Year 3, Month 12, Day 12: You Provide The Prose Poems; I’ll Provide The War

The Kansas City Star runs a McClatchy article by two climatologists, Michael MacCracken and James McCarthy. It’s called, “Obama wants to understand climate change? Listen to us and Sandy, too.”

Following two of the most destructive years for climate catastrophes, President Obama is now calling for a “wide-ranging” conversation with scientists. Let’s talk.

As climate scientists who’ve together spent decades studying how and why our climate is changing, we welcome that opportunity. “Frankenstorm” Sandy brought a message for you and all of us: climate change impacts are here now, right now.

Climate change clearly contributed to Hurricane Sandy, one of the most destructive superstorms in U.S. history. On the stretch of the Atlantic Coast where we call home, sea level is rising four times faster than the global average. Global warming is heating the Atlantic Ocean and increasing atmospheric water vapor loading, both of which contributed to Sandy’s power and deluge.

Were Sandy just a single disaster, the story might end there. Unfortunately it is not. The insurance giant Munich Re reports annual weather-related loss events have quintupled in the United States, costing Americans more than a trillion dollars.

This year we have suffered through a string of record-breaking extreme weather events, all worsened by climate change. These included “Summer in March,” the hottest month in U.S. history (July 2012), the worst drought since the 1950s and a wildfire season that is rivaling the worst ever, a record set only six year ago. In 2011, the United States broke its record for the most billion-dollar weather disasters in a year: 14 totaling $47 billion. And this year’s number of disasters puts it on track to be No. 2.

It’s bad news that this is good news. December 7:

It’s good news that President Obama wants to have a discussion with climate scientists on the subject of global warming and its likely impact on the future of our nation and the world. On the other hand, in a reality-based government, idea that scientific expertise is integral to the formation of environmental policies would not be controversial, and the fact that the President is seeking expert advice on climate change wouldn’t merit a single column inch of space.

But let’s not kid ourselves: our government is at least partially based in a fantasy world where the planetary greenhouse effect is (along with evolution, cosmology, and the big bang) a liberal hoax. Mr. Obama’s openness to reality is only good news when contrasted with the the Republican Luddites who will admit neither that climate change is real or that science is relevant to policy. Our nation, and our planet, deserve better.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 9, Day 30: Tide Goes In, Tide Goes Out. You Can’t Explain That.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune runs an AP article by Seth Borenstein, titled “WHY IT MATTERS: Despite the weather, climate change gets little mention in the campaign”:

The issue:

People love to talk about the weather, especially when it’s strange like the mercifully ended summer of 2012. This year the nation’s weather has been hotter and more extreme than ever, federal records show. Yet there are two people who aren’t talking about it, and they both happen to be running for president.

It’s a good read. Sometimes I just want to give in to despair. Sent September 24:

In a political culture with some connection to reality, climate change would be the defining issue of every election, from alderman to President. That the metastasizing greenhouse effect isn’t front and center in the statements of our would-be leaders demonstrates the disconnect between the American electoral process and the real world; when politics fixates on irrelevancies, turned-off voters can hardly be blamed for believing their votes are irrelevant.

But if there ever was an issue that deserved relevance, it’s global warming. With likely consequences ranging from devastated agriculture and massive droughts, to swollen refugee populations and resource wars, the effects of the twentieth century’s fossil-fuel binge will define the twenty-first in ways that our politicians and media are loath to address, lest it inconvenience their corporate funding sources.

It wasn’t so long ago that a Bush administration apparatchik contemptuously told journalist Ron Suskind that he was a member of the “reality-based community,” and went on to say, “We’re an empire. We create our own reality.” That might be true in the insulated atmosphere of the FOX news establishment, but in the real world, the atmosphere is getting hotter and hotter.

It’s time for citizens to demand reality-based politics from our politicians, and reality-based information from our media. It matters.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 8, Day 12: What Would You Do If The People You Knew…?

The Monterey County Herald (CA) tells it like it is:

The United States, among the top three emitters of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, cannot hope to confront climate change unless our political leaders stop tiptoeing around the issue. Few scientists doubt that the Earth’s climate is changing and growing warmer. Only a small number of skeptics dispute that humans are a prime cause of the problem, and the ranks of the skeptics just got smaller, with UC Berkeley physics professor Richard Muller joining the overwhelming scientific consensus that global warming is real and that human-caused pollution is a major culprit.

Describing his “total turnaround,” Muller wrote in a Sunday column for the New York Times: “Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.”

This summer offers a sense of the consequences. We’ve seen huge drought, Colorado on fire, and Atlanta recording its hottest day in history. While it’s impossible to tie specific events to climate change, these are the kinds of extremes we will increasingly see unless emissions are brought under control.

On the campaign trail, there is plenty of vague talk about “energy independence” or “clean energy,” with both presidential candidates ducking what policies they will pursue to reduce greenhouse gases.

J. Lo had TWINS! OMG! Sent August 1:

There is no better demonstration of the complementary dysfunctions of American media and American politics than the failure of both systems to properly address global warming. In a culture where news is a form of entertainment, it makes a bizarre sort of sense that the long-term consequences of atmospheric carbon dioxide are ignored or dismissed in favor of the latest celebrity scandal. When the subject is discussed at all, every genuine climatologist is “balanced” by a petroleum-funded spokesperson, creating the utterly false impression that the science of climate change is still unresolved. This is like including a member of the Flat Earth Society in a segment on the space program.

Things are no better in the political arena. An official in the previous administration famously asserted, in a conversation with journalist Ron Suskind, that “We’re an empire…we make our own reality.” We are indeed making our own reality, and it’s going to include droughts, wildfires, resource wars, steadily rising temperatures, ocean acidification, and all the other epiphenomena of an accelerating greenhouse effect. Pitting the exigencies of political theater against the laws of physics and chemistry is a recipe for disaster.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 2, Day 21: Post-Modernist Science Education: Applying the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis To Atmospheric Chemistry.

More on the Heartland Institute leak, from the New York Times:

Leaked documents suggest that an organization known for attacking climate science is planning a new push to undermine the teaching of global warming in public schools, the latest indication that climate change is becoming a part of the nation’s culture wars.
Related in Opinion

The documents, from a nonprofit organization in Chicago called the Heartland Institute, outline plans to promote a curriculum that would cast doubt on the scientific finding that fossil fuel emissions endanger the long-term welfare of the planet. “Principals and teachers are heavily biased toward the alarmist perspective,” one document said.

While the documents offer a rare glimpse of the internal thinking motivating the campaign against climate science, defenders of science education were preparing for battle even before the leak. Efforts to undermine climate-science instruction are beginning to spread across the country, they said, and they fear a long fight similar to that over the teaching of evolution in public schools.

You know what? I’m sick of people saying “alarmist” like it’s an insult. The news is pretty fucking alarming, all the damn time. If you’re not alarmed (hell, if you’re not absolutely terrified) you’re just not paying attention. Sorry to harsh your mellow, but that’s what’s happening.

Anyway, I like the phrase “nihilistic political solipsism.” Sent February 16:

In the helter-skelter 24-hour news cycle that shapes American politics, the words of officials from the previous administration might as well be written in hieroglyphics; the first decade of our century is already ancient history. But the recent leak of documents from the Heartland Institute describing their plans to foster climate-change denial in our nation’s classrooms call to mind Karl Rove’s comments to journalist Ron Suskind. Expressing contempt for the “reality-based community,” Rove went on to say, “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.”

But this is a dangerous game. Old-style Soviet historical revisionism is only effective when the facts are all in the past; the Heartland Institute is attempting to revise the future by applying their nihilistic political solipsism to actual real-world problems requiring reality-based solutions. The physics and chemistry of the greenhouse effect won’t be fooled by banners and photo ops.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 2, Day 9: There Is No Word For That In Our Language

John Monahan writes a nice piece in Modern Times Magazine (AZ) addressing climate change denial, with specific reference to the WSJ flap. The whole piece is well worth your attention.

Feb. 3, 2012 — What a crazy seven days it has been for the climate change debate. Scientists from both sides of the issue took to the Wall Street Journal late last week and early this week to opine on the merits of the issue and what should be done about it.

But that’s just putting it nicely. What really happened is one side said the other was wrong — knowingly in an attempt to hide the truth — in pursuit of riches.

To say it even more bluntly, each said the other was the ‘real’ greedy liar.

The most important bit is the part where he quotes James Hansen, who is, as usual, right:

“Public doubt about the science is not an accident. People profiting from business-as-usual fossil fuel use are waging a campaign to discredit the science. Their campaign is effective because the profiteers have learned how to manipulate democracies for their advantage,” Hansen said. “The scientific method requires objective analysis of all data, stating evidence pro and con, before reaching conclusions. This works well, indeed is necessary, for achieving success in science. But science is now pitted in public debate against the talk-show method, which consists of selective citation of anecdotal bits that support a predetermined position.”

Simply, Hansen is saying corporations are using the scientific method to bolster an argument that has little merit only because it serves their bottom line. He also places blame upon the mainstream media, calling their need for “balance” a means to validate bad science and support corporate positions.

“Today most media, even publicly-supported media, are pressured to balance every climate story with opinions of contrarians, climate change deniers, as if they had equal scientific credibility. Media are dependent on advertising revenue of the fossil fuel industry, and in some cases are owned by people with an interest in continuing business as usual. Fossil fuel profiteers can readily find a few percent of the scientific community to serve as mouthpieces — all scientists practice skepticism, and it is not hard to find some who are out of their area of expertise, who may enjoy being in the public eye, and who are limited in scientific insight and analytic ability,” Hansen wrote.

They have a 500-word limit; I took about 225 to try and tie all these phenomena together. Sent Feb 3:

Climate-change denial is part of a larger problem, one exemplified by the anonymous Bush official who told journalist Ron Suskind, “We’re an empire; we create our own reality,” and ridiculed those who lived in the “reality-based community.” Conservative politicians and electoral strategists appear to believe in a post-modern universe where measurable reality is just another kind of fiction. Examples of this are easy to spot.

The anti-evolution politicians whose claim that “science is just another religion” serves as a rationale for their attempts to introduce creationism into public school science curricula; the runup to the war in Iraq, in which facts were manipulated and cherry-picked to support President Bush’s martial agenda; the legislators in some Southern states who seek to have any mention of slavery simply removed from history books — the list goes on and on.

Climate change denial is by far the most damaging of these delusions. Human science has discovered and illuminated the laws of physics and chemistry, but that doesn’t mean that the “we make our own reality” crowd can apply wishful thinking to the greenhouse effect. Given enough time, American culture could recover from forced creationism, historical revisionism, and clueless warmongering — but if we fail to recognize the imperative need to address climate change, we’re not going to have the chance.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 1, Day 25: Let’s Put Little Signs About Atmospheric CO2 On All The Squirrels!

DelMarva Now, a Maryland paper, runs an AP squib on an upcoming action from Rep. Donna Edwards (she’s goooood).

OXON HILL — Maryland congresswoman Donna Edwards plans to plunge into the chilly waters of the Potomac River to urge the U.S. Congress to take action to deal with climate change.

Edwards spokesman Dan Weber says Edwards also jumped into the river last year to draw attention to the issue.

The Chesapeake Climate Action Network says the congresswoman will be joined Saturday by more than 150 DC area residents at the beach at National Harbor. The group says federal and international leaders are moving too slowly to develop clean energy sources such as solar and wind power to replace oil, coal and natural gas that are blamed for climate change.

I’m glad she’s doing this. But I’m sad that she has to do it. Sent January 21:

In a political environment with actual links to the real, measurable world, lawmakers wouldn’t need stunts to attract public attention. Sadly, contemporary American politics and media are so intertwined that insufficiently telegenic policies are doomed. This is bad for the nation in many ways.

In early 2001, Clinton’s team tried to tell Bush administration officials about the threat of Al-Quaida, but were dismissively rebuffed. Perhaps if Richard Clarke had parachuted off a skyscraper instead of delivering a memo, Condi Rice would have listened, and everything would have been different.

Donna Edwards’ planned immersion in the Potomac to call attention to the rapidly burgeoning climate crisis is not a policy initiative or a legislative amendment, but a stunt. That such actions are now our best hope of transforming the America’s paralysis in the face of a grave existential threat is a sad commentary on the parlous state of our national conversation.

Warren Senders