Month 9, Day 5: Keeping It Local

We appear to have dodged a bullet here on the East Coast. I sent this to my local paper, the Medford Transcript. This one got written early; I’m on my way to a family reunion and don’t expect to be back till late in the day tomorrow.

While it looks as though the Massachusetts coastline has been spared the worst effects of Hurricane Earl, the fact is that over the coming decades, we are going to see more hurricanes, more often. The climatic effects of even a one-degree rise in global atmospheric temperature include dramatic increases in extreme weather, like the catastrophic floods that have rendered Pakistan helpless, and disrupted the lives of more people than live in New England. Of course, it is impossible to say that a specific weather event is directly caused by the greenhouse effect; the laws of physics and probability don’t work that way. But climatologists have predicted for decades that increased atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases would lead to exactly the kinds of weather we’re seeing all over the globe: heat waves, torrential flooding, anomalous precipitation, droughts, and overall volatility and unpredictability. “Global warming” is an inadequate term; we should call it by its true name: “climate chaos.” And we — all of us — need to wake up to the need for rapid and robust action to mitigate its effects.

Warren Senders

Month 4, Day 2: Recycling is Important!

I took my letter to the POTUS from yesterday, did a bunch of tweaking, added a little dig about leaf-blowers and wars, and sent it off to my local paper, the Medford Transcript.

I’d love to believe that President Obama’s decision to encourage offshore oil drilling is only a part of a more sweeping political strategy which will confuse the Republican opposition, leaving them no choice but to support policy initiatives which will ultimately focus much more on alternative and renewable energy sources. Our national addiction to cheap fossil energy means that in order to power our SUVs, flatscreens, leafblowers and wars, we’re taking carbon out of the earth and putting it into the atmosphere, causing potentially catastrophic warming effects, of which the recent flood-level rains are just one example. The last thing we need is to further expand oil and coal use!

The surprise announcement of this component of an Obama energy policy reminds me of the build-up to the passage of health-care legislation, in which Democrats abandoned progressive positions before negotiations began, stripping out many of the reforms we needed most desperately. The problem with basing climate legislation on strategic exigencies is that we need a policy that’s based on climatic reality, not political gamesmanship. The window of opportunity for our species is rapidly closing; there is very little “later” available.

While I appreciate the complexity of President Obama’s dilemma, I am dismayed by the latest turn of events. The President needs to focus our national attention on the requirements of sustainable energy, conservation, and the urgency of reducing our individual and national carbon footprints. There is no time to lose, and none to waste.

Warren Senders

Month 3, Day 21: Keepin’ it Local

Figured I’d follow my letter to the President with some more built around a similar perspective. This one goes to my local paper, the Medford Transcript, which has been printing some of my letters over the past few months. I’ll scan them in sometime soon and post them.

Have you written to your local paper recently?

With the hubbub around health care legislation, people may have missed President Obama’s recent announcement (in Executive Order 13514 on Federal Sustainability, dated January 29,2010) that the U.S. Government will aim to cut its own emissions of greenhouse gases twenty-eight percent by 2010. While that’s a great start, it’s nowhere near enough. The world needs a new energy equation where none of our energy comes from oil and coal. A world without fossil fuels is as important to our long-term survival as a world without nuclear weapons.

The fact that rising greenhouse emissions increase the already very real possibility of a global climate catastrophe should be enough to force us to change our energy usage drastically. And yet, there is another element to be considered.

We wouldn’t turn a thousand-year-old sequoia into toothpicks or dismantle Stonehenge or the Great Pyramid and grind their stones into gravel, for to do so would be to disrespect their antiquity. Fossil fuels, as their name suggests, are the transformed remains of ancient life. We squander a precious and limited resource every time we burn the sunlight that fell on Earth hundreds of millions of years ago, turning it into CO2 and dissipating it into the atmosphere. To burn oil and coal is to spend our principal, to eat our seed corn, to waste our inheritance.

Renewable energy sources are the ecological equivalent of a “pay as you go” policy; a change in our energy use patterns is not just good environmental and fiscal policy, it is also morally sound and philosophically correct. The President has started the ball rolling with his Executive Order. Now it’s up to us to take it further, finding ever more inventive ways to shift our energy sources from the sunlight of the Paleozoic era to that currently streaming in our windows.

Warren Senders