Year 4, Month 12, Day 28: I Ain’t Good-Lookin’, Babe.

US News And World Report’s Jeff Nesbit, on the Keystone XL:

Right now, there is an awful lot of dirty, heavy, crude oil sitting underground in vast areas of the Tars Sands region of Canada. The reserves of this very heavy crude oil – which is more expensive to refine and bring to market than any other type of oil – are big enough that Bill Gates and Warren Buffett once visited the region just to marvel at the untapped economic potential and money to be made there.

The only thing keeping much of this heavy, unrefined crude oil in Canada is cost. It’s why TransCanada and the oil industry needs the Keystone XL pipeline. It now costs $17 a barrel to ship this oil by rail. The cost would drop to $10 a barrel if it’s shipped through a pipe. That’s enough of a cost differential to matter – and potentially keep much of the oil locked up in Canada if Keystone isn’t built.

By some accounts, the Tar Sands reserves are as big as anything in Saudi Arabia or Venezuela. All by itself, financial analysts say, the Tar Sands could supply all of the United States’ energy needs for the next 30 years if 170 billion barrels of oil are recovered. It’s that big.

But should it be recovered? That’s the question that no one ever asks. TransCanada, Exxon Mobil, Suncor and every other big company looking to make trillions of dollars from the Tar Sands region just assumes that the answer is…well, yes, of course. They are already making money from the Tar Sands region. They just expect to make a lot more, with a bigger profit, if the Keystone pipeline is built.

But should it be built? That’s another question that no one ever really asks, largely because it runs counter to the history and notion of innovation that has defined America. People invent things, companies innovate, new industries are born, and economic winners enjoy the spoils of victory.

Yet it’s a question that needs to be answered sooner rather than later now that we know, with scientific certainty, that we only have a limited amount of time in this generation – and a finite budget of carbon that we can burn globally – before we tip the earth’s climate system towards an unstable and inhospitable state. The science question is settled. The economic one isn’t yet.

Kill it before it kills us! December 14:

The assertion that a transcontinental pipeline will reduce the cost of Alberta’s Tar Sands oil ignores several troublesome facts. Pipelines leak, and the crude intended for transport in the Keystone XL is a particularly toxic variety. Let it contaminate an aquifer en route, and the price goes up to include countless thousands of human lives.

More importantly, the CO2 emissions from the project would trigger runaway climate change an order of magnitude more severe than anything we’ve yet experienced. Such a planetary disaster would carry costs of Brobdingnagian proportions — damages which our trivia-obsessed political establishment seems incapable of imagining.

Let the exploitation of the Tar Sands proceed, and all of these consequences are inevitable — natural consequences of a business plan that profits from environmental destruction. We’d be better off minimizing and eventually eliminating fossil fuels from our energy economy, and leaving all that dirty crude in the ground.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 6, Day 17: Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down

The Roanoke News takes on Ken Cuccinelli in a must-read column by Dan Casey:

The question of the day is, did Cuccinelli learn his law school lessons about fraud? His tenure as attorney general leaves you wondering. Let’s consider two prominent fraud cases Cuccinelli has been mixed up in.

The first concerns former University of Virginia climate scientist Michael Mann, who’s now at Penn State. While he was at UVa, Mann published a paper that revealed the “hockey stick graph,” a chart that showed steeply rising temperatures on Earth in the past 100 years.


During its probe, the attorney general’s office demanded UVa turn over many documents, including emails between Mann and 39 other climate scientists around the world that went back more than a decade. Nearly two years later, the Virginia Supreme Court shot down the fishing expedition, and the investigation ended.


The second case involves an alleged Florida con man who, under the fake identity “Bobby Thompson,” created and ran the U.S. Navy Veterans Association scam. Via telemarketing, the group raked in as much as $100 million nationwide; it reported taking in more than $2.6 million from Virginians in 2009 alone.

That year, Virginia suspended fundraising by the U.S. Navy Vets because it had failed to comply with charity paperwork reporting requirements. Rather than submit the paperwork, Thompson made $67,500 in campaign contributions to Virginia lawmakers.

Of that, $55,500 went in three separate contributions to then-state senator Cuccinelli, who was running for attorney general. Cuccinelli personally telephoned Thompson in August 2009 and requested the third contribution. That one was for $50,000.

Go read the whole thing. June 2:

Understanding Ken Cuccinelli’s crusade against climatologist Michael Mann requires us to look beyond the Attorney General’s contemptible defense of a garden-variety swindlers. Since politicians and lawyers often have a great affinity for con men, it’s hardly surprising that Cuccinelli wound up in “Bobby Thompson’s” corner.

Mann, on the other hand, is a scientist who has spent his professional life in a search, not for riches, but for robust historical evidence about the ongoing changes in Earth’s climate. Because his findings and analyses were problematic for the corporate forces who’ve bankrolled climate-change denial in America for decades, his work had to be discredited at all costs — hence the usefulness of an ideologically-propelled Attorney General.

Cuccinelli’s vindictiveness has historical parallels. For example, take the 19th-century discoverer of antisepsis: Ignaz Semmelweiss died at 47 after his life-saving findings were denounced by medical professionals who resented being told to wash their hands. Climatologists like Michael Mann are planetary doctors; rejecting their findings will translate into unimaginable losses of life and property in the coming decades — losses which will redden the hands of anti-science zealots like Cuccinelli, and be remembered throughout human history as a tragedy triggered by greed and ignorance.

Warren Senders


Year 3, Month 9, Day 26: GOTV!

The Morning Sentinel (Waterville, ME) runs an article by Richard Thomas, titled “Voters must press both parties to address climate change”:

This summer, flooding, hot spells, drought and firestorms are beginning to show us that climate change will be the defining issue of this century.

The drought in middle America already has caused a 10 percent rise in food prices.

Unfortunately, it appears that the impact of climate change will become much more extreme for a number of reasons. Individually, we have little control over this, but we do have a chance during the coming elections to push our government to face this issue more responsibly.

The factors that appear to make extreme climate change inevitable include the length of time required to build a new “green” energy infrastructure, the profit structure of corporations, politics and human nature. The health of our economy depends on cheap portable energy. Now, this means burning huge amounts of oil, gas and coal.

Unfortunately, burning fossil fuels releases a greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, which leads to climate warming. Even the CEO of ExxonMobil now admits that burning fossil fuels is making climate change worse.

A fundamental switch to renewable energy sources, however, will slow, because it will take many years to build the new infrastructure (windmills, solar panels, etc). If we wait until our climate becomes really alarming before we start shifting away from burning fossil fuels, global warming will continue to worsen for many more years.

Good luck with the “both parties” part. I waxed philosophical in this one, bolstered by a 300-word limit. Sent September 19:

When it comes to the climate crisis, both our political and media establishments have been utterly unable to cope with an emergency whose dimensions cannot be reduced to sound bites and sloganeering. The causes of this dysfunction are many and varied, but can be grouped into three major categories: fear, ignorance and greed.

Our fear is easily understood: human beings prefer to avoid bad news. Because climate change unfolds gradually over time, there will never be a single iconic moment which will instantly overcome our collective timidity and galvanize us into concerted action.

Our ignorance stems from failures of education. The same nation that once put humans on the moon now publicly elevates celebrities who believe the Earth is flat. In a political culture that disparages learning and expertise, continued scientific verification of the greenhouse effect can have no impact on the minds of our legislators.

Lastly, while all of us wish to keep our conveniences and augment our lifestyles, the charge of greed is rightly directed at those who reap huge returns from our continued consumption of fossil fuels. The big coal and oil companies are already among the most profitable corporate entities on the planet, and these huge economic powers have no wish to relinquish even the tiniest fraction of their gains, even if humanity’s future hangs in the balance.

These are the three forces we must overcome if we are to address the climate crisis. In November, let us vote in favor of courage, wisdom and responsibility, and against fear, ignorance and greed.

Warren Senders

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 2, Month 11, Day 22: If You’re So Rich, How Come You Ain’t Smart?

The Wall Street Journal runs a piece on the latest IPCC report, which is chock full of hideous news:

KAMPALA Uganda—Climate change is leading to at least some cases of more extreme weather events across the globe, according to a report released on Friday by a United Nations-led scientific panel on the subject.

The scientific link between climate change and extreme weather isn’t uniformly clear, according to the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body established in 1988 to assist global policy makers with climate change.

As usual with WSJ articles, the comments on this piece are a critical mass of stupidity. What’s with these people? Sent November 18, from Logan Airport while waiting for my plane:

You’d think that once a critical mass of evidence has accumulated, climate-change denialists would have no choice but to change their minds. Indeed, it’s interesting to ask self-styled “skeptics” what evidence would suffice to convince them that human-caused climate change is genuinely dangerous. Many say that nothing will alter their opinions — in which case they cannot be “skeptics.” Some require proof so definitive as to be unachievable — in which case they misunderstand both scientific consensus and the nature of the situation.

Even before the most recent IPCC report, evidence supporting anthropogenic global warming far exceeded the critical threshold required for unilateral action in other policy areas. The “Cheney doctrine” held that even a 1% chance of Iraqi WMDs was sufficient to justify an invasion, a level of likelihood acknowledged by even the stubbornest denialists. Our only remaining excuse for inaction is a toxic combination of cupidity and willful ignorance.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 7, Day 10: Go Directly To Jail. Do Not Pass Go. That’ll Be Two Hundred Dollars.

Matthew Kahn, a “guest blogger” at the Christian Science Monitor, embodies much that is deplorable in our culture in these paragraphs in a June 24 article titled “Is There A ‘We’ In Climate Change? Or just an ‘I’? “:

How will individuals, as moms and dads, as consumers, choose to live our lives given the world we have unintentionally created by producing so much GHG emissions? Vice President Gore embraces a “collective” solution that “we” must band together.

A more realistic vision is that people will differ with respect to their ability and willingness to “perceive important and complex realities”. Those who do have these skills will be more likely to thrive in the tough days ahead and they are likely to make $ as entrepreneurs as they anticipate the others’ future suffering.

Well, by Bald-headed Christ, that sounds pretty un-Christian to me. Unless you’re talking about the modern Corporate Jeebus, in which case it’s entirely consistent with what I’ve observed.

Sent June 24:

Matthew Kahn’s response to Al Gore is built around an erroneous framing. Rejecting the former VP’s suggestion that the struggle against global warming requires collective action, Mr. Kahn offers the reassuring thought that people with better survival skills and adaptive capability are “more likely to thrive in the tough days ahead,” and furthermore, can make substantial profits from the suffering of others! Apparently the preservation of thousands of years’ worth of culture is an inadequate motivator; to persuade people to take climate change seriously, they need to know there’s money to be made and suckers to be fleeced!

Effective responses to climate change must be both individual and collective, and greed shouldn’t be part of the recipe. Remember the filling station owner who tripled his prices after 9/11? There’s an example of individual entrepreneurship for you; such attempts to exploit others’ misfortune exemplify the worst aspects of our shared humanity.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 6, Day 16: True Crime Comics

The Gray Lady heralds the news that Paul Wolfowitz’ erstwhile stamping ground has decided to get involved. That’s good news, I suppose. The Big Dog certainly thinks so:

SÃO PAULO, Brazil — The World Bank signed an agreement on Wednesday with mayors from 40 of the world’s biggest cities to work on technical and financial assistance for projects to minimize the effects of climate change.

The deal, announced at the C40 large cities climate meeting here, will ease access to financing for climate-change-reduction projects. It was hailed by many of the mayors, including Michael R. Bloomberg of New York City, and by former President Bill Clinton, who attended the event as part of a new partnership with Mr. Bloomberg.

“The World Bank announcement is terrifically important,” Mr. Clinton said. “It will give credibility to these projects to get private capital.”

But there’s only one thing that can change a denialist’s mind.

Sent June 2:

The World Bank’s support of climate change mitigation projects cannot reverse the accelerating consequences of the greenhouse effect — despite the prodigious technical and intellectual resources of our civilization, we haven’t yet figured out ways to evade the laws of physics. Still, the Bank’s announcement is a positive development, both because it will spur much-needed investments in ecologically wise urban planning, and because it will make it that much harder for the climate denialists and oil profiteers in America’s dysfunctional political system to continue rationalizing their unwillingness to address the issue with spurious economic arguments. While environmental reasons will never spur Republican legislators to address climate change, once renewable energy and sustainable development are really where the money is, Willie Sutton’s oft-quoted motivation may just do the trick.

Warren Senders

Month 11, Day 5: Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves

The New York Times notes that post-election, we’re likely to see more lawsuits challenging climate change laws at the state level, as corporate players are emboldened to act even more stupidly.

If the business community’s attention span was somewhat longer, many of the lawsuits aimed at neutralizing state climate change laws would be seen for what they are: desperate attempts to change the subject. The truth is simple: global warming is real and humans are responsible; the planet is already experiencing its effects everywhere from Moscow to Manhattan, and things are going to get worse before they get better no matter what we do. The orchestra of chaos is only tuning up, and if we don’t cut our carbon emissions drastically and immediately, we’re in for a world of hurt. Prioritization of short-term profits will play a major part in the demise of many corporate players over the coming decades. It is a sad commentary on our country when both the investment and manufacturing sectors have replaced fact-based institutional policy with petulant demands that reality be repealed.

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?