Year 4, Month 3, Day 9: Soothing.

The Barnstable Patriot offers a column from one Richard Elrick, noted as “From the Left.” Because the Right is always wrong:

The fact is that unless we substantially reduce our use of fossil fuels by 50 to 80 percent by 2050, when compared to 2000 levels, we will pass a “tipping point,” and most likely not be able to avoid the most catastrophic effects of a warming world.

The American discussion about climate change and cheap energy will be coming to a crucial crescendo soon when President Obama will have to make a decision about whether to allow the Keystone XL Pipeline to be built. If constructed, the pipeline would cross from Canada down to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico, carrying the dirtiest, most carbon-intensive oil from the tar sands and shale of Alberta.

There will be incredible pressure on the president to allow Keystone to proceed. We are addicted to cheap oil, and the perception exists for some that we “need” Keystone for the jobs and economy.

But the truth, as NASA scientist and climate change expert Dr. James Hansen so eloquently described recently to a Keystone Pipeline supporter, is that, “The climate science is crystal clear. We cannot go down the path of the dirty fuels without guaranteeing that the climate system passes tipping points, leaving our children and grandchildren a situation out of their control, a situation of our making.”

Mr. President, the choice is yours. You can start us down the road to a sustainable energy future, or you can give way to the short-term and short-sighted political forces that need their fossil fuel fix. Posterity’s future awaits your decision.

I brought out the heroin thing again. Sent Feb. 27:

As global warming’s effects get harder and harder to ignore, we can expect a gradual transformation in denialist rhetoric, from “it’s not happening” to “it’s too expensive to do anything.” Statements of this sort are typical rationalizations of addictive behavior, and as Richard Elrick and countless others have pointed out, American civilization is addicted to fossil fuels. In refusing to address climate change, conservatives deny the grim facts of our national dependency. Similarly, attempts to promote fossil-fuel “alternatives” ostensibly less damaging to the planet’s climate, such as “clean coal” or natural gas (extracted by the process of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”), are nothing more than the desperate bargaining attempts of an addiction.

Let’s consider these claims in the light of history — in particular another national dependency of a little more than a century ago. In 1895, millions of Americans were hooked on morphine, which was freely available over the counter. It was an enormous social and medical crisis, finally solved with by diacetylmorphine, a “non-addictive” substitute, marketed under the trade name of “Heroin.” Let’s remember how well that worked out before we put our hopes in natural gas and “clean coal.”

If humanity is to survive and prosper in the coming centuries, we need to transform our energy economy profoundly and completely.

Warren Senders


Year 4, Month 3, Day 8: Who Dat Who Say Who Dat When I Say Who Dat?

The Denver Post marvels at the relationship between family-oriented community life and support for sustainable energy:

What might you expect to find in communities where “family values” are the strongest? More churches? More parents helping out in classrooms? Maybe more bake sales? Yes, perhaps. But there’s one thing you would definitely find: solar panels.

Research at the University of Colorado at Boulder shows that one modern marker of communities with greater “family interdependence” — a social science term that indicates the value a person places on time spent with their family — is that more new solar energy businesses take root. Further, where state solar incentives are in place, high levels of family interdependence seem to supercharge the effectiveness of those incentives.

These aren’t just weird facts. The information is mind-blowing. It suggests that if government cares about solving climate change, or clean energy jobs, or entrepreneurship, then social norms — the unwritten rules of community conduct — might matter as much as rebates and incentives.

There’s a big difference between saying “pro-family” and being “pro-family.” Sent February 26:

It’s hardly counterintuitive to notice that vibrant, family-friendly communities are more likely to adopt renewable energy and make it work. A family is a chain of relationships extending forward and backward in time — an unambiguous argument for sustainability. It takes a village to raise a windmill or a solar panel.

For all their pro-family rhetoric, anti-environment conservatives are unlikely to believe that “family values” extend to people who aren’t just like them — and the GOP’s extreme libertarians are far more likely to adopt every-man-for-himself ideologies that discount and disrespect the crucial importance of community, inclusiveness, and long-term stability.

Equally important, the inevitable disruptions of global climate change will impact all of humanity significantly, damaging physical infrastructure and crippling agriculture. Coping with these changes will require a strengthened social infrastructure, and a recognition that America’s motto is “E Pluribus Unum,” not “what’s in it for me?”

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 10, Day 11: Change Is Gonna Come

The Des Moines Register offers an op-ed titled: “Climate Change Is About Jobs And The Economy.” Indeed:

Climate chaos is not a future threat. It’s real, it’s here today, and it’s causing misery in Iowa. Left unchecked, it will get worse.

Iowa is ground central for climate change. Almost 60 percent of the state is in extreme drought, with 80 percent of its soils moisture deficient. Nearly three quarters of the corn crop is threatened, driving the price from $5.50 a bushel last year to over $8.

If food prices climb as predicted, a family of four will spend $600 more next year to buy food.

Hot enough for you? From rivers of dead fish to dry wells, Iowans are experiencing firsthand why America’s decade of ignoring climate science has been a horrible mistake. Both the International Energy Agency and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development warn that unless we implement energy saving practices immediately we will, perhaps as early as 2017, lock in 6 degrees Celsius warming.

The impacts Iowa is experiencing now have come from a 1.5 degree warming. Unless Iowa acts to capture the green economy, it faces a grim prospect, both from the weather and from an economy strangled by its fossil fuel past.

Those old chestnuts are rattling around in my brain these days. Sent October 4:

When it comes to climate change, the old saying is really true: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Once the greenhouse effect has accelerated, we won’t have very many options left — and the choices will range from devastatingly expensive to simply devastating. To be sure, addressing the aftereffects of our past century’s worth of fossil-fuel consumption won’t be cheap — but it’s going to be a heck of a lot cheaper if we start right away. Waiting until climate change intensifies to the point that its effects are inescapable and undeniable is like delaying therapy until the tumor becomes malignant.

Self-styled “skeptics” who deny the work of the international climate science community are doing America, and the world, a grave disservice. On environmental, humanitarian, and economic grounds, a robust and comprehensive strategy for mitigating the effects of global warming is the right thing to do.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 9, Day 24: You Never Give Me Your Money…

The Macon, GA, Telegraph runs a story on the role of climate questions on the campaign trail. Several paragraphs are devoted to the cognitive dissonance of Republican environmentalists. Let’s all quiet down and stop giggling.

Romney has said previously that he believes climate change is occurring and that human activity is a contributing factor. During the Republican primary season, though, he said he didn’t believe it was the right course to spend “trillions and trillions” to reduce carbon emissions. More recently, he said in a questionnaire submitted to Science Debate, a non-profit organization focusing on science issues in the presidential campaign, that he believes human activity contributes to global warming and that policymakers should consider the risk of negative consequences.

Frank Maisano, a lobbyist whose firm represents energy interests and who has been involved in climate change discussions for 15 years, cautioned not to read too much into Romney’s dig about the rise of the oceans. It was designed to show Obama is “a little bit out of touch,” he said.

“Right now, you need someone who cares about you rather than these larger, soaring rhetorical issues,” Maisano said.

Jim DiPeso of ConservAmerica had the same reaction.

“(Romney) acknowledged that science has shown there is a human role in global warming,” said DiPeso, who represents a national grassroots organization of conservation-minded Republicans who would like to see a fiscally conservative approach to capping carbon emissions.

DiPeso said he hopes Romney’s acknowledgement will give Republicans lower down on the ticket the freedom to talk about climate change, an issue that once had Republican support. Policymakers may differ on how to address emissions, but carbon dioxide molecules are apolitical, he said.

“Because we’ve gotten to the point where a good Republican can’t acknowledge the real science that backs up climate change without being cast as some sort of infidel, or somebody who’s not a real conservative,” he said.

Poor puppies. Sent September 17:

I wouldn’t read too much into Mitt Romney’s statements about the human causes of climate change; the erstwhile Massachusetts governor is widely known for his ability to take multiple contradictory positions on any issue. And while it’s good to know that there are some conservatives out there who are genuinely concerned about the looming climate crisis, it must be hard for them to reconcile their free-market fetishism with the tough transformations the next century will demand of America’s energy economy.

The grotesquely inflated subsidies and tax breaks for the fossil fuel industry need to end. These taxpayer dollars would be far better spent on preparing American infrastructure for a century of devastating storms and increasingly unpredictable weather, and our national investment in renewable energy needs to increase by many orders of magnitude over the next decade. These requirements won’t be solved with the economic pixie-dust of the “free market,” but through the collective will of hundreds of millions of Americans demanding that their government work once again in their best interests, instead of the corporate welfare recipients in the oil and coal industries.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 5, Day 16: While You’re In The Neighborhood

The New York Times makes half the case:

The federal government has given generously to the clean energy industry over the last few years, funneling billions of dollars in grants, loans and tax breaks to renewable power sources like wind and solar, biofuels and electric vehicles. “Clean tech” has been good in return.

During the recession, it was one of the few sectors to add jobs. Costs of wind turbines and solar cells have fallen over the last five years, electricity from renewables has more than doubled, construction is under way on the country’s first new nuclear power plant in decades. And the United States remains an important player in the global clean energy market.

Yet this productive relationship is in peril, mainly because federal funding is about to drop off a cliff and the Republican wrecking crew in the House remains generally hostile to programs that threaten the hegemony of the oil and gas interests. The clean energy incentives provided by President Obama’s 2009 stimulus bill are coming to an end, while other longer-standing subsidies are expiring.

Fun with analogies. Sent May 6:

America’s energy economy bears a remarkable resemblance to a heart patient who’s beginning to recognize that a pulmonary condition requires old habits to be abandoned and new ones taken up. On the one hand, no more cigarettes and cheeseburgers; on the other, lots of exercise and plenty of vegetables. Any part of this program can be beneficial, but for a robust recovery, both are essential.

As in our own bodies, so too in our nation’s consumption of energy. Since it’s essential for our long-term survival that we shift rapidly toward renewable sources (exercise and vegetables, if you will), expanding government subsidies to clean energy is an essential part of a systemic return to health. But the fact is inescapable: if we are to end our dependence on oil and coal (cigarettes and cheeseburgers), it’s time for our taxpayer dollars to stop subsidizing the fossil fuel industry.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 5, Day 25: How Can I Miss You If You Won’t Go Away?

The Seattle Times’ Lance Dickie reports on a speech by Bill Gates, urging a change in the way we do things:

Gates made a strong case for the federal government to lead and fund basic energy research. Private money is involved, including his own, but he laid out a simple truth: Vested interests will keep the energy industry doing what it does — fighting to maintain the status quo.

Gates nailed it, and not just because his pithy observation came on the 142nd anniversary of the golden spike that linked the transcontinental railway at Promontory, Utah. — a triumph of government-financed risk taking for a better future.

So the doyen of Davos got me thinking. Take all the federal money pumped into the oil industry, in the form of tax breaks, depletion allowances and other gravy, and put the savings toward energy research, not deficits.

Finance basic research on nuclear power and storage capacity for renewable energy.

Despite nuclear power’s avoidance of climate-changing carbon emissions, solving the lethal legacy of nuclear waste never gets much beyond fighting over holes in the ground and creation of a petroglyph that still translates to “Run!!” in 7011.

Sent May 14:

There are some whose allegiance to ideology is stronger than self-interest and common sense when it comes to the facts of global climate change. And some may admit that the world’s atmosphere is warming, but deny the need for bold action on reducing humanity’s greenhouse emissions — because they’re confident that we’ll be able to find a technical solution to the problem before it’s too late. Perhaps; we clever apes have solved quite a few complex puzzles in our time. But if our brightest minds and our most sophisticated tools are to tackle anthropogenic global warming, they need massive support. The United States government’s investment focus must be on the development of sustainable energy sources rather than rewarding the fossil fuel industries — and on a scale commensurate with the magnitude of the problem. Bill Gates may be awfully rich, but he’s not rich enough to do it by himself.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 5, Day 16: Wish We Could Burn Stupid, Don’t You?

A denialist bloviator named Thomas Mitchell opines in the Las Vegas Review-Journal that renewable energy is a waste of time and, well, energy. And furthermore, SOSHALIZM!

Our legislators, in all their perspicacity and foresight, have said, “Let there be renewable energy,” and gosh darn it, there will be renewable energy whether we need it or not and no matter the cost to the citizens of Nevada.

It’s good for us, and we’re going to swallow a full dose of it and turn “green.”

Um…okay. Sent May 5:

Mr. Mitchell’s asperity on the rising costs associated with renewable energy would be justified — if the scientific evidence didn’t show conclusively failing to transform our global energy economy away from fossil fuels will be exponentially costlier in the long run. Two of the many things he’s chosen to ignore are that the U.S. heavily subsidizes petroleum with massive tax breaks for oil companies (which means that we pay more for our oil without realizing it), and that the environmental and health effects of burning coal are enormously expensive (which means that we pay extra for coal in the form of cleanup costs and medical expenses). Even if we don’t need renewable energy right now, it’s certain we’ll need it soon — and just because China burns coal doesn’t mean America gets to evade its responsibilities to future generations and to the world; that’s adolescent petulance, not thoughtful analysis.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 4, Day 26: Coal-Baggers Unite!

This weekend (April 15/16/17) is the Power Shift conference in Washington. 10,000 young environmental activists came to DC to try and influence the power structure. The WaPo, naturally, covered it as a political story: the kids don’t like Obama’s policies! Oh, no!

Sent April 16:

The real story is hardly that environmentally conscious young people are disappointed in President Obama’s energy policies. The real story is that thousands of people came to Washington to offer their dedication and initiative to free our country, once and for all, from its crippling dependence on fossil fuels — and that the print and broadcast media almost completely ignored them. If the standard reporter-to-teapartier ratio had applied to the Power Shift conference, more than five hundred journalists would have filed stories. While the teapartiers have amusing signs and wear amusing costumes, their contribution to public discourse is based on fundamentally erroneous premises — something which cannot be said of the Power Shift participants, whose perspective on public policy is based on hard and irrefutable scientific facts. What must these responsible and forward-looking young people do to obtain fair media coverage? Wear funny hats festooned with lumps of coal?

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 3, Day 10: An Insult to Clowns Everywhere

The Christian Science Monitor runs a pretty good article pointing out that the Republicans’ economic alarmism about environmental regulation is utter bullshit.

Sent March 2:

Given the gross fiscal irresponsibility of the current crop of Republican legislators, it should be utterly laughable to hear them pontificating that action on global climate change is somehow going to be a “job-killer.” Remember, these people recklessly squandered a massive budget surplus on tax breaks for the very wealthy and a completely unnecessary war — they couldn’t be less concerned about middle-class jobs. Their opposition to environmental regulation has nothing to do with any economic concerns; it is, rather, a long-standing political phenomenon known as “hippie-punching.” A favorite Republican activity, it’s also common among Democrats seeking to establish their conservative bona fides. In this case, however, those hippie liberals have a point. The scientific evidence is crystal-clear: if we don’t regulate greenhouse gases, we (all six billion of us) are going to face a world significantly less hospitable to our species. Republican obstructionists are playing a very dangerous game.

Warren Senders

29 Sep 2010, 11:15pm

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  • Month 9, Day 30: Bella, bella, bella!

    The New York Times had a lovely article on a little Italian town that’s moved to wind energy and done itself a huge favor in the process. Go read the piece; it’s really inspiring.

    At least, it inspired this letter:

    The citizens of Tocco De Casauria have chosen wisely in moving their community to renewable energy sources. Perhaps a village that has existed for centuries is better-equipped to plan for an existence hundreds of years in the future. It is a measure of how far the United States has to go in this area that the concept of “sustainability” is still considered the province of tie-dyed back-to-the-landers, rather than a simple piece of common sense. Obviously we should be thinking in the long term rather than the short. But, alas, America is the home of the shortest attention spans on the planet, and sustainability isn’t shiny enough to engage the interest of the country that invented “planned obsolescence.” We need an energy economy that’s built to last…and we won’t find it in oil wells and coal mines. Tocco’s turbines are a lesson to all of us: “planned obsolescence” is obsolete.

    Warren Senders