Year 4, Month 11, Day 9: (Head-desk)

Oh, for fuck’s sake. The Omaha World-Herald:

The Nebraska lawmaker who initiated the Legislature’s first study of climate change now prefers to see the study abandoned rather than continue along what he called a politicized, scientifically invalid path.

State Sen. Ken Haar of Malcolm said Tuesday the state committee handling the study is disregarding the intent of the Legislature.

Haar, a Democrat, is asking his fellow senators to help him salvage the $44,000 study by encouraging the committee to reconsider the restrictions it published Monday in the official request for study assistance.

The request says researchers “should consider ‘cyclical climate change’ to mean a change in the state of climate due to natural internal processes and only natural external forcings such as volcanic eruptions and solar variations.”

The use of the term “natural” would rule out the primary cause of the climate changes that have occurred in the last half-century: humans.

The issue of “cyclical” climate change was successfully amended into Haar’s bill by Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha, a Republican candidate for governor.

McCoy on Tuesday elaborated on his opposition to using state tax dollars to study man-made climate change: Humans aren’t capable of influencing climate patterns.

“I firmly believe our planet goes through cyclical weather patterns. There have been hotter times, colder times, wetter times and drier times,” he said.

A fourth-generation rancher who has become involved in construction, McCoy said he “lives and dies” by the weather. Environmental extremists, he said, are drumming up climate change hysteria to further their own agenda.

There aren’t enough faces and palms for this level of stupid. October 30:

Senator Beau McCoy’s insistent denial of human impacts on climate is a fine example of the logical error known as the “argument from incredulity” — if he can’t understand something, it can’t be real. As a fourth-generation farmer, the Senator presumably has no problem diverting water to irrigate his crops, thereby creating a localized “micro-climate” that helps his plants grow tall — but somehow the countless ways humans have already altered our environment for better or worse escape his attention.

As the history of the Dust Bowl reminds us, overgrazing leads to erosion, destroying topsoil and devastating agriculture. Pumping industrial wastes into rivers and lakes turns them toxic, and releasing smoke into the atmosphere does the same for the air we breathe. Given that it’s so easy to damage our soil, our water, and our air, it shouldn’t be that hard to affect the chemical equilibrium of our atmosphere, which is essentially how the greenhouse effect works. Legislating from ignorance may play well on TV, but the anti-science posturing of such politicians will inevitably fail in the real world, where the laws of physics and chemistry always win in the end.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 11, Day 8: Their Walls Are Made Of Cannonballs

Terence Duvall and Molly Gilligan write in the Poughkeepsie Journal, bemoaning the “Climate-Change Disconnect.”

We are currently experiencing a slow-motion catastrophe. The dye is cast. We have emitted enough carbon into the atmosphere to guarantee climate change and rising sea levels. Some of our most precious real estate, our commercial capital and destination beaches, are doomed.

And yet, instead of proactively considering possible solutions, from abstaining from new building on fragile coastlines to moving inland, the response of many is to deny that they are or will ever experience the effects of climate change in the city they call home. This is despite the fact that we are already beginning to see the effects of climate change in many coastal cities within the United States and worldwide. Why then, is there still such disconnect between science and societal beliefs? How can this gap be closed?

If I still have hope, it’s because I fight — not the other way around. October 29:

There are several forces behind our national indifference to the ongoing crisis of climate change. First the cognitive reality that we clever apes are generally poor at long-term thinking; most of us are to preoccupied with the daily and weekly concerns of our lives to give much thought to a looming catastrophe just over the horizon, and we can spare no time to imagining the lives of future generations in a world turned hot and hostile.

Second is the scientific reality that most of the factors and phenomena of climate change cannot be linked by simple causal connections; even though our greenhouse emissions have “loaded the dice” for increasingly extreme weather, no responsible scientist will specifically attribute any single extreme weather event to climate change — because scientific methodology simply doesn’t work that way.

Finally, of course, is the media reality: when oil and coal companies spend millions of dollars to influence the public discussion of climate change, they’re investing a miniscule amount compared to the profits they reap from selling fossil fuels to a captive economy. When it comes to the climate catastrophe, Bob Dylan had it right. Money doesn’t talk; it swears.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 10, Day 17: They Can Have Any Color They Want As Long As It’s Black

The San Antonio Express-News, on Republican denialism and foolishness:

So why is there such a disconnect between what scientists think and the public debate?

Recent cognitive research helps us understand this. Researchers find that beliefs on climate change science strongly correlate with other policy preferences.

For example, if you are skeptical of the science of climate change, then you almost certainly oppose the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and support gun rights.

Those who support action to reduce greenhouse gases very likely hold the opposite views.

If arguments about the science of climate change were actually about the science, then this result would make no sense. Whether climate change is true or not is a scientific matter, and it should be uncorrelated with philosophical views on the role of government in health care or the constitutional right to own a firearm.

But they are correlated. And this tells us that the arguments about the science of climate change are not actually about science.

So what is the argument about? The answer is policy.

If climate change is true and we decide to reduce emissions, then it will almost certainly require intervention by the government into the energy market. For some, that idea is so repugnant that the only conclusion is that the problem must not exist.

It is also about being part of the tribe. Climate change has achieved such an elevated status in the policy debate that it has become a litmus test. To be a Republican, for example, you must reject the science.

Any Republican who does not risks being voted out of office — as happened, for example, to Rep. Bob Inglis. ( frontline/environment/climate- of-doubt/bob-inglis-climate- change-and-the-republican- party/).

As proud Texans, we are sympathetic to those who worry about out-of-control eco-totalitarianism. And we both love cheap and abundant energy and the lifestyle it allows us to lead. But, like most people, Republican and Democrat alike, we also want to protect the environment. Thus, we both support balanced action to address the clear and present danger of climate change.

Writing a letter like this is like shooting fish in a barrel. October 8:

The extraordinary thing about self-styled “fiscal conservatives” is their near-pathological readiness to bet against their own country. Just look at the people who whine that changing emissions regulations to cut down on greenhouse gases is going to handicap American manufacturers. They’re the same ones who screamed in the 1960s that making seat belts mandatory was going to cripple the automobile industry. Last I looked, there were plenty of cars on the road, and while auto companies have had their problems, nobody believes seat belts are the reason why.

For all their loud professions of American exceptionalism, conservatives’ opposition to sensible climate change policy is rooted in a “can’t do” ideology. We can’t change our energy economy (even if it saves us money) — because it’s too hard. We can’t take a position of global leadership (on the most important challenge facing the world today) — because it’s too hard.

That’s not fiscal conservatism. That’s laziness. That’s not economic responsibility. It’s whining.

Imagine these people running the Apollo program. We’d never have gotten into orbit, much less reached the Moon.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 10, Day 15: If Pigs Could Fly, We’d All Have To Carry Really Big Umbrellas

Brian Dickerson writes in the Detroit Free Press about the chimerical Republican enlightenment on climate change:

But just a year later, Michigan environmentalists have been heartened by signs that politicians from both parties are coalescing around their key objective: increasing the state’s use of cleaner energy sources.

A draft report being circulated by the Michigan Public Service Commission says that, contrary to the dire warnings of electric utilities who opposed Proposal 3, the costs of generating renewable energy are plunging.

Produced at the behest of Gov. Rick Snyder, the PSC report says the surcharge that utilities have been levying on their customers to finance the transition to renewable power sources — such as wind and solar — could shrink to zero by 2014, “because project costs are, in some cases, essentially equivalent to conventional generation.”

“From a technical perspective,” the report adds, it would be possible for Michigan utilities to generate as much as 30% of their electricity from renewable fuels like wind and solar “from resources located within the state.”

I’ve got some swampland in Florida he should see. October 6:

It’d be great to see conservative politicians supporting clean energy and environmental responsibility. Once upon a time, there were pro-business Republicans who recognized that sensible public policies required, well, sense. But that was long ago; rejecting anything that smacks of expertise, today’s anti-intellectual GOP can’t solve even the most trivial policy problems. And climate change is no trivial problem, but the central issue of our time.

Republicans should embrace strategies for reducing greenhouse emissions, reinforcing infrastructure, and educating the public about the causes and consequences of climate change — but because their ideology defines itself in simple-minded opposition to everything “liberal”, they won’t. A recent study showed that conservatives eagerly bought CFL bulbs when they were labeled as money-savers, but rejected them if the packaging mentioned the environment.

Such doctrinal rigidity may lead the Republican Party to extinction. Let’s hope they don’t take the rest of humanity with them.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 9, Day 12: And So I Quit The Police Department

The Greensboro (NC) News-Record discusses local farming and climate change:

BURLINGTON — Small farmers are some of the most vulnerable people in the country to the effects of climate change, area leaders said Wednesday at a roundtable discussion organized by the American Sustainable Business Council.

“There’s so much about climate change that will affect North Carolina’s ability to function as a prosperous state,” said Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Greensboro Democrat who served on the panel.

She said the state’s large agricultural sector combined with the vulnerability of being a coastal state make it a crucial issue — but one that the Republican-controlled legislature continues to pretend doesn’t exist.

“We can’t even really talk about climate change, which is unfortunate given the current scenario facing our state,” Harrison said.

The “it’s happening to farmers everywhere” letter is one I can do practically in my sleep by now. Sept. 5:

North Carolina’s farmers aren’t the only ones confronting planetary climate change. Agriculturists everywhere on Earth are anticipating a future of increasingly unpredictable weather, disrupted planting, hindered plant growth, and ever more uncertain harvests.

This slow-motion crisis makes a powerful case for diversity in our food systems. Monocrops are vulnerable to disease and pests (for a good example of the problems of relying on a single vulnerable staple, think of the Irish potato famine), and increase the likelihood of catastrophic failures from environmental disruptions.

There are many views about how to prepare for the multiple consequences of the accelerating greenhouse effect — but one thing is certain: the problem will never be successfully addressed by those who refuse to admit its existence, like the scientifically ignorant politicians in North Carolina’s halls of government. The time for denial is past; just like farmers, our politicians and media figures must acknowledge these new climatic realities.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 9, Day 8: They’d Only Ask Me About You

The San-Antonio Express News takes on Texas Rep. Lamar Smith, who is, mirabile dictu, an idiot:

The newest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, leaked to media last week, is frightening and conclusive.

The panel of several hundred scientists, which won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, says the odds are at least 95 percent that humans are the principal cause of climate change. The panel predicts an increase of 5 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century and warns that a rise of that magnitude would cause “extreme heat waves, difficulty growing food and massive changes in plant and animal life, probably including a wave of extinction,” according to the New York Times.

Yet U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the House Committee on Science and Technology, claims the science is uncertain about how much of the warming is caused by humans.

As a result, he has urged U.S. policy-makers to take a skeptical view of “overheated” rhetoric about climate change. He’s called for relaxing, not strengthening, regulations on carbon emissions from power plants. And he’s urged moving forward with the Keystone XL Pipeline, even though on a daily basis it would carry 830,000 barrels of tar sands oil — one of the world’s dirtiest fuels, which, according to the Congressional Research Service, generates at least 14 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oils do.

Sheesh. September 2:

Would you trust a heart surgeon who believed in the medieval theory of “humours”? Would you fly in a plane with a pilot who didn’t understand aerodynamics? Would you eat in a restaurant whose cook didn’t “believe” in sanitation? Then why would you want a Congressional Committee on Science and Technology to be chaired by someone who rejects the methodology and conclusions of contemporary science?

Lamar Smith is an excellent demonstration of what happens when scientific illiteracy is perceived as a cultural virtue. Five decades ago, America launched the space program in response to a perceived threat from the Soviet Union. We lionized scientists, increased funding for math and science education, and recognized the crucial role scientific understanding plays in our society. And we reached the Moon.

Now we face a far more profound threat than Soviet domination of outer space. The climate crisis is all but certain to bring massive destruction and loss of life on a global scale over the coming decades. Rep. Smith thinks the science is “uncertain,” but an inability to understand climatology is hardly a valid argument. Is it just coincidence that his corporate paymasters would find their astronomical profits reduced if Congress took responsible action to address the threat?

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 9, Day 7: Thought We Said Goodbye Last Night

More on oceanic acidification, this time from the Sacramento Bee:

Making a living from the ocean is not for the faint of heart. It’s comparable to farming the soil, in that weather, disease and market conditions can make or break your bottom line. Food production, whether farming on land or in water, is dependent upon a number of factors all working in sync to produce a healthy, resilient crop. If just one factor is off, it can ruin your whole harvest.

A recently recognized threat to ocean health has the potential to do more than just inflict a bad year on shellfish producers. Ocean acidification could put us out of business permanently. Caused by activities that generate pollution from factories, cars and power plants, ocean acidification is physically changing the chemistry in the ocean. The ocean is a tremendous sponge for pollution, soaking up about 30 percent of what we put in the atmosphere. As those emissions are absorbed, it makes seawater more acidic with dire consequences to marine life, dissolving the shells of oysters, mussels and clams, and confusing behavior of fish, like salmon.

This is the “we’re all in it together” letter. Sept. 2:

Oceanic heating and acidification (two consequences of the accelerating greenhouse effect) make catastrophic declines a certainty for California’s shellfish industry. And it’s not just the West coast of the USA, but everywhere humans make their living from the sea, for the climate crisis knows no national boundaries.

Since billions of people (between a quarter and a third of Earth’s population) depend on the ocean for food, this is a humanitarian emergency. Include the likely effects of climate change on agriculture, and the gathering storm clouds are too big to ignore.

Unless, of course, you’re in a position to do something about it, like the many politicians whose myopic climate-change denialism ensures a failure to act in time to avert disaster. It’s never a good idea to bet on ignorance; when our species’ future is at stake, it’s a catastrophe in the making.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 9, Day 4: Unlike The Rest Of You Squares

Gina McCarthy went to Alaska, and the Anchorage Daily News was on the case:

“The climate is changing and we need to adapt to that change and make sure communities are prepared,” she said.

A trip to Iowa two weeks ago highlighted the issues, she said.

“There was no question in discussions with both farmers and ranchers the climate change impacts we’re seeing right now are severe,” she said. “We’re having drought and floods in the same state at the same time.”

McCarthy’s path to the EPA’s top job was rocky. Senate Republicans held up her nomination for more than four months before she was confirmed July 18. They used Obama’s choice of McCarthy to highlight complaints about the agency’s environmental regulations and the president’s agenda. McCarthy was previously head of the EPA’s air pollution office.

Alaska’s senators were divided over her confirmation. Democratic Sen. Mark Begich voted for McCarthy, while Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski opposed her, although she did not support a filibuster attempt. Murkowski, the top-ranking Republican on the Senate energy committee, did not return a message Monday about the new EPA leader.

“Sen. Murkowski agrees that climate change should be addressed, but remains concerned about the administration circumventing Congress to impose costly and unpopular regulations,” her spokesman, Robert Dillon, said in an email.

Sigh. August 31:

So Senator Lisa Murkowski thinks “climate change should be addressed,” but is unhappy that President Obama is “circumventing Congress to impose costly and unpopular regulations.” In other words, she’d be happy to confront a profound threat to our civilization, as long as she’s not actually required to do anything. That’s an easy game, but a deeply cynical one. If Sen. Murkowski isn’t just mouthing platitudes, perhaps she could work to persuade her colleagues in the halls of government to stop denying basic science in the service of short-term political gamesmanship.

Here’s a tip for the Senator and her colleagues in the GOP: failure to move strongly and swiftly on the climate crisis is going to bring results more costly and unpopular than anything you’ve ever imagined. The costs of inaction on this civilizational threat are conservatively reckoned in the trillions; the health of the entire planet is at stake.

Perhaps House and Senate Republicans think Earth should just go to the Emergency Room.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 9, Day 3: Twenty-Five Or Six To Four

The Superior Telegram (WI) on Lake Superior’s ongoing transformation:

Researchers say even Lake Superior, the largest lake connected to the state, is feeling the effects of climate change.

Swimming in Lake Superior has never been easy without a wetsuit, but if you’re going in with just a swimsuit late August is usually one of the best times. On a hot day near Marquette, Mich. last weekend, three college students jumped off what are called the Black Rocks and into the relatively cool water. Even a visiting journalist took the plunge.

As refreshing as a brief swim in the big lake might be, scientists and advocates say there appear to be trouble signs for the waters. In some of the last few years Lake Superior’s average daily temperatures in August have been around 70 degrees, well above 30-year averages.

Last year, Marquette had its first ever beach closure tied to E. coli bacteria, which is often linked to warmer lake temperatures. Winter ice cover is also down.

Generating letter after letter today, trying to get ahead of the game. August 29:

The heating of Lake Superior is a local manifestation of a global phenomenon. All across the globe, people are figuring out that things ain’t what they used to be, climatically speaking. Regions that require glacial melt for their water are looking at increasingly arid futures, while citizens of island nations are getting ready for the day rising seas turn their homelands into historical footnotes. And, closer to home, people who live on the shores of America’s largest lake are discovering that industrial civilization’s century-long fossil-fuel binge has some serious consequences right in their own neighborhoods.

But the USA is unique among nations in that many of its citizens reject the existence of climate change entirely. We can sympathize with the denialists’ reluctance to accept that the greenhouse effect will disrupt their lives in countless unpredictable and complex ways (after all, nobody looks forward to planetary catastrophe), but future generations on the shores of an ice-free Lake Superior will deplore their inaction.

Warren Senders


Year 4, Month 8, Day 30: And The Countdown Begins!

The Washington Post is moving slowly to atone for decades of George Will columns:

NEXT MONTH, the international arbiter of the scientific consensus on global warming will release its latest evaluation of the state of the research. A few will dismiss the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) findings as overwrought alarmism. But a draft leaked to reporters last week indicates that, for most people, the report will serve as another stern warning about the risks of continuing to pump carbon dioxide into the air.

The scientists are set to claim that the increasing amount of greenhouse gases that humans have emitted into the atmosphere has almost certainly been the chief driver of the warming of the planet over the past half-century, a finding to which they ascribe 95 percent confidence. That’s the level of likelihood researchers typically consider robust enough to justify drawing very strong conclusions.

Grim. August 27:

The question is not whether humanity’s complex industrial civilization has caused a radical reconfiguration of Earth’s climate. That was resolved long ago, and the answer was “Yes”; the IPCC’s new report is just statistical icing on a well-baked cake of certainty. The real question is how long it’s going to take for this new climatic reality to radically reconfigure the attitudes of those with deeply vested financial and political interests in denial.

It’d be nice to think that the encroaching realities of climate change — burgeoning wildfires, rising ocean levels, increasingly severe storms, historically unprecedented droughts — would be persuasive enough. But it is inherent in the nature of paranoid thinking that mere evidence is inadequate. The only way these politicians will change their entrenched anti-science attitudes is for their corporate sponsors to recognize that rejection of climatological evidence will negatively impact profit margins. Civilizational collapse is bad for business.

Warren Senders