Year 4, Month 12, Day 31: Drink A Cup For Kindness’ Sake…

Aaaaand this letter marks the official end of the Climate Letter Project. That doesn’t mean I won’t be writing more, but that I am freeing myself from the one-a-day demand. I’m putting that daily energy into working on the Climate Message Project, q.v. Happy New Year!

This, from the Express Tribune (Pakistan):

The head of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Dr Rajendra Pachauri, called for greater cooperation between Pakistan and India when it comes to managing our joint water resources (the Indus River System), on his last visit to Pakistan. An Indian himself, he pointed out that our “culture and history has shown us that we can harmonise our actions in consonance with nature”. He also called for greater cooperation in the fight against climate change.

Last week, an India-Pakistan dialogue on energy and climate change was held to discuss this very topic, hosted by the Heinrich Boll Foundation and the Sustainable Development Policy Institute in Islamabad. Experts from India and Pakistan came together to explore ways in which they could jointly hold their governments accountable to what needs to be done about climate change. According to sustainable development expert, Dr Tariq Banuri, who currently teaches at the University of Utah, “the science has become more certain and climate change is more certain now… the massive floods of 2010 were not part of our history; there are changes in weather patterns. Yet, climate policy is paralysed — people just don’t want to act.” There is a leadership vacuum at the global level, where climate change talks have stalled over the principle of equity.

A revision of one that saw publication in Dawn a while back. December 19:

South Asia will confront enormous challenges in the next few decades as the greenhouse effect intensifies, destabilizing weather patterns and making agriculture increasingly unpredictable. Potential strategic and political impacts could easily include bitter resource conflicts and refugee movements that would dwarf the horrors of partition.

The fact that this region has historically contributed hardly anything to the industrial emissions which have precipitated the climate crisis lends these looming disasters a sad irony. Meanwhile, the nations which were major sources of carbon pollution over the past century have been insulated from the effects of their behavior by geographical serendipity.

While morality demands that the industrialized world act immediately to reduce greenhouse emissions, the countries currently bearing the brunt of this human-caused climatic disruption must both reinforce their physical infrastructure (to ensure that humanitarian emergencies are easily resolved), and their diplomatic infrastructure (to ensure peaceful resolutions to the geopolitical crises that will invariably accompany global climate change).

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 12, Day 6: The Way You Do The Things You Do

The NYT tries to make itself look good, and doesn’t do very well at all:

EARLY this year, The Times came under heavy criticism from many readers who care deeply about news coverage about the environment — especially climate change.

In January, The Times dismantled its “pod” of reporters and editors devoted to that subject. And in March, it discontinued its Green blog, a daily destination for environmental news.

Times editors emphasized that they were not abandoning the subject — just taking it out of its silo and integrating it into many areas of coverage. The changes were made for both cost-cutting and strategic reasons, they said, and the blog did not have high readership. Readers and outside critics weren’t buying it. They scoffed at the idea that less would somehow translate into not only more, but also better.

In the Corporate States of America, discussion of an existential threat to capitalism is a grave error of etiquette. November 24:

Discussion of the Times’ handling of climate change usually tries to cast it as a matter of priorities, with environmental advocates justifiably pointing out that climate deserves more (much more!) coverage. Others note that when the NYT continues to provide a forum for climate-change denialists like columnist Ross Douthat and other apostles of the specious journalistic doctrine of false equivalency, it undermines its own reputation for veracity and integrity.

Here’s another way to think about it. Just as newsprint is the medium for the Times’ journalism, opinion, and advertising, the climate is the medium for the world’s culture. Civilization’s varied accomplishments, discontents, aspirations, joys, and tragedies are only possible because of the climatic stability which has allowed our complex culture to flourish. While newspapers may be able to shift their readership online, Earth’s ecosystems have no analogous option. Lose the climate, and we lose it all.

That’s why good reporting and analysis of the climate crisis is so important.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 6, Day 19: How Come I Never Do…What I’m S’posed to Do?

The LA Times runs a good piece by Greenpeace’s James Turner. It’s worth reading the whole thing, but here’s a taste:

A friend recently returned from a camping trip in the Sierra Nevada. His eyes shone as he described the opalescent sky, the vitality of wildlife in spring and the fun he’d had playing with his two young daughters during the mellow evenings. It had been a really good trip, an experience to treasure, he said.

I casually asked how long it took to get there. “Oh, it wasn’t too bad,” he said, and then caught himself, as if he’d said something wrong. “But we took the minivan this time, which I suppose means we weren’t so in tune with nature after all.”

I felt slightly hurt. I am an environmentalist — I work for Greenpeace. Did he think that makes me some moral arbiter of fun, sternly passing judgment on those who ignore the perils of climate change to enjoy a weekend in the mountains?

Of course, it wasn’t really about me. What my friend expressed was climate guilt, a feeling that many of us who care about environmental issues experience every day. I am not immune. We feel guilty about driving cars and watching TV and turning on lights, as if that makes us personally responsible for this gigantic threat that looms over us.

Philosophy. Nuremberg. June 3:

It’s certainly true that oppressive feelings of personal and collective guilt are a deep burden — and one which conscientious environmentalists often shoulder, as James Turner notes. Such responses are all too common in the struggle against global climate change, a planet-wide problem for which any who benefit from the accomplishments of industrialization must bear some blame.

Membership in a technologically advanced culture conveys many advantages, including access to vast quantities of information and knowledge. The first warnings of the climate crisis were sounded in the 1950s, but since that time successive generations of politicians and citizens have elected to postpone grappling with the issue. It is not we who will determine our collective guilt, but our descendants.

We can absolve ourselves only by assuming ever-greater levels of responsibility: for our lifestyle choices, for our readiness to engage in public discussion of climate, and for the political choices we make.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 5, Day 20: My Biggest Mistake Was Loving You Too Much

Even Forbes Magazine thinks the KXL is a disaster in the making:

With over 16,000 sensors tied to automatic shut-offs, the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline (as in Xtra-Large) is not your father’s pipeline. However, it’s still a pipeline, and the long history of ruptures, leaks, spills and other “incidents” call attention to the problems that face all pipelines in America.

We just don’t maintain them like we should.

And it’s the same for all critical infrastructure. The corporations that build and operate this infrastructure talk about all the bells and whistles they have to make them safe, and promise to do so, but history says differently. Decades after these things are built, the industry just doesn’t care anymore.

It’s not that these pipelines and rigs can’t be run safely, it’s that they aren’t. Maybe the managers and operators who originally built them once cared, but after they’ve retired or died, the new managers don’t have the same ownership.

Hippie. May 7:

Whether it’s coal or oil, the core mentality underlying fossil fuel is essentially simple-minded: make a hole in the ground and burn the stuff that comes out. When your goal is to enrich your investors, then it’s good business to transfer the costs and consequences of leaks, spills, collapses, and containment failures to ordinary people, who’ll take care of it with their tax dollars. Furthermore, given the short attention span of most citizens, TransCanada and other pipeline promoters have nothing to lose by downplaying the risks and inflating the benefits of projects like the Keystone XL — and nothing to gain by making huge investments in safety, infrastructure, and maintenance.

As a path to riches, it’s not complicated — but as a way to encourage good citizenship, it’s a failure. As the climate crisis intensifies, the extractive industries can no longer ignore the grave moral dimensions of their environmental irresponsibility.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 3, Day 11: Tighten Up, Willya?

The Malaysia Star runs a Reuters story on the increase in tornadoes as a consequence of You-Know-What:

NEW YORK (Reuters) – When at least 80 tornadoes rampaged across the United States, from the Midwest to the Gulf of Mexico, last Friday, it was more than is typically observed during the entire month of March, tracking firm reported on Monday.

According to some climate scientists, such earlier-than-normal outbreaks of tornadoes, which typically peak in the spring, will become the norm as the planet warms.

“As spring moves up a week or two, tornado season will start in February instead of waiting for April,” said climatologist Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

Whether climate change will also affect the frequency or severity of tornadoes, however, remains very much an open question, and one that has received surprisingly little study.

“There are only a handful of papers, even to this day,” said atmospheric scientist Robert Trapp of Purdue University, who led a pioneering 2007 study of tornadoes and climate change.

I used this as the hook for some large-scale moralizing. Cheers. Sent March 5:

In the unfolding disaster of global warming, our species faces a crisis so broad in scope and diverse in symptoms that it is almost impossible to imagine. Until now, of course. The sudden uptick in extreme storms and climatic disturbances is giving us a preview of the coming centuries, and it isn’t pretty. The temperatures are still rising, and only a fool could now suggest that the weather is going back the way it was when we were young.

Modern humans are indeed uniquely situated in history; our global response to the crisis will shape the fate of our descendants. They will judge us harshly if we continue to put CO2 in the air, our behavior a mix of carelessness and callousness. If we put aside petty politics and addressed the unfolding climate crisis with responsibility and integrity, our children’s children’s children will justly remember us with respect and reverence.

Warren Senders