Month 12, Day 22: David Cameron Makes Positive Noises

The Pakistan Times runs a little piece about the British PM’s statement on the Cancun agreement:

LONDON (UK): British Prime Minister David Cameron has hailed the agreement at the UN Climate Change talks in Cancun, Mexico, as a “very significant step forward” to tackling climate change through multilateral action.

Cameron said he was clear that Britain would meet its international obligations and stressed he would continue to make the case for a “global, comprehensive and legally-binding climate agreement”, a message received by ‘Pakistan Times’ [Daily e-Newspaper] from 10 Downing said.

Always nice to hear people saying the right things once in a while, no?

The Cancun climate accord may be a small step, but at least it is a step in the right direction. There are few nations in the world that are as acutely aware of the need for a robust and realistic plan of action on climate change as Pakistan. Sadly, the planet’s wealthiest countries are among its biggest polluters, while the states which bear the brunt of extreme weather conditions are often those whose carbon dioxide emissions are statistically insignificant. Cancun represents at least a tentative step towards a global recognition that the richest can no longer afford to ignore those they harm. The coming years will determine not only the fate of the world’s nations, but of humanity as a whole. If the climate crisis has a positive side, it is simply this: awareness of global warming may force us to recognize our shared destiny as a species.

Warren Senders

Month 9, Day 8: McNews.

When I did a search on “Pakistan” on the USA Today site, the top three listings all concerned Angelina Jolie. Maybe I should write a letter to her….

They ran an AP story on a farmer who’d gotten badly whacked by the flood, so I hung this letter on that.

Pakistan’s devastated agricultural infrastructure, like the droughts that have destroyed Russia’s wheat fields, is a tragic consequence of global climate change. Since the mid-1980s, climate scientists have predicted that higher concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will increase the likelihood of catastrophic weather events. Unfortunately, corporate-funded denialists continue to receive equal coverage in our news media, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of climatologists agree on global warming’s human cause. Although stories like Abid Hussein’s put a human face on the disaster in Pakistan, they fail to point out the role of climate change in making that disaster possible. What will it take for Americans to wake up to our responsibilities as the world’s foremost per capita emitter of carbon dioxide? Twenty million people’s lives have been turned upside down in Pakistan — and that’s just a preview of what’s in store for the world in the coming years.

Warren Senders

Month 9, Day 7: By “God,” Do You Mean “The Industrialized West?”

The New York Times had a front page story on Pakistan and its misery. It’s taken them a while.

HATA SIAL, Pakistan — When the governor of Punjab Province arrived recently in this small town with truckloads of relief goods for flood victims, his visit was as much a political mission as a humanitarian one. His message to the hundred or so displaced people gathered under an awning was that the government was there for them. Long after floodwaters subside, Pakistanis will face a lack of housing, food shortages and price spikes, among other hardships.

“The people say this was an act of God,” the governor, Salman Taseer, said in an interview after reassuring the crowd. “But what comes now, they say, is the act of man. If we don’t deliver, they will not forgive us.”

The “act of God/act of man” construction gave me a nice hook for the letter.

To the suffering Pakistanis, the floods that have destroyed their lives may seem an “Act of God,” and their government’s paralysis an “act of man.” But the grim reality is that the greenhouse effect brought about by the West’s profligate consumption of fossil fuels drastically increases the probability of catastrophic weather events. Thus, the floods are as much an act of man as the dysfunctionality of the Pakistani government. And just as Zardari’s administration is stymied and near-helpless in the face of this disaster, America’s national politics is mired in a quicksand of anti-science rhetoric that has rendered it unable to address humanity’s most pressing problem, or even to acknowledge that the problem exists. Global climate chaos is going to give us many Pakistans, each with an overwhelming share of human misery. Will we admit our own responsibilities, or will each new climate disaster still be an “Act of God?”

Warren Senders

Month 8, Day 31: Can I Keep It? It Followed Me Home!

The New York Times is doing good reporting on Pakistan. Climate Change is of course the rhinoceros in the living room — rarely mentioned and carefully tiptoed around.

Tumultuous though it is on the ground, Pakistan’s disaster unfolds in slow motion from this side of the globe. A newly homeless population greater than New England’s, a nation’s resources destroyed, an epidemiology textbook’s worst-case scenario — these may seem abstract from a comfortable distance, but we ignore them at our peril. In our newly-created Anthropocene epoch, catastrophes like Pakistan’s can unfold anywhere. By definition, freakish weather events are unexpected; the conditions foretold by climate scientists will make accurate prediction increasingly difficult (which perhaps is one of the reasons many meteorologists are loath to accept the evidence for anthropogenic climate chaos). Pakistan’s suffering holds a message to all the nations of the globe: the storms of the coming centuries are here, and we must change our ways of living if we are to last them out.

Warren Senders

Month 8, Day 27: We Brought It Upon Yourselves

More misery in Pakistan. Another letter to the Times.

While America’s mass media look the other way, Pakistan’s tragedy grows ever more horrifying. Imagining the entire population of New England rendered homeless by climatic upheaval conveys the size of the catastrophe. But it is more than the people whose lives have been overturned; it is more than the shattered infrastructure and threat of disease; more than the likely political upheavals — Pakistan’s affliction is an ugly picture of a post-global-warming world. While those extreme monsoons cannot be specifically attributed to anthropogenic climate change, climatologists have long predicted upheavals of just this type as a consequence of an increased concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. As we begin to see the humanitarian consequences of climate change, it is no wonder our punditocracy usually chooses to look away. A final irony: unlike that of the USA, Pakistan’s contribution to atmospheric CO2 is negligible. They did not create climate chaos. We did.

Warren Senders

Month 8, Day 23: Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream

I’ve never written to Ban ki-Moon before. His statements about climate change make it pretty clear that he gets it in a way that hardly any American politicians do.

It was extremely difficult to find any useful contact address. The UN has a generic email submission page which I finally used…but I’m going to try and get something more substantial once they open for business tomorrow.

SUBJECT:

Please forward to the Secretary General – RE: Geopolitical Implications of Climate Change

Dear Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon,
Your recent words about the disaster in Pakistan show that you are one of the few public figures who is willing to recognize climate change as one of the primary causal forces behind that country’s devastating floods. It is evident to any thinking observer that a steady increase in extreme weather events (as predicted for decades by climatologists) will lead to dramatic changes in the structuring foreign policy.

Humanity can go in two directions. The nations of the world can join together to develop strategies for resource allotment and the deployment of infrastructure as needed to combat the devastating effects of short-term weather events (thereby preventing food and water wars, or other political manifestations of climatic emergency) — or they can continue on the path of what the economist Naomi Klein aptly terms “disaster capitalism,” in which any crisis is used as an opportunity for exploitation and the curtailment of human liberties.

The first path will lead to our survival as a species, the second inevitably to our doom.

We have often wondered: if humanity could find a common adversary, could old national rivalries be set aside? In that respect, the climate crisis offers us an opportunity to transform our ways of thinking about ourselves as a species and our role on the planet. What is happening to Pakistan today could happen to one of the world’s wealthiest nations next week; the transformed climate does not play favorites in the long run.

This is the first time that humanity has faced a planet-sized enemy, an enemy that cannot be defeated by force of arms or by political maneuverings. We have created this threat ourselves, and to defeat it we must change ourselves at a deep level.

We can no longer waste time and treasure on the destructive distractions of war; there is a greater enemy to overcome.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 8, Day 22: Imagine…

I figured I’d push the Pakistan/post-climate-change-foreign-policy angle a few more times, and found a suitable article in the NYT to hang it on. This one came out rather well, I think. In any event, I relish any opportunity to use the word “epiphenomena.”

Post-flood Pakistan will not only be a nation full of shattered lives and human misery. It will also be an opportunity for the world to demonstrate a new approach to foreign policy that takes into account the reality of anthropogenic climate chaos. For twenty-five years, climatologists have predicted that the greenhouse effect would lead to ever more erratic and freakish weather; it’s finally here, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

Which means that more of the world’s nations will be battered by climatic forces beyond their control. More heatwaves, droughts, massive floods, blizzards, storms — leading to more human misery and political instability. If we as a species are to survive in our self-created Anthropocene epoch, nations must learn to share resources and infrastructure against this common enemy. In an age of climate chaos, war and its profitable epiphenomena are luxuries we can no longer afford.

Warren Senders

Month 8, Day 21: Time To Speak Truth

Figured I’d continue on the theme outlined yesterday and write to Hillary Clinton.

Dear Secretary Clinton,

It is obvious that the United States’ foreign policy in South Asia is going to be significantly affected by the catastrophic flooding in Pakistan. This will be the first case of important policy alternations being brought about by the effects of climate change, but it is assuredly not the last.

Twenty-five years ago, climatologists begin predicting that increased atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases would lead to dramatic changes in weather pattern across the globe; they anticipated more storms, more floods, more heat waves, more blizzards, more droughts. Now, despite the frantic protestations of the deniers in the U.S. Senate and their enablers in our country’s mass media, those predictions are coming true.

Climate chaos is going to get worse over the next decades, and the current policy paradigm will soon be hopelessly out of date. Either the nations of the world will be able to agree on a strategy for collective adaptation to the destructive effects of climate change — or we are going to see resource wars that will multiply the current level of global misery a thousandfold.

As Secretary of State, it is crucial that you make this point loud and clear in your public statements. Climate change isn’t going to start happening sometime in the future; it’s making its effects felt right now — in the drowning provinces of Pakistan, in the burning peat-bogs of drought-ridden Russia, and in hundreds of other places around the globe. Our news media is unable or unwilling to make the connection; they must be prodded into recognizing the magnitude of the most significant existential threat our species has yet faced.

We need your help.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 8, Day 20: Time To Make Some Connections

Continuing on the theme of political upheaval in Pakistan in the aftermath of the flood, the New York Times had a good analysis (which naturally didn’t mention climate change). I started out reading the article thinking I’d write a standard admonitory letter, bla bla bla disgrace to the media bla bla bla well-informed citizenry bla bla bla.

Then I saw that Kerry was headed over there, and tonight’s letter formed itself.

The UN Development Programme’s statistics on CO2 as a proportion of world population are available here, and are well worth a look.

Dear Senator Kerry –

We learn that the catastrophic flooding in Pakistan is going to have drastic and unpredictable consequences for America’s own foreign policy in the region. The shape of our aid to Pakistan is certainly going to be profoundly transformed. I was glad to hear that you are headed there to assess the situation, for your experience in foreign affairs is invaluable.

It is a tragic coincidence that the disaster in Pakistan should also intersect with another policy area in which you have great knowledge and expertise — climate change.

Pakistan’s inundation, like New York’s heat wave, Russia’s drought, and Washington’s blizzard, is part of our new post-Industrial weather pattern — climate chaos.

Climate chaos was predicted twenty-five years ago and climatologists have been affirming and substantiating their predictions ever since. We’re just getting the first taste of it now, and even if we had taken decisive action in this Congress, climate chaos is going to get worse before it gets a lot better.

As you know.

Please use your public statements on the subject of Pakistan to make the point that the region’s political instability and upheaval is a diplomatic consequence of climate change. Please use your statements on the Senate floor to make the point crystal clear to your colleagues.

Even as America mobilizes to do its very best to alleviate Pakistan’s climatic miseries, we must focus on the conditions that gave rise to them.

The proportion of a nation’s CO2 emissions to its share of world population is a useful measure. America’s is five times greater. Pakistan’s is one-fifth. We put enormous quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere; Pakistan’s contribution, by contrast, amounts to a rounding error. In other words, Pakistanis didn’t create the climate chaos that is now destroying their country. We did.

Weather-triggered political instability is a predictable consequence of climate change, and yet another reason that quick and robust legislative action must be taken.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 8, Day 19: Deeper and Dire

I can’t believe I’ve never written to the New York Post before. Their columnist Ralph Peters raises the possibility that the floods may bring about the downfall of the Zardari government. Maybe. Needless to say, the idea that anthropogenic climate change is somehow implicated in this catastrophe is absolutely out of the question. BTW, the comments on Peters’ article are absolutely horrific. My favorite is this one:

beatitdems

08/18/2010 5:52 AM

35 Million Refugees Drowning in Pakistan is surely a tragedy that tears at the Human Heart , MR. Peters . And we all rush to their aid , and pray for their relief . The closest parallel that comes to mind , are the Millions of Americans who are drowning now , right here in America under the flood of taxes and the inept leadership of a Communist Dictatorship led by Barack Hussein Obama .

Unbelievable. Just unbelievable.

Anyway, here’s my letter:

As Ralph Peters suggests, Pakistani extremists may tout the torrential rains as a judgment from on high. He comments, “Sound incredible? Look at some of the things educated Americans believe.” Indeed.   For example, even as New York fries, Russia dries, and Pakistan drowns, many educated Americans believe that global warming is a fraud and a hoax — despite the fact that climate scientists predicted all of these phenomena in the mid-1980s.  Zardari’s regime may be the first governmental casualty of climate change; it is unlikely to be the last. The fact that the phrase “global warming” appears nowhere in his article is a sad indictment of a news media that has abdicated its responsibilities. But as Peters points out, “People believe what comforts them and what feeds their rage.” It’s easier to believe in an international scientific conspiracy than it is to face the facts and act on them.

Warren Senders