Year 4, Month 12, Day 20: Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One

The Topeka Capitol-Journal (KS) runs a story headlined, “Senator, farmer, rabbi speak on climate change”:

Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, joined with a rabbi and a farmer from her district Friday to urge action on climate change and blast the American Legislative Exchange Council for attempting to roll back renewal energy standards.

Friday’s news conference at the Statehouse coincided with national meetings of ALEC, a group that brings together state legislators and corporate lobbyists who write “model bills” that are then introduced in Statehouses across the country.

“ALEC denies, despite all the overwhelming scientific evidence, that climate change even exists and the legislative proposals it backs attempt to overturn good policies that are already on the books,” said Moti Rieber, a rabbi and state director of Interfaith Power & Light, a group of religious leaders concerned about environmental issues.

Bill Meierling, a spokesman for ALEC, said the organization “maintains no model policy on climate change.”

“We do have policies that support free market policies and market-based environmentalism, but nothing that pertains specifically to climate change,” Meierling said via email.

This one went pretty easily. December 7 (now putting me 13 days ahead):

It sounds like a setup line: a farmer, a rabbi and a Senator walk into a news conference. But the American Legislative Exchange Council’s interference in our nation’s politics is anything but funny. ALEC’s malign influence on the legislative process is by now reasonably well known; their “model legislation” is routinely enacted without change by lawmakers too lazy or too corrupt to do their jobs responsibly.

And there’s nothing at all to laugh about when it comes to climate change. The accelerating greenhouse effect is on track to catastrophically disrupt agriculture, infrastructure, and the other support systems of our civilization — yet ALEC, the Koch Brothers, and other ultra-conservative forces have used their financial resources to seriously hobble national or regional efforts to prepare for disastrous outcomes.

This irresponsibility to the long-term survival and prosperity of our species is driven by the most venal of motives: greed. And that’s no joke.

Warren Senders


Year 4, Month 12, Day 19: Made The Bus In Seconds Flat

The Boston Globe notices Sheldon Whitehouse, courtesy the AP:

CRANSTON, R.I. (AP) — U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse says he’s optimistic Congress could consider comprehensive legislation to address the causes of climate change before President Barack Obama leaves office.

The Rhode Island Democrat made his comments Friday at a taping of WJAR-TV’s ‘‘10 News Conference.’’

Whitehouse, who co-chairs a congressional climate change task force, says he believes pressure from voters and increasingly dire concerns about the effect of climate change will spur action in Washington.

Whitehouse says taxes on carbon emissions could be one way to address the problem. He cited warming oceans and rising sea levels as a particular concern to Rhode Island.

He says that if the United States takes significant action in response to climate change other nations will likely follow.

This letter always gets results. December 7:

When the Minutemen of Lexington and Concord responded to a midnight alarm and catalyzed the struggle for a new nation, they indelibly a part of history. Where would our nation be if these patriots had ignored those early warnings and returned to bed? Now, a modern Paul Revere is transmitting urgent news from the world’s climatologists, despite resistance from a cowardly, co-opted political system and a complacent media. Will America heed the clarion calls from Sheldon Whitehouse — or whack the snooze button as we have done so many times before?

With an accelerating greenhouse effect predicted to bring unimaginable damage on our civilization, the time for the United States to become a world leader in robust responses to climate change is now. Senator Whitehouse is correct: if America shoulders the responsibility for addressing the climate crisis in a comprehensive and scientifically-grounded way, other industrialized nations will follow our example.

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 11, Day 29: ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ……

Sheldon Whitehouse, mensch:

In the annals of congressional oratory, it didn’t rival Sen. Rand Paul’s 13-hour filibuster in March over drone policy. But last Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse marked a major milestone of his own — and one welcomed by environmentalists — when he delivered his 50th weekly address on climate change from the Senate floor.

Whitehouse gave his first “Time to Wake Up” address in April 2012. He has returned to the floor every week the Senate is in session to stand before C-Span cameras and shine the spotlight on an issue he says has been alarmingly neglected.

“I am here for the 50th time to urge my colleagues to wake up to what carbon pollution is doing to our atmosphere and our oceans,” he said at the outset of his speech. “Why do I do this? First because it’s real, it’s very real, it’s happening.”

He then turned to charts at his side to present evidence of increases in Earth’s surface temperatures.

In an interview before his speech, Whitehouse explained what motivated him a year and a half ago to launch the approximately 15-minute climate talks.

“I wanted to raise the profile of climate change. We had basically stopped talking about it and the climate-change deniers’ point of view really doesn’t last very well in the daylight,” he said. “It shrivels up under scrutiny. It does better in the dark and we were, I thought, cooperating by allowing the dark to shroud the issue.

Versions of this letter have had remarkable success over the past year or so. November 18:

Two hundred and thirty-eight years ago the Minutemen woke to a midnight alarm and became part of our nation’s history. Responding to the calls of Paul Revere, these patriots helped usher in a new nation, conceived in liberty — while powerfully demonstrating the usefulness of early-alert systems. Now, in the face of a craven political establishment and a lazy media, even more urgent warnings are coming from the world’s climatologists — and from a few unbought politicians like Sheldon Whitehouse.

The accelerating greenhouse effect, if unchecked, will bring incredible damage to our civilization: disrupted agriculture, rising sea levels, huge loss of biodiversity, and extreme storms like Haiyan (Filipinos don’t need reminders of the dangers of climate change).

While the public’s attention is diverted by phony scandals and nubile starlets, a latter-day Revere tries to wake us. Will we listen to Senator Whitehouse — or punch the snooze button once again?

Warren Senders


Year 4, Month 11, Day 21: Just A Closer Walk With Thee

The Rutland Herald reminds us that, as usual, Bill McKibben is ahead of the curve:

Watching changing weather patterns from his window, McKibben felt compelled to organize students and then neighbors into, now a worldwide grass-roots organization campaigning to stop the proposed cross-country Keystone oil pipeline and encourage financial divestment from fossil fuel companies.

During a summer and fall bookended by two headline-grabbing White House protests in 2011, McKibben spent more nights in jail than at home. Read his new book, “Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist,” and you’ll learn such efforts are having an impact — on him.

“Shaky. Unnerved by it all. Overwhelmed. Frustrated and a little resentful,” he reveals in the 272-page hardcover by New York publisher Times Books. “A writer, if you think about it, is someone who has decided their nature requires them to hole up in a room and type. You can violate your nature for a while, but eventually it takes a toll.”

A hero of our times. November 11:

Bill McKibben is exemplifying in his own life something that all of us are going to find out within our lifetimes: our version of “normal life” is one that takes a stable climate for granted. What we can all anticipate for ourselves, our children, and their descendants in turn is that as the greenhouse effect’s consequences intensify, the routines, privileges and perquisites of civilization will come increasingly under threat.

When he talks wistfully of how his life as a climate activist has “violated his nature” as a writer, Bill speaks for any of us who can see beyond the immediate future. The threats looming over the coming centuries are going to force us to abandon the people we’ve worked so hard to become, instead focusing our energies on the single massive global struggle to halt the next great extinction before it halts us.

Like Mr. McKibben, we’re all going to have to put aside many things we love doing if we are to save our species and the web of life in which we are embedded.

The world doesn’t owe us a living — but we owe the world our lives.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 11, Day 5: Gettin’ Better All The Time?

USA Today, on the Power Shift 2013 gathering:

Students from more than 720 campuses and communities attended Power Shift 2013 last weekend in order to discuss climate, energy and environmental justice issues.

Power Shift, hosted by Energy Action Coalition, is a biannual convergence of young activists that seeks to help further the movement to end fracking (the process of fracturing rock layers very deep within the earth in order to extract natural gas or oil), create a clean energy future and divest for fossil fuels.

For the first time, Power Shift was held in Pittsburgh rather than its usual location in Washington D.C.

The weekend offered workshops, keynote speakers and more than 200 panels on how to run campaigns that promote a clean and just energy economy on their own campuses or within their own communities.

For 28-year-old Whit Jones, campaign director for Energy Action Coalition, Power Shift is a time in which the young generation can make its voices heard.

“Our generation has the opportunity to lead our movement and our country into a clean energy economy,” Jones says. “Right now we have both urgent crises around climate change and our economic crisis. If our generation can lead the way into a cleaner economy we can both help stop climate change and also create millions of jobs for our generation.”

Crazy anarchists! October 26:

In the sixties, college students led protests against war and racial bigotry. A few decades later, their campaigned for divestiture from South Africa’s apartheid government galvanized campuses across America. While today’s collegians may at first glance have many possible pathways of activism, ultimately there is only one central cause, and it is exemplified by the young people involved in “Power Shift 2013.”

When you get right down to it, humanity’s been successful because our planet’s climate is pretty benign; letting us feed ourselves and others while still having time to make things better for our society. All our advances — expanding the franchise, gradually eliminating slavery, emancipating women, the crazy notion that children have rights, ending the oppression of LGBT people — rest on a foundation of environmental and climatic stability.

These dedicated young people realize that if we fail on climate, we fail on everything. They deserve our applause and support.

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 19: I’ve Been In Some Big Towns, And Heard Me Some Big Talk…

In the Boston Herald, a report about the campaign to get uber-swine David Koch off the WGBH board of directors:

Draped in a WBUR windbreaker,
Lee Stewart of 
Jamaica Plain called Koch — who has 
donated $18.6 million to ’GBH, 
including $10 million to the science program “NOVA” — “a climate 
denier, a polluter.”

“His presence is extremely 
offensive,” Stewart said. “People who are actively fighting to destroy the climate should not have equal political voice.”

Small and Stewart were among some 50 sign-waving activists who protested outside Channel 2’s Brighton studios before presenting a petition of 119,000 online signatures calling for Koch’s resignation. Among the protesters was an activist in an Elmo costume carrying a sign that read, “Elmo Love WGBH Elmo No Love Koch Lies.”

WGBH board chairman Amos Hostetter defended Koch, telling the protesters there’s no “political litmus test” for board members.

“Diversity is something we 
highly value,” he said.

“It’s not because we disagree with Mr. Koch politically,” Small said. “It’s because he is about the destruction of politics in America as we know it.”

Hostetter denied that trustees have any control over programming, and the board quickly moved on to 
other business.

The protest came just hours 
before “NOVA” aired a special on rising sea levels in the 
aftermath of Megastorm 

A Koch spokeswoman said he had no “immediate plans” to resign.

“He particularly enjoys WGBH’s outstanding program ‘NOVA,’ which he 
believes educates the public in a very entertaining way,” said spokeswoman Cristyne Nicholas. “As for climate change, Mr. Koch 
is interested in ensuring 
that energy policies are 
informed by sound science and economic reality,” she said.

But the activists said they’re just getting started.

“People aren’t going to let this go,” said Brad Johnson of Forecast the Facts. “We’re not going to stop.”

The Koch brothers are a blight on the world. October 10:

When his spokeswoman asserts that arch-conservative David Koch wants energy policies that are based on “sound science and economic reality,” it’s a little window into the thinking of a bazillionaire whose mindset is steeped in the McCarthy-era anti-communist hysteria of the John Birch Society.

Mr. Koch probably learned to trust medical expertise over the course of his experience as a cancer patient. I wonder: if 97 oncologists diagnosed a malignancy, while 3 said more tests were needed, would he start therapy…or would he decide that “sound science” demanded a rejection of the medical consensus?

Climatologists are our planetary physicians, and their diagnosis of the human causes and profound danger of climate change is overwhelmingly certain — as conclusive as the causal connection between smoking and cancer. Mr. Koch’s denialism isn’t based on sound science, and his rejection of policies that will end our dependence on fossil fuels is anything but economically realistic.

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 10, Day 14: Congeniality

Emily Tucker, in the Bowdoin Orient (college paper, Bowdoin college, Maine) discusses the IPCC report:

For example: climate skeptics often point to the slowdown in global temperature change over the past fifteen years as evidence that climate change has stopped.

This, however, doesn’t account for the abilities of oceans and glaciers to absorb heat energy up to a certain point.

Beyond that point, though, the effects of absorbing all that heat will become eminently clear.

About half a trillion tons of carbon have been released into the atmosphere since the late 19th century. In some ways, this is good news.

We haven’t hit the tipping point yet, and there’s still time to change our trajectory.

But let’s not get too comfortable. If we (speaking globally, since most new emissions come from developing nations that rely largely on coal power) stick to our current rates of energy consumption, we’re set to hit the trillion-ton mark around 2040.

By that time, current Bowdoin students will be between the ages of 45 and 50, slightly younger than most of our parents are right now.

It’s interesting to note that the earth’s crust still contains an estimated three trillion tons of carbon-rich fuels.

If we’re to observe the trillion-ton limit, most of these reserves will have to either remain untapped or be harnessed in a way that does emit greenhouse gases or other pollutants.

From the right point of view, this situation can be seen as a gateway to revolutionary technological innovations in renewable energy production, greenhouse gas sequestration or (hopefully) both.

The 2013 IPCC report includes very little in the way of new discoveries.

The authors simply note that, as opposed to being 90 percent confident in human-caused climate change in 2007, they are now 95 percent confident.

If this can’t end the so-called “climate debate” and usher us into an era of groundbreaking new green technologies, I don’t know what will.

After all, there are no 100 percent guarantees in science, and we probably aren’t going to get much closer.

All good stuff. October 6:

In the sixties, college students were at the forefront of protests against the insanities of war and racial bigotry. In the eighties, it was the campaign for divestiture from the racist apartheid government of South Africa that galvanized campuses across America. While college students today may seem to have a wide menu of possible choices for their activism, ultimately there is only one central cause.

In the final analysis, all human progress has been made possible by the fact that our Earth’s climate is relatively benign, providing us the ability to feed ourselves and others while still having time left over to figure out ways to make things better. Our social advances — expansion of the franchise, the gradual elimination of slavery, the emancipation of women, the once-radical idea that children had rights, an end to the marginalization of LGBT people — are all contingent on environmental stability.

If we fail on climate, we fail on everything.

Warren Senders