Month 2, Day 19: Consumption Used to Mean You Went to Switzerland or Arizona

This one goes to both of my Elected Representatives. I had the germ of an idea about providing more useful environmental information on the things we buy. I know my purchasing habits would be very different if I knew how much ecological devastation had gone into the manufacture of some geegaw I was ogling, or how many thousands of miles a package of strawberries had to travel. Why not get that information, apply some sort of scoring algorithm, and incorporate it into product labeling?

Dear Representative Markey and Senator Kerry — I write as a citizen concerned about the looming climate crisis. It is my belief that many ordinary people would like to do more — both to help forestall the disastrous effects of climate change, and to help make our culture more environmentally conscious in general. I have a suggestion for a program which could have an impact on the way Americans think about the environment and our role in transforming it.

Our national purchasing habits could be dramatically altered if Environmental Impact information was displayed on product labels. We require such statements for large-scale construction and civil engineering projects; the “Energy Star” labeling program has had a demonstrable impact on consumer buying habits for household appliances — why not make this part of our purchasing equation for foodstuffs and consumer goods? An “Environment-friendly” scoring system would take into account the amount of waste involved in production, packaging and shipping; the sources of raw materials involved, and the likely lifespan of the product. A negative rating would describe an overpackaged product that used many toxic or ecologically detrimental raw materials, which required extensive transport before arriving at the point of purchase or warehousing, and which had a short expected lifespan before disposal; a positive rating would reflect minimal packaging, sustainable use of raw materials and efficient use of transport.

A measure such as the one I’ve suggested will help change attitudes and purchasing habits. Ultimately, of course, that won’t be enough. Our national habits must change profoundly. To be a “consumer” can no longer reflect a positive American value, because the word implies a “taking out” without a corresponding “giving back.” In the nineteenth century, “consumption” was a euphemism for tuberculosis: a wasting disease, almost always fatal. For the long-term health of our planet, human beings in general (and Americans in particular, since we are the examples held up to the rest of the world) must stop taking out without giving back. We have seen the results of ungoverned consumerism emerge in the catastrophic synergy of environmental degradation, oceanic acidification, soaring GHG levels and an ecosystem under assault from thousands of varieties of toxic trash — and we can no longer afford it. Granted, our population may not be emotionally ready to end consumerism as it exists today…but make no mistake, if we don’t end it, it will surely end us.

Thank you for your consideration.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Day 29: To Ed Markey

After reading this over at Dkos, I was moved to send a fax to Ed Markey’s offices. Maybe you should do something similar?

Dear Representative Markey,

Muhammed al-Sabban, a senior economic adviser to the Saudi oil ministry (and head of the Saudi delegation to U.N. talks on climate change) recently stated that international agreements to penalize carbon emissions are “one of the biggest threats” to Saudi Arabia’s economy. In light of the Supreme Court’s go-ahead to allow corporations unlimited access to the American electoral process, al-Sabban’s words are especially disturbing. How many nominally American corporations are at least partially owned by individuals or consortia aligned with the Saudi government? And can we have confidence that these companies will use their newly granted powers of monetized “speech” for the betterment of our nation and the global environment? At a time when the world desperately needs meaningful forward motion on climate change issues, the likelihood of OPEC countries interfering in American elections through American-owned shell companies is a virtual guarantee that no progress will take place. Please co-sponsor Rep. Alan Grayson’s “Save Our Democracy” legislative package, and please look into developing further legislation to block the consequences of the extremely damaging and misguided decision by the Bush-appointed majority of the Supreme Court.

Thank you for all you do.

Yours sincerely,

Warren Senders

And y’know, I think I’ll tweak that bit about Grayson’s legislation and send a version of it over to John Kerry as well. A double-header!

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 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.