Year 4, Month 12, Day 15: That’s Not A Feature

The New York Times, on New Jersey’s pine beetle problem:

BLUE ANCHOR, N.J. — “Heads up!”

Deep in the woods, the whine of chain saws pierced the fall air, and Steve Garcia shouted a warning to fellow loggers as a 40-foot pitch pine crashed to the ground.

He was chopping down trees to save the forest as part of New Jersey’s effort to beat back an invasion of beetles.

In an infestation that scientists say is almost certainly a consequence of global warming, the southern pine beetle is spreading through New Jersey’s famous Pinelands.

It tried to do so many times in the past, but bitterly cold winters would always kill it off. Now, scientists say, the winters are no longer cold enough. The tiny insect, firmly entrenched, has already killed tens of thousands of acres of pines, and it is marching northward.

Scientists say it is a striking example of the way seemingly small climatic changes are disturbing the balance of nature. They see these changes as a warning of the costly impact that is likely to come with continued high emissions of greenhouse gases.

I was in the NYT in August, so this is a long shot. But what the hell. December 3:

New Jersey’s outbreak of pine beetles is part of a larger story. The predicament of the Pinelands is shared with the maple trees now producing insufficient sap for Vermont’s syrup industry, and with the Midwest’s drought-ravaged cornfields. Beyond our nation’s borders, the story includes tiny landholders in Bangladesh whose farms are threatened by rising sea levels, and the citizens of island nations gloomily awaiting the day their homelands disappear beneath the waves.

Each individual, community and nation is affected differently by the onrushing greenhouse effect. With a cast of billions, the story of climate change is one of a grave threat to our shared humanity and the future we share.

Climate action needs to be polycentric and polytemporal; diverse local responses should be coordinated with broader regional initiatives — and immediate action must be integrated into a multi-generational effort. When it comes to climate change, “now” means the next millennium.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 12, Day 10: Used To Wander Through The Park, Shadowboxing In The Dark…

In my heart I have always lived up the road a bit, in The People’s Republic of Cambridge. The Cambridge Chronicle talks about some of the good guys:

Cambridge —

When it comes to climate change, top-down approaches haven’t worked well, at least not according to a group of environmental organizations at MIT.

Earlier this month, the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence’s Climate CoLab together with the MIT Energy Initiative, the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, and MIT Sloan Sustainability, sponsored a conference to explore the role new technology-enabled approaches – like crowdsourcing, social media, and big data – could have in combating climate change. The Climate CoLab is an MIT project that seeks to crowdsource citizen-generated ideas on a range of topics related to climate change.

“Top-down approaches haven’t worked very well,” said Laur Fisher, community and partnerships manager for the MIT Climate CoLab. “Now, new information technologies—especially the Internet—are making it possible to organize and harness the intelligence of huge numbers of people in ways that have never been possible before in the history of humanity.”

By constructively engaging a broad range of scientists, policy makers, business people, investors and concerned citizens, Fisher said the hope is that the Climate CoLab will help develop and gain support for climate change plans that are more effective than past efforts.

“We know how to make real progress on climate change, what we must create is the political will to achieve it. Creating that will require all of us to engage. It can’t be a top-down process,” said Fred Krupp, Environmental Defense Fund president and the event’s keynote speaker. “The arch of the moral universe may bend toward justice, but the line on the graph of global emissions won’t bend until we make it do so.”

This letter is a bit of a hash, but it came out OK, I think. November 28:

To be meaningful, attempts to address climate change must be both polycentric and polytemporal; they must operate on scales of size from individuals to nations, and must reflect both long- and short-term thinking. Crowdsourcing initiatives like that of the MIT’s Climate CoLab are essential; the hegemony of old notions about society, energy and sustainability has delayed progress for far too long. We need dedicated and innovative people, families and communities anticipating and out-thinking the inevitable infrastructural and agricultural disruptions that will accompany an intensifying greenhouse effect. But there is no denying the urgent need for large-scale national policies which can support a wide range of individual, local, and regional initiatives. Unfortunately, as the recent inconclusive Warsaw conference once again demonstrates, the industrialized world’s governments are systemically unable to take the problem seriously.

It will take enormous political will and engagement to wrest the controls of our government from the hands of the corporate interests which no longer even pretend to have our interests at heart. The fossil fuel industry’s grossly disproportionate influence on our political system demonstrates that when it comes to making progress on climate change, oil is not a lubricant.

Warren Senders


Year 4, Month 12, Day 1: Aaaaaand the countdown continues….

The Irish Times tackles the keep-the-coal-in-the-ground story:

Most of the world’s coal reserves “will have to stay in the ground” and further investment in mines and coal-fired power stations could go ahead only if it did not jeopardise the goal of limiting global warming to two degrees, UN climate chief Christiana Figueres warned yesterday.

Addressing a coal and climate summit in Warsaw, organised by the World Coal Association to coincide with the UN’s 19th climate change conference, she urged the industry to “honestly assess the financial risks of business-as-usual” in the context of its contribution to global warming.

So I revamped yesterday’s letter and sent it along. November 20:

The slow catastrophe of global climate change may be the primary reason all our remaining coal needs to stay buried, but it’s not the only one. The climatic consequences of increasing atmospheric CO2 overshadow the extraordinary history embodied in our fossil fuels. Countless millions of years before humanity’s emergence, trees and plants soaked up the abundant sunlight of the Carboniferous Era, then fell to the forest floor. The passage of eons effected their transformation into the oil and coal we now burn with such profligacy.

Everywhere in the world, we treat our oldest things with reverence. Whether it’s a song from bygone days, a cave painting from our species’ prehistory, or a document hallowed by passing millennia, we respond with justifiable awe to any reminder of time’s vastness. From this perspective, the casual waste of fossilized sunlight thousands of times older than our species is another facet of the metastasizing environmental tragedy wrought by our addiction to fossil energy.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 11, Day 26: All A Friend Can Say Is “Ain’t It A Shame.”

The Financial Times gives Jeffrey Sachs a podium:

…Unlike other cases of policy delay, the costs of delay on climate change are not just lost time but also lost opportunity. As the world talks the atmosphere fills with greenhouse gases. The chances of meeting a 2C target will disappear imminently unless a strategy is put in place. This makes the lobbying by the fossil fuel industries against control measures even more understandable. They are not just buying time; they are trying to burn through the targets.

It’s a good article. I recycled the letter that went to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer a few days ago. November 16:

It is a powerful irony that business and financial communities frequently assert that actions to mitigate climate change and prepare for its inevitable impacts would cause economic damage, while ridiculing environmentalists as “unrealistic.” This demonstrates only that some of the world’s most powerful economic actors are unable to conceive of time spans beyond the next financial quarter.

There’s nothing “unrealistic” about reinforcing infrastructure, updating our power grid, moving the global energy economy away from carbon-intensive fossil fuels, and rewarding waste-free manufacturing. These practices are ways to invest in the future, to minimize damage and preserve the best that our society has to offer. Climate scientists are unambiguous in their warnings to the world: there are rough times ahead, and Typhoon Haiyan is an example of what we can expect as the greenhouse effect continues to intensify. If you know a storm is coming, preparing for it is pure common sense. The corporate sector needs to learn ways of thinking that are focused not on immediate profit, but on the long-term survival of our civilization — and our species.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 11, Day 14: Since You’ve Been Gone

The Pittsburgh Journal-Gazette, on autumn foliage:

Unusually warm October weather and less September rain explain why leaves failed to produce brilliant splashes of gold, orange, red and purple, with many remaining green into the first week of November.

It also raises the spectre of climate change.

Every year has seasonal variations, but some scientists say this year may be a harbinger of a more likely occurrence in coming years — warmer temperatures pushing back the peak foliage season from the third week of October to later in the month or even early November. Such a trend also forebodes duller leaf coloration.

Warmer fall temperatures and resulting duller leaves also signal that local tree species, including sugar maples, will begin migrating northward with other plant and animal species, in search of ideal climate. More extreme temperatures, storms and droughts are anticipated.

“This is precisely the sort of thing we expect to happen,” said Penn State University climatologist Michael E. Mann. “Fall comes later, spring gets earlier and summer gets hotter. NASA just reported that the globe just saw the warmest September ever.”

In coming decades, he said, extreme weather conditions and warmer autumns “will become the new normal.”

The comments on this article are pretty depressing. November 4:

Colorful autumn leaves are one of the most visible and celebrated markers for the yearly change of season, a recurring transformation that’s been a steady feature of our lives for countless generations. But there are cycles and shifts happening on timescales far larger than our own, and the diminished hues of fall foliage should remind us of a different sort of shift that is now underway.

Since the development of agriculture at the dawn of civilization, humans have made steadily more significant impacts on the world we live in. Now, thanks to industrialization’s century-long carbon binge, we’ve initiated a chain of climatic events which are ushering in not a new season but a new epoch: the end of the Holocene and the beginning of the Anthropocene.

The die is cast; there is no turning back from this grim future any more than we can wish away the frosts of November. What we must do is prepare ourselves for the totally different world which is emerging — one which evidence suggests will be far less hospitable to us and our posterity.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 11, Day 8: Their Walls Are Made Of Cannonballs

Terence Duvall and Molly Gilligan write in the Poughkeepsie Journal, bemoaning the “Climate-Change Disconnect.”

We are currently experiencing a slow-motion catastrophe. The dye is cast. We have emitted enough carbon into the atmosphere to guarantee climate change and rising sea levels. Some of our most precious real estate, our commercial capital and destination beaches, are doomed.

And yet, instead of proactively considering possible solutions, from abstaining from new building on fragile coastlines to moving inland, the response of many is to deny that they are or will ever experience the effects of climate change in the city they call home. This is despite the fact that we are already beginning to see the effects of climate change in many coastal cities within the United States and worldwide. Why then, is there still such disconnect between science and societal beliefs? How can this gap be closed?

If I still have hope, it’s because I fight — not the other way around. October 29:

There are several forces behind our national indifference to the ongoing crisis of climate change. First the cognitive reality that we clever apes are generally poor at long-term thinking; most of us are to preoccupied with the daily and weekly concerns of our lives to give much thought to a looming catastrophe just over the horizon, and we can spare no time to imagining the lives of future generations in a world turned hot and hostile.

Second is the scientific reality that most of the factors and phenomena of climate change cannot be linked by simple causal connections; even though our greenhouse emissions have “loaded the dice” for increasingly extreme weather, no responsible scientist will specifically attribute any single extreme weather event to climate change — because scientific methodology simply doesn’t work that way.

Finally, of course, is the media reality: when oil and coal companies spend millions of dollars to influence the public discussion of climate change, they’re investing a miniscule amount compared to the profits they reap from selling fossil fuels to a captive economy. When it comes to the climate catastrophe, Bob Dylan had it right. Money doesn’t talk; it swears.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 11, Day 6: One Of These Things…Is Not Like The Other

The Rapid City Journal (SD) runs an AP article about pension-fund managers and their fraught relationship with fossil fuel companies:

PITTSBURGH | Some of the largest pension funds in the U.S. and the world are worried that major fossil fuel companies may not be as profitable in the future because of efforts to limit climate change, and they want details on how the firms will manage a long-term shift to cleaner energy sources.

In a statement released Thursday, leaders of 70 funds said they’re asking 45 of the world’s top oil, gas, coal and electric power companies to do detailed assessments of how efforts to control climate change could impact their businesses.

“Institutional investors must think over the long term, which means that we must take environmental risks into consideration when we make investments,” New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli told The Associated Press in a statement. The state’s Common Retirement Fund manages almost $161 billion of investments.

Fossil fuels currently provide about 80 percent of all the energy used in the world. The pension funds say that because it takes decades to recoup the huge investments required for fossil fuel exploration, there’s a significant chance that future regulations will limit production or impose expensive pollution-control requirements that would reduce the fuels’ profitability.

La la la la la la la la. October 27:

It is a very subtle irony that pension fund managers are now trying to factor in the impacts of climate change on the investments under their supervision, particularly those in fossil-fuel corporations. We adults are fond of telling our children to plan ahead, to invest, to think responsibly — but has there ever been a more disastrous lack of forethought than that exemplified by oil and coal industries in their drive to burn every bit of fossilized carbon the planet can hold in a geological eyeblink, to power a complex and wasteful consumer society?

Pensions, or course, are collective attempts to prepare for future financial shortfalls — institutionalized versions of “saving it for a rainy day.” If humanity is to grow old as a species, we need to take our own advice. Planning for our posterity and thinking responsibly about the future cannot be done while investing in fossil fuels.

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 10, Day 18: If I Ran The Circus

The San Gabriel Valley Tribune (CA) introduces us to the heroes at Citizens Climate Lobby:

Robert Haw says solving the problem of global warming is easy.

No, really. He’s dead serious.

Haw has a bona-fide plan and he’s taking it to each of the 535 members of Congress. As president of the Pasadena-Foothills Chapter of the Citizens Climate Lobby, the JPL scientist from Altadena says his group is creating a buzz in Washington with a rebate version of a revenue-neutral carbon tax that combines market forces with consumerism to drive up the cost of fossil fuels and make renewable energy more affordable.

So far, the plan has picked up endorsements from former Secretary of State George Schultz and supply-side economist Arthur Laffer, who was an adviser to Ronald Reagan.

But the most important person to convince is the ordinary American, Haw said. His group is succeeding on that front, too. When Haw started the Pasadena-Foothills chapter a year ago, there were 33 chapters. Today there are 108 chapters. “We’ve been doubling in size every year,” he said.

Citizens Climate Lobby aims to convert Americans to the belief that the problem of rising global temperatures, extreme weather events, more droughts and melting glaciers is indeed fixable in our lifetime.

It’s not as simple as that. But it’s that simple. October 9:

A carbon tax is essential for reinventing our global energy economy. While it’s not the sole solution to climate change — because the climate crisis isn’t a single problem with a single solution — it’s a crucial ingredient in the mix.

The first law of problem-solving is a simple one: if you’re in a hole, stop digging. Industrialized civilization’s past century of greenhouse emissions has put us in a very big hole; even if we stopped releases tomorrow it’d be several decades at least before we could observe the slightest slowdown in climate change, due to the gradual nature of the buildup and the very long “residence time” of atmospheric CO2.

An old proverb puts it well: “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” A tax on carbon emissions would benefit future generations enormously while mildly inconveniencing our own.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 7, Day 10: I Heard It Through The Pipeline

Another day, another ruptured pipeline. Fort McMurry Today (Canada) reports:

Officials have confirmed that hundreds of barrels of crude oil have leaked from a ruptured Enbridge pipeline south of Fort McMurray, contaminating a nearby stream.

According to company spokesperson Glen Whelan, a leak was detected at approximately 5:20 a.m. on Line 37, a pipeline located 70 kilometres southeast of Fort McMurray between Anzac and Janvier.

Emergency crews found that approximately 750 barrels of light synthetic crude oil had ruptured from the pipeline. The crude slid down an embankment, contaminating an unnamed stream. Whelan says Enbridge shut the pipeline down “within minutes of the alarm warning.”

As of Saturday night, Whelan did not know how long it took emergency crews to respond to the scene, or how long the pipeline had been leaking.

The company is still investigating the cause behind the leak. However, investigators believe heavy rainfall in northern Alberta may have loosened the soil surrounding the pipeline, creating ground movement on the right-of-way that may have impacted the pipeline.

Clean up crews have installed booms in the area, preventing the crude oil from spreading to other areas and waterways.

Innumeracy is a useful element in the corporate game plan. June 23:

Good news! Enbridge managed to shut down their pipeline after a mere 750 barrels of toxic crude oil leaked into a nearby stream. That doesn’t sound like that much, does it? Let’s do the math and find out. A barrel turns out to hold just under 159 liters, so 750 times 159…hmmm, carry the four…. Well, that’s not so terribly reassuring. 120,000 liters is actually quite a lot of oil, especially when it gets spilled in a vulnerable ecosystem.

And here is the central problem with trusting the fossil fuel industry to act in the best interests of our society. Their business model depends on our society’s continued consumption of a substance which is highly poisonous across all scales of time, from the short term (contaminated water supplies, devastated ecosystems) to the long term (CO2 buildup in the atmosphere). In Enbridge’s corporate mission statement, responsible environmental stewardship can never be more than a footnote.

Warren Senders