Third (and final) Time This Year!

I’m in the New York Times, with the letter I wrote last week about their excellent Keeling bio.

Month 9, Day 7: By “God,” Do You Mean “The Industrialized West?”

The New York Times had a front page story on Pakistan and its misery. It’s taken them a while.

HATA SIAL, Pakistan — When the governor of Punjab Province arrived recently in this small town with truckloads of relief goods for flood victims, his visit was as much a political mission as a humanitarian one. His message to the hundred or so displaced people gathered under an awning was that the government was there for them. Long after floodwaters subside, Pakistanis will face a lack of housing, food shortages and price spikes, among other hardships.

“The people say this was an act of God,” the governor, Salman Taseer, said in an interview after reassuring the crowd. “But what comes now, they say, is the act of man. If we don’t deliver, they will not forgive us.”

The “act of God/act of man” construction gave me a nice hook for the letter.

To the suffering Pakistanis, the floods that have destroyed their lives may seem an “Act of God,” and their government’s paralysis an “act of man.” But the grim reality is that the greenhouse effect brought about by the West’s profligate consumption of fossil fuels drastically increases the probability of catastrophic weather events. Thus, the floods are as much an act of man as the dysfunctionality of the Pakistani government. And just as Zardari’s administration is stymied and near-helpless in the face of this disaster, America’s national politics is mired in a quicksand of anti-science rhetoric that has rendered it unable to address humanity’s most pressing problem, or even to acknowledge that the problem exists. Global climate chaos is going to give us many Pakistans, each with an overwhelming share of human misery. Will we admit our own responsibilities, or will each new climate disaster still be an “Act of God?”

Warren Senders

Month 8, Day 27: We Brought It Upon Yourselves

More misery in Pakistan. Another letter to the Times.

While America’s mass media look the other way, Pakistan’s tragedy grows ever more horrifying. Imagining the entire population of New England rendered homeless by climatic upheaval conveys the size of the catastrophe. But it is more than the people whose lives have been overturned; it is more than the shattered infrastructure and threat of disease; more than the likely political upheavals — Pakistan’s affliction is an ugly picture of a post-global-warming world. While those extreme monsoons cannot be specifically attributed to anthropogenic climate change, climatologists have long predicted upheavals of just this type as a consequence of an increased concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. As we begin to see the humanitarian consequences of climate change, it is no wonder our punditocracy usually chooses to look away. A final irony: unlike that of the USA, Pakistan’s contribution to atmospheric CO2 is negligible. They did not create climate chaos. We did.

Warren Senders

Month 8, Day 25: Hey, Exxon! I’m Talkin’ to YOU!

Abandoning world peace for the moment, I return to admonishing our Corporate Overlords. This one went to the NYT in response to a very good (read: very depressing) op-ed by Thomas Homer-Dixon.

The corporate sector’s inability to acknowledge the urgency of addressing the climate crisis may well doom them in the long term. While strong climate legislation may bring a dip in quarterly profits for a few of the world’s largest companies, failure will ensure that the only corporate entities remaining will be those whose profitability springs from worldwide disasters and misery. Any business serving healthy humans and healthy societies is destined to fare poorly in a world buffeted by unpredictable weather catastrophes.

Conservative politicians and their media enablers have expended extraordinary amounts of energy in obscuring the simple facts of global climate change. A social movement this dedicated to ignoring reality does not bode well for the rest of the world. It’s a pity we can’t run generators on obfuscation, misdirection and mendacity.

Warren Senders

Month 7, Day 27: Can I Get In Three Times This Year?

I’m about due for another round at the New York Times. They had a trifecta of editorials this weekend; I chose to respond to Lee Wasserman’s, but the other two are worth reading — Ross Douthat’s because it’s always good to know what people who aren’t thinking are thinking (the comments on his piece are excellent and a real relief to read), and Paul Krugman’s because he’s right, as he usually is.

As Lee Wasserman points out, the “loudest voices” in the climate debate won this round, to our collective detriment. But it is essential to note that our national news media helped make the collapse of a climate bill inevitable, by upholding a reportorial policy of false equivalence in which every climatologist’s scary prediction was “balanced” by a denialist’s dismissal. Unfortunately, the laws of physics don’t listen to TV news or op-ed pages. Anthropogenic global warming is recognized as a major threat to the human species by an overwhelming majority of climate scientists. To properly represent the “debate” over climate change, our media should show ninety-seven scientific authorities for every three industry-funded “skeptics.” A well-informed citizenry would have been better able to assess the true risks and rewards of meaningful action on climate. In this respect, the Fourth Estate has abdicated its responsibilities; we are all the losers for it.

Warren Senders


The second time so far this year.

Month 5, Day 7: Back on Board the Times!

My 60-day exclusion period at the New York Times is now over, so I can start sending them letters again. Lisa Margonelli, the director of the New America Foundation’s energy initiative, had an excellent op-ed on May 1 that seemed to call for a little reinforcement. This letter is a little late for something that was printed last Saturday, but I’m thinking of it as a test run for the oil/cigarette analogy.

Lisa Margonelli is absolutely correct in her analysis of America’s entanglement with oil. Most Americans are unaware of the extent to which the petroleum industry benefits from government largesse in the form of subsidies, tax breaks, and regulatory loopholes — and most Americans likewise have internalized the notion that fossil fuels are “cheap.” It’s time to drop that idea, which requires that we ignore the costs of cleaning up the inevitable spills and disasters, of public health effects, environmental destruction, and global warming, not to mention the odd war or two waged over oil sources. Calling oil “cheap energy,” is akin to calling cigarettes “food.”

America needs to kick the habit; fossil fuels are bad for us, bad for the planet, and bad for the economy our children and grandchildren are going to inherit.

Warren Senders

Month 3, Day 1: Getting Al’s Back

Al Gore wrote an excellent piece in the Times this weekend. A Kos diary about it triggered an invasion of asinine denialist trolls, wasting bandwith with their bleating. I’m sure the Times got its fair share of letters from people who think James Inhofe is a scientist and James Hansen is an ignoramus…so I thought I’d weigh in.

It’s always an interesting challenge to get these things as close as possible to the 150-word NYT limit. Today, I managed it exactly.

Al Gore’s thoughtful advocacy for meaningful action on climate change will no doubt bring the climate-change “skeptics” out of the woodwork once again: these conservative denialists would rather watch the country fail and the planet burn than admit the former VP is right. It is absurd to imagine that our politicians and our media will learn enough science to do the right thing rather than the politically expedient one. Our inability to address the climate crisis is both an intellectual and a moral failure. In the 1950’s, Sputnik threatened our national pride — and America responded with an intensified focus on science education, building a space program that accomplished wonders. Fifty years later, the threat we face is not to our pride, but to our planet — and we respond by ridiculing those who sound the warning. Mr. Gore deserves the thanks of future generations, not James Inhofe’s uninformed mockery.

Warren Senders


Month 2, Day 10: All the Specious Equivalence That’s Fit To Print

Thank goodness for Daily Kos. Today I saw two useful posts which provided me with the recipient of this letter (the New York Times) and a framing device which surfaces briefly in my 145 words.

The first, cleverly titled “NYT Soils Itself, AGAIN!” described an article about conflict of interest accusations against Dr. Rajendra Pachauri of the IPCC, and rebuked the Times for its “balanced” approach to the subject, which presents unsubstantiated allegations from AGW skeptics as somehow forming a valid counter-argument to the intensively documented and cross-checked work of the IPCC’s scientists.

The second was an article by David Brin (who’s a wonderful science-fiction novelist when he’s not writing at Dkos) noting that the climate-change denial business is a manifestation of the pervasive anti-intellectualism that saturates American culture. I strongly encourage you to read “The Real Struggle Behind Climate Change — A War on Expertise.” It rings very, very true.

So that’s the backstory for today’s letter. Off it goes to the Paper of Record, almost certainly to be filed and forgotten. Does that deter me? Not yet.

The climate-denial sector criticizes Dr. Rajendra Pachauri for supposed conflicts of interest, and generalizes to suggest that the conclusions of the I.P.C.C. are somehow compromised. These aspersions are a troubling confluence of two influences: entrenched corporate resistance to any change in business practices, and anti-intellectualism masquerading as common sense. Thousands of qualified climatologists are firmly convinced of anthropogenic global warming, yet professional denialists suggest they’re lying about it for the most venal of reasons — to increase their chances of grant funding! The evidence suggests otherwise: that Christopher Monckton and his ilk are the ones doing the lying — and receiving fat paychecks for doing so. The Times needs to report aggressively on the funding and control of the climate-denial industry, rather than adhere to a specious policy of false equivalence in which scientific facts are “balanced” by unsupported assertions from corporate shills.

Warren Senders

Day 31: The Gray Lady Redux

There’s been quite a bit of buzz about Osama Bin Laden’s recent statements on global warming. The New York Times wrote something about it…so I took the opportunity to drop a little note in their mailbox.

It is a sad state of affairs when one of the world’s most notorious criminals speaks more accurately about global climate change than many of our own elected representatives. Now it is absolutely certain that climate-change denialists will use Bin Laden’s words to suggest that realistically confronting the largest existential threat humanity has ever faced is somehow un-American, a capitulation to Al-Qaeda. I remember how conservatives responded to Soviet criticism of the USA on civil rights issues in the fifties and sixties: by calling patriots like Martin Luther King “communists,” suggesting their actions were “controlled by Moscow.” The fact that Khrushchev was a murderous thug didn’t stop him from correctly assessing American racial hypocrisy; the fact that Bin Laden is a murderous thug doesn’t mean that his statements on global warming are invalid. It just means that American conservatives are easily swayed by irrelevant ad hominem arguments.

Warren Senders