Month 5, Day 12: Idiots Ahoy!


Dear Senators Kerry, Lieberman and Graham,

Today will see the unveiling of the Climate Bill you’ve been working on. I fear that the events of the past few weeks have made your approach to offshore drilling ludicrously out of date. The disaster of the Deepwater Horizon platform and British Petroleum’s pathetically inadequate response make it clear what our attitude towards Big Oil needs to be: No More. Similarly, the West Virginia mine disaster and the callously insensitive response of Massey Coal make it clear what our attitude towards Big Coal needs to be: No More.

No More Mountaintop Removal. No More Offshore Drilling. No More Subsidized Waste, Fraud and Inefficiency. No More Subornation of Congress by the Fossil-Fuel Industry. No More Mendacity. No More Misrepresentation. No More Corporate Irresponsibility.

No More Taking Carbon Out Of The Earth And Putting It In The Atmosphere.

When a newly released report from the National Academy of Sciences suggests that a 21-25 degree level of warming is possible over the next several centuries, and further points out that this would render the planet effectively uninhabitable — and states unequivocally that this warming is a possible consequence of “business as usual,” isn’t it obvious that we cannot continue to do business as usual?

We have to stop. Senators, whatever happened to the American “can do” spirit? Where is your confidence in the industrial sector of our country? Where is your confidence in American know-how? American ingenuity? American resourcefulness? The American sense of responsibility?

Have they been replaced by American irresponsibility, ineffectuality, incompetence, and insularity?

Judging by the discrepancy between what we need and what we’ll get, the answer is “yes.”

Our descendants will judge us harshly. But don’t feel too bad. If we continue “business as usual,” they’ll inherit an unimaginably hostile world — and they’ll probably be too busy struggling to survive to waste much energy on assigning blame. Drill, Baby, Drill!

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 5, Day 5: Pleading With The Powers That Be

Continuing on this theme — this time writing to the Climate/Energy bill trio. Please write some letters yourself!

Dear Senators Kerry, Lieberman and Graham —

It should be obvious to you that offshore drilling is no longer a viable option for America’s energy policy. We have delayed long enough — it is time for America to confront, and end, its addiction to fossil fuels. The disaster of the Deepwater Horizon is just the latest in a steady stream of catastrophes which illuminate the unfortunate fact that oil and coal are not cheap sources of energy. Fossil energy is only cheap when we don’t include the costs of cleanup, of health effects, of long-term ecological damage, and the expensive wars we wage to protect our sources. Renewable energy sources are only expensive when we don’t consider the benefits of positive environmental effects, more locally-based energy sources, greater reliance on conservation and efficiency, and avoiding some of the worst effects of CO2-induced atmospheric warming.

The Deepwater Horizon is a signal event in the history of our energy policy. It must be recognized as a clarion call to our nation’s citizenry, an “Environmental 9-11” that alerts us to the terrifying consequences of continued reliance on fossil energy.

America needs to wake up and face reality. Are you going to continue to offer sops to the oil and coal lobbies…or are you going to take the necessary steps to transform our energy equation once and for all? Our descendants’ lives hang in the balance.

For once, Senators…do the right thing.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 4, Day 24: Dammit, dammit, dammit.


Dear Senators Kerry and Lieberman,

I am close to despair. I’ve just finished reading the details of the upcoming climate legislation you’ve been working on with Senator Graham. It appears that, in your eagerness to bring big oil interests on board, you’ve given away the store. I was never particularly optimistic that we would get the bill we need, which is to say, a bill that shuts down the fossil fuel industry as quickly as possible — but I had hopes that we would get a bill that didn’t completely capitulate to the demands of our Corporate Overlords.

Seriously — removing the EPA’s authority to regulate CO2? That’s not just a concession, that’s abject surrender. Removing the ability of individual states to set tougher standards than the Federal government? This is specifically a measure designed to undercut California’s emissions requirements, and is in every respect a giveaway.

The whole bill is loaded with goodies for oil, gas and coal companies. And what’s there for the planet? For all of us whose children’s children are going to be struggling for survival on a planet rendered uninhabitable by our collective failure to act in our own best interests? Almost nothing.

And the best part? I’m willing to bet that you won’t get more than a single Republican vote for this piece of craven capitulation. In fact, it would not surprise me if Senator Graham were to vote “No.”

But perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps there are hidden gems buried in the fine print that will help us apply genuine regulation to CO2 emissions. Perhaps you’ve figured out how to persuade oil company CEOs that their companies will stop being profitable around the time the human race becomes extinct. Perhaps you’ve figured out how to persuade James Inhofe that waiting for the Rapture is not a viable energy policy. Perhaps you’ve figured out how to persuade Don Blankenship that we need to stop burning coal.

If you can do those things, I’m sure you can persuade me that the long-anticipated climate legislation is an excellent and honorable piece of work. I will await your response.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 4, Day 19: Turning Your Money Into Trash

Financial reform is very important, not only because Goldman Sachs and the rest of the shark pack have ripped the guts out of our economy, but because these mega-bankers care as much about the environment as they do about the people below them on the economic ladder. That is to say, not at all. Unsustainable environmental practices go hand in hand with unsustainable business practices, and it’s time to make sure that shit is absolutely never going to happen again.

Dear Senators Kerry and Dodd,

This letter is about the connection between climate legislation and financial reform.

Any reasonably robust climate bill will be fought tooth and nail by business interests in this country, which is a sure indication that environmental legislation needs to be coupled with financial reform. Ultimately, our destruction of the environment is rooted in a systemic problem in our economic thinking. Our economy is largely built on an unsustainable practice: buying things and turning them into trash as quickly as possible. This happens on Wall Street when the big banks buy and sell incomprehensible credit derivatives to one another, and it happens on Main Street when our stores sell us cheap plastic-wrapped junk that breaks and winds up in a landfill a week later.

An economic model based on turning things into trash will ultimately destroy our nation, and us along with it. We tell our children to contribute to society, to leave things better than we found them — but unless we can end our reliance on consumption as a way of life, our fine words are nothing more than hypocritical prating. The next few decades will determine whether we live in a world that offers our children and their children a meaningful future or a landscape clogged beyond recognition with toxic trash. We can’t fix the climate unless we transform our economy — until we focus our power and attention on living in ways that give back more to the Earth than we take out.

During the debate on the financial reform bill, it is my hope that you will point out to your colleagues in the Senate (and to the nation) that what unsustainable financial practices have done to our economic health, unsustainable consumption habits are doing to our environment. Our nation, and the world, can afford this no longer.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 3, Day 28: Keeping the Pressure On

This goes off to John Kerry. Now I’m just anxious that the Senate will actually DO some climate legislation…and that it won’t be just another industry giveaway.

Dear Senator Kerry,

Now that health care legislation has been passed (and congratulations and thanks for your advocacy on this landmark achievement!) it’s time for the next chapters of the Democratic agenda. I understand that next on the legislative menu will be financial reform, which I think is an excellent choice. The misbehavior of the big banks and investment firms is all too obvious to anyone who’s been paying attention. The only worry we have is that the bill will contain too many loopholes and giveaways to the fiduciary miscreants who got us into this mess in the first place.

Interestingly enough, that’s the same worry I have with the climate legislation you are developing with Senators Graham and Lieberman. Will the worst polluters in the world be given concessions that allow them to continue their environmentally destructive behavior in the years to come? Make no mistake, to allow this (in the name of “maintaining a positive relationship with the business community” or some similar phrasing) will be to doom any efforts to address climate change responsibly. We need to get atmospheric CO2 down to 350 ppm or less; we need to take immediate action to deal with the two unresolved dilemmas of the climate crisis — oceanic acidification and polar methane.

This is as grave a crisis as humanity has ever faced. Regardless of what we do, it’s a given that the lives of our grandchildren will be unimaginably different. If we take the right action now, their lives may be different in a positive way: sustainable, frugal, globally responsible. If we fail, their lives may be something we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemies. The short-sighted and irresponsible behavior of big oil and big coal (and of the US Chamber of Commerce, among others) should ensure that these parties no longer deserve a seat at the negotiating table. Their contributions to climate change legislation are guaranteed to weaken its effect and impede its implementation.

It is time to put planet over profit. No more concessions to the Carbon Lobby!

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 3, Day 22: More Fart Jokes, Please.

I’m listening to health-care debate, so I’ve only got a small fraction of a brain. Here’s the latest terrifying news: more on polar methane. I really wish I could remain ignorant of all this.

Dear Senators Kerry, Lieberman and Graham,

I write to urge you to include language in your proposed climate legislation that specifically addresses the problem of polar methane release. A recent study reported in Science News* indicates that microbes living under ice sheets in the polar regions may be churning out huge amounts of this powerful greenhouse gas. If this wasn’t bad enough, we already know that methane is already entering the atmosphere as the permafrost cap that’s been keeping it underground melts, due to increased atmospheric temperatures.

Climatologists’ projections of global warming haven’t yet taken this methane into account, which means that even the worst of the worst-case estimates are undoubtedly too optimistic. We need a world-wide Manhattan Project, bringing together the top scientific minds of the planet to address these multiple interlocked problems.

Rather than allowing that methane to enter the atmosphere and trigger incalculable damage to planetary ecosystems, we need to solve the problem of harvesting and collecting it for use as fuel. While burning methane also releases CO2 (which means that it is unsuitable as a long-term fuel source) this approach is vastly preferable to allowing it to trigger a greenhouse tipping point that would lead us much closer to the Venusian worst-case scenario outlined by Dr. James Hansen.

Any proposed climate legislation needs to acknowledge the magnitude of this problem, and outline steps to engaging the world’s scientific expertise and imagination on methods of ameliorating it.

There is no time to lose.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

* – (

Month 3, Day 14: It’s PI Day!

Heavy rain brought down our landline and FIOS internet last night. I’m piggybacking on my neighbor’s wireless at the moment. No time to write anything original; I’m sending my Senators and my Rep a version of yesterday’s letter, opposing the Tongass logging bills.

Dear Senators Kerry & Brown / Representative Markey,

This letter is to request you to oppose S. 881 and H.R. 2099, legislation addressing usage considerations with regard to land that is currently part of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. These bills will permit Sealaska, an Alaskan Native corporation, to log 80,000 acres of the Tongass. While it is important to secure economic benefits for Native Americans, it’s crucial to recognize that the Tongass is one of the country’s top “carbon banks” (carbon-storing forests).

Pacific Northwest forests, including the Tongass, store one and a half times as much carbon as this country burns in a year. It is an act of profound environmental irresponsibility to allow such a carbon bank to be logged off. Sealaska may need to cut 80,000 acres of trees to maintain their balance sheet, but our country’s environmental balance is far more endangered than theirs.

Maintaining and expanding our national forests is a crucial element of our national environmental policy. Not only are these forests crucial carbon banks (and therefore one of our first lines of defense against CO2 emissions), they possess inherent value as places of beauty, peace and respect for the natural world. When our country learns to stop thinking of them as commodities worth so much per board foot, we will have, perhaps, grown up a little.

Please oppose this legislation.

Thank you,

Warren Senders

Month 3, Day 11: The Three Messketeers

RL Miller posted an excellent piece at Kos yesterday pointing out that the trio of senators responsible for generating climate legislation is busy meeting with representatives of the world’s biggest contributors to the current carbon situation.

John Kerry is my senator. Lindsey Graham may be a Republican, but he’s been making vaguely sensible noises about climate. After Lieberman’s grotesque behavior over health care it’s hard to take him seriously, but he is apparently much more resolute on climate than on HCR.

But I gotta say, it’s a sad day when two-thirds of my hope for substantial climate legislation rests with Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman.

Anyway, they got a letter.

Dear Senators Kerry, Graham and Lieberman,

I am a constituent of Senator Kerry’s, and a firm believer in the need to address the issue of global climate change immediately. America must regulate its emissions of CO2; once we commit ourselves, much of the rest of the world will follow suit. We cannot pretend to be a world leader if we wait for other nations to go first.

I’m glad that the three of you are developing a climate bill, and I hope that it is sufficiently robust to make a difference. But I was very distressed to learn that you had met recently with “hydrocarbon enablers” like the American Petroleum Institute, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, major electric utilities, the National Association of Manufacturers, the cement industry, and mining interests, and that (according to The LA Times) your message to these groups was, “Tell us what you need to support this bill. Be specific.”

It should be obvious to the meanest intelligence that the API, the Chamber of Commerce and the rest of these organizations will only support climate legislation if it does not affect them in the slightest. While I am in principle a supporter of “good faith” negotiations, there must surely be a point where the principle of good faith has been abused irretrievably. The world’s largest contributors to our CO2 dilemma are not interested in anything except gutting meaningful climate legislation; asking them for their support is an absurdity.

We need a totally new energy equation in this country, and we need it soon. The changes in the world’s climate are too huge and too potentially devastating to allow our country’s biggest polluters to stand in the way of action; “business as usual” is only a plan for profit, not a plan for the planet.

Do not allow industry representatives to weaken your climate bill. Make it stronger instead. Much stronger.

We’re counting on you.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 3, Day 4: Faxin’ my Senators

It’s the last day of the great national call-in days on climate, as promoted heavily by 1Sky, Move-On and lots of other organizations. I called John Kerry’s office twice yesterday. I figured I’d write a fax to Kerry and Brown today — I did one for both my Senators last week…and now it’s time to hit ’em again.

Dear Senator Kerry and Senator Brown —

It is absolutely essential that our government address the severity of the climate crisis with speed and clarity. Despite the bleating of so-called “skeptics,” there is absolutely no doubt that global climate change is real. There is no doubt that it’s already affecting us. And there’s no doubt that human activity is implicated as its most important cause.

To be sure, there may be other causal factors as well. Scientists acknowledge this — but the possibility of other causes for climate change is not an excuse for doing nothing. The only thing that we can change is our own behavior.

The cost of strong and aggressive action in the face of global climate change is ultimately very small. Why? Because all the things we have to do to deal with climate change are things we have to do anyway. We need to rebuild our energy infrastructure; we need to stop burning oil and coal (and to find ways to transform local economies that rely on these industries); we need to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions; we need to be less wasteful in our energy use; we need to stop taking carbon out of the ground and putting it into the atmosphere.

We have to do these things because they are the right and responsible thing to do. Accomplishing them will cost less than the Iraq war.

On the other hand, the costs of inaction are very high. If global warming is real (note: it is), then failure to act will certainly mean huge economic and environmental devastation. A trillion dollars of prevention is worth a quadrillion dollars of cure. If global warming isn’t real (note: it is), we will have transformed our energy infrastructure, incentivized energy conservation, regained competitiveness with China, stopped giving money to the Saudis, and kept CO2 and other greenhouse emissions low. All good stuff. As a recent cartoon put it, “What if it’s all a hoax and we build a better world for nothing?”

The cost of inaction is catastrophe; the cost of action is less than our country’s most recent military misadventure.

Those who rise to the occasion and support robust climate legislation that does what it’s supposed to do (including setting a goal for atmospheric CO2 that is environmentally reasonable, not politically expedient — which is to say, 350 ppm), will be justly celebrated by our children and their children and their children’s children. Those who place transient political considerations above the long-term health of our planet and its population will be justly reviled.

We need strong climate/energy legislation, and we need it without temporizing. This is an “all hands on deck” situation; there is no time for timidity, cupidity or stupidity.

Yours sincerely,

Warren Senders

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