Year 2, Month 10, Day 14: Actually, He’d Rather Be Wrong

Deborah Erdley writes sympathetically in the Pittsburgh Tribune about a recent visit from Bill McKibben:

McKibben, who penned “The End of Nature” in 1989, one of the first books on the threat of climate change, acknowledged his growing fears and hopes for the future as he spoke to a group of several hundred college activists from across the nation at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s national conference on Sunday in Pittsburgh.

Ticking off events ranging from summer’s Texas wildfires to a 129-degree daytime temperature record in Pakistan to floods that devastated New England following record rainfall last month, McKibben told the group gathered in the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown, that climate change is “pinching harder and faster” than anyone imagined 20 years ago.

“You guys are incredibly important. … You may be more important than you know,” McKibben said, noting that seven college students helped him start 350.org, which has coordinated 15,000 rallies in 189 countries since 2009.

It’s fun to skewer morons. It’s also fun to give praise where and when it’s due. Sent October 10:

Bill McKibben’s long advocacy on behalf of our collective future has never been as relevant as it is today. As global climate change continues to trigger new extremes in weather all over the planet, the necessity for our civilization to reduce atmospheric CO2 can no longer be denied.

And yet constructive approaches to this emergency are rejected and mocked by a substantial portion of our citizenship; even the existence of the climate crisis is disputed by professional denialists in the pay of the oil and coal industries. Their voices, amplified by the mass media, have given cover to politicians who wish to avoid disturbing a lucrative status quo.

Our government’s inability to respond points to a systemic failure: the political system is prevented from focusing on genuine problems by the short-sightedness of its corporate masters. Bill McKibben is one of the few contemporary thinkers to make these connections explicit. Thank you for a carefully crafted and sympathetic article on a man whom future generations will regard as a hero of our times.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 9, Day 30: “The Ideology Of The Cancer Cell”

The Iowa City Press-Citizen discusses “Moving Planet,” in the wake of Saturday’s planet-wide action:

The event was held in conjunction with the nearly 2,000 other Moving Planet rallies around the world over the weekend, including eight in Iowa, sponsored by the global environmental organization 350.org.

Carsner urged rally goers to call upon local business to invest in renewable energy, and demand that their elected officials initiate better energy standards and make it more conducive for homeowners and small businesses to generate clean energy through wind and solar power.

“We think there is plenty we can do on a local level,” said Carsner, the head of the Iowa City Sierra Club group. “… We think it’s important to take action, it’s important to gain information and it’s important to be part of a movement.”

I’m continuing with the “let’s reform capitalism” theme. Heh heh heh. Sent September 26:

The people all over the globe who joined Saturday’s “Moving Planet” action are giving voice to the most urgent need of our times. It’s not just that we must address climate change — the greenhouse effect is a symptom of a deeper problem that we have barely begun to think about.

Our economic thinking is based on the idea that continuous growth is both possible and desirable. It is neither. When almost seven billion humans spend environmental capital far faster than it can be replenished, it is time to change our ways.

If humanity is to survive and prosper in the coming centuries, we need to stop consuming the Earth’s resources and start renewing them — which can only happen when our economic models are based on sustainability, not growth. This is the ultimate message of “Moving Planet,” and it’s one the world needs to hear — now, more than ever.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 9, Day 28: More On “Moving Planet”

The September 24 Fiji Times reports sympathetically on “Moving Planet.” As an island nation, they’re right there on the front lines, so their words have particular relevance:

YOU and I have only one planet, one home — if we do not act, we can risk the brunt of a climate catastrophe, says Vodafone 2011 Hibiscus Queen Alisi Rabukawaqa.

Ms Rabukawaqa is part of a campaign called Moving Planet which is a day of global events focused on the need to move the planet beyond fossil fuels.

A statement from Moving Planet-350 Fiji yesterday called on all walkers, runners, cyclists, paddlers and other non-fossil fuel-powered movers to take to the streets on September 24 which has been designated for the event.

“On Saturday, September 24 we join people all over the world in more than 180 countries to show our support for moving beyond fossil fuels and tackling climate change,” the statement said.

Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org said, governments all over the world were complacent about the increasing climate crisis.

“This is the day when people will get the earth moving, rolling towards solutions we need,” he said.

This is a rephrasing of my letter for yesterday, sent an hour later, on Sept. 23 (it’s already the next day over there in Fiji!):

Bill McKibben and 350.org have taken on perhaps the most daunting challenge in the history of grassroots movements for social change: a long-term campaign to transform our planetary economy away from consumption, and toward renewal and replenishment.

The global warming emergency wasn’t caused by any individual, organization or society, but is a byproduct of our complex civilization. While industrialized culture has brought us countless wonders and facilitated global interconnectedness to an unprecedented degree, it also consumes far more of our irreplaceable environmental resources than we replace.

Political and regulatory approaches, while crucial to solving the climate crisis, cannot replace what’s really needed: a profound change in our ways of living.

This change must be subtle, yet radical; global, yet local; immediate, yet long-term. With millions of people working collectively across the globe, our chances of success are slim. So why bother? Because shirking this challenge is a guarantee of catastrophe.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 9, Day 27: Wheels On Fire, Rollin’ Down The Road

The September 23 edition of the Milford, MA Daily News runs a sympathetic article on the upcoming “Moving Planet” events, leading with these nicely crafted paragraphs:

Many scientists and climate experts understand that 350 ppm (parts per million) of carbon carbon dioxide (CO2) is the amount considered to be the safe upper limit of the gas in the earth’s atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere allowing humans to live on earth, but at higher levels leads to global warming.

The bad news is that the earth’s atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide are currently at 392 ppm and are increasing by 2 ppm every year. If this trend continues, a tipping point could be reached and irreversible damage done to the planet. The good news is that the planet is still at a point where if changes are made now to significantly reduce the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse emissions, the planet could slowly cycle some of the extra carbon in the atmosphere and get back to 350 ppm. That is the goal of 350.org.

Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org (www.350.org) and author of several books on climate change, says we cannot remain on the wrong side of 350. He organized 350.org as a global movement to bring attention to this vexing worldwide problem. This year, 350.org linked up with Moving Planet to organize Saturday’s global day of action, a movement created to continue beyond this date of unity.

It seemed to be worth it to try for a philosophically robust analysis in the space of 150 words, sent Sept. 23:

The rationale for the “Moving Planet” action rests in the fact that the biggest culprit in the global warming emergency is not a single individual, or even a single organization. Rather, the steadily increasing concentration of greenhouse gases is brought about by the industrialized civilization within which we all live.

“Top-down” political and regulatory solutions are essential to a viable resolution of the climate crisis, but they are insufficient without a widespread change in our ways of living. While our complex, vibrant informational culture has made worldwide interconnectedness a possibility, it consumes environmental resources far faster than they can be renewed.

We must transform our economy away from consumption and towards replenishment — without losing the planetary sensibility that made modern environmentalism possible. To succeed, this transformation must be both global and local, immediate and long-term — which is why Bill McKibben’s vision is so relevant and inspiring. Let’s ride.

Warren Senders

What Did You Do on 10/10/10, Daddy?

I was out for the second half of the day, helping weatherize a large building: student housing at Tufts University. There were about 30 people there. I was part of a team doing masonry renovation — repointing mortar and in many cases actually removing bricks and old rotten mortar before putting them back in.

This was a so-called “co-ternity” — essentially a co-ed “frat house.” Such a building exemplifies some aspects of the “tragedy of the commons”; its occupants are always transients and thus have no real motivation to invest time and energy in the upkeep of the building. There were lots and lots of holes; I cannot imagine how much heat got pumped into the neighborhood’s air every winter.

It was good to be part of this action. Action is the antidote to despair.

Month 9, Day 3: Striking While The Irony Is Hot

Since Bill McKibben is going to ask the President to put those damn solar panels up again, I figured I’d give him a little reinforcement.

Dear President Obama,

It’s been thirty years since Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as President and set about undoing all the things that Jimmy Carter set in motion.

Looking back over the past three decades it is astonishing how much President Carter got right, and how much President Reagan got wrong. If we had taken energy independence seriously and devoted the necessary budgetary support to wind and solar energy, America would have stopped giving money to OPEC. Our share of worldwide carbon emissions would have dropped significantly — perhaps keeping the planetary atmosphere below the crucial 350 parts-per-million level (in which case there is increasing evidence to suggest that many of today’s climate catastrophes might never have happened).

America would be a world leader in green technology, rather than lagging behind Europe and China.

We would not have needed all those expensive wars to protect our oil supplies.

The Gulf of Mexico might not be a massive dead zone.

It appears that you’re reluctant to do anything that would excite controversy (although it should be obvious to you by now that the Republicans will gin up controversy over anything), a pusillanimity I am depressed to see in the President I donated, volunteered and voted for. But I digress. The time is now for a full bank of solar panels to be installed on the roof of the White House. Perhaps you should be out there with a hammer yourself on October 10, as part of 350.org’s International Work Party.

It would be a gracious gesture to invite President Carter to the White House roof to pound in a few nails. With the clarity of hindsight, it appears that the only thing he did wrong was to be right.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 7, Day 20: Two Hundred and One. But Who’s Counting?

I figured I’d invite John Kerry to be part of a work crew on October 10, 350.org’s Global Work Party. Are you planning on doing something?

Dear Senator Kerry,

I am hopeful something will come of all your hard work on putting together a meaningful climate/energy bill. If you can find a way to persuade Ben Nelson that the security of America’s agricultural, forest and water resources are even more important than next year’s utility bills (even for Nebraskans), I would be very happy.

But this letter is to ask you something else. I’m writing to ask you to commit publicly to joining a work party on October 10 — the international Global Work Party sponsored by 350.org. People all over the world will be pooling their resources, putting their sweat equity into their communities by helping with weatherization, solar panel installation, bicycle repair, tree planting and countless initiatives. As of today’s date, there are at least thirty separate work parties already planned in Massachusetts, and over twelve hundred actions in 116 countries around the world. They’re all listed at the 350.org website (www.350.org).

I’m not officially affiliated with this group, but as an ardent citizen activist, I think that what they are doing is tremendously important. I hope that you are already aware of their work and accomplishments.

It would be enormously meaningful if you were to come to one of these actions and pound a few nails. If you were to encourage members of your staff to get involved, that would be even better, and if you were to make a public statement of support for the October 10 action (which is, after all, exactly what citizens are supposed to do: get involved)….it could have a profound impact on the thinking of our fellow citizens.

I know that you and I agree on the urgency of the climate crisis; I hope that we’ll see you on October 10.

Thank you for all that you’ve done.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 6, Day 26: It’s going to be hot.

Please read this. Make sure everyone you know reads it.

This one is short enough that I’m going to write it by hand and send it to him. Why don’t you do something, too?

I’m going to Revere Beach mid-morning for “Hands Across The Sand.” How about you?

Dear President Obama,

I write to emphasize the urgency of the crisis. According to recently released NOAA data, atmospheric CO2 is now at 393 parts per million. That number by itself is bad news, for it’s well above the safe maximum for a climate suitable for humans. But it’s not the worst news. The worst news is the increase in atmospheric CO2 is getting faster and faster.

Americans need to relearn a lot of habits of conservation and frugality with respect to nature’s resources. The BP disaster and the hundreds of other oil spills around the world are a sad testimony to the pervasiveness of waste. At this crucial moment in history, we cannot continue our profligate ways — for we are turning our beautiful blue planet into a greenhouse gas chamber.

The problem of carbon emissions must be tackled with all the resources available. Of all the things we cannot afford to waste, the most precious is time.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 6, Day 19: Saturday POTUS

I had finished writing this last night, but hadn’t had time to tag it. Then my wife and daughter called from India and I put it away for the morrow. In this letter I’m combining current events with some old exhortations. How I wish James Hansen was wrong. How I fear that he’s right.

Dear President Obama,

Congratulations on securing British Petroleum’s commitment to set aside twenty billion dollars in escrow. Given how long it usually takes the victims of corporate negligence to have their day in court, this is a tremendous accomplishment.

The behavior of BP and its contract partners has been appallingly irresponsible. But while it’s easy to blame the oil companies, we need to do more. As you correctly pointed out in your oval office address, our nation (and, indeed, the world) needs to end our addiction to fossil fuels.

We’re going to run out of them, sooner rather than later. Often the money we spend on them goes to countries that regard us as enemies. These are good enough reasons. But the real reason for us to stop burning oil and coal is the enormous damage inflicted on the planetary biosphere by increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. It is crucial for humanity’s survival and well-being in the centuries to come that our levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide be brought below 350 parts per million, as noted by Dr. James Hansen, the climatologist whose work was silenced by the Bush administration (surely a piece of irresponsibility that can rank with British Petroleum).

Your administration will be remembered with gratitude by generations yet unborn if you can start this process. The window of opportunity is rapidly closing; the environment is going through an increasing cascade of “tipping points,” each one of which makes recovery to a hospitable climate more difficult.

Right now Dr. Hansen is on record as saying “Obama doesn’t get it.” He thinks you don’t take the likelihood of a climate catastrophe seriously.

I think it’s time for you to prove him wrong.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 3, Day 19: Inside the White House?

Looking around for someone new to badger, I located Nancy Sutley, the Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. She posted on her organization’s website (buried in the White House site) about President Obama’s proposed Greenhouse emission reductions for the US Government. I liked that, although the target numbers as mentioned don’t go nearly far enough.

So she gets a letter. She’ll get a fax, too, if I can figure out what the number is.

Dear Ms. Sutley,

I was delighted to learn of President Obama’s commitment to reduce the U.S. Government’s carbon emissions. A 28 percent reduction is indeed substantial. With a target date just ten years in the future, this will require swift and decisive action on retrofitting buildings, changing energy use strategies, and rewarding conservation initiatives within bureaucratic systems.

President Obama’s proposed reduction is commendable, and an excellent step in the right direction. But it’s not enough.

America needs to lead the world in achieving genuine and total “energy independence.” That phrase is often used to mean “energy we don’t have to buy from OPEC,” or “non-oil energy.” What it should mean is “independence from fossil fuels.” Whether it’s oil or coal, it’s the same thing in the end: taking carbon out of the ground and putting it in the atmosphere. And that, quite simply, is no longer sustainable.

The scientific evidence is clear and unambiguous: we need to bring atmospheric CO2 down to 350 ppm or below if we are to prevent a climate catastrophe of unimaginable proportions. It is time for the Administration to address this issue clearly and unambiguously; there is little time left if our actions are to have any effect.

A 28 percent reduction in GHG emissions is a laudable but inadequate target. I hope that in the months to come, you and the White House Council on Environmental Quality will be advocating forcefully for much stronger policies on sustainability, and towards the ultimate elimination of fossil fuels from our government’s energy diet.

Thank you,

Warren Senders