Year 4, Month 3, Day 8: Who Dat Who Say Who Dat When I Say Who Dat?

The Denver Post marvels at the relationship between family-oriented community life and support for sustainable energy:

What might you expect to find in communities where “family values” are the strongest? More churches? More parents helping out in classrooms? Maybe more bake sales? Yes, perhaps. But there’s one thing you would definitely find: solar panels.

Research at the University of Colorado at Boulder shows that one modern marker of communities with greater “family interdependence” — a social science term that indicates the value a person places on time spent with their family — is that more new solar energy businesses take root. Further, where state solar incentives are in place, high levels of family interdependence seem to supercharge the effectiveness of those incentives.

These aren’t just weird facts. The information is mind-blowing. It suggests that if government cares about solving climate change, or clean energy jobs, or entrepreneurship, then social norms — the unwritten rules of community conduct — might matter as much as rebates and incentives.

There’s a big difference between saying “pro-family” and being “pro-family.” Sent February 26:

It’s hardly counterintuitive to notice that vibrant, family-friendly communities are more likely to adopt renewable energy and make it work. A family is a chain of relationships extending forward and backward in time — an unambiguous argument for sustainability. It takes a village to raise a windmill or a solar panel.

For all their pro-family rhetoric, anti-environment conservatives are unlikely to believe that “family values” extend to people who aren’t just like them — and the GOP’s extreme libertarians are far more likely to adopt every-man-for-himself ideologies that discount and disrespect the crucial importance of community, inclusiveness, and long-term stability.

Equally important, the inevitable disruptions of global climate change will impact all of humanity significantly, damaging physical infrastructure and crippling agriculture. Coping with these changes will require a strengthened social infrastructure, and a recognition that America’s motto is “E Pluribus Unum,” not “what’s in it for me?”

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 2, Day 28: Right Now, Over Me…

The Loveland Reporter-Herald (CO) runs a thoughtful op-ed by a smart young man named Reid Maynard. He’s in high school:

Before opening our discussion, let us leave some baggage behind. Let us release prejudices regarding media misinformation, sensationalism and hypocritical vice presidents.

With minds unhindered, let us approach the table and discuss climate change. Much passionate argument emerges in this debate with logic and demagoguery on both sides, but it presents high stakes and sacrifices for all generations: adult, youth and child. Therefore, we must carefully consider the subject without the stain of bias.

The existence of climate change is no longer a debate. Simply observe modern evidence, such as the fact that nations now dispute maritime boundaries in the Arctic as shipping routes emerge where ice once reigned. Today, politicians and pundits argue about causes. Most researchers agree that human activity exacerbates this phenomenon, accelerating change beyond natural pace. Others dispute anthropogenic change and insist that mitigation creates unacceptable costs. Throw in lobbyists, profiteers and screaming extremists and we have painful gridlock.

I could have done without the dig at Al Gore. But rahne do, he’s a good kid. We need more like him. Feb 19:

When it comes to the long-term future of our species, we ignore the voices of the young at our peril. Even as the market-driven consumer economy encourages us to adopt the short-term mindset of immediate gratification, thoughtful young people cannot ignore the damage this is doing to the planet and the environment upon which all of us depend. They see, all too clearly, that a lifestyle based on continuous consumption will end by consuming us all; as Reid Maynard demonstrates in his op-ed column, they understand that there are no easy options.

And what of us, their parents and grandparents? If we are prepared to accept the facts of global heating — no matter how uncomfortable, disquieting, or inconvenient — then we can collaborate with our children in solving the problems of survival and prosperity in a transformed world. On the other hand, if we reject the science of climate change because it conflicts with our preconceptions and ideologies, we are no longer partners, but adversaries.

It’s up to us.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 1, Day 21: I Do Not Believe You Are An Idiot. My Choice Of Verb Is More Accurate: I KNOW You’re An Idiot.

The Anchorage (AK) Daily News reprints an Op-Ed from the Kansas City Star of a few days ago, titling it “The Costly Ignorance Of Climate”:

The overwhelming number of scientists who believe in climate change scored another “victory” in 2012.

Unfortunately, because of timid political leadership in the United States and around the world, the war against global warming is still being lost.

Scientists have long warned that man-made greenhouse gases are heating up the Earth. They added more evidence to their arsenal when the contiguous United States recorded its hottest year ever in 2012. The average temperature was 55.3 degrees, smashing the 1998 record by one full degree, an incredible leap given the usually small changes in these kinds of measurements.

The New York Times reported other worrisome facts: 34,008 daily high records were established at U.S. weather stations but only 6,664 record lows in 2012.

Worldwide, the average temperature is expected to come in as one of the 10 warmest ever, with all of those occurring in the last 15 years.

Always happy to mock the faithful. January 14:

There’s no doubt among people who pay attention to the evidence that climate change is a dangerous reality. Self-styled “skeptics” confuse incomprehension with intellectual honesty; the root of the problem lies in a word we hear too often in the discussion of the burgeoning greenhouse effect and its consequences. “Believe.”

Scientists’ relationship with reality is vastly different from the faithful’s relationship to their religions. You’ll never hear a religious adherent say that they’ve evaluated the data and are prepared to accept their creed’s validity within two standard deviations, and you’ll never hear a climatologist say they “believe” in climate change. Scientists accept the evidence for climate change because they understand how that evidence was collected and analyzed, and their evaluation of other possible explanations for that evidence suggests that the consensus explanation is the correct one.

To conflate the concepts of belief and understanding is to do both science and religion a disservice. And when this confusion makes concerted international action on global climate change less likely, it makes risible religion’s claims to moral ascendancy.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 12, Day 23: Intestines Were A-Hanging From The Highest Of The Trees

The New York Times notes that winter sports are suffering a bit:

NEWBURY, N.H. — Helena Williams had a great day of skiing here at Mount Sunapee shortly after the resort opened at the end of November, but when she came back the next day, the temperatures had warmed and turned patches of the trails from white to brown.

“It’s worrisome for the start of the season,” said Ms. Williams, 18, a member of the ski team at nearby Colby-Sawyer College. “The winter is obviously having issues deciding whether it wants to be cold or warm.”

Her angst is well founded. Memories linger of last winter, when meager snowfall and unseasonably warm weather kept many skiers off the slopes. It was the fourth-warmest winter on record since 1896, forcing half the nation’s ski areas to open late and almost half to close early.

Whether this winter turns out to be warm or cold, scientists say that climate change means the long-term outlook for skiers everywhere is bleak. The threat of global warming hangs over almost every resort, from Sugarloaf in Maine to Squaw Valley in California. As temperatures rise, analysts predict that scores of the nation’s ski centers, especially those at lower elevations and latitudes, will eventually vanish.

I went skiing as a kid in different places all over New England. It was fun until I broke my leg as a teenager. At that point I said, “fuck it.” Sent December 17:

Thanks to the barrage of weather-related disasters over the past year, more previously dubious Americans are beginning to accept the reality of global climate change; there’s something about tangible evidence that helps nudge people off the fence. The decline in snow coverage on the nation’s ski slopes should amplify this effect, perhaps helping winter sports enthusiasts to recognize both the factuality of the greenhouse effect and the dangers it presents.

But we — all of us — must start thinking in much longer terms and much larger scales. While the economic disruption caused by a collapsing winter sports industry will be significant, it pales in comparison to that triggered by a collapsing planetary environment. While our industrialized society has wrought technological wonders, we are laughably unable to control the havoc unleashed by our profligate greenhouse emissions. Humanity isn’t on the bunny slopes anymore, but careening down a precipice, unknowing, unheeding.

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 8, Day 27: Nobody Here But Us Hippie Chickens

The Des Moines Register discusses climate change’s impact in Idaho and the nation:

Can we learn from the drought of 2012? Is this truly the “new normal” climate for which we need to plan? Let’s consider the following.

Weather is what we experience on a day-to-day basis at any location. But climate is the long-term manifestation of weather recorded over decades to centuries and longer.

One indication of decadal climate change lies in long-term trends of daily high temperature records set at weather stations throughout the world compared to the number of record daily low temperatures. In a variable climate system, there will always be new extremes experienced as the record grows longer. But the ratio of record highs to lows should average 1:1. However, on a warming planet, the number of record highs should significantly exceed the number of lows.

That’s exactly what’s occurring — the United States recorded about two new daily highs for every record low temperature in recent years. But by mid-century, climatologists project that the ratio of record highs to lows will increase to 20:1 and by the end of the century it will be 50:1.

I’m just a hippy. What do I know? Sent August 22:

For generations beyond number, humanity’s traditional cultures have offered a way for us to think in time spans longer than individual lifetimes. The emergence of our modern industrial civilization has drastically curtailed our access to this type of wisdom, and we are all the poorer for it. Nowhere is this more evident than in our ADD-driven inability to respond to the obvious and undeniable threat posed by global climate change. When corporations are unable to think beyond the next fiscal quarter, when politicians are unable to think beyond the next election, when citizens are unable to think beyond the next paycheck, and the media is unable to think beyond the 24-hour news cycle — it’s unsurprising that a slow-motion emergency of multi-generational scope receives less attention than pop star marriages and political scandals du jour.

While there are technological and cultural solutions available for many aspects of the climate crisis, these will amount to very little unless we — all of us, corporations, citizens, politicians and pundits alike — learn anew to think in the long term, developing the wisdom that comes from considering not our own happiness and prosperity, but that of our posterity.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 7, Day 7: History Is A Bunk Bed

More on rising East coast seas, from the Andover (MA) Eagle-Tribune:

If you think there are flooding problems in the region now, just wait — it’s going to get a whole lot worse, according to a study released Sunday by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Scientists have found that our coastline is part of a unique, 600-mile-long “hot spot” along the Atlantic Coast where sea levels are rising at a significantly faster rate than the world as a whole — three to four times faster. The hot spot stretches down the Atlantic Coast from north of Boston to North Carolina.

“Flooding right now is an annoyance, but it will be more of an annoyance and bad enough that you’ll think twice about parking your car in the driveway if there’s a storm coming and it’s the spring tide,” said Peter Howd, a co-author on the study and a contracted oceanographer with the U.S. Geological Survey.

This letter was inspired by the comments (q.v.). Sent June 26:

When human society pays attention to time spans larger than an individual lifetime, that’s called “civilization.”

For a quick and dirty education in the problems inherent in short-term thinking, watch climate-change denialists’ reactions to the U.S. Geological Survey’s study showing drastic sea-level rises along the East coast. While a few may stubbornly cling to their repeatedly-debunked conspiracy theories (Al Gore’s gonna confiscate your SUV!), the majority will loudly assert that since the problems are predicted to happen over the next hundred years, it’s pointless to worry about them.

Climate change is a significant threat already, and it’s projected to get a lot worse within our lifetimes. Those who use cheap faux-populist rhetoric against the dedicated work of climate scientists undermine the civility essential to public discourse; those who would bequeath our posterity a ruined and inhospitable planet are choosing to opt out of the multi-millennium project of human civilization.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 6, Day 19: Double Whammy Bar

Two separate articles in the June 7 issue of the Vancouver Sun:

Planetary bad news:

The Earth’s ecosystems could reach a point of no return resulting in rapid irreversible collapse in as little as 50 years, according to projections by a group of 18 scientists.

Their article in the journal Nature today says that human activities – such as energy use and widespread transformation of the Earth’s surface for habitation and agriculture – are pushing the planet toward a critical threshold for “state shift” not unlike the transition from the last ice age about 12,000 years ago.

Such a shift would create a new nor-mal condition for the entire planet with a new range of temperatures, new ocean levels and widespread species extinctions resulting in an entirely new web of life.

It would not necessarily be a comfortable place for human beings.

“We’ve had a good long run of really benign conditions that have allowed humans to go from cracking rocks together to walking on the moon,” said Simon Fraser University biodiversity professor Arne Mooers, one of the authors of the article.

Local bad news:

The number of major forest fires in B.C. will likely increase by 50 per cent or more in the next 40 years according to a recent report on climate change.

Telling the Weather Story, released this week by the Insurance Bureau of Canada, addresses altering weather patterns across the country in the coming decades and urges Canadians to adjust to the realities of climate change.

The study predicts B.C. can expect an increase in wildfires over the average of nearly 2,000 blazes a year between 2000 and 2010. Furthermore, the province will likely see a host of other weather-related issues like warmer temperatures, declining — and, in some regions, disappearing — mountain snowpacks, more intense rainfall during the winter, and drier summers. The number of wildfires sparked by lightning strikes — responsible for nearly 60 per cent of fires — is also expected to rise.

“It’s not a just a possibility,” said Dr. Gordon McBean, the report’s lead researcher. “There’s a very real probability it will happen.”

McBean, a climatologist and professor at the University of Western Ontario, conducted the research with cooperation from the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, where he also serves as policy chairman.

Read the comments for the full flavor. Sheesh. Sent June 8:

The Insurance Bureau of Canada’s report on the increased risk of forest fires is a localized version of the dire planetary “tipping point” projections just published in the journal Nature. The two articles in the June 7 edition of the Sun reinforce one another in the same way that climate-change processes do. For example, hotter summers set the stage for more forest fires, which release more carbon into the atmosphere in a positive feedback loop; the pine-beetle infestations brought by milder winters can leave whole forests of flammable dead trees — which, naturally, cannot reabsorb carbon as healthy forests do. Thawing Arctic permafrost releases even more carbon, while melting polar ice means less light is reflected back into space, in turn leading to greater heat absorption by the oceans.

Unfortunately, the mechanisms of denial are very strong, and many people will ignore this obvious crisis rather than contemplate changing their convenient lifestyles.

Humanity is a tenacious, flexible and adaptable species. We can survive the consequences of global climate change — but only if we stop denying the existence of the emergency, instead bringing all of our resources, ingenuity and commitment to bear on the problem.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 6, Day 15: …But The Words Aren’t Clear….

Bud Ris, the CEO of the New England Aquarium, has a perspective on the oceans’ message to us that’s definitely worth a read:

As we celebrate World Oceans Day on Friday, it’s worth pausing to reflect on the current state of our oceans and the biggest challenge they face: climate change. This is no longer a problem for the future; climate change is already underway.

We now know, for example, that the heat content of the upper layer of the oceans is on the rise. Just a degree or two of change can make a big difference.

As oceans warm, the water actually expands and takes up more space. This is a basic physics phenomenon called thermal expansion. This means that as water temperatures rise, sea level will rise as well, as it has in Boston by about 11 inches over the last 100 years. (Land subsidence is also a factor)

More from The Podium

The data now show that the pace of sea level rise is clearly accelerating, meaning that one to two feet of additional sea level rise by the end of the century is now likely. Much more is possible if ice atop the land masses in Greenland and Antarctica also melts. This has major implications for buildings and public infrastructure along Boston’s waterfront and other major cities. The risks of flooding during storm surges will increase.

Ocean warming won’t just affect humans. The geographic distribution, feeding patterns, and reproductive cycles of many marine animals are sensitive to temperature changes of just a few degrees and to changes in salinity and pH, caused by more freshwater runoff and increased carbon absorption. That may explain why most of the North Atlantic right whales that migrate annually up and down the East Coast didn’t show up in the Bay of Fundy in 2010 for the first time in 30 years — and why now — two years later — we are seeing the result in emaciated mothers and calves and a precariously low birth rate. It might also help explain why lobsters are molting weeks earlier in Maine, and why lobster populations south of Cape Cod are in decline.

Nothing to see here, folks. Move along. Sent June 5:

It’s increasingly apparent that all our planet’s ecosystems are trying to tell us something. Whether it’s bushes transforming into trees in a warming tundra, forests decimated by invasive insects, or acidifying oceans endangering multiple species of marine life, there’s no doubt that the web of life on Earth is under siege.

Why, then, are we seemingly unable to hear the distress calls of the oceans, the forests, or the tundra? Why do so many deny the rapidly accumulating evidence that climate change is an ongoing catastrophe of epic proportions?

While a selfish resistance to inconvenient truths is certainly part of the answer, it’s also true that industrialized humans have separated themselves from the natural world so completely that its messages might as well be in Etruscan. If we are to survive the climate crisis, we must relearn the languages of ecological interdependence along with the hard facts of sustainability.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 6, Day 14: Sixteen Tundras?

The New York Times notes that things are changing in the soon-to-be-not-so-very-much Frozen North:

Even as insect infestations and other factors accompanying warming have led to the “browning” of some stretches of boreal forest between temperate regions and the Arctic tundra, the tundra appears to be greening in a big way, various studies have shown. The newest such work, focused on scrubby windswept regions along Russia’s northwest Arctic coast, has found a particularly noteworthy shift is under way.

In this part of the Arctic, which could be a bellwether for changes to come elsewhere with greenhouse-driven warming, what might be called pop-up forests are forming. Low tundra shrubs, many of which are willow and alder species, have rapidly grown into small trees over the last 50 years, according to the study, led by scientists from the Biodiversity Institute at the University of Oxford and the Arctic Center of the University of Lapland. The researchers foresee a substantial additional local warming influence from this change in landscapes, with the darker foliage absorbing sunlight that would otherwise be reflected back to space. But the fast-motion shift to forests will likely absorb carbon dioxide, as well.

A particularly interesting aspect of this work, to my eye, is how it reveals the potential for fast-motion responses of ecosystems to environmental change in the far north. In work I covered in 2007, botanists found that Arctic plant species were extremely responsive to fairly rapid climate shifts in the past.

Short-term thinking will whack us seriously. We get too soon old and too late smart. Sent June 4:

If you’ve got a short attention span, climate change seems to be offering all kinds of unexpected bonuses in the natural world. When Arctic bushes turn into trees far faster than scientists expected, that’s a pleasing turn of affairs at first glance — after all, trees are good. Everyone likes trees.

It’s only when your perception goes beyond a five-to-ten year span that things take an ominous turn. If climate change keeps accelerating, many plant and animal species will die out, unable to keep up with the rapid environmental transformations. While humans are famously adaptable and have shown themselves capable of survival in very extreme circumstances, we have never in recorded history experienced anything like the chaos climatologists are now nervously anticipating.

But this is only worrying if you think in decades, centuries, and millennia. Our politicians, who do their thinking in two-year election cycles, aren’t worried. They should be.

Warren Senders