Month 9, Day 8: McNews.

When I did a search on “Pakistan” on the USA Today site, the top three listings all concerned Angelina Jolie. Maybe I should write a letter to her….

They ran an AP story on a farmer who’d gotten badly whacked by the flood, so I hung this letter on that.

Pakistan’s devastated agricultural infrastructure, like the droughts that have destroyed Russia’s wheat fields, is a tragic consequence of global climate change. Since the mid-1980s, climate scientists have predicted that higher concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will increase the likelihood of catastrophic weather events. Unfortunately, corporate-funded denialists continue to receive equal coverage in our news media, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of climatologists agree on global warming’s human cause. Although stories like Abid Hussein’s put a human face on the disaster in Pakistan, they fail to point out the role of climate change in making that disaster possible. What will it take for Americans to wake up to our responsibilities as the world’s foremost per capita emitter of carbon dioxide? Twenty million people’s lives have been turned upside down in Pakistan — and that’s just a preview of what’s in store for the world in the coming years.

Warren Senders

Month 3, Day 16: Personal Habits and Public Policy

This one goes to the National McNewspaper. Some days I just look through the big publications to find something worth writing about. USA Today had a good interview with retiring Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA), and he made a lot of excellent points about the need for changes in our energy use patterns. Read the comments if you’re a fan of idiocy. Climate-change news seems to bring out a particular kind of mindlessness that is absolutely resistant to information or logic.

So USA Today heard from me. Plus which, I put this letter up in the comments, which should earn me a bunch of derision from the clueless denialists who’ve stunk the place up. What fun.

Brian Baird has the right idea. We need to make big changes in our habits of energy use if we want to avoid the worst effects of global climate change. Shorter showers, better equipment maintenance, more careful driving — all of these can go a long way to reducing our national level of greenhouse emissions.

But it’s not enough. Why? Because some of the worst offenders aren’t individuals. A massively polluting corporation cannot reduce its carbon footprint by taking a shorter shower or driving at the speed limit. As long as energy conservation leads to a lessening of profit in the short run, no corporate entity can be expected to go along with it. If wasting energy becomes more expensive, corporations will find ways to conserve. Which is why we need laws and enforcement mechanisms.

Neither voluntary behavioral changes nor legislative strategies are sufficient by themselves. Once America recognizes the severity of the crisis, we will have a genuine national response to the looming climate emergency — bottom-up (from the citizenry) and top-down (from the government). There is no time to waste. All of us need to change our habits, and all of us need meaningful climate legislation on the President’s desk.

Warren Senders

Month 2, Day 7: Dinosaurs, anyone?

USA Today gets a rambling, inarticulate screed that starts with the Supreme Court and ends with Dinosaurs. One day somebody’s going to publish something. It’s gotta happen.

The recent decision by the Supreme Court to allow unlimited corporate spending in our elections will have far-reaching consequences on our lives. Nowhere will these be more profound than when corporations take on the complex issues of climate. Why? Because addressing the worst effects of global climate change demands genuine long-term thinking — and corporations, by the requirements of their charters, are only able to think in the short term.

The worst-case planetary scenarios suggested by scientists like Dr. James Hansen can be summed up in one word: Venus. More favorable climate projections have huge numbers of deaths and dislocations, with costs in the trillions of dollars. Needless to say, human extinction would be bad for business.

With gigatons of Arctic methane starting to melt and enter the atmosphere, and an increase in oceanic acidification beginning to threaten the food chain that supports over a billion people, there is no time to waste. We need strong and effective climate legislation, and we need it soon. But since forestalling these outcomes may require Big Energy to relinquish a few percentage points of profit in the next quarter, we can expect another type of pollution instead: corporate-funded disinformation touting the benefits of atmospheric CO2 levels last seen when dinosaurs walked the earth.

Warren Senders

Day 25: To America’s Daily Newspaper

Today was my first day on a strict no-coffee regimen. It didn’t work; mid-afternoon I had five sips of my wife’s cappucino. But in general I’ve had a splitting caffeine-withdrawal headache all day, and I was totally not in the mood for literary composition. Which makes it a perfect day to write to USA Today.

I didn’t have a damn thing to say today that I haven’t said before, and probably better. But there it is: another take on the time-lag problem inherent in the relationship between America’s dysfunctional politics and the planet’s soon-to-be dysfunctional atmosphere.

Why is it never the right time to do something about global climate change? The answer is simple: the time between action and effect is too long. If we immediately reduced greenhouse emissions to a tenth of their present levels, the planet’s atmosphere would continue to warm for another thirty years or more before showing any change. If the “lag” is five times the term of a U.S. Senator, and fifteen times that of a U.S. Representative, it’s easy to see why addressing the climate crisis keeps getting pushed to the legislative back burner. Unfortunately, Earth’s atmosphere doesn’t care about getting re-elected in 2010 or 2012. If America (the world’s largest per capita emitter of greenhouse gases) can’t lead the world in learning to think in the long term, there may not be a long term for any of us. The worst-case scenarios outlined by climate scientists can be summarized in one word: Venus.

Warren Senders