Year 4, Month 12, Day 9: There Is Danger At Your Door

The St. Louis Times-Dispatch gives some space to a former denier named Larry Lazar, who seems to have seen the light:

Five years ago, I was a climate change denier.

Now, I give talks in the St. Louis area about the dangers of climate change and our obligation to do something about it — like speaking out for strict limits on carbon. I changed my views on climate change because my dad taught me to pay attention to the world around me … and it’s obvious that something is wrong with the weather. It’s like the weather is on steroids — and getting worse.

The record heat wave in March 2012, when the temps in the high 80s made it feel like it was July, comes to mind.

My dad and I talked about that heat wave while picking apples for cider a few weeks ago. He reminded me that he lost his apple crop that year for the first time in 40 years. We went on to talk about how the weather has changed over his 85 years, especially in recent decades.

My dad is 85 years old and still spends his most of his day outside: cutting wood, working in the garden, hunting and fishing, and trimming Christmas trees (only $10, except the church, they get theirs for free). When you are outside as much as my dad, it is obvious and undeniable that the weather is changing. It hits you over the head — again and again.

“I don’t know what it is, but something isn’t right,” he told me.

Good luck to you, buddy. November 27:

It is only because of our terribly irresponsible news media and the corporate interests for whom they speak that there is any significant climate change denial in America. For decades, the oil and coal industries have funded conservative “think tanks” which supply broadcast and print outlets with authoritative-sounding pundits who stridently reject the work of climatologists, arguing instead that we as a nation need to continue our profligate overconsumption of fossil fuels. It is surely just a coincidence that these companies continue to enjoy the highest profit margins in history.

While the luck of geography has ensured that the US hasn’t been hit as hard by climate change as some other places on the planet, this state of affairs won’t go on much longer. The devastating storms and droughts of the past year are signs that our century-long fossil-fuel binge is having its inevitable consequences. By now, a warming Earth is unavoidable, but we can still make a profound difference to the lives of our descendants by acknowledging the reality of human-caused climate change, and working actively to mitigate its effects.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 12, Day 4: We Owe Our Souls To The Company Store

The Hindu (India) notes the latest move from the policy-making arms of our corporate overlords:

US wants poor countries to also pay into the Green Climate Fund. The move left the G77 countries angry and made them officially register complaint against negotiations being conducted in bad faith.

In a late night manoeuvre on Thursday the US backtracked from its obligation to the promise of the $ 100 billion funds by 2020 for poor countries instead demanding that the developing countries too should be asked to contribute.

The move by the US of inserting a new fundamental idea going against the decisions that have been taken in previous years at the UN climate negotiations left the G77 countries angry and made them officially register complaint against negotiations being conducted in bad faith.

One of the G77 negotiators walking out of the meeting at about 3 am on Friday told The Hindu, “Now we are renegotiating decisions that all countries agreed to at previous Conference of Parties (annual climate talks). This is the last day of the Warsaw talks and all some countries are trying to do is throw this critical question of finance into disarray.”

He said, “It was decided earlier that the $ 100 billion annually will be provided by the developed countries by 2020 to help the developing countries fight climate change. They agreed to it. Now they are slipping in the idea that developing countries should also contribute to this fund. Besides this they see private investments as a large part of the funds to begin with. This is plain and simple backtracking.”

Infuriating, but hardly surprising. November 23:

While it’s no longer explicitly advocated by developed nations, colonialism is far from dead. The United States’ recent moves to limit financial commitments to poor countries living on the front lines of catastrophic climate change is a case in point.

This sudden reversal makes an ugly kind of sense when we recognize that all the world’s countries, rich and poor alike, have been colonised by multinational corporations; the US government bends to the will of its owners, who are no longer the people of the United States, but the giant companies which have reaped unimaginable wealth from the extraction and sale of fossil fuels. Where the world’s people recognize the need to avert a rapidly metastasizing climatic disaster, these corporations only see a potential drop in profits. When business interests dominate and direct the world’s climate and energy policies, this is nothing more than corporate colonialism at its most malign.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 12, Day 3: Because I Said So, That’s Why.

Wanna know who they are? Here ya go:

WASHINGTON — Just 90 companies worldwide produced fuels that generated two-thirds of industrial greenhouse gas emissions from 1854 to 2010, according to a new study.

The 90 biggest producers of fuels driving climate change include investor-owned corporations, such as Exxon Mobil and Chevron, and state-owned oil companies, such as Saudi Aramco and Mexico’s Pemex.

The study attributes 914 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases to the fuels extracted by the companies, which is 63% of the total 1,450 billion metric tons of emissions estimated since the mid-19th century.

The study, published in the journal Climatic Change, also found that of the 914 billion metric tons, half was pumped into the atmosphere since 1986, a result of the rapid industrialization of the developing world. The journal focuses on the causes and implications of climactic change.

“This is the most complete picture we have of which institutions extracted coal, oil and natural gas and when,” said Richard Heede, the study’s author and head of the Climate Accountability Institute, a small research group in Snowmass, Colo.

“These are the companies and institutions that have created the products — used as intended — by billions of consumers that have led to persistently higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane,” Heede said.

Disgusting. November 22:

The folksinger and “hobo philosopher” Utah Phillips once remarked, “The Earth is not dying, it is being killed, and those who are killing it have names and addresses.” Indeed. And the new study just published in Climatic Change provides us for the first time with specifics about the corporate entities which have done the most damage to Earth’s environmental stability. Even a few moments’ analysis confirms that these same corporations routinely use their enormous financial power to exacerbate the paralysis of our political system in the face of the extraordinary threat posed by climate change.

Our economic system allows these firms to reap huge profits from the sales of fossil fuels, while providing them with no reason to act responsibly toward the long-term survival and prosperity of our species and our planet. In this post-Citizens-United world, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that these particular “corporate persons” are conscienceless sociopaths.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 11, Day 30: Yep Rack, Doodli-doo-dah!

The Seattle Times is one of many papers reporting on Christiana Figueres’ words to coal producers:

WARSAW, Poland — In a speech Monday in Warsaw, the United Nations’ top officer on climate change warned coal-industry executives that much of the world’s coal will need to be left in the ground if international climate goals are to be met.

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, spoke to industry leaders at the World Coal Summit, which the Polish government called somewhat incongruously to run at the same time as an important U.N. climate conference led by Figueres.

Poland relies on coal for nearly 90 percent of its electricity, and the government has upset the European mainstream by spurning efforts to slow the use of the fuel.

Figueres told the coal executives that they were putting the global climate and their shareholders at a “business continuation risk” by failing to support the search for alternative methods of producing energy.

So I dug out the “oldest thing in the world” letter, gave it a few tweaks, and sent it on its merry way. November 19:

For a moment, ignore the terrifying mathematics of climate change, and contemplate the mind-bending miracle manifested in the fossil fuels we burn so casually. Every therm from these sources is long-preserved sunlight from eons before humans emerged on Earth. Half a billion years ago, the Carboniferous era’s trees grew tall on the the sun’s light before they fell to the slowly accumulating forest floor, where over millions of years they gradually turned into oil and coal.

People everywhere regard the very old with reverence. Ancient documents, buildings hallowed by the passage of centuries, or songs transmitted through countless human generations — all these are rightly understood as reminders of our species’ long and inspiring saga. So how can we justify the casual consumption of sunlight a thousand times older than humanity?

Irresponsibly burning coal is not just an environmental catastrophe. It’s a grave insult to the antiquity of our planet.

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 18: These Foolish Things Remind Me Of You

The Tennessean runs an Op-Ed deploring the state of our media:

It is often the case that what is absent from the nightly news sheds more light on media priorities than what is actually covered.

The lack of any serious coverage, for example, of a topic that is front and center in most other countries is one indication of very low media quality. It’s the reason that I have had to read about the release of the latest report from the International Panel on Climate Change from foreign news sources, such as The Guardian, or by reading selected U.S. sources online.

The efforts of the IPCC represent one of the largest consensus-building undertakings in human history, and deal with an issue that affects not only the present, but also future generations. The panel’s exhaustive work, both pro bono and peer-reviewed, produces policy guidelines for world leaders. As has been the case since the group’s founding in 1988, the recent report continues to confirm the dire predictions for life on this planet under the business-as-usual model.

A key update in the report is the change of a 90 percent confidence level to 95 percent concerning man’s role in the changing climate. Converging to a 95 percent level of confidence from such a diverse body of scientists is no trivial matter, and impossible to write off even for the most relentless of conspiracy theorists.

Nothin’ to see here, folks. Move along. November 8:

In an extraordinary mixture of journalistic irresponsibility and simple laziness, American news media and their financial enablers have succeeded in trivializing and minimizing what is unarguably the most important issue of our times. Observe their ludicrous false equivalence, which “balances” the overwhelming majority of the world’s climate scientists with the unsupported rhetoric of petroleum-industry shills. Observe their relentless coverage of electoral horse-races and scantily-clad starlets, while a crisis of global proportions builds unremarked. How have we come to this pass?

For decades, the oil and coal industries have funded conservative “think tanks” which supply our media outlets with authoritative-sounding voices stridently rejecting the findings of climate scientists. They do this to perpetuate an economy built on convenience and consumption (while, oddly enough, reaping profits higher than any in our nation’s history).

America’s “can do” reputation is in tatters thanks to this ill-conceived strategy of calculated ignorance and greed. The time for denialism is over; the first step in solving the problem of climate change is to recognize its existence.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 11, Day 17: There Is No Greater Love

The Boise Weekly assesses climate impacts on Idaho:

Winter in Idaho is many things: bracing, frustrating, stunningly beautiful, exhilarating, inversion-stricken, way too long or way too short. No matter how the season measures up, it remains one thing: the climatic engine that drives everything else for the rest of the year.

In the West, water rules all, and in a place like Idaho, where roughly 80 percent of the annual precipitation comes in the form of snow, the entire economy–even the lifestyle–is tied in some way to winter. From irrigating crops to moving water down the rivers for recreation, and from flood management to supporting the water needs of a growing population (and keeping things green enough that the whole area doesn’t burst into flames every summer), everything depends on winter snows and the spring runoff they create.

But what if Idaho winters went the way of the dodo? What if continued climate changes mean that winters heat up and seasonal snows become a memory told in tales that start with the phrase, “When I was a kid…”?

The Bad News

While there are still some skeptics out there, the majority of scientists now agree that the world is experiencing climate change and that its effects vary by location. In Idaho, forecasting models predict that winters will continue to get warmer and, because of that, most of the precipitation in the Treasure Valley will come in the form of rain, with snows limited to higher and higher elevations.

This also means that hot, dry summers will likely continue to be the norm, but without winter snows and spring runoff, the strategy for coping with those conditions will have to change.

“Everything here ties back to water and our ability to keep it,” said Scott Lowe, associate professor in the Department of Economics at Boise State University and director of the Environmental Studies Program.

“This nexus of water, energy, agriculture … we have an understanding of it, but people in the Treasure Valley don’t realize to what extent it’s intertwined,” Lowe said.

Nobody does, sir. Nobody does. November 7:

When it comes to confronting the troublesome facts of climate change, Idaho’s farmers aren’t alone. All over on Earth, we’re waking up to the realization that that the tab for a century-long binge on fossil-fuels is coming due. Whether they’re monocropping food factories in the corn belt or sharecropping peasants in nations like Bangladesh, agriculturists are discovering that the predictable seasons and stable regional environments that made productive farming possible are being compromised — often enough to trigger crop failures or drastically reduced yields — by the consequences of an accelerating greenhouse effect.

To prepare for the coming decades of increased climatic instability, we need arguments; we need a vigorous public discussion of coping strategies, risk assessment, and scientific findings. But we don’t need any more arguments about the existence, causes, and harmful potentials of climate change; that subject is as settled as (for example) the link between smoking and cancer.

The oil and coal industries still supporting climate-deniers in our media and politics do not have the best interests of our species at heart; they sacrifice our collective future at the altar of profit.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 11, Day 15: Gotta Walk The Line

The Central Pennsylvania Patriot-News runs a good op-ed by CCL’s Richard Whiteford:

Scientists believe that we can’t allow the preindustrial global temperature to rise higher than another 2 degrees Celsius or human survival will be very challenging. We are almost half way there now.

The oil, gas and coal industries and their paid henchmen like the Heartland Institute and certain bought politicians distract the public with red herring issues like claiming that switching to clean energy will hurt the economy, kill jobs, and cause energy shortages.

What is mostly overlooked by them and the media is that if humans want to survive on this planet we have to stop burning fossil fuels as soon as possible.

Scientists say that we can’t put much more than another 565 gigatons of CO2 into the atmosphere without disastrous results. At this time, financial analysts calculate that there is already 2,795 gigatons of CO2 contained in readily available oil, gas and coal reserves. That’s five times more CO2 than we can afford to burn and expect to survive yet the plan remains to drill baby drill!

There is enough carbon in the Canadian Tar Sands oil deposits to send the global temperature above the 2 degree limit. That is the reason environmentalists are protesting the Keystone XL Pipe Line. We just can’t afford to burn that carbon and expect to survive.

Have a nice day. November 5:

As the evidence supporting both the reality and the danger of anthropogenic global heating continues to mount, the anti-expertise wing of American conservatism finds itself increasingly isolated. Propped up by mountains of fossil-fuel cash, the science-denying politicians and media figures are still muddying the national discussion of an accelerating global emergency with debunked “facts,” cherry-picked statistics, and — all too often — outright lies.

Why? The answer lies in the intersection of two factors. First, the short-term fiscal motives embedded in the language of corporate charters; companies are required by law to focus on profits above all other objectives. Second, the pro-apocalyptic orientation of fundamentalist religion, which eagerly embraces notions of a fiery Armageddon while rejecting the inconvenient conclusions of scientists. With one providing the money and the other providing the zealotry, these two combine to create a political force which is impervious to logic, data, or the notion of good environmental stewardship.

Eventually, of course, they will lose. The laws of physics and chemistry will overcome fanaticism and greed alike. The question is whether the rest of us will survive the consequences of this toxic blend of cupidity and stupidity.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 11, Day 7: God Damn, Well I Declare — Have You Seen The Like?

The Times of Trenton (NJ) talks about the ongoing post-Sandy reconstruction effort:

As the first anniversary of the storm that forever changed the Jersey Shore approaches, the region is looking back at the checkered record of state aid and federal funds that have been delivered to those in need — and the millions still entangled in red tape.

New Jersey officials have done a good job in some areas to address the immediate problems spawned by Sandy. But far too many people are still waiting for the promised help to repair their homes so they can move back to the neighborhoods where they’ve lived all their lives.

Particularly in the northern part of the state, the individual stories are full of uncertainty. Every storm forecast triggers fear for some; others remain displaced living in whatever shelter they can find; and some, who haven’t received the loans they’re counting on, don’t know where to begin picking up the splintered pieces.

New Jersey may be stronger than THE (caps or ital, please) storm, but what about the next one or the one after that?

Climate change is a certainty. And as the polar ice melts, one of the irrefutable effects is the ocean’s slow swallowing of the barrier islands — and its creeping reach from the back bays onto the coastline. An Army Corps of Engineers construction project is expected to begin next year that will result in dunes standing sentry along the 127-mile oceanfront. Communities that had dunes withstood the forces of Sandy better than places without the protection but, eventually, the sea will vanquish the sand.

I’ve got so many letters now, it’s really easy to revise them and crank out new versions. October 28:

Why do we ignore climate change in talking about post-Sandy reconstruction? Several reasons: humans are no good at long-term thinking, and most people simply want their normal lives back as fast as possible. Even though Earth’s climate is changing incredibly fast, most of us simply cannot imagine the lives of our descendants as they struggle to survive in the world we’ve left for them.

Another factor is that simple causality doesn’t apply to a complex system like our climate; we can’t describe single events like Superstorm Sandy as definite consequences of the greenhouse effect, even though our CO2 emissions have loaded the dice for extreme weather.

Last but hardly least is the inconvenient fact that fossil fuel corporations have spent massively to influence politicians and media to avoid reality-based discussion of climate change — because such discussion would highlight the central role of oil and coal in creating the crisis, inevitably impacting their profit margins.

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