Day 22: To The Boston Phoenix

I was thinking about time-cycles and the tragic inability of contemporary culture to imagine scales of time significantly larger than our own, and the full dimensions of the SCOTUS ruling became apparent.


The Supreme Court’s recent ruling in “Citizens United” makes it increasingly likely that the few remaining vestiges of independent thought in our Legislative branch will come under corporate control. Nowhere in our public policy will this have more devastating impact than in the area of climate change. Why? Because corporations are legally required to focus on maximizing short-term profit (quarters and years), and legislators’ attention spans work out at two and six years respectively, due to the nature of electoral cycles — while the slow catastrophe of planetary climaticide will unfold over the sweep of the coming century or so. No wonder it is always “not the right time” to address the climate crisis! It can never be the right time when a three-decade lag between climate action and climate effect is five times longer than the elected term of a U.S. Senator, fifteen times longer than that of a U.S. Representative, and a hundred and twenty times longer than the quarterly attention span of our New Corporate Overlords.

Warren Senders

Year 1, Month 1, Day 12: NPR Hears From Me

Driving home today, I switched back and forth between NPR and the Thom Hartmann show on Boston’s progressive AM station (for which FSM be thanked!). NPR News ran a story on freezing weather in Florida, focusing on the damage citrus groves were taking from ice and snow, and mentioning that virtually the entire tropical fish supply of North America was jeapordized by the extreme cold (I never thought about thousands upon thousands of goldfish being raised in outdoor tanks in Florida, for sale to households across the nation, but there you are).

Naturally, the NPR announcers didn’t say a thing about the role that global climate change has in freak weather events like this. So after I finished teaching this evening, I went to the NPR ombudsperson’s page and submitted the following:

Fruit Freezes in Florida…

… and I heard the story on NPR News this evening.

While I found the story of potentially frozen citrus groves and iced tropical fish farms interesting, I was saddened (although not surprised, alas) that NPR did not do analysis of this story in light of the unfolding crisis of global climate change. A story like this one is a perfect vehicle to illuminate the fact that increased temperatures in some parts of the world can trigger freak weather (including unreasonable and unseasonable cold) in others.

Polls have shown that a significant proportion of Americans don’t believe that global warming is happening at all, or don’t believe that it is due to human agency. The current spell of extreme cold will inevitably trigger more statements along the lines of, “Global warming? Ha! Ha! Can’t you see it’s snowing outside!”

It is the responsibility of a news organization to help its audience figure out what the news means. The story of frozen fruit and fish in the American South would have been a perfect opportunity for NPR to do exactly that: teach its listeners a little bit about the difference between weather and climate, and why a warming planet can cause icicles in orange groves.

The future of the human species hangs on developing our ability to make sense of phenomena outside our accustomed scales of time and magnitude. The climate crisis is a perfect example; it is increasingly likely that our distractability and ignorance will prevent our taking meaningful action until it is too late to make a difference.

By failing to see this story for what it really is, NPR is enabling those who seek to deny the reality of our ongoing climaticide.

Warren Senders

If any of you happen to hear them reading this on the air, please let me know!

Year 1, Month 1, Day 11: To The Cambridge Chronicle

It’s just after midnight, and I’ve got a busy day tomorrow. So I composed this one before going to bed. I think I’ll try and make this a part of the routine as my schedule starts to get crazier in the coming weeks.

How easy it is for us human beings to fool ourselves! Because it’s cold in Massachusetts, we conclude that “there’s no such thing as global warming.” Tell that to residents of Bulgaria, and to Puerto Ricans, who’ve both had record high temperatures. Tell that to people in Greenland, where the thermometer is hovering at around fifty degrees Farenheit. In January. The fact that large parts of the Northern United States are experiencing freezing temperatures only serves to demonstrate that local weather isn’t the same as climate. But we, steeped in American exceptionalism, cannot imagine that the story of the Earth’s climate isn’t a Story About Us. And, steeped in the false notion that an economic model based on unending consumption is somehow good for the world, we cannot imagine making the sacrifices necessary for the survival of the planet.

It is a tragedy in the making, aided and abetted by a thrill-seeking, ignorance-abetting media more focused on celebrity scandals and “he-said, she-said” stenography than the urgent planetary need for accurate information and analysis. It is a tragedy of selfishness and shortsightedness, enabled by politicians who play rhetorical games with one another while gigatons of Arctic methane begin to thaw under the tundra. Yes, it’s cold in Massachusetts. But it’s getting hotter and hotter here on Earth.

Warren Senders

Have you written a letter today?

Year 1, Month 1, Day 10: To a Local Paper

Very tired; very spaced out. Wife & kid were on their way out to a dance class and the car battery died, so this one was composed in the short interval between scrambling around with jumper cables and the arrival of a student.

Anyway, it went off to the Arlington Advocate, a local newspaper. We’ll see.

UPDATE: They’ll only publish letters from Arlington residents or businesspeople. So I’ll send it along to the Boston Globe this evening.

Polls suggest that a significant proportion of the American people “don’t believe in global warming.” This represents a tragic failure in education and a tragic failure in communication. In the wake of Sputnik, science education in America became a national priority and we collectively accomplished wonders; in the wake of Reagan and the rise of the evangelical movement, science has been downgraded and degraded, and we collectively remain oblivious to a looming disaster. Our inability to understand the scary facts of global climate change is also a failure of imagination: surrounded by exhortations to “live for the moment” and reminded daily that “it’s all about YOU,” Americans cannot conceive of a multi-decade interval between cause and effect, cannot imagine that the tragedy of climaticide will affect them in any way. Our politics, our media, our educational system and our economic system are all contributors; this is a perfect example of a systemic problem.

Unfortunately, we are running out of time. The failure to achieve a meaningful climate treaty in Copenhagen and the unwillingness of science-ignorant senators to act on climate-change legislation may be the precursor to a “perfect storm” of devastating magnitude.

Warren Senders

Year 1, Month 1, Day 8: To the Local Murdoch

The Boston Herald is the paper equivalent of FOX News here in Boston. They’re owned by Murdoch, and they’re about as likely to print my letter as they are to endorse a Bernie Sanders presidential campaign (on the other hand, they’ve done some good arts coverage in the past; I have some nice clips from the Herald back in the day). I wasn’t feeling particularly inspired this morning, but I thought a few 9/11 references might up the sensationalist content of my letter. Perhaps that will, er, stimulate them.

The evidence indicating human causes for global climate change is overwhelming and points to a rapidly approaching crisis of unimaginable magnitude. Our media choose instead to ignore or ridicule mountains of scientific research, instead highlighting one or two oil-funded denialists who argue to the contrary. Let’s put it in perspective. Remember the build-up to the Iraq war? Our print and broadcast media became cheerleaders for the Bush administration’s preemptive attack on another nation, an attack predicated on the flimsiest of evidence. If the evidence for Iraqi WMDs had been as strong as the evidence for human causes of climate change, we would have found piles of nuclear warheads on every street corner.

Or, to put it another way: the media’s dismissal of decades of validated research is painfully reminiscent of a chief executive who received a Presidential Daily Briefing in August of 2001 headed “Bin Laden Determined to Attack in US”; a president who responded to urgent warnings from intelligence officials by saying, “There, now you’ve covered your ass.” The eagerness of our news establishment to downplay the most urgent threat our civilization has ever faced in favor of celebrity scandals and fashionable irrelevancies is just another version of “Now watch this drive.”

Warren Senders

Go ahead. Write to your local Murdoch fishwrap. Use small words.

Year 1, Month 1, Day 7: Boston Globe

Sent this morning to the Boston Globe. In keeping with the doctrine of recycling, if they don’t print it, I’ll send it to some other papers in the next couple of days.

The writer Brian Aldiss defines civilization as “the distance man has placed between himself and his excreta.” Our civilization has done a wonderful job of distancing us from our waste in general, as witness the fact that while the world’s largest landfill contains millions of tons of plastic trash and occupies an area as large or larger as the continental United States, it’s smack in the middle of the Pacific ocean, out of sight and out of mind. Similarly, our emissions of carbon dioxide (even as they reside in our atmosphere, all around us) are kept at a great mental distance; it’s much easier to think about Tiger Woods’ marital problems and the latest episode of a popular television program than it is to confront our own waste and wastefulness. Emerson said that the human race will “eventually die of civilization.” The ever-increasing likelihood of catastrophic global climate change makes the Sage of Concord’s words ring all too true.

A properly functioning print and broadcast media would be educating the public about these issues, making a clear distinction between scientific truth and irresponsible denialism. Instead we are treated to a never-ending parade of distractions and irrelevancies, while the world’s ecosystems crumble and the possibility of a happy and sustainable life for future generations grows ever dimmer.

Warren Senders

Have you written to your local branch of the Corporate Media today? You should. It will give you a few fleeting seconds of satisfaction.