Month 12, Day 20: Don’t Be Silly! They Couldn’t Hit An Elephant At This Dist—!

If only this had started happening, I dunno, maybe twenty or thirty years ago:

The United States’ top climate negotiator is calling on scientists and policymakers to orchestrate an “educational effort” to change the public’s perception about climate change.

Todd Stern, the country’s special envoy on climate change, pointed to a gap between what science says about the changing climate and what American’s believe.

“There is a gap and I think there is an educational effort that really needs to be made,” he said in a pre-taped interview with the energy and environment news program energyNow! that aired Sunday. Asked who should lead the education effort, Stern pointed to both scientists and policymakers.

Better late than never, I suppose.

Dear Mr. Stern,

Your call for a widespread educational effort to inform American citizens about the realities of climate change is absolutely correct. The news media have been at best irresponsible and at worst criminally negligent, at a time when we need accurate information more than ever. The opposition to the very notion of global heating in the Republican party has now reached a point where it is essentially an article of faith — a religious conviction, if you will. These two factors have combined in a deadly synergy that virtually guarantees a systemic failure to act in the face of the gravest threat humanity has confronted in millennia.

Ordinary citizens have little recourse in the face of such egregious misconduct in the corridors of power, and very few of us have the time or inclination to educate ourselves about the dimensions of the problem. Those who do will write letters and make telephone calls, and invariably we’ll be ignored by those who are beholden to the world’s largest polluters and the mountains of cash they manipulate.

If we are to forestall a tragic outcome for our species and for our planet, we need the strong and unambiguous voices of people who are prepared to speak with authority on the issues of climate, attacking attack the systemic propagation of ignorance everywhere. Your position as the chief climate negotiator for the United States gives you that authority. I urge you to organize a Climate Misinformation Task Force that will take on the ignorance engendered by the media and enabled by our dysfunctional political system.

This is a debate our species cannot afford to lose. If the ignorant and avaricious have the final say in the climate debate, that could be the last words of our civilization or our species.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 12, Day 19: Only Two Things Are Infinite…

The York County, Maine, Journal Tribune (York County’s only daily newspaper) runs an editorial citing “modest progress” at Cancun. Hard to argue with that. I used it as the opportunity to call out our media and political establishments for their anti-reality programming.

With all due respect to an excellent editorial summary, I would submit that the biggest challenge to managing climate change may not be reining in the greenhouse emissions of China and the U.S. It’s true that China’s is the largest share of worldwide CO2 output; it’s equally true that the dubious honor of the most emissions per capita belongs to the United States. And while humanity has never faced a planetary threat greater than atmospheric carbon dioxide, getting it under control will be easier than making our politicians grasp the enormity of the problem. Denial of science and scientific expertise is now an article of faith for conservatives, and a simple economic decision for the fossil fuel industries which bankroll them. As long as our media keep playing the game of false equivalence, in which the opinion of an expert climatologist is “balanced” by a corporate shill from a conservative think tank, we’re never going to make any real progress on climate change. Meanwhile, of course, the clock is ticking, and the world is getting ever hotter.

Warren Senders

Month 11, Day 15: Do You Believe In Magic?

The New York Times profiles the scientists who are measuring water temperatures and ice melt in the glaciers.


While the United States is among the countries at greatest risk, neither it nor any other wealthy country has made tracking and understanding the changes in the ice a strategic national priority.

The consequence is that researchers lack elementary information. They have been unable even to measure the water temperature near some of the most important ice on the planet, much less to figure out if that water is warming over time. Vital satellites have not been replaced in a timely way, so that American scientists are losing some of their capability to watch the ice from space.

The missing information makes it impossible for scientists to be sure how serious the situation is.

“As a scientist, you have to stick to what you know and what the evidence suggests,” said Gordon Hamilton, one of the researchers in the helicopter. “But the things I’ve seen in Greenland in the last five years are alarming. We see these ice sheets changing literally overnight.”

As a scientifically aware layperson, I wish to point out that when these people use words like “alarming” it means something very different from the day-to-day interpretation we put on the word. “Alarming” is what an exobiologist would say if Chthulu appeared over a city in all His blood-curdling glory.

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, kids. It’s been fun.

Perhaps the greatest failing of our national discussion is our systemic reliance on magical thinking; American politicians honestly seem to believe that if we don’t acknowledge something, it doesn’t exist. Thus the inevitable default choice: do nothing and hope for the best. Later, we hear, “Nobody anticipated…” Nobody, we’re told, anticipated the breach of New Orleans’ levees; the hijacked airplanes and collapsing towers; the missing Iraqi WMDs. Those who did were ignored, because believing in magic is easier than dealing with facts. Now we learn that our capacity to measure ice depletion in the Poles has been degraded by funding cuts, making it impossible for anyone to anticipate the effects of glacial melt until it’s too late to respond effectively. In the coming years, the catastrophes of climate change may finally teach us that facts are ignored at our peril. Alas for our species, Earth is unmoved by our magic.

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.