Year 4, Month 8, Day 23: Because It’s There

The Bloomington Pantagraph (IN) notes that one of their state’s own has spoken out:

BLOOMINGTON — McLean County farmers are fortunate to have high quality soils but their success – and ultimately the economic success of the broader community – relies on a favorable and stable climate.

That was the message McLean County Board member Carlo Robustelli offered as he joined several local and state leaders at the DoubleTree by Hilton Monday to urge the acceptance of the scientific consensus that human activity is causing climate change that, unmitigated, will have devastating effects.

“The consequences of climate change are real,” he said, noting the inability to transport farmers’ harvest last year due to low river levels caused by drought. “Taking action on climate change is good economic policy … It is also just the right thing to do for future generations.”

Aaaaand away we go. July 30:

While the grim realities of climate change are starting to hit home, the fact that there is still a vocal plurality of “denialists” speaks to the remarkable power of giant financial interests to influence public understanding. By sponsoring their own pseudo-scientists through “think tanks,” multinational fossil-fuel corporations have muddled the discussion of a rapidly metastasizing crisis while co-opting legislators and ensuring that meaningful policy initiatives are impossible to enact.

How many times have you seen “Senior Policy Analysts,” “Energy Research Consultants,” and “Energy Strategy Fellows” on your television? These generic talking heads are the creation of Big Oil and Big Coal, which have invested heavily in creating diversions and distractions in order to persuade a significant number of Americans that the international scientific community is a front for a liberal One-World conspiracy.

Yes, climate change is real. Unfortunately, so is the massively-funded denial industry, brought to you by the same people who fought tooth and nail to hide the link between cigarettes and lung cancer. Of course we can trust them. What could possibly go wrong?

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 9, Day 19: The Words Are There. Will We Use Them?

The New Brunswick Telegraph Journal brings up the necessity of actually, you know, talking about climate change:

In the meantime, the reality of climate change marches on. Globally, 2010 was tied with 2005 as the hottest year on record. In Canada, 2010 was the hottest year on record. Extreme weather events across the globe – from Pakistan to Russia to Brazil to the U.S. – have led to misery, destruction, food shortages and loss of life.

And, for the record, global temperature data is indeed accurate: Distinct meteorological organizations around the world have independently noted identical global-warming trends. The climate impacts of sun spots and volcanoes are slight compared to the impacts of CO2 from human combustion of fossil fuel. Ninety-seven per cent of the world’s leading climate scientists do agree that human activity is a major contributor to global warming.

The reality of greenhouse gas emissions marches on too. Global emissions in 2010 were at their highest level ever.

It’s time to talk

In a recent interview, Al Gore reflected that the U.S. civil rights movement. It was finally won when everyday people dared to stand up against racism in everyday conversations. Gore suggests the same strategy is needed to overcome the proliferation of misinformation on climate change. Everyday people would pave the way for real action.

In other words, we need to talk.

Sent September 14:

The corporate climate-change denialist machinery has been going full tilt for well over a decade by now, casting doubt on the integrity of scientific experts with one manufactured non-scandal after another. Unfortunately, many people have fallen for their spurious claims, swallowing the petroleum industry’s position hook, line and sinker. Those so-called “skeptics” who are found everywhere from talk radio to online comment threads are as far from actual skepticism as it’s possible to get. They know the “truth”; factuality and evidence be damned.

Meanwhile, of course, the atmospheric CO2 count continues to climb, exacerbating the greenhouse effect that is making our planet heat up, which in turn is making the weather, um, livelier: heavier rains, deeper snows, drier droughts, more devastating storms. It’s true: if we fail to address climate change, we are ever likelier to fail as a species. Everybody’s doing something about the weather — but nobody’s talking about it.

Warren Senders

Month 7, Day 27: Can I Get In Three Times This Year?

I’m about due for another round at the New York Times. They had a trifecta of editorials this weekend; I chose to respond to Lee Wasserman’s, but the other two are worth reading — Ross Douthat’s because it’s always good to know what people who aren’t thinking are thinking (the comments on his piece are excellent and a real relief to read), and Paul Krugman’s because he’s right, as he usually is.

As Lee Wasserman points out, the “loudest voices” in the climate debate won this round, to our collective detriment. But it is essential to note that our national news media helped make the collapse of a climate bill inevitable, by upholding a reportorial policy of false equivalence in which every climatologist’s scary prediction was “balanced” by a denialist’s dismissal. Unfortunately, the laws of physics don’t listen to TV news or op-ed pages. Anthropogenic global warming is recognized as a major threat to the human species by an overwhelming majority of climate scientists. To properly represent the “debate” over climate change, our media should show ninety-seven scientific authorities for every three industry-funded “skeptics.” A well-informed citizenry would have been better able to assess the true risks and rewards of meaningful action on climate. In this respect, the Fourth Estate has abdicated its responsibilities; we are all the losers for it.

Warren Senders

Month 5, Day 18: This Kurtz Me More Than It Kurtz You

I got tired of writing about the damned Deepwater Horizon. How many times can you say “they’re killing us!” before it gets old? So I went hunting for something new to engage my monkey mind, and A Siegel delivered, with a piece highlighting the blinkered behavior of our national media, as exemplified by the “coverage of the coverage” carried out by Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz.

Kurtz noticed that the media didn’t treat the Southern storms as nationally relevant….but it didn’t occur to him that things can be localized in time as well as space.

If the media ignores Tennessee and Kentucky because of their location and demographics, then it’s a case of Elite Liberals Ignoring The Real Americans. Witness Kurtz’ interviewee Bob Sellers, talking about media coverage of the floods:

“On that side of the Hudson, they really lose sight of the rest of the country,” says Sellers, who grew up in Kentucky. “They view it as flyover country. . . . There’s just a feeling among folks here, ‘Look at what the national media are talking about, they’re not giving any attention to this.’ ”

But when they fail to connect the temporal and climatic dots, the media become Enablers of Disaster. Which, needless to say, was something Howard Kurtz didn’t notice at all.


Howard Kurtz has it half right: media coverage of extreme weather is both geographically and climatically parochial, never mentioning that such events are getting more severe and more frequent — and that climate scientists have been predicting this for years. It’s simple enough: if the climate gets warmer there will be more evaporation, which means more moisture in the air, which means that there will be more and heavier storms. Global warming is real; it is dangerous; it is human-caused — and Nashville’s flooded neighborhoods are genuine evidence of it. Climatologists said it was going to happen just like this, and the media disgracefully ignored them. By treating freak weather events as isolated from one another and from the larger trend of increasing precipitation, the news establishment becomes complicit in keeping Americans unaware of the gravest threat humanity has ever faced. We can no longer afford to remain ignorant.

Warren Senders

Month 2, Day 27: If It’s Saturday, It Must Be POTUS

Now that we’re all done with HCR, and all that remains is to wait for April and a reconciliation vote (and to keep calling your Democratic congresscritters to make sure they won’t keep capitulating to the threat of a threat of a threat from some Republican somewhere) — well, it’s time for the President to kick a little butt on climate issues.

I only wish I were as sanguine about this as I was a year ago, shortly after the inauguration. This letter shows some of the erosion in confidence I have experienced.

Dear President Obama,

Congratulations on the success of your meticulously prepared Health Care Summit. You demonstrated a thorough command of the issues as well as a seemingly inexhaustible reserve of patience. A political opposition that cares more about ensuring the failure of your administration than about the well-being of the country must be a source of considerable exasperation.

I’m afraid that Health Care Reform is going to be the easy part of your agenda to enact. The problems with passing a meaningful and robust climate bill are manifold and more widespread. Those of us who are at least marginally competent in interpreting basic science know that the climate crisis presents the gravest threat humanity has ever faced. We also know that the windows of opportunity are closing rapidly; as the planet races from tipping point to tipping point, the “worst-case” predictions of climatologists from a few years ago are the “best-case” predictions of today. We need to act; we need to act strongly; we need to act immediately.

Unfortunately, a significant proportion of the American public doesn’t even believe global warming exists. When the pronunciamenti of corporate-funded denialists are given national platforms by an irresponsible media, the climate crisis intersects with an ignorance crisis to create a perfect storm. Mother Nature isn’t helping; snowstorms in Washington, DC form the perfect context for Senator Inhofe’s inanities, which fit perfectly with our aggravated case of national ADD.

When you were elected, environmentalists were delighted. We felt that at last we had a president who was ready to embrace science, to advocate for a reality-based energy and climate policy, and who would not back down in the face of opposition from the Coal and Oil Industries. The past year has seen much progress in environmental issues; more of it through the application of Executive Orders than through bicameral legislation. But as the stage is set for climate legislation, there are a number of troubling signs in the way you and your team handled Health Care Reform.

1. You gave away your strongest negotiating position before you even started. If you and the Democrats had been advocating for Single Payer health care, you could have been negotiated down to a Public Option. Instead, what we have left is a bill that has been watered down repeatedly by acquiescence to Republican demands; while better than nothing, it is much weaker than it needs to be. This cannot be allowed to happen with a climate bill.

2. You allowed the opposition to define the terms of debate. Your administration’s passivity during most of 2009 may have been based on your desire to have the Senate re-assume its rightful place in our system of government — but by now it should be evident to anyone that our Senate is hopelessly dysfunctional. The Republicans and the Tea-Baggers dominated the national media, and it was clear that your team was unprepared for the sheer lunacy of their assault. This cannot be allowed to happen with a climate bill.

3. You allowed your desire for “bi-partisanship” to overwhelm your desire for a bill that really did the best thing for the American people. Watching Senate committees exclude single-payer advocates and bend to the whims of Olympia Snowe has profoundly demoralized your Democratic base (unlike the Republican base, we actually pay more attention to policy than politics). Watching Harry Reid and the Democratic leadership capitulate preemptively to the threat that a Republican might make a threat has destroyed any confidence among your liberal and progressive admirers that Democrats can be counted on to stand up for our beliefs. That cannot be allowed to happen with a climate bill.

Your Health Care Summit Conference was a tremendous success. Now what’s needed is a full-bore campaign to educate the public about the need for strong and urgent action to mitigate the worst effects of the looming climate crisis. There is no time to waste. Please make plans for a Climate Summit. Engage experts to testify, but don’t expect to change many Republican minds. They genuinely would rather see the planet perish in a Venusian pressure-cooker than allow you and your administration any successes whatever.

If you wait for them to come to their senses before trying to get a bill passed, we will still be waiting in 2016 and in 2020. We’ll still be waiting when gigatonnes of arctic methane have entered the atmosphere and the greenhouse effect has spiraled completely out of control. Get a strong bill passed, and once it’s done, a few of them (and a few coal-state Democrats, too) may realize that it was the right thing to do.

If we fail in this, the failure will be all humanity’s. This cannot be allowed to happen.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 2, Day 23: George Will is an Utter Disgrace

As usual, the Washington Post disgraces itself by continuing to print George Will’s vacuous denialism. Here’s the latest example.

I am not a scientist, and I’m certainly not a mathematician…but I sure as hell know more about statistics than George Will. The fact that this guy is still read and heard in our media is depressing beyond belief. So I wrote them a letter.

It is beyond incredible that a mainstream newspaper like the Washington Post should continue to publish misinformation of the sort propagated by George Will. In his column of February 21st, Will distorted the words of climatologist Phil Jones, making it seem that Jones asserted that no human-caused warming is occurring. But Jones has stated in a BBC interview that he is “100% confident that the climate has warmed,” and notes evidence that “most of the warming since the 1950s is due to human activity.”

Jones made a scientifically accurate statement to the effect that statistical significance was vastly more difficult to achieve in short-term measurements; this has nothing to do with whether global warming exists, as witness Jones’ own statements to the BBC. Either George Will doesn’t know what “statistical significance” means, in which case he’s incompetent — or he knows and doesn’t care, in which case he’s a mendacious hack. In neither case does he deserve to be heard on the subject of climate change.

It is a sad commentary on the state of our media that George Will’s scientific illiteracy is considered important commentary on the most significant threat human beings have ever faced. Will should stick to issuing quote-studded pronunciamenti on politico-cultural trivia, a genre in which his glib faux-erudition can remain relatively harmless.

Warren Senders

Year 1, Month 2, Day 1: Energy Secretary Chu

Go and read this post from DK Greenroots’ A Siegel, all about how Business Week practices gross deception on their readership with misleading reporting on climate-change issues. It made me pretty mad. Tomorrow’s letter may go to Business Week itself; tonight I wanted to write to them, but I just couldn’t wrap my head around all the facts in Siegel’s piece sufficiently to compose a letter that would make any sense.

So instead I thought I’d write to Energy Secretary Chu, and tell him that he and his Department would have to find some ways to edumacate the media about how to do accurate reporting.

I swear, if we could harness the Idiot Wind, all our problems would be solved.

This letter was pretty long and kind of sprawling. I was too tired to write concisely.

Dear Secretary Chu,

I write as a concerned citizen. I want my daughter to grow up in a world where the threat of environmental devastation on a planetary scale no longer hangs over humanity’s head.

I am not a climatologist, or even any kind of scientist. But I am scientifically literate to the point where it is obvious to me that the difficult truths of global climate change are constantly overwhelmed by corporate-funded denialism and misdirection. The steady rise of atmospheric CO2, the acidification of our oceans, and the newest and most troubling trend of melting Arctic methane all suggest that the most profound existential crisis humanity has ever faced is at hand — and is being resolutely ignored.

Obviously we need concrete and practical solutions, and equally obviously they have to pass political muster. I do not envy your job, for it is self-evident that you (as an administrator) have had to approve initiatives which you (as a scientist) know are foolish and almost certainly a waste of time. So-called “Clean Coal” is one such notion; the idea that capture and sequestration of carbon emissions from burning coal could ever be cost-effective is absurd.

What can you and your colleagues in the Department of Energy do to promote scientific literacy in the media? Perhaps you could announce a regular series of awards from the DoE for the highest-quality scientific reporting in print and broadcast areas — with a special “bottom-of-the-bucket” category to highlight the worst deceptions perpetrated on an uninformed public by our corporatized media establishment. Awards announcements could be made with great fanfare, providing positive reinforcement for journalists and media figures who actually make the effort to explain complex subjects without lapsing into caricature.

I recognize that this type of action would normally fall outside your purview as a working scientist. Alas, by accepting a Cabinet position in the Obama Administration, you have also accepted responsibility for making your department’s work make sense to the general population — a task which is all but impossible in today’s corrupt informational environment. You and your Department need to take the initiative strongly, and give the media what it needs: a circus. If you can give our ADD-affected punditocracy a better circus than that provided by corporate flacks, your message will have a chance of changing the minds of Americans.

Right now, with an increasing number of my compatriots believing that global climate change is illusory, it seems the voices funded by Big Oil and Big Coal are winning the battle. If the Venusian worst-case projections of Dr. James Hansen are accurate, it will be a Pyrrhic victory for the energy companies, for within a few centuries there won’t be a human customer base for them to lie to.

Good luck.

Yours sincerely,

Warren Senders

Here’s how to reach the Department of Energy.