Month 6, Day 6: Grandpa, What Did You Do In The War On The Environment?

Time Magazine ran a column by Strobe Talbott and William Antholis basically pointing out that there are many wonderful and intellectually consistent reasons for conservatives to agree that climate change is a threat and we should do something about it. Of course, conservatives never will.

Talbott and Antholis are entirely correct that climate change upends the notion of bequeathing prosperity to our posterity. Our money and possessions will be useless on an uninhabitable planet. Alas, there are two reasons why conservatives cannot follow their advice. First is the fact that conservative politicians have allied with fundamentalist religious leaders who uniformly embrace both Young Earth Creationism and the notion of an Apocalypse, a relationship exemplified by Reagan’s Interior Secretary James Watt, who memorably said, “We don’t have to protect the environment, the Second Coming is at hand.” The second is simply that it is essentially impossible for a conservative politician to admit error in matters of policy (personal behavior is a different story). This inability to recognize the need for a change in position may well prevent passage of climate legislation, thereby leaving a heritage of ignorance and environmental devastation to our grandchildren.

Warren Senders

Month 5, Day 16: Quick and Dirty

Busy tonight. Lots of stuff to do, a long day of teaching tomorrow, and a small gig in the evening. Not a lot of time to invest — so I went to Time Magazine’s website and found their article on the Kerry-Lieberman bill. The letter is a rehash of many of this week’s themes.

The Kerry-Lieberman climate/energy bill’s inclusion of offshore drilling is a testimonial to the destructive influence of political expediency. The Deepwater Horizon disaster needs to be a game-changer. We must learn that fossil fuels are vastly more expensive than we’ve been led to believe; their true costs must include health effects, environmental destruction, catastrophic global warming, and the extremely expensive wars we require to protect our sources. Senator Lindsey Graham, until recently a third partner in the climate legislation, said in a recent statement that abandoning offshore drilling “isn’t realistic.” Maybe so…but it is completely delusional to think that we can continue as we have. “Business as usual” creates climate legislation designed around political exigencies; “business as usual” is a state of profound and complete denial. The Kerry-Lieberman bill needs to be passed — and it needs to be strengthened significantly. America has to kick the fossil fuel habit without delay.

Warren Senders

Month 5, Day 3: Sometimes I Hate Writing These Letters

Time Magazine also has a piece on the oil disaster, so they get another version of the letter I sent to Newsweek.

One good thing about a disaster — everybody covers it, so I have no problem finding a hook for a letter.

Frankly, I’d just as soon have to look for hours to find something worth writing about. The latest projections suggest that the Deepwater Horizon spill is going to dwarf the Valdez in another couple of days. Horrible.

The list of recent disasters attendant on fossil fuels is profoundly depressing: a Chinese coal ship fouling the Great Barrier Reef; a mine explosion in West Virginia; the Deepwater Horizon, pouring oil into the Gulf of Mexico at accelerating rates, with some projections describing flow equivalent to an Exxon Valdez every two days. And where is that oil coming from? Almost a mile underwater — too deep for divers. The results of this monumental corporate irresponsibility are beyond catastrophic; the Gulf of Mexico will be a petro-Chernobyl for decades to come. Communities and ecosystems are devastated; oyster beds that provided steadily for over a century are already lost. Towns and businesses that depend on fishing are facing death sentences. What will we learn from our latest catastrophe? If we are lucky, we will finally understand that fossil energy is anything but cheap, and that our collective survival depends on getting off our destructive addiction to oil and coal as soon as possible. BP, alas, must now stand for “Broken Planet.”

Warren Senders

Month 4, Day 12: Time Enough For Lies

I revised the letter I sent to the Boston Globe and sent it off to Time Magazine, which ran the AP story about the Shen Neng 1. Same point, same framing, different phrasing.

The Chinese coal ship foundering on the Great Barrier Reef is not just a sad story about oily birds, or a sea-captain’s dereliction of duty. The disaster off the coast of Australia also warns us to acknowledge the huge hidden costs of so-called “cheap energy.”

The Shen Neng 1 could just as easily be a million cases of black lung disease or the imminent loss of the polar ice cap, for these tragedies are all consequences of our addiction to fossil fuels. If we are to survive and prosper in the coming centuries, we must acknowledge the truth: oil and coal are only “cheap” when we ignore their health, ecological, and environmental costs. Any realistic energy policy must include these factors; to disregard them is to perpetuate a lie — and with catastrophic climate change looming on the horizon, lies about “cheap energy” are a luxury we can no longer afford.

Warren Senders

Month 3, Day 30: Time Quotes Inhofe. WTF?

Here’s an article at Time Magazine about yet another relatively trivial error in the IPCC report. Naturally, in an effort for “balance,” the author includes statements from James Inhofe.

The faux controversy over relatively minor errors and inept analogies in the IPCC report serves only to confuse members of the public who aren’t paying attention. The overwhelming consensus of scientists is that global warming is real and that it’s largely caused by human beings. When print and broadcast media routinely issue daily corrections over far more egregious misstatements of fact, the notion that a 3,000 page scientific report has mistakes in it should be unsurprising. Scientists are human, and they make mistakes; science itself, however, is a method of addressing error and misconception. Our media routinely treat scientific statements as somehow equivalent to statements of opinion, as witness Abend’s readiness to include statements by James Inhofe in her article. The Oklahoma Senator knows nothing of science, basing his arguments on things he wishes were true (AGW is a fraud, the Rapture is imminent, etc.) rather than on verifiable facts. For those of us who can comprehend the warnings of the scientific community, Inhofe is absurd at best and malevolent at worst. He has no business in a serious discussion of the most important existential threat humanity has ever faced.

Warren Senders

Month 3, Day 9: Time After Time

Time Magazine has a piece discussing the role of environmentally friendly industries in the formulation of the administration’s energy policy initiatives. The tone of the article attempts neutrality, but occasionally lapses into vague sorta-smears: the title is “How Fundraising Helped Shape Obama’s Green Agenda.” Think about that for a second; is it somehow a revelation that politicians will gravitate to people who’ll fund them as well as support their policies? The question is “which comes first, the money or the policy?”

Venture capitalist John Doerr, who helped develop the “Home Star” energy retrofitting program (see Obama describing it here), is profiled throughout the piece; the last paragraph reads:

Doerr, meanwhile, has continued to provide financial support to Democrats. On Dec. 21, just weeks after President Obama publicly embraced Home Star, Doerr and his wife Ann each wrote a $15,200 check to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Honestly, is this supposed to be indicative of chicanery? During the Bush years, the entire administration was run by the corrupt lackeys of big oil, big coal, big god and big guns, and the amounts of money involved absolutely dwarfed the Doerrs’ $30,400.

So I wrote Time a letter.

During the Bush Administration, representatives of the world’s biggest polluters took far more fundamental roles in policy development than is the case in the Obama White House. A program like “Home Star” will provide thousands of new jobs as well as help us break our national addiction to oil and coal. When I recall Dick Cheney sneering that conservation may be a “personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound comprehensive energy policy,” I am delighted to see his profoundly erroneous dictum repudiated; our nation needs an energy policy that penalizes waste and rewards efficiency. We currently lead the world in energy wasted per capita; it’s time for us to become global leaders in energy efficiency. The fact that representatives of “green” industries have a voice in the Obama Administration’s formulation of “morally virtuous” policy objectives is cause for rejoicing.

Warren Senders

Month 2, Day 24: Backward Ran Senators Until Reeled The Mind

I read this piece in Time, noting that the hope of having an unfettered EPA with the power to regulate carbon emissions is now in danger, thanks to a bunch of coal whores moderate Democrats who are joining Lisa Murkowski’s bill to cripple the Agency.

I swear, I just want to throw something across the room some of the time. Our elected representatives can’t make rational decisions about anything further away than Washington, DC (in space) or the coming election (in time). And that is precisely the wrong sort of thinking for dealing with the climate crisis. We need global thinkers who understand the concept of centuries. And what have we got? A collection of ADHD-addled lobbyist-lickers.

It is unfortunate that President Obama’s hoped-for spirit of bipartisanship should take the form of multiple Democrats joining Lisa Murkowski in hopes of preventing the EPA from regulating carbon. America’s only chance to regain the initiative in coping with the impacts of global climate change lies in swift action; alas, the only thing our paralyzed and dysfunctional Senate seems to be able to do quickly is to prevent things from happening.

While we dither, greenhouse gas emissions accelerate; the planet warms; arctic reservoirs of frozen methane are beginning to melt and enter the atmosphere. If you like the greenhouse effect from higher CO2, you’ll love what happens when methane gets into the atmosphere. Climatologist James Hansen describes the worst outcome in a single word: Venus.

There is no doubt that global climate change is the greatest existential threat that humanity has ever faced. How does our broken political system face it?   By building igloos, by mocking Al Gore; by substituting short-term calculation for long-term vision; by sacrificing the lives of our grandchildren and their grandchildren for political expediency.  Since the Senate is incapable of responding to a clear and present danger with any sort of alacrity, we need the EPA to operate without restrictions; Senator Murkowski’s proposal is a disgrace to our present and a danger to our future.

Warren Senders