Year 4, Month 12, Day 26: Sliding Down The Razor Blade Of Life

The Dallas Morning News, on the belated introduction of fossil fuel corporations to climatic reality:

Exxon Mobil used to spend millions of dollars to lobby against efforts to tax or limit carbon emissions, and even denied the existence of man-made climate change. Now, the energy giant and several other businesses are factoring the likelihood of a carbon tax into their long-range plans.

We applaud this awakening, which research group CDP North America chronicles in a recent white paper. It brings a dramatically new dynamic to efforts to restrict carbon emissions. By CDP’s tally, at least 29 major companies — familiar names such as Wal-Mart, Microsoft, Walt Disney, Wells Fargo, General Electric and at least nine major energy companies — see a carbon tax in their future and are in the process now of building it into their business plans.

It’s (past) time for Congress to do the same.

Several factors underlie the development of this new dynamic, not the least of which is business pragmatism. Opinion polls show strong public support for the need to act on climate change. Legal victories have given the Environmental Protection Agency a stronger hand in regulating emissions. And President Barack Obama has vowed to regulate carbon emissions from coal plants, a major step toward the U.S. meeting its promise to reduce carbon emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and 80 percent by 2050.

Exxon Mobil’s transformation, the first hint of which can be traced to a speech by chairman Rex Tillerson in 2009, is particularly significant. Exxon Mobil is among the nation’s most conservative companies. Its new position puts it at odds with the more conservative wing of the GOP, which denies climate change and opposes policies that would put a price on carbon.

But Exxon Mobil recognizes that fossil fuels, its lifeblood for decades, are falling out of favor around the world and that burning them probably contributes to global warming. Economists concur that establishing a price on carbon pollution would be an effective market-based incentive to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, like oil and coal, and encourage use of lower-carbon natural gas, nuclear energy and renewable energy alternatives, such as solar, wind and battery power.

When your voters are more conservative than Exxon, what are you going to do? December 12:

Republican politicians normally jump to do the bidding of their paymasters in the fossil fuel industry, so the growing readiness of big oil to embrace a tax on CO2 emissions should provide an opportunity for our profoundly dysfunctional government to move forward on policies that actually address some of our civilization’s primary contributions to global climate change. But “should” is a long way from “will.”

These lawmakers are trapped between a corporate rock and a demographic hard place; the tea-party zealots who are the majority of Republican primary voters are reflexively anti-science to the point that simply acknowledging the reality of climate change is electoral poison in many heavily gerrymandered Congressional districts. The result is certain: paralysis and gridlock in the face of crisis.

It’s long past time for our politicians to respect the laws of physics and chemistry and their implications for humanity. A carbon tax is long overdue.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 2, Day 2: Block That Kick!

The Washington Post runs an AP story on John Kerry’s stance on climate change and the Keystone XL pipeline:

In his opening statement before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry said that American foreign policy “is defined by life-threatening issues like climate change,” along with political unrest in Africa and human trafficking across the globe. Kerry, the panel’s outgoing chairman, has made the issue of global warming central to his career in public service. The Massachusetts Democrat has traveled repeatedly to international climate negotiations and pushed in the Senate — unsuccessfully — for a limit on national greenhouse gas emissions.

Later this year, the State Department must decide whether to grant TransCanada a presidential permit to build the 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline extension, which would carry heavy crude oil from Canada’s oil sands to America’s Gulf Coast refineries. Climate activists warn that the project would be devastating to the planet, while proponents say it would boost the nation’s energy security and generate short-term construction jobs.

We’ll see about that. Sent January 26:

Given his record of respect for evidence and expertise, John Kerry’s acceptance of the scientific consensus on climate change is unsurprising. Conservatives arguing that action on global warming is too expensive operate from a stance of multiple denial: they reject the climate science substantiating the greenhouse effect’s dangerous consequences, they reject the economic evidence that investment in clean energy and sound environmental practices are net positives for job creation, and they reject the fact that a significant majority of Americans recognize that climate change is a problem with huge repercussions for our nation and the world. It’s no accident that these same fact-rejecting politicians are the ones advocating strongly for the Keystone XL pipeline, a project whose likely contribution to climate change could well tip the balance from disastrous to catastrophic.

As Secretary of State and as a member of the “reality-based community,” Mr. Kerry must block the pipeline project.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 10, Day 8: It’s The Pits

The San Joaquin Record Net (CA) reports on local agriculture and the regional preponderance of denialism:

Today: cherries and the Valley mind.

In the past few days, the media reported that climate change threatens Valley crops. What is interesting about this is most Valley farmers don’t believe in climate change.

Farmers are realists; but most Valley farmers reject (what I believe to be) global warming reality. Something in the Valley’s conservative mindset impels them to.

“The climate does change,” said cherry grower Bruce Fry. “It’s not, in my opinion, because of humans. Look what volcanoes can do.”

Fry does not believe greenhouse gases are causing the greenhouse effect. Rather, he believes the Earth’s vast weather cycles bring changes naturally.

It doesn’t change his mind that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has warned Valley farmers to prepare for climate change by finding warmer-weather crops.

“The problem is I don’t trust Uncle Sam,” Fry said.

Government alienates Valley farmers mainly with its regulations. Farmers resent regulations as intrusive, ill-conceived and bad for business – which sometimes they are.

“These guys up at their offices in Sacramento or Washington, D.C., need to get out of their offices and see what is reality, not according to their spreadsheet and the book,” Fry said.

Nor does it persuade him that the overwhelming majority of scientists agree the Earth is warming.

The state Department of Water Resources, for example, said spring runoff has declined 10 percent over the past 100 years; double that in recent years.

A recent University of California, Davis, study found Valley “chilling hours” – cold temperatures required by many crops (including cherries) – have declined up to 30 percent.

“Usually there’s two sides to the scientific data, too,” Fry said. “Just like in statistics, you can manipulate that one way or the other.”

Cherries and the Valley mind. Sheesh. Sent September 30:

Of all the assaults on reason perpetrated by conservative politicians and their collaborators in the media, their relentless campaign of disinformation on the issue of global climate change is certainly the most damaging. While their ideologically driven policies on practically every issue may cause huge amounts of harm (whether it’s more people lost to gun violence, more people living in poverty, or more unnecessary wars), but there is always the hope that given enough time, our species can find solutions and resolutions. Given another millennium, who can believe humanity won’t figure out a better way?

But when it comes to global warming, the Right’s misrepresentations and anti-science rhetoric may have ensured that we won’t have the time we need. We’ve known about the greenhouse effect for more than 150 years; scientists have been urging American presidents to act on limiting CO2 emissions for half a century — and conservative media and politicians have been blocking meaningful action for just as long. But the kicker lies in the fact of “tipping points.” Climatologists predict that when certain temperature thresholds are exceeded, planetary climate systems will trigger rapidly escalating feedback loops of civilization-ending power — and we’re currently exceeding those thresholds, right now.

This year’s cherry crop may be a good one, but unless all of us recognize the threat and act rapidly and decisively on a global level, the long-term forecast is for a bitter harvest indeed.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 4, Day 5: My God! It’s Actually A Cookbook!

The Boston Globe, reporting on the readiness of our state’s Junior senator to do the bidding of his paymasters:

Senator Scott Brown joined with Senate Republicans on Thursday to foil President Obama’s plan to strip $24 billion in tax subsidies from the country’s largest oil companies, a stance that Democrats immediately focused on as an issue in the Massachusetts Senate race.

In voting against the bill, Brown contended the measure did not address the most pressing problem.

“I do not support this bill in its current form because it will do nothing to reduce prices at the pump,’’ Brown said.

Which, in a nutshell, is why you (and I) should be donating to Elizabeth Warren. Brown is an idiot. And he’s a Republican.

But I repeat myself.

Sent March 30:

In following the rest of his Republican colleagues in voting to sustain subsidies to oil companies, Scott Brown defies both common sense and the principles of Massachusetts residents. Ignoring the scientific consensus on climate change, our junior senator advocates for continuing our current levels of fossil fuel consumption — loading the climatic dice for a costly and dangerous future of extreme weather.

While Senator Brown’s rejection of environmentally ethical fiscal policy may be antithetical to our state’s values, his vote helps us clarify who he really represents. Unlike Bay State voters, Scott Brown’s big oil constituents get four billion dollars in subsidies and tax breaks every year. That’s seven thousand dollars a minute — a powerful political motivator!

At a time when America should be transforming its energy economy into a model of sustainability, Senator Brown and the GOP offer regressive policies that are both environmentally unsound and fiscally irresponsible.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 10, Day 11: Snicker. Snicker. Snicker. Guffaw.

Heh heh heh (the Oct. 7 Tulsa World):

If Norman wasn’t the place to be for weather research in the south, or even the nation, this announcement today should help.

The U.S. Department of the Interior selected the University of Oklahoma to be one of eight regional climate science centers nationwide, school and Interior officials announced Friday.

The center, which will be housed at the OU Research Campus in Norman, will aim to provide a link between weather and climate projections about how to manage federal lands, natural resources and fish and wildlife, according to a release from the OU College of Atmospheric & Geographic Sciences today.

“The nationwide network of Climate Science Centers will provide the scientific talent and commitment necessary for understanding how climate change and other landscape stressors will change the face of the United States, and how the Department of the Interior, as our nation’s chief steward of natural and cultural resources, can prepare and respond,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.

Every once in a while these letters are fun. Sent Oct. 7:

With the selection of the University of Oklahoma’s Norman campus as one of the nation’s new climate science centers, the irony is thick on the ground. This news surely sticks in James Inhofe’s craw. After all, the Senator is a man who prefers improbable conspiracy theories to observable realities, and who chooses to go on record as denying the relevance of climate science. Perhaps there will be a dedication ceremony when the new offices are opened. It would be a gracious gesture to invite America’s most famous denialist to the reception.

Perhaps he could say a few words?

Or perhaps he could lay aside his petrol-powered preconceptions and listen carefully to what climatologists are actually saying about the threats we’re all going to face in the coming centuries?

Naaaah. Senator Inhofe listening respectfully to climate scientists? That would be even more unusual than an unseasonal snowfall in Washington, DC.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 4, Day 16: Easy Target….

The Tulsa World writes about James Inhofe’s attempt to end the EPA.

Sent April 7:

James Inhofe’s ignorance of science would be hilarious if he were not in a position of significant influence. This self-proclaimed “enemy of the environment” long ago sold his political power to the highest bidder: the big oil industries who have the most to lose from any sort of meaningful climate change legislation. He and his acolytes are hostile to any information that does not fit their preconceptions. Our political process was originally intended to deal with actual verifiable reality, including the consequences of our actions and of our inaction. Political grandstanding unconnected from facts is a prescription for disaster. In reflexively obeying their corporate paymasters, Mr. Inhofe and other members of the GOP undermine their own party’s credibility; their cavalier dismissal of the entire climate science community is grossly irresponsible. With all due respect to the Senator’s fervently held beliefs, waiting for the Rapture cannot substitute for actual fact-based policy.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 4, Day 15: Soon They’ll Write Legislation By Stirring Bird Entrails With A Stick.

The LA Times reports an extremely welcome piece of news:

WASHINGTON–The Obama administration and its Senate allies beat back a months-long effort by Congressional Republicans to strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its ability to regulate greenhouse gases, the heat-trapping emissions most scientists believe is the main contributor to global climate change.

The votes were the culmination of efforts in both chambers of Congress over the last few months to cut back on the EPA’s regulatory powers.

The efforts focus on limiting EPA’s program to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles and more recently, stationary sources like power plants and oil refineries, the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases.

I’ll take what I can get, these days. Sent in a state of extreme exhaustion on April 6:

Most of this country’s citizens recognize that clean air, clean water and resilient regional ecosystems are important and essential components of our national well-being. Sadly, this appears lost on scientifically ignorant GOP legislators whose eagerness to undercut any and all environmental programs seems almost gleefully nihilistic. At a time when the incontrovertible facts of global climate change are accepted by the overwhelming majority of the world’s experts in climate science, Senator Inhofe’s opposition to meaningful action on the reduction of greenhouse emissions is petulant, not principled. Meanwhile, erstwhile climate action advocate Lindsey Graham renounced his principles when he faced the electoral consequences of the tea-party’s anti-reality stance. While the defeat of Republican efforts to gut the Environmental Protection Agency is good news for all Americans, the fact that our politics is massively populated by people who reject scientific evidence when it’s ideologically inconvenient bodes ill for our future.

Warren Senders

Month 3, Day 25: Uh, Oh! Somebody’s Having A Meltdown

The Boston Globe had an editorial on Tuesday pointing out the difficulties that lie ahead for any Democratic policy initiative. As editorials go, it was nothing special…but it provided me with a hook for today’s letter, a rehash of yesterday’s shot off the Herald’s bow.

As the Senate moves to voting on the reconciliation fix for health care legislation, the GOP has fixed on a political strategy of total non-cooperation. What does this mean for future policy-making? Well, Lindsey Graham has been working on climate legislation with Senators Kerry and Lieberman, but it seems likely he’s going to take his ball and go home, because his pique at a Democratic success outweighs any sense of obligation to the long-term health of the planet.

That our governance is immobilized by the GOP’s grade-school tantrums is deplorable. That climate legislation may be held hostage by their passive-aggressive tactics is inexcusable.

Warren Senders