Year 4, Month 12, Day 25: Stop Making My Head Hurt.

Oh, for fuck’s sake. The LA Times:

WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency plans to substantially reduce inspections and civil enforcement cases against industry over the next five years, arguing that focusing on the biggest polluters would be the most effective way to clean up air and water.

In a draft strategic plan, the EPA proposes to cut federal inspections by one-third from the 20,000 inspections it conducted in the last fiscal year, ended Sept. 30.

Moreover, it plans to initiate about 2,320 civil enforcement cases a year, compared with the 3,000 cases initiated last fiscal year, a 23% reduction.

The EPA said the shift for fiscal years 2014 to 2018 is not a retreat from enforcement but a more effective allocation of resources.

“From our work on the biggest enforcement cases, such as the BP Deepwater Horizon spill, to aggressively pursuing smaller cases that can reduce harmful health impacts and have the greatest environmental benefit, our enforcement work will continue to save lives and protect our environment,” said Alisha Johnson, an agency spokeswoman.

Representatives from industry organizations that frequently criticize the EPA, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Mining Assn., had no comment on the proposed changes.

Well, they wouldn’t, would they? Sheesh. December 11:

It’s hard to find a positive spin on the news that the EPA will be cutting back on its inspections of climate polluters. “More efficient use of resources” is pretty weak tea, at a time when the urgency of the climate crisis is no longer disputed by any reasonable person. What we need is more inspections, not fewer. What we need is more funding for the EPA, and policies in place that will enable the Agency to actually fulfill its mandate to protect our environment.

The history of medicine has shown over and over that intelligent early diagnosis saves both money and lives, and this is equally true for the planet’s health. Environmental inspections are essential for tracking pollution output, and are necessary both for predicting future outcomes and mitigating their impacts on society. Such superficially plausible thrift is a virtual guarantee of far costlier outcomes in the coming years.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 12, Day 22: If Looks Could Kill It Would Have Been Us Instead Of Him

Say what you will about Maine’s Governore Paul LePage, he’s a boon to opinion columnists looking for something to mock and deplore. The Bangor Daily News:

I do agree with Gov. Paul LePage on one thing.

It is difficult to keep up with the latest official title of what is basically the warming of our planet.

In this week’s story about LePage offering up the sunny side of this well-established yet heavily disputed and debated phenomenon, he was quoted as telling an audience, “It used to be global warming, I think they call it climate change now, but there are a lot of opportunities developing.”

Actually, further up in the story, BDN reporter Mario Moretto referred to it as “global climate change” and further down a Sierra Club spokesperson called it “global climate disruption.”

Since the governor has pretty much denied its existence or at least any human involvement in it, we probably should let him ease into the idea before expecting him to latch onto the term “global climate disruption.”

Whatever you want to call it, what I know is that there will be no delicate, luxurious Maine shrimp on my table this winter … and that makes me sad.

A totally different tack from yesterday’s letter in response to the same idiocy. December 9:

Now that outright denial of climate change is all but impossible, we can expect conservative politicians and media figures to begin proclaiming that a catastrophically intensifying greenhouse effect is actually a good thing. Cue Governor LePage, who recently suggested that a melted Arctic would be economically beneficial.

And indeed, metastasizing global warming is certainly going to be a job creator. Since complicated lawsuits will multiply, environmental law specialists will be in demand everywhere. Think of all the disaster response experts required to cope with the increasing numbers of severe and devastating storms! Think of the extra training doctors will need as invasive tropical diseases become commonplace, and the oncologists, pharmacists, and funeral directors who’ll be working overtime in the long-term aftermath of the toxic spills inevitably accompanying the extraction and transport of fossil fuels.

Of course, some jobs will disappear, like those of Atlantic fishermen. The Governor sends his regrets.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 12, Day 21: Crying All The Way To The Bank

The Portland Press-Herald’s Bill Nemitz has some words for Maine’s Governor LePage:

Ahoy, Governor LePage!

Not sure if you can hear me over the wind and the waves, but I can’t let another day pass without congratulating you on that epiphany you had last week before a crowd of transportation industry types:

You finally believe in global warming!

What’s more, now that you’re an ocean-is-more-than-half-full kind of guy, you’ve gone from denying that the Earth’s climate is rapidly changing to embracing it as the second coming for Maine’s frozen economy.

“Everybody looks at the negative effects of global warming, but with the ice melting, the Northern Pass has opened up – the new sea traffic is going across the north,” you told the Maine Transportation Conference on Wednesday. “So maybe, instead of being at the end of the pipeline, we’re now at the beginning of a new pipeline.”

No argument there, Big Guy. The more those Arctic waters stay open, the more Maine’s deep-water ports stand to benefit as jumping-off points for an endless parade of not-so-slow boats to China.

Well spoken, sir. December 8:

Now that denying the existence of a planetary environmental crisis is no longer viable, expect the talking heads of our media and political environment to start asserting that we must “balance” climate change mitigation with economic expansion, a stance which has the advantage of being temporarily plausible until we remember that infinite growth is impossible on a finite surface.

By asserting the fiscal returns to be expected from a melted Arctic, Governor LePage goes a step further, embracing a global catastrophe as a potential profit center. Which is, quite simply, insane.

Remember the old saw, “health is our greatest wealth?” The Earth’s health is the foundation of all human prosperity, and our planet’s resources (water, food, the environment’s ability to process our wastes) are limited. Impressive quarterly returns won’t protect our grandchildren from rising sea levels, agricultural collapses, oceanic acidification, and the other consequences of an accelerating greenhouse effect.

Warren Senders


Year 4, Month 12, Day 13: Run To The Rock For Rescue, There Will Be No Rock

The New York Daily News, on the future of our various forms of sublimated combat:

Hockey fans frustrated with the Rangers, Islanders or Devils might find solace in this vision: their players just disappearing, swallowed by ice rinks turned to pools of water.

As Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler used to ask on “Saturday Night Live,” “Really?”

The prospect is broached by a group making a rare foray into public policy: the National Hockey League, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, National Football League and U.S. Olympic Committee.

On the same day Senate Democrats executed the so-called “nuclear option,” the sports folks were meeting under the Capitol with a House-Senate task force on climate change.

The talk was not of the usual business of preserving antitrust exemptions or fending off calls for better drug testing or safer play.

It was the impact of climate change, which they all concede, on the future of their sports.

Without casting their lot with many specific Obams administration policies, the traditionally cautious and risk-averse assemblage conceded the need to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

“These are great American businesses, great American cultural institutions and there being here means a great deal,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), a sharp former federal prosecutor and son of a career diplomat who’s made 51 Senate floor speeches on climate change.

He rightly rails against climate-change deniers and “phony-baloney organizations designed to look and sound like they’re real,” as well as scientists on corporate payrolls “whom polluters can trot out when they need them.”

What was fascinating is that he was not surrounded by tree-hugging true believers, but top officials from sports leagues mindful of the diverse politics of their fans, and not big on wading into contentious areas.

I don’t care about any sports other than Quidditch and 43-man Squamish, but this was just too tempting to ignore. December 1:

Even leaving aside the questions of carbon footprint, fossil-fuel consumption, and the like, the long-term viability of American professional sports is closely tied to our national handling of climate change. Why? Put simply, our national pastimes are a function of our prosperity; the resources of cash, infrastructure and time not earmarked for our immediate survival needs. When long-term sustained drought cripples corn and wheat production, food prices will climb; when extreme storms devastate coastal regions, athletic stadiums will find more immediate utility as emergency housing for thousands of suddenly homeless families.

And, of course, when the continuity of our lives is increasingly disrupted by the countless small impacts of a transforming climate, we’re going to have less time and energy for all the things we’ve taken for granted that make our lives rich and enjoyable.

Climate change’s implications will be felt everywhere in our cultural life from baseball to ballet.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 12, Day 3: Because I Said So, That’s Why.

Wanna know who they are? Here ya go:

WASHINGTON — Just 90 companies worldwide produced fuels that generated two-thirds of industrial greenhouse gas emissions from 1854 to 2010, according to a new study.

The 90 biggest producers of fuels driving climate change include investor-owned corporations, such as Exxon Mobil and Chevron, and state-owned oil companies, such as Saudi Aramco and Mexico’s Pemex.

The study attributes 914 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases to the fuels extracted by the companies, which is 63% of the total 1,450 billion metric tons of emissions estimated since the mid-19th century.

The study, published in the journal Climatic Change, also found that of the 914 billion metric tons, half was pumped into the atmosphere since 1986, a result of the rapid industrialization of the developing world. The journal focuses on the causes and implications of climactic change.

“This is the most complete picture we have of which institutions extracted coal, oil and natural gas and when,” said Richard Heede, the study’s author and head of the Climate Accountability Institute, a small research group in Snowmass, Colo.

“These are the companies and institutions that have created the products — used as intended — by billions of consumers that have led to persistently higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane,” Heede said.

Disgusting. November 22:

The folksinger and “hobo philosopher” Utah Phillips once remarked, “The Earth is not dying, it is being killed, and those who are killing it have names and addresses.” Indeed. And the new study just published in Climatic Change provides us for the first time with specifics about the corporate entities which have done the most damage to Earth’s environmental stability. Even a few moments’ analysis confirms that these same corporations routinely use their enormous financial power to exacerbate the paralysis of our political system in the face of the extraordinary threat posed by climate change.

Our economic system allows these firms to reap huge profits from the sales of fossil fuels, while providing them with no reason to act responsibly toward the long-term survival and prosperity of our species and our planet. In this post-Citizens-United world, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that these particular “corporate persons” are conscienceless sociopaths.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 11, Day 28: God Loves Poor People, Huh?

The New York Times addresses the festering rhinoceros in the room: the economic inequities that are exacerbated by climate change:

WARSAW — Following a devastating typhoon that killed thousands in the Philippines, a routine international climate change conference here turned into an emotional forum, with developing countries demanding compensation from the worst polluting countries for damage they say they are already suffering.

Calling the climate crisis “madness,” the Philippines representative vowed to fast for the duration of the talks. Malia Talakai, a negotiator for the Alliance of Small Island States, a group that includes her tiny South Pacific homeland, Nauru, said that without urgent action to stem rising sea levels, “some of our members won’t be around.”

From the time a scientific consensus emerged that human activity was changing the climate, it has been understood that the nations that contributed least to the problem would be hurt the most. Now, even as the possible consequences of climate change have surged — from the typhoons that have raked the Philippines and India this year to the droughts in Africa, to rising sea levels that threaten to submerge entire island nations — no consensus has emerged over how to rectify what many call “climate injustice.”

Makes me wanna holler — hold up both my hands…November 17:

Global warning’s cruel irony is that the greenhouse emissions triggering the crisis are an unanticipated consequence of industrial and technological changes which have benefited the world’s most privileged, while it is the economically and politically disenfranchised billions who have already begun to feel the consequences, losing their lands, their hopes, and their lives.

In comparison to that of the developed nations, the carbon output of the Philippines is statistically insignificant, yet its citizens are now facing massive devastation from a tropical storm of unprecedented magnitude — just the sort of extreme weather event which climatologists have been predicting for years as a consequence of the intensifying greenhouse effect.

Unlike earlier genocides carried out under the aegis of economic expansion and colonialism, climate change’s impact on the world’s poorest people wasn’t planned. But this does not absolve the developed world of responsibility for the havoc wreaked and the damage wrought.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 11, Day 6: One Of These Things…Is Not Like The Other

The Rapid City Journal (SD) runs an AP article about pension-fund managers and their fraught relationship with fossil fuel companies:

PITTSBURGH | Some of the largest pension funds in the U.S. and the world are worried that major fossil fuel companies may not be as profitable in the future because of efforts to limit climate change, and they want details on how the firms will manage a long-term shift to cleaner energy sources.

In a statement released Thursday, leaders of 70 funds said they’re asking 45 of the world’s top oil, gas, coal and electric power companies to do detailed assessments of how efforts to control climate change could impact their businesses.

“Institutional investors must think over the long term, which means that we must take environmental risks into consideration when we make investments,” New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli told The Associated Press in a statement. The state’s Common Retirement Fund manages almost $161 billion of investments.

Fossil fuels currently provide about 80 percent of all the energy used in the world. The pension funds say that because it takes decades to recoup the huge investments required for fossil fuel exploration, there’s a significant chance that future regulations will limit production or impose expensive pollution-control requirements that would reduce the fuels’ profitability.

La la la la la la la la. October 27:

It is a very subtle irony that pension fund managers are now trying to factor in the impacts of climate change on the investments under their supervision, particularly those in fossil-fuel corporations. We adults are fond of telling our children to plan ahead, to invest, to think responsibly — but has there ever been a more disastrous lack of forethought than that exemplified by oil and coal industries in their drive to burn every bit of fossilized carbon the planet can hold in a geological eyeblink, to power a complex and wasteful consumer society?

Pensions, or course, are collective attempts to prepare for future financial shortfalls — institutionalized versions of “saving it for a rainy day.” If humanity is to grow old as a species, we need to take our own advice. Planning for our posterity and thinking responsibly about the future cannot be done while investing in fossil fuels.

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 16: For Seven Long Years I’ve Been A Rover

The Anchorage Daily News says that Alaska is ground zero, the “world’s laboratory for climate change”:

When Jerry Otto started hunting for Alaska oil in 1980, his tractor-trailers barreled along ice roads that were up to 10 feet thick for 180 days every year.

Last winter, when he set out to drill for Australia’s Linc Energy, regulators opened the roads for 126 days. The rest of the time, warm weather left the routes too mushy for vehicles, according to Bloomberg Markets magazine.

Then, in January, in a twist that embodies the perplexing reality of life and commerce amid a changing global climate, the temperature dropped suddenly to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit, encasing drilling rig components in ice as Otto waited for roads to solidify to ship the gear to Linc sites.

After thawing the equipment with blowtorches, he discovered that the cold was reducing oil flowing into Linc’s well. With 200 workers standing by, the company lost $300,000 a day with each delay, ending 2012 with a $61 million deficit.

Otto plans to try again in December, this time drilling sideways into a hill to get underneath 1,000 feet of permafrost and up into reservoirs he says hold 1.2 billion barrels of light, sweet crude.

“It’s getting more unpredictable,” said Otto, 59, who runs Linc’s drilling rig in Umiat, 80 miles south of the Arctic Ocean, which is within the National Petroleum Reserve that President Warren G. Harding created in 1923 to guarantee oil for the Navy.

Try looking at it from an interstellar alien’s perspective! October 7:

While its Arctic location indeed makes Alaska a “laboratory” where our transforming climate’s effects can be witnessed first-hand, industrial civilization’s experiment on Earth’s atmosphere has consequences everywhere around the planet. Alaska’s melting permafrost may be a vivid demonstration of the higher temperatures triggered by increased atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, but climate change is equally tangible for Pakistani farmers losing their lands to torrential flooding, African villagers facing devastating drought, or island nations confronting the reality that their entire existence may be ended by rapidly rising sea levels.

Earth’s oil and coal was built up in the Carboniferous Era over a span of hundreds of millions of years; our civilization is now burning all that fossilized carbon and reintroducing it into the atmosphere at an astonishing rate: five million years’ worth per annum.

Alaska may be one of the places where the greenhouse effect’s ramifications are most obvious, but make no mistake: there’s no place on Earth where climate change is not happening. We’re all lab rats; no one is exempt.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 10, Day 7: May The Wind Always Be At Your Back

The Economist weighs in on the IPCC report – far more responsibly than American business outlets, needless to say:

IT HAS been a long time coming. But then the fifth assessment of the state of the global climate by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations body, was a behemoth of an undertaking. It runs to thousands of pages, involved hundreds of scientists and was exhaustively checked and triple-checked by hundredds of other boffins and government officials to whom they report—and whose policies are often based on what they read. The first tranche of the multi-volume report—an executive summary of the physical science—was released in Stockholm on September 27th. And it is categorical in its conclusion: climate change has not stopped and man is the main cause.

It may be the last report of its kind: a growing chorus of experts thinks a more frequent, less bally-hooed and more up-to-date assessments would be more useful. It is certainly the first since negotiations for a global treaty reining in carbon emissions collapsed in Copenhagen in 2009; the first since questions were raised about the integrity of the IPCC itself following mistaken claims about the speed of glacier melt in the Himalayas and, most important, the first since evidence became incontrovertible that global surface air temperatures have risen much less quickly in the past 15 years than the IPCC had expected. A lot is riding on its findings, from the public credibility of climate science to the chances of a new global treaty.

Gack. September 29:

For too long, the business community’s discussion of climate change has been mistakenly conceived as a competition between different economic viewpoints, and environmentalists have often been vilified for pointing out the obvious truth that when we exceed Earth’s carrying capacity, we put ourselves in very grave danger. As the recently released IPCC report makes clear, industrialized civilization has stressed the planet’s resources to the breaking point; dealing honestly and comprehensively with the climate crisis is not an issue of ideology, but of survival.

Our carbon dioxide emissions linger in the atmosphere for tens of thousands of years, causing rising sea levels, oceanic acidification, and incidences of extreme weather all over the globe. “Emit now, pay later” has been our approach for the decades since the problems of global warming were first identified in the 1950s. Now the bills for our accumulated greenhouse emissions coming due, and the longer we wait to take care of our environmental debt, the more it’s going to cost — in money, in infrastructure, and in the shattered lives we will bequeath to our posterity.

Warren Senders