal combustion engines. I also believe in photosynthesis, DNA, infrared light, blood types, viruses, the theory of relativity and the vibration A440, even though I have never seen any of these actual items or processes with my eyes.

What I mean by this is that the same method of study — namely, what we call “the scientific method” — led to microchips, life-saving chemistry, instant communication and so on. So that method has a certain high reliability. It has been applied to Earth’s climate, and so the findings of climatologists are very likely to be in the same range of reliability.

Now, if the climatologists were disagreeing about the findings, then we would have a situation where the research was incomplete, the matter was not fully understood and global warming would be “just a theory.” In other words, the scientists would not yet be sure whether the proposed explanation was completely accurate to reality or not. Scientists are often wrong about their theories. That’s why they keep compiling, analyzing and checking data until they agree on an accurate explanation.

It’s a good piece. And the comments are mostly full of stupid (don’t these trolls have anything better to do? Or would they all fail Turing tests?). I felt the time was ripe for an OWS-style letter. Sent January 30:

Cui bono? Once conservative media outlets and their allies in politics ginned up a “controversy” about the causes and severity of global climate change, it is appropriate to ask: who benefits from increased support of climate science? And, conversely, who benefits from delay and obfuscation?

On the one hand, climatologists in small teams, angling for (at most) a few million dollars to carry out complex research projects. On the other hand, companies like Exxon, which reported profits of 10.6 billion in the first quarter of 2011 — over two thousand times more than a five-million dollar grant for a typical climate study carried out over several years. Rex Tillerson, Exxon’s CEO, received twenty-nine million dollars last year, over three hundred times the average salary of a climate scientist.

Big oil’s obscene profits won’t survive once America changes its energy economy. No wonder they want to confuse the subject as much as possible.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 1, Day 19: The Problem Is Not The Problem

The Oregon Bend Bulletin runs a McClatchy story noting that our virtuous and responsive private sector is getting into the act:

UNITED NATIONS — In the language of the 450 large institutional investors meeting at a conference here Thursday, climate change is a risk to avoid and also an opportunity to make a good return on investments.

The investors, who control more than $20 trillion worldwide, are looking at climate change from a business perspective even as Washington steers clear of the issue. Clean energy investments worldwide grew 5 percent in 2011 over 2010, despite financial turmoil in Europe and a wobbly economy in the U.S., according to a report released at the conference.

“I think the key message is that the narrative is changing. The private sector is taking the lead in addressing climate change,” said Mindy Lubber, the president of the investor and environmental coalition Ceres, one of the conference sponsors.

“This is a premier issue that’s being followed like a laser by the financial community.”

Global clean-energy investments reached $260 billion in 2011, some five times more than the $50 billion in 2005, according to a Bloomberg New Energy Finance report. The analysis looks at renewable energy, energy-efficiency technology and biofuels, but doesn’t include natural gas or nuclear power in its assessment.

While this isn’t bad news, it isn’t necessarily good news either. Sent January 13 (a good day for letter-writing — this one brings me 6 days ahead!):

Given the pathetic failure of the industrialized world’s governments to address the climate crisis with anything approaching the requisite urgency, the news that leaders in the private sector perceive opportunities in climate mitigation and adaptation is welcome. But it would be disingenuous to simply frame the complex consequences of a runaway greenhouse effect as an economic “opportunity.” That’s uncomfortably like, say, framing lung cancer as a “sales opening for electronic cigarettes.”

One of the drivers of global climate change is an economic model predicated on the need for continuous growth — a model shared by most if not all of the world’s governments, and patently a leftover from the days when the resources of Earth seemed infinitely exploitable. Those days are gone; it is all too obvious that we live on a finite planet. While the engagement of the corporate sector in fighting this slow-motion catastrophe is certainly welcome, it won’t mean much absent an economic philosophy which values sustainability more than profit.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 6, Day 14: Headache.

Feeling dire today, a not-uncommon state of affairs, but one exacerbated by this report on Oxfam’s analysis of the world food system, here written up in the Independent (UK):

Millions more people across the world will be locked into a cycle of hunger and food crisis unless governments tackle a “broken” production system which is being exploited by speculators and will cause a doubling in basic foodstuff prices in the next 20 years, a leading aid agency has warned.

Research by Oxfam has highlighted a combination of factors, ranging from climate change and population growth to subsidies for biofuels and the actions of commodities traders, which will throw development in poor countries into reverse unless radical reform of the global food system is undertaken.

Radical reform? How likely is that to happen, absent 5 billion people with torches and pitchforks?

I need an Advil.

Sent May 31:

The alarms are going off everywhere. Oxfam’s prediction of doubled food prices in a few decades is based on analyses that are almost certainly too conservative. The available data on climate change are changing alarmingly fast; in every case predictions are outstripped by the horrifying realities of positive feedback loops on a planetary scale. If our world food system is falling to pieces now, just imagine what it’ll be like in twenty or thirty years, when wildly irregular weather fluctuations are wreaking continual havoc with agricultural economies all over the planet. It’s not a pretty picture, but it’s one that most of the developed world’s politicians seem determined to ignore. Short-term thinking has brought us to the brink of disaster; now is the time when our species must learn to think in the long term — not just decades, but centuries and millennia. Humanity’s survival hangs in the balance.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 4, Day 17: Little Bee Sucks The Blossom, Big Bee Gets The Honey

The Khaleej Times (UAE) notes, unsurprisingly, that rich and poor countries seem to have a different set of priorities when it comes to dealing with the issues surrounding climate change.

Sent April 8:

The inequality between rich and poor is indeed a profound complicating factor in the global struggle against climate change. None of the world’s poorer nations wish to abandon the dreams of economic growth; the richest fear that their own comforts and conveniences will be undermined by measures to mitigate the threats of atmospheric warming. But these arguments are misleading. The “wealth” of developed nations is largely a function of the ready availability and relative cheapness of fossil fuels, and both of these qualities are illusory. As oil becomes harder and harder to extract, it will be both rarer and more costly; as we confront the costs of putting a century’s worth of burning carbon into the atmosphere, it’ll become self-evident that oil and coal are very expensive indeed — and that aspiring to the high-consumption lifestyles of the developed nations is like envying a drunkard’s delusions of grandeur and omnipotence.

Warren Senders

Month 7, Day 4: Independence From What?

The Boston Herald ran an AP story noting that there was no increase in CO2 emissions in 2009, due to the worldwide economic slowdown. Well, that certainly links the good news and the bad news in an arresting way.

If increased greenhouse gas pollution is correlated with economic growth, there are two ways to interpret the news that worldwide recession has held atmospheric CO2 emissions steady for the first time since 1992. Either global warming is a welcome indicator of financial well-being, or our growth-fixated economy is literally killing the planet. Growth has its place. Rapid doubling of weight is healthy — if you’re a baby. For an adult? Not so much. With over six billion people living on a finite world, we need a new way of economic thinking that doesn’t require constant expansion to survive. “Growth for the sake of growth” brought us the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico; gutted our national economy to line the pockets of wealthy speculators; increased global warming emissions without thought to the consequences. It’s an economic idea that is actually destroying the place we live! For all our sakes, we’d better find another way.

Warren Senders

The Corporatocracy cannot save itself or us.

It really looks as if the only way we can save a recognizable planet is to create an unrecognizable economy:

…the problem of climate change legislation is economic as well as being political. We will discover a world order governed by an ideology called neoliberalism, in which a great surplus of capital, evident in the 1970s but having grown each decade since then, makes government into neoliberal government, government as a conduit for investor profits.

Neoliberal government, government under the conditions of dollar hegemony, global governance, the WTO, and so on, as have been increasingly applicable since the 1970s, is responsible mainly to the global neoliberal economy. If they hope to attract any business in their countries, governments around the world must provide an “appropriate business climate,” which in practical terms means they must cater to the profits system, the system which has produced 793 billionaires for our globe amidst a bottom half of humanity which lives off of less than $2.50/day. Thus the dramatic privatizations which have taken place over the last three decades around the world.


If we are to grant the human race the freedom to think about devoting lifetimes to stewardship of Earth’s ecosystems, we will have to grant the human race a prior freedom FROM economic need. This means a rededication to the problems of food, clothing, and shelter, the problems of FUNDAMENTAL economic need (you know, nobody really needs a Mercedes) in light of the great initial retrenchment in resources which will go along with an international agreement to phase out the production of fossil fuels.

If we can’t agree upon an economy which provides everyone with the fundamentals, an economy of basic human rights, then what we’re likely to get are a bunch of last-minute, slapdash measures, committed in the expected panic of massive weather disruption and failing annual crops, which will hurt an awful lot of people. Imagine a carbon tax so onerous as to make air conditioning unaffordable in 110 degree (Fahrenheit) heat, or water restrictions which make it unaffordable for people to grow their own food under conditions of skyrocketing food prices. (Remember, most of the continental American west will be altered by the melting of the icepack atop the Sierras and Rockies, with the consequent drying up of water resources for Los Angeles, Phoenix, Las Vegas, and so on.)

There’s not much “on the other hand” that anyone can point to. But I think that an economy which reflected economic justice to the peoples of this world would probably rely a whole lot more on barter, and would be profoundly local. Right now, those of us who “own” our houses probably send those mortgage payments to corporate offices in some other state; our bills are paid by and to banks in Delaware or South Dakota or some other damn place; our salad greens come from California, our tasty Clementines from Spain.

If survival of the species depends on reinventing our economic systems, creating a way to live that’s better than what we’ve already tried…can we do it?