Year 3, Month 7, Day 3: Today Is The Tomorrow You Worried About Yesterday

The Appleton Post-Crescent (WI) has a shrill editorial from a chap named Howard Brown, titled, “Commentary: Climate change isn’t fictional.” Indeed:

Is it just me, or has it been a little warm around here lately? Or warmer earlier? The early and unusually mild spring here in Wisconsin may be nature’s way of reminding us that the clock is ticking on climate change and we need to take action before it’s too late.

While stationed in Kangerlussuac, Greenland, 50 years ago, I noted my airbase was 4 miles west of the Russell Glacier grinding down from the ice cap. Looking at today’s satellite images, this glacier has retreated to the east toward the ice cap, easily noted from the satellite. The retreat averages 1,000 feet per year, producing a torrent of melt water that flows down the fjord and to the sea.

Glacial retreat is one indicator that global warming is taking its toll. Today, in more populated areas of the earth, disappearing glaciers are responsible for drought, loss of irrigation water and less drinking water. As much as 54 cubic miles of ice disappear each year in Antarctica, 24 cubic miles per year in Greenland. As this ice melts, ocean levels rise and coastal regions flood.

Read the comments for the full flavor. SOS. Sent June 22:

When we listen to climate-change denialists, we hear it over and over again: while the planet’s climate is changing, there’s no reason to worry; it’s all happened before, and anyway, there’s no way humans’ greenhouse emissions could be involved.

Well, Earth’s climate has indeed been changing for billions of years. But in general, those changes have happened over many thousands of years, giving ecosystems a chance to adapt. Fossil evidence and the geological record strongly suggest that when an external event accelerated those slow transformations, the resulting climate change was catastrophic for many of the world’s inhabitants (65 million years ago, an asteroid hit the Earth — and the dinosaurs lost the world they’d lived in for eons). The overwhelming climatological consensus is that we stand on the brink of a similarly abrupt and equally devastating shift.

With our civilization now having transformed almost fifty percent of the planet’s surface, it’s increasingly apparent that humanity has inadvertently crafted its very own asteroid. If we wish to sustain our species over the tumultuous environmental disruptions promised for the next ten thousand years, we can no longer afford the luxury of denial. The dinosaurs probably thought they’d live forever, too.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 6, Day 15: …But The Words Aren’t Clear….

Bud Ris, the CEO of the New England Aquarium, has a perspective on the oceans’ message to us that’s definitely worth a read:

As we celebrate World Oceans Day on Friday, it’s worth pausing to reflect on the current state of our oceans and the biggest challenge they face: climate change. This is no longer a problem for the future; climate change is already underway.

We now know, for example, that the heat content of the upper layer of the oceans is on the rise. Just a degree or two of change can make a big difference.

As oceans warm, the water actually expands and takes up more space. This is a basic physics phenomenon called thermal expansion. This means that as water temperatures rise, sea level will rise as well, as it has in Boston by about 11 inches over the last 100 years. (Land subsidence is also a factor)

More from The Podium

The data now show that the pace of sea level rise is clearly accelerating, meaning that one to two feet of additional sea level rise by the end of the century is now likely. Much more is possible if ice atop the land masses in Greenland and Antarctica also melts. This has major implications for buildings and public infrastructure along Boston’s waterfront and other major cities. The risks of flooding during storm surges will increase.

Ocean warming won’t just affect humans. The geographic distribution, feeding patterns, and reproductive cycles of many marine animals are sensitive to temperature changes of just a few degrees and to changes in salinity and pH, caused by more freshwater runoff and increased carbon absorption. That may explain why most of the North Atlantic right whales that migrate annually up and down the East Coast didn’t show up in the Bay of Fundy in 2010 for the first time in 30 years — and why now — two years later — we are seeing the result in emaciated mothers and calves and a precariously low birth rate. It might also help explain why lobsters are molting weeks earlier in Maine, and why lobster populations south of Cape Cod are in decline.

Nothing to see here, folks. Move along. Sent June 5:

It’s increasingly apparent that all our planet’s ecosystems are trying to tell us something. Whether it’s bushes transforming into trees in a warming tundra, forests decimated by invasive insects, or acidifying oceans endangering multiple species of marine life, there’s no doubt that the web of life on Earth is under siege.

Why, then, are we seemingly unable to hear the distress calls of the oceans, the forests, or the tundra? Why do so many deny the rapidly accumulating evidence that climate change is an ongoing catastrophe of epic proportions?

While a selfish resistance to inconvenient truths is certainly part of the answer, it’s also true that industrialized humans have separated themselves from the natural world so completely that its messages might as well be in Etruscan. If we are to survive the climate crisis, we must relearn the languages of ecological interdependence along with the hard facts of sustainability.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 3, Day 19: Just Look At The Schmuck On That Camel!

The Broward South Beach New Times (FL) wonders about the possibility of the Southern end of their state going underwater:

A giant sheet of ice that covers most of ​Greenland might be a serious problem for South Florida in a few hundred or few thousand years, give or take.

A new study in Nature Climate Change warns that a 1.6 degree Celsius jump in global temperatures could completely melt Greenland’s ice sheet.

That’s terrible because we’re talking about ice that’s on land — not in the ocean — meaning that sea levels could rise dramatically if the sheet were to vanish.

Bloomberg reports that “the United Nations estimates the Greenland ice sheet contains enough water to raise global sea levels by about seven meters (23 feet), threatening coastal cities from New York to London and Bangkok. Even so, the researchers said it could take thousands of years for the entire sheet to melt.”

Frederick Bloetscher, an engineering professor at Florida Atlantic University, tells New Times that a mere three-foot rise in global sea levels would permanently flood entire areas of western Broward County.

But on the other hand, as one of their commenters has helpfully pointed out, Al Gore.

Sent March 13:

While the prospect of a submerged South Florida is disturbing enough, the fact is that rising sea levels will be taking entire nations off the map; island states in Oceania are already making plans to move their entire populations elsewhere in the likely event that their homelands are lost beneath the waves.

We humans only rarely think beyond a century ahead; far more often our imaginations cannot leap more than a few years into the future. Because of this, the multi-generational threat posed by melting ice in Greenland hardly seems significant compared with more immediate concerns: jobs, wars, health care, civil rights.

But if the warming of the world’s atmosphere continues to accelerate, all of these issues will be rendered irrelevant. If we fail to address the accelerating greenhouse effect, our descendants will have far graver concerns than the petty political dramas that now occupy us so intensely.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 3, Day 16: Octopus’ Garden Edition

Reprinting the Kiribati story in the New York Daily News:

Tong has been considering other unusual options to combat climate change, including shoring up some Kiribati islands with sea walls and even building a floating island. He said this week that the latter option would likely prove too expensive, but that he hopes reinforcing some islands will ensure that Kiribati continues to exist in some form even in a worst-case scenario.

“We’re trying to secure the future of our people,” he said. “The international community needs to be addressing this problem more.”

Tong said he hopes that the Fiji land will represent just one of several options for relocating people. He pointed out that the land is three times larger than the atoll of Tarawa, currently home to more than half of Kiribati’s population.

Although like much of the Pacific, Kiribati is poor — its annual GDP per person is just $1,600 — Tong said the country has plenty of foreign reserves to draw from for the land purchase. The money, he said, comes from phosphate mining on the archipelago in the 1970s.

I’d love to see a floating island. Sent March 10:

No doubt it’s hard for Americans to be overly concerned with the impending disappearance of the Pacific nation of Kiribati. With a quarter the population of Staten Island, the tiny state is to all intents and purposes statistically nonexistent in the larger sphere of international relations.

But the plight of Kiribati deserves our attention and concern. As a poor country with a negligible carbon footprint, it has contributed nothing to the accelerating consumption of fossil fuels that now endangers its existence; as a nation on the front lines of climate change, it offers us a preview of the dangerous times ahead.

While neighboring Fiji may be able to supply the necessary acreage for a hundred thousand climate refugees to rebuild their lives, the tragedy of a homeland lost beneath the rising sea is not something we in the industrialized world should ignore. There are no climate-change denialists in Kiribati.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 2, Day 14: What Are You Going To Believe? Me — Or Your Own Lying Eyes?

The Christian Science Monitor reports sorta kinda not really very good news:

U.S. scientists using satellite data have established a more accurate figure of the amount of annual sea level rise from melting glaciers and ice caps which should aid studies on how quickly coastal areas may flood as global warming gathers pace.

John Wahr of the University of Colorado in Boulder and colleagues, in a study published on Thursday, found that thinning glaciers and icecaps were pushing up sea levels by 1.5 millmetres (0.06 inches) a year, in line with a 1.2 to 1.8 mm range from other studies, some of which forecast sea levels could rise as much as 2 metres (2.2 yards) by 2100.

Sea levels have already risen on average about 18 centimetres since 1900 and rapid global warming will accelerate the pace of the increase, scientists say, threatening coastlines from Vietnam to Florida and forcing low-lying megacities to build costly sea defences.

Have another beer. Sent February 9:

The climate prognosis is bleak; while glaciers aren’t melting quite as fast as predicted, our planet’s polar regions are severely weakened.  It’s unlikely that they will recover in our lifetimes or those of our children, for the damage they’ve sustained from the burgeoning greenhouse effect is very severe.

Unfortunately, it’s very likely that the talking heads populating our airwaves and news outlets will seize on this news, brandishing a decontextualized nugget of information (“The glaciers are going to be fine!”), extrapolating incorrectly from it (“All the doom-sayers were wrong!”), confusing the discussion (“You can’t trust scientists — they’re often mistaken!”) and advocating for inaction (“Don’t worry, be happy — and keep buying gas!”).

The news that her tumors are metastasizing more slowly than expected is good news for a lung cancer patient, but it does not change the severity of the diagnosis — or provide an excuse to resume smoking.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 11, Day 26: Cluck Old Hen!

The Portsmouth (NH) Herald notes a locally-based conference addressing regional implications of the IPCC report:

PORTSMOUTH — The likelihood of more frequent and severe weather events, increased asthma and the death of crucial plant life in Great Bay are all realities on the Seacoast.

That was among the conclusions reached by experts who were in Portsmouth on Thursday at a conference sponsored by the New Hampshire Carbon Action Alliance.

“Climate Change and New Hampshire’s Seacoast” brought together professors, engineers, doctors and scientists who provided statistical evidence to suggest a correlation between climate change and a number of issues facing the region.

Their talks were framed, many said, by the recent draft document by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change that links man-made climate change to the extreme weather conditions in much of the world in recent years.

I think I come off as a bit of a scold here. On the other hand, who could resist the allure of “carbon dioxide chickens”? Sent Nov. 22:

There have been many failures in our civilization’s handling of the crises posed by global climate change. Our politicians have failed in their responsibility to the common good, and their corporate paymasters have failed to look beyond the demands of their next quarterly profit reports. Our reporters, seduced by the ease of he-said, she-said stenography, have failed to live up to their journalistic responsibilities. And we, as citizens, have sustained a collective failure of imagination: unable to conceive the consequences of a runaway greenhouse effect, we have chosen to pretend the carbon dioxide chickens will never come home to roost.

The failure of those who insist that “climate change” is a liberal conspiracy rests in their inability to recognize that scientific reality trumps conservative ideology. But if humanity is to succeed as a species we must stop avoiding the truth of the climate crisis, and start making profound changes in our ways of life. Recent climate studies from organizations such as the International Energy Agency and the IPCC make it clear: the time for failure is past.

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 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 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 23: He Sounds Way More Polite Than I Would Be In A Similar Situation

Marcus Stephen is the president of Nauru. Here is his op-ed in the Solomon Star News; you should read it.

NEW YORK (Reuters AlertNet) —- Standing before the United Nations Security Council on July 20, I described the existential threat posed by climate change to Nauru, my country, and other island nations in the Pacific, arguing that it endangers regional and international security.

After a vigorous open debate, the president of the Council issued a carefully parsed statement that acknowledged that climate change, in some circumstances, could exacerbate pre-existing tensions and undermine the resolution of armed conflicts.

Elsewhere in the UN complex that same day, officials were preparing to announce that a threshold for misery – separating a humanitarian crisis from a full-blown famine – had been crossed in the Horn of Africa.

Today we know tens of thousands of people have died and another 750,000 are at risk of starvation across the region because of the drought.

The timing of the announcements was coincidental, but their convergence reflects how environmental catastrophes made more frequent and intense by climate change are surpassing the ability of political institutions at all levels to respond effectively.

I wish the world’s richest weren’t being so stupid. Sent Sept. 19:

It is cruelly ironic that the nations most immediately affected by climate change are almost always the ones contributing least to the carbon footprint of our industrialized planetary culture. While Arctic ice dwindles and the temperature rises, many of the world’s largest developed countries are unable to address the crisis. By accidents of geography, many of these nations happen to be less vulnerable to rapid climatic transformations and extreme weather events; perhaps this makes it easier for them to abdicate their responsibilities as members of the international community.

Their indifference to this immediate existential threat is baffling. Island states, placed by nature on the front lines of climate change, have no such luxury. Marcus Stephens is correct in calling for a special representative on climate at the United Nations, something that should have happened decades ago. There may still be time to mitigate the worst of the coming storms; there is none to waste in petro-political posturing.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 8, Day 12: The Water Is Wide

Well, looks like it’s time to start buying beachfront property in Northern Florida, reports the South Florida Sun-Sentinel (July 27):

South Florida can’t afford to ignore growing dangers from pollution-fueled climate change, according to new findings from the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Rising seas, more flooding from storm surge and saltwater seeping in and fouling drinking water supplies are among the looming threats from climate-altering pollution, according to the environmental group’s nationwide review released Tuesday.

South Florida, and Miami in particular, is one of the most vulnerable parts of the country, and local governments need to play a larger role in dealing with the damaging effects of climate change, according to the NRDC.

It’s a good excuse to call out Rick Scott. Sent July 27:

With even fairly conservative models suggesting a good chance that most of the Florida peninsula will be under water by the century’s end, it would seem a no-brainer for the state’s residents and government to start focusing on adaptive strategies to cope with the effects of climate change. While we humans haven’t shown much real skill at long-range planning in the course of our evolution so far, that will have to change if we are to survive in the climatically-transformed future that now seems all but inevitable. Our economic systems are built around the requirements of quick profitability, just as our political systems are geared to the exigencies of two, four, or six-year electoral cycles; it’s no wonder that we’re failing to craft a sustainable future. What we need from our business and political leaders is long-term vision; what we get from politicians like Rick Scott is myopic greed.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 3, Day 29: Maybe If Springsteen Said It, They’d Pay Attention

The Asbury Park Press (NJ) discusses the conclusions of a local scientist who states that New Jersey’s coast is in danger from global warming:

LONG BEACH TOWNSHIP — While the economy may be the most immediate issue, climate change is on our doorstep, said Melanie Reding, education coordinator for the Jacques Cousteau Coastal Education Center in Little Egg Harbor.

Reding spoke Saturday about sea level rise and what warming oceans mean for New Jersey’s coast, to an audience at the Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts and Sciences.

“New Jersey has a real issue,” Reding said. “Sixty percent of our population lives within the coastal region. We have low elevation and high population.”

The comments are a wellspring of stupid, with a few sensible voices bobbing up to the top of the froth.

Sent March 20:

When scientists announce that sea levels will rise dramatically by the end of the century, most of us just tune out; that’s a problem for our grandchildren, not for us. But this way of thinking is dramatically challenged by the facts of climate change. We’re in the early stages of a slow-motion catastrophe; if we care about our descendants (or indeed any future generations of humans) we must learn to think beyond the next season of “American Idol” — and into a future where our children and their children in turn will face the consequences of our generation’s oblivious wastefulness. And yet there are many people for whom the denialist shibboleths incessantly promulgated by our anti-science media form an essential supply of talking points. Scratch the surface of any climate-change “skeptic” and you’ll find something far more familiar: someone unwilling to accept responsibility or admit that change is necessary.

Warren Senders