Year 4, Month 11, Day 19: Playing To The Tide

I know people in Portland, Oregon. They like it there.

Electric car charging stations in Hillsboro. Transit-oriented development on 82nd Avenue in Portland. Revitalizing downtown Beaverton as a walkable neighborhood. A new park in Gateway. A walking trail in Rockwood. A community-based bus system in Wilsonville.

Those are among many local initiatives that are already fighting climate change by encouraging alternatives to private motor vehicle trips, according to a report from Metro, the regional elected governments. Similar projects will become increasingly important as proof mounts that human activity is responsible for global warming, the report explained.


Metro found that most of the initiatives are rooted in the 2040 Growth Concept Plan adopted by the regional government in 1990 to guide development. The document encourages growth in designated urban centers and along existing transportation corridors. Since it was adopted, cities in the region have amended their state-mandated comprehensive land use plans to include many of the concepts. They include increased transit options and an emphasis on “active transportation” options such as walking and bicycling.

The state has directed Metro to adopt a regional plan for meeting its 2035 greenhouse gas reduction target. The council will consider a range of options based on the results of case studies later this year. The final scenario, to be adopted in December 2014, could well include elements from all of them.

Funding will be a challenge, however. Metro is projecting a shortfall of up to $26 billion to build and maintain needed infrastructure in the region over the next two decades. Although many ideas are being discussed — including encouraging private investment in public infrastructure projects — regional leaders have yet to agree on financing plans.

Good on ya, kids. November 9:

Yes, getting ready for the impacts of planetary climate transformation will be expensive. But the likely costs of preparing for the new climatic reality pale into insignificance compared with those of inaction. This is true at all levels: individual, local, regional, national, and global initiatives to anticipate the impacts of the accelerating greenhouse effect will undoubtedly call on our resources and resourcefulness in ways we’ve never before experienced — but will mean lives saved, infrastructure protected, and civilization strengthened. The alternative — failure — is simply unacceptable.

Self-styled “fiscal conservatives” must recognize that advance planning — like Portland’s admirable local preparations — is always less costly than hasty and uncoordinated after-the-fact responses. When we learn about climate change, we can begin to plan ahead for what seems likely to be a complex and dangerous future — and as the bumper sticker says, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 11, Day 1: My Heart Went Boom

Time Magazine’s Bryan Walsh finds a story that shows we clever apes are too distractable to get ourselves out of this fix:

…it shouldn’t be surprising that a new study in Nature Climate Change confirms the fact that the kind of long-term cooperation demanded by effective climate policy is going to be even more challenging than we thought.

American and German researchers led by Jennifer Jacquet of New York University put together a collective-risk group experiment that is centered around climate change. Here’s how it worked. Each subject in groups with six participants was given a $55 operating fund. The experiment went 10 rounds, and during each round, they were allowed to choose one of three options: invest $0, $2.75 or $5.50 into a climate account. The participants were told that the total amount contributed would go to fund an advertisement on climate change in a German newspaper. If at the end of the 10 rounds, the group reached a target of $165 — or about $27 per person — they were considered to have successfully averted climate change, and each participant was given an additional $60 dollars. (If the numbers seem rough, it’s because I’m converting from euros — the currency used in the experiment — and rounding off.) If the group failed to reach the $165 target, there was a 90% probability that they wouldn’t get the additional payout. As a group, members would be better off if they collectively invested enough to reach that $165 target — otherwise they wouldn’t get the payout — but individually, members could benefit by keeping their money to themselves while hoping the rest of the group would pay enough to reach the target. (That’s the so-called free-rider phenomenon, and it’s a major challenge for climate policy.)

Yes….but. October 22:

Yes, humans are notoriously short-sighted and selfish, so the recent New York University study suggesting that our collective inability to think in the long term bodes poorly for our species’ survival on a climate-changed world is unsurprising. But there’s more to it than one study can possibly indicate. If that same study were performed on people who had fully educated themselves about the generational impacts of climate change, the results would be quite different.

John Adams famously averred his readiness to study politics and war so that his children could learn mathematics and philosophy, allowing their children in turn to study painting, poetry, music, and architecture. Our capacity for similar behavior hinges on our full understanding of the crisis — which should remind our news and opinion media that their profession should not elevate fleeting but profitable scandals over their responsibility to foster the Jeffersonian ideal of a “well-informed citizenry.”

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 2, Day 8: I Don’t Want Him To Be Comfortable If He’s Going To Look Too Funny

The Chronicle of Higher Education notes that fossil-fuel divestment turns out to hold little or no liability for college endowments:

College-endowment managers who resist the growing call to divest their holdings in fossil-fuel companies may be doing so for little or no financial reason, according to a new report.

An analysis released on Tuesday by the Aperio Group, an investment-management firm that offers its clients a “socially responsible index,” among other investment strategies, found that while divesting from fossil-fuel companies does not necessarily add value to a portfolio, it does not subtract value from it either, and it increases the risk to investors at such a modest level as to be negligible.

In recent months, student groups at more than 200 colleges across the country have begun pushing their institutions to divest from fossil-fuel companies. A handful of smaller institutions, including Unity College and Hampshire College, have recently adopted strategies to reduce their investments in such companies, but most colleges have responded warily to the notion.

No doubt part of that wariness is that fossil-fuel companies are viewed as reliable profit generators, and divesting from them is seen as a financial handicap, even less attractive at a time when endowments have struggled because of the recession.

Because we won’t be responsible if it costs us anything. Sent January 31:

While it’s encouraging to know that college endowments aren’t likely to suffer from shedding fossil-fuel investments, divestment would be a good idea regardless of its economic impacts on university portfolios. The business model of big oil and coal companies is profoundly destructive, relying as it does on reintroducing millions of years’ worth of fossilized carbon into the atmosphere each year in a geological eyeblink, without regard for the climatic consequences.

While “bottom-line” rationales are popular and convenient, we must remember that one of the deepest goals of higher education is the inculcation of a broad sense of responsibility to and for the greater social good. We do not teach subjects; we teach human beings — and the quality of our teaching is reflected in our students’ commitment to a better future.

And there is no surer guarantee of a worse future than continued support of fossil fuels. They may be hugely profitable, but fossil fuel corporations epitomize an irresponsible disregard for our shared Earthly heritage and the continued happiness and prosperity of our descendants, and colleges and universities investing in them are abdicating their institutional responsibilities to our common posterity.

Warren Senders


Year 3, Month 10, Day 4: Zing! Went The Strings Of My Heart!

I really like it when very old people start speaking out. Read the entire article by 88 year-old Tom Bell, in the High Country News (CO):

When World War II was thrust on us, we turned our economic system into a war machine as every American agreed to sacrifice in order to defeat Nazi Germany and its allies. That is the model for what it will take to overcome what now threatens our planet.

Hitler and Tojo and Mussolini, however, were human beings with faces, while carbon dioxide is invisible and yet a part of our everyday environment. How can you overcome something you can’t see?

ABC journalist Bill Blakemore thinks one of the reasons Americans don’t — or can’t — accept the threat of climate change is because of the “unprecedented scale and complexity of the crisis of manmade global warming.” And he adds, “It’s new, and therefore unknown, at first. And we’re naturally frightened of the unknown.”

Yet Rob Watson, an environmentalist, likes to say: “Mother Nature is just chemistry, biology and physics. That’s all she is. You cannot sweet-talk her. You cannot spin her. … Do not mess with Mother Nature. But that is just what we are doing.”

You only need a lick of sense to see that something is terribly wrong. Devastating events, attributable to climate change, are destroying people’s livelihoods and taking lives all around the world. Climate scientists tell us it is only going to get worse unless and until we do something about carbon.

To do something about carbon means reducing our dependence on coal and oil, and here in Wyoming, even talking about it is heresy. But we must begin to talk about it before it is too late, and then we must act.

What can we do? Jim Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy-Progress Energy, the largest electric utility in the United States, said this September: “I believe eventually there will be regulation of carbon in this country.” James Hansen, one of the world’s leading climate scientists, agrees. In fact, everyone concerned about climate change believes a carbon tax has advantages over every other approach. Still, every single carbon-tax bill introduced in Congress has failed.

I believe it is past time for all of us — and especially those of us who live in Wyoming, where so much carbon is produced — to face the hard truth. We don’t have a choice: We have to face this crisis as if we were at war, because, unfortunately, that is the bitter truth. We are in a fight for our very survival – and for the survival of the whole planet.

I salute you, Mr. Bell. Sent September 28:

When we think about our children, and their children in turn, it’s natural to foresee them living in a world just like our own — growing up amidst the beauty, and the bounty, of nature. And why not? For thousands of years the essential benevolence of Earth’s environment has nurtured our fathers and their fathers before them, helping the growth of our rich and complex civilization. It’s impossible to imagine the future otherwise.

But global warming is transforming this equation. To those who understand its implications, the research of climatologists indicates that our descendants will no longer be able to take the future for granted. Droughts, extreme weather, radically altered growing seasons, decimated biodiversity and ravaged agriculture are some of the things our generation will bequeath to posterity.

Politicians like to invoke future generations in their stump speeches. But unless our leaders address climate change responsibly, we ensure that our children, and their children in turn, will lead lives of struggle, privation and devastation. There can be no excuse for inaction, complacency, or denial.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 9, Day 20: Ha Ha! Your Side Of The Lifeboat Has A Leak!

The Tallahassee Democrat’s Ray Bellamy has a good column about the need for action:

OK, so let’s say you have joined the majority of Americans who get that climate change is occurring now exactly as scientists predicted decades ago. And you sense that it is going to get worse, threatening our lifestyle and prosperity forever.

You realize that our addiction to wasteful consumption is beginning to bite us and that the implications for future generations are dire. That “clean coal” is anything but and that the increasingly desperate and expensive methods for extracting fossil fuels are taking their toll. As one observer wrote, “The consequences of global warming can only be mitigated by keeping fossil fuels in the ground and out of the air.”

So, what to do?

Hand-wringing is not very useful. There are many lifestyle changes we must make collectively to reduce the damage and be fair to our progeny. But the major move would be to require our politicians to act in our interest, rather than the interest of corporate energy. We probably have passed peak oil production, yet our thirst for fossil fuels keeps rising with population growth, so the price will increase accordingly. Clean alternative fuels such as solar, wind and geothermal will dramatically reduce costs.

I’m still wringing my hands a lot, but at least I write these damn letters every day. Sent September 13:

Meaningful responses to climate change need to happen on multiple levels if we humans are to survive and prosper in the coming centuries of a post-greenhouse-effect Earth. We have two adversaries: on one hand, the metastasizing greenhouse effect, and on the other, the corporations which would bequeath a barren future to our posterity in exchange for a few extra pennies on the dollar today.

We must act in the short term, cutting our wasteful consumption of fossil fuels — and we must act in the long term, planting trees now to absorb CO2 in the future. We must act individually, educating ourselves and our fellow citizens about the crisis — and we must act collectively, reconfiguring our society’s relationship with the planetary systems upon which it depends. We must act locally, preparing our towns, cities and regions to cope with the demands of extreme weather and crumbling infrastructure — and we must act globally, recognizing that the problem affects not just us and our neighbors, but all humanity, and indeed all life.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 6, Day 5: It Wasn’t Me Who Made Him Fall / No, You Can’t Blame Me At All…

The Worcester Telegram (MA) runs an AP story on the squabbling teenagers of the international community:

BONN, Germany — Another round of U.N. climate talks closed Friday without resolving how to share the burden of curbing man-made global warming, mainly because countries don’t agree on who is rich and who is poor.

China wants to maintain a decades-old division between developed and developing countries, bearing in mind that, historically, the West has released most of the heat-trapping gases that scientists say could cause catastrophic changes in climate.

But the U.S. and Europe insisted during the two-week talks in Bonn that the system doesn’t reflect current economic realities and must change as work begins on a new global climate pact set to be completed in 2015.

“The notion that a simple binary system is going to be applicable going forward is no longer one that has much relevance to the way the world currently works,” U.S. chief negotiator Jonathan Pershing said.

Fools. Sent May 26:

If there’s anything more depressing than the continual accumulation of bad news on climate change, it’s the endless cycle of avoidance and denial on the part of the world’s richest nations. For decades we’ve watched the same spectacle: those countries which have prospered economically through their profligate consumption of fossil fuels are also the ones resisting any moves toward responsibility for the messes they’ve created. Meanwhile, the world’s poorest nations — also, of course, the smallest contributors to the planetary greenhouse effect — are the good citizens of the international community, committing themselves to further reductions in CO2 emissions even as the United States dithers and blusters.

Coupled with this is the predictable chorus of catcalls directed at those who point out the obvious fact that infinite growth on a finite planet is impossible. The first president Bush once stated, “The American way of life is non-negotiable.” Why not?

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 3, Day 11: Tighten Up, Willya?

The Malaysia Star runs a Reuters story on the increase in tornadoes as a consequence of You-Know-What:

NEW YORK (Reuters) – When at least 80 tornadoes rampaged across the United States, from the Midwest to the Gulf of Mexico, last Friday, it was more than is typically observed during the entire month of March, tracking firm reported on Monday.

According to some climate scientists, such earlier-than-normal outbreaks of tornadoes, which typically peak in the spring, will become the norm as the planet warms.

“As spring moves up a week or two, tornado season will start in February instead of waiting for April,” said climatologist Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

Whether climate change will also affect the frequency or severity of tornadoes, however, remains very much an open question, and one that has received surprisingly little study.

“There are only a handful of papers, even to this day,” said atmospheric scientist Robert Trapp of Purdue University, who led a pioneering 2007 study of tornadoes and climate change.

I used this as the hook for some large-scale moralizing. Cheers. Sent March 5:

In the unfolding disaster of global warming, our species faces a crisis so broad in scope and diverse in symptoms that it is almost impossible to imagine. Until now, of course. The sudden uptick in extreme storms and climatic disturbances is giving us a preview of the coming centuries, and it isn’t pretty. The temperatures are still rising, and only a fool could now suggest that the weather is going back the way it was when we were young.

Modern humans are indeed uniquely situated in history; our global response to the crisis will shape the fate of our descendants. They will judge us harshly if we continue to put CO2 in the air, our behavior a mix of carelessness and callousness. If we put aside petty politics and addressed the unfolding climate crisis with responsibility and integrity, our children’s children’s children will justly remember us with respect and reverence.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 5, Day 3: Niiiiiice.

The Christian Science Monitor does an Earth Day report on a woman named Erin Barnes, and her group, which is named IOBY (“In Our Back Yards”). Good for her:

Dowser: What is unique about ioby’s mission as an environmental organization?

Erin Barnes, co-founder and executive director: It’s part of the values that we have as an organization to work locally and be invested in the community. Ioby, the name, comes from the opposite of “nimby” (Not In My Backyard).

We started the organization because we felt like the environmental movement had long been concentrated on places where people don’t live. We felt that the interaction between people or communities and the environment was meaningful.

Every project we support through our site has to meet our environmental criteria. They have to be doing something that benefits the community too.

It’s nice to see somebody doing the right thing for once.

Sent April 25:

Ms. Barnes’ group has the right name. The effects of global warming cannot be relegated to other places; we are all in this together. Since climate change manifests locally, regionally, nationally and globally, we need to tackle the problem in the same way. Personal efforts must combine with the work of neighborhood groups; statewide initiatives and a national movement for environmental responsibility need to go hand in hand. Furthermore, it’s not enough for our response to this imminent catastrophe to be polycentric; just as the greenhouse effect is going to continue to influence Earth’s climate for centuries to come, our thinking must be polytemporal, extending beyond the narrow short-term. It is time for human civilization to begin imagining the distant future — and to recognize that “business as usual” is going to render that future a dystopian hell in short order.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 4, Day 25: Speaking Of Good Examples

It’s always nice to see a whole nation do the right thing. Too bad it’s never the USA.

Developing countries taking the climate initiative
by Marwaan Macan-Markar
April 15, 2011

BANGKOK — Led by countries like Indonesia, 48 developing nations are rolling out a range of pledges to voluntarily cut their respective emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) by 2020, the year climate scientists say the earth’s rising temperature should peak by if an environmental catastrophe is to be avoided.

Indonesian negotiators confirmed during a U.N. climate change conference here that Jakarta is prepared to cut its GHG emissions by 26 percent on its own accord. But that is not all: the world’s most populous Muslim country is prepared to increase emissions cuts to 41 percent if it receives development assistance that industrialised nations have committed to providing.

“It is a pledge that sends out an important message: Indonesia is prepared to do its share to shoulder the burden of reducing greenhouse gases,” says Shalimar Vitan, economic and justice campaigns coordinator for the East Asia office of Oxfam, the British humanitarian agency. “It also is informing the citizens of the country that Indonesia is eyeing a low carbon development agenda.”

This article was in the Madison Times (WI), and since Bill O’Reilly says Madison is full of “satan-worshipers” I guess I’m probably preaching to the choir in this letter, but what the heaven. Sent April 15:

Indonesia’s readiness to commit to drastic emissions reductions is an object lesson to the United States about the meaning of responsibility. Compared with the industrialized West, the island nation’s contribution to the climate crisis is quite small — but it will feel the effects sooner and more severely. If our nation suffered the effects of climate change proportionally to our contribution, we’d already be deep underwater. Climate-change deniers don’t want to face the environmental consequences of our fossil-fueled economic engine, and who can blame them? I wouldn’t want to face a future of increasingly severe weather, acidified oceans, devastated agriculture and crippled infrastructure either — but we oil- and coal-burning humans unwittingly started all those things. It’s time for Americans to face the reality of our national contribution to a global problem — and follow Indonesia’s lead in emissions reduction. Let’s be ethical citizens of the world — for a change.

Warren Senders

Month 9, Day 22: And Tell It, Tell It, Tell It!

As promised.

Dear Director Lubchenco,

The environmentally concerned public is anxiously awaiting the release of your report on the damage done to the Gulf of Mexico by the disastrous wreck of British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon drilling project.

It is crucial that your report address the consistent spreading of misinformation on the part of BP and their allies in the industry. Lowballing of initial flow estimates; blocking the media from spill-affected areas; refusing to allow scientific specialists to conduct accurate measurements of flow from the gusher on the Gulf floor…the list goes on and on.

If we are to have a hope of trusting our government in a disaster of this magnitude, the report issued under your imprimatur must be absolutely truthful. The Gulf crisis was exacerbated by BP’s dissimulation, and it will be to the everlasting shame of our own government that the Administration accepted their estimates and assessments for so long. If it was obvious to any observant citizen that Tony Hayward and his spokespeople were lying through their teeth, why was our Coast Guard so trusting?

I recognize that your mandate is simply to provide an accurate scientific report on the consequences of the oil spill. But failing to address the toxic effects of corporate misinformation is to abdicate your responsibilities to the American people and to the health of the oceans you’ve devoted your life to studying. We cannot afford another Deepwater Horizon…and we cannot afford more lies, misdirection and dissimulation from the extractive industries who are responsible for so much of the world’s environmental degradation.

Thank you,

Warren Senders