Year 4, Month 6, Day 9: Billiard Balls

The Philadelphia Inquirer runs an op-ed on climate change. Illustrated, presciently, with this picture: .


With a new study showing 97 percent of scientific papers on climate change since 1991 agree that fossil fuels are largely responsible, the doubters need to stand aside so public-policy initiatives to protect the Earth can proceed.

There is as much heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now as there was in the Pliocene Age, three million years ago, when oceans were 70 feet higher and temperatures warmer. Carbon dioxide levels are 41 percent higher now than during the Industrial Revolution – and climbing.

The doubters, though, have done a lot of damage. By insisting climate change isn’t occurring, or not caused by human use of fossil fuels and industrialization, they have reduced investments in alternative energy and slowed the progress of policies such as demanding higher vehicle gas mileage and imposing stronger emission standards on coal plants.

Their ranting has so muddied the water that less than half of the American public knows that most scientists agree that fossil fuels cause climate change, according to a Pew Research study. They have spewed so much misinformation that politicians, including President Obama, appear afraid to call them out.

So….I did the best I could with it:

The illustration accompanying Sunday’s editorial on climate change is curiously and ironically appropriate. The mastodon — a prehistoric version of the elephant — could be a fine symbol for the regressive and anti-science Republican party which has done so much to hinder our national ability to respond to a clear and rapidly growing threat. With an all-encompassing disregard for the intellectual advances made during the past several hundred years, today’s GOP is nostalgic, not for the Leave-It-To-Beaver Eisenhower decades, but for the Dark Ages.

This would be hilarious if it were in a movie, but as a recipe for governance, it’s a terrible mess. When legislators who deny cosmology, biology, climatology and physics can influence our public policies on matters of scientific fact, it’s potentially disastrous, as our current inability to address the accelerating greenhouse effect makes clear. Will inaction on climate change consign us, with the mastodon, to extinction?

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 6, Day 6: Du da du du, du du du-du du-du…

The San Luis-Obispo Tribune notes Jerry Brown’s principled advocacy with an unfortunate term:

Gov. Brown continues climate change crusade

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — Gov. Jerry Brown is set to continue his climate change charge, joining scientists releasing a 20-page call to action on environmental problems including pollution, extinctions and population growth.

Brown plans to address Silicon Valley leaders, as well as climate scientists from University of California, Berkeley, Stanford University and NASA, on Thursday morning at a conference at NASA Ames Research Center.

The governor has repeatedly called for changes in public policy to better address the impacts of the changing climate on the world’s economy and environment.

Berkeley professor Anthony Barnosky, a featured speaker, says the earth is now at a tipping point, and what decisions makers do now “will determine whether or not human quality of life declines over the next few decades.”

Sheesh. May 23:

Unlike the theologically-driven military adventures of the Middle Ages, Jerry Brown’s “crusade” against climate change is based on facts and evidence. The scientific consensus on the human causes of global heating and the dangers it poses is overwhelming. Another difference from the medieval attitude that motivated hundreds of years of pointless violence is that scientific method actively seeks disproof — which means that even in an “overwhelming consensus” there is always room for doubt.

But this fact, which is a feature of science’s epistemology, should not be used as an excuse for inaction. Climatologists are the closest we’ve got to “planetary physicians,” and their advice to us right now is less scientific than practical: don’t wait for the chimera of absolute proof before taking action to fight the accelerating greenhouse effect. When 97 out of 100 oncologists diagnose malignancy, you don’t need the remaining three to agree before starting therapy.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 4, Day 17: Charm Offensive

The Denver Post alerts us to the fire problem:

The hotter, drier climate will transform Rocky Mountain forests, unleashing wider wildfires and insect attacks, federal scientists warn in a report for Congress and the White House.

The U.S. Forest Service scientists project that, by 2050, the area burned each year by increasingly severe wildfires will at least double, to around 20 million acres nationwide.

Some regions, including western Colorado, are expected to face up to a fivefold increase in acres burned if climate change continues on the current trajectory.

Floods, droughts and heat waves, driven by changing weather patterns, also are expected to spur bug infestations of the sort seen across 4 million acres of Colorado pine forests.

“We’re going to have to figure out some more effective and efficient ways for adapting rather than just pouring more and more resources and money at it,” Forest Service climate change advisor Dave Cleaves said.

“We’re going to have to have a lot more partnerships with states and communities to look at fires and forest health problems.”

Reality bites, don’t it? April 4:

Well, 2012 was the world’s hottest year in recorded human history, so it would be a good time for Americans to finally acknowledge the implications of global climate change. The Forest Service’s prediction of increasingly severe forest fires over the coming decades is just one of many ways that atmospheric CO2 is going to impact our lives.

While “global warming” sounds vaguely comforting (everybody likes being warm, right?), the true picture of climate change is one in which dangerous factors are going to be getting worse. Already suffering from droughts? Brace yourself for multi-year water shortages. On the other hand, if you’re already getting rained on, you should brace yourself for massive flooding. And if forest fires are a problem where you live, the next century’s going to give starring roles flames, soot, smoke and destruction.

Climate-change denialists are in a losing battle with the facts of the greenhouse effect.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 3, Day 18: If We Cared Enough…

The Las Vegas Sun is one of many papers highlighting the “biggest heat spike in 11,000 years” story:

A new study looking at 11,000 years of climate temperatures shows the world in the middle of a dramatic U-turn, lurching from near-record cooling to a heat spike.

Research released Thursday in the journal Science uses fossils of tiny organisms to reconstruct global temperatures back to the end of the last ice age. It shows how the globe for several thousands of years was cooling until a dramatic spike in the 20th century.

Study author Shaun Marcott says his data shows that 1900 to 1910 was one of the coolest in the past 11,300 years. Yet 100 years later, the decade was one of the warmest.

Marcott and other scientists say the long-term context indicates global warming isn’t natural but man-made since the start of the Industrial Revolution.

Everything’s fine so far, right? March 8:

If we condensed Earth’s 4.6 billion year history by a factor of a hundred millio, it’d be just under fifty years, and human beings wouldn’t emerge until about four hours ago. And in the last one minute, our species has not only cut down fifty percent of the planet’s trees, but reintroduced the carbon that fossilized over an entire geological epoch into the atmosphere. We shouldn’t need a climate scientist to tell us this is a bad idea.

Every year, our industrial economy burns five million years’ worth of ancient sunlight in the form of oil, coal and natural gas. A 5,000,000:1 ratio is obviously unsustainable, but because humans have for the most part not grasped the large-scale consequences of their consumption habits, we find ourselves hurtling toward the abyss. It is no coincidence that the vast majority of climate-change denialists reject many other scientific findings, preferring the comforting myths of ancient cultures to the disturbing truths of our predicament.

If we want our children and their children in turn to have lives full of hope, beauty and prosperity, we need to face the facts of the climate crisis. Denial is both intellectually and morally inexcusable.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 3, Day 14: You Don’t Know What Love Is…

The Providence Journal gives a tip o’ th’ hat to senator Sheldon Whitehouse:

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Nearly every week when Congress is in session, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse has stood on the Senate floor to deliver a speech on the dangers of climate change.

If Congress doesn’t act quickly, Whitehouse warns, global warming will lead to more air pollution, rising oceans, disease-carrying ticks and mosquitoes, Sandy-like storms and a wave of floods, heat waves, wildfires and droughts.

Whitehouse, a Democrat, says global warming is the top issue facing the country today, ahead of the economy, gun control and health care.

Environmental groups have praised him, conservative critics have excoriated him.

Whitehouse says he will continue his efforts until something is done.

“When it comes to this particular threat … Congress is asleep, and it’s time for us to wake up,” he says.

I dusted off an older letter in praise of Ed Markey, and did a bit of renovation. March 4:

Sheldon Whitehouse’s persistent calls for action make him one of the few politicians on the national scene to take climate change with the seriousness it demands. In truth, global heating carries the potential to make all other political issues irrelevant; a century from now the Sequester will be relegated to footnote status, but our children’s children will be struggling to survive on a drastically hotter planet. It’s particularly infuriating to compare the Senator’s work on this issue with the regressively anti-science positions of Senate and House Republicans, who’ve carried conservative anti-intellectualism to depths unplumbed since the McCarthy era.

Climatology is a scientific field, not an ideological stance, and the GOP’s readiness to politicize the debate on the threat and causes of climate change is a symptom of moral bankruptcy as well as scientific ignorance. Through his advocacy on behalf of future generations, and of the environment within which our civilization has flourished, Senator Whitehouse has occupied both the intellectual and ethical high ground.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 3, Day 10: Between Your Ears There’s Just A Great Big Vacu-um

The Washington Post reports on big snows in the West — in Oklahoma & Texas, no less:

Schools and major highways in the Texas Panhandle remained closed for a second day Tuesday. Interstate 27 reopened between Amarillo and Lubbock, about 120 miles to the south, but the Texas National Guard was still working to clear much of Interstate 40 from the Oklahoma border to the New Mexico state line.

Some other roads reopened as sunny conditions began to thaw ice and snow-packed surfaces.

Just a day earlier, whiteout conditions had made virtually all Panhandle roads impassable. A hurricane-force gust of 75 mph was recorded in Amarillo, which got 17 inches. The heaviest snowfall was in Follett, Texas, with 21 inches.

In Oklahoma, 600 snowplows and trucks worked to reopen roads.

Always happy to poke fun at James Inhofe. Sent February 28:

A blizzard? Cue the triumphant shouts from climate-change deniers, as predictable as the weather once was before the metastasizing greenhouse effect began playing havoc with our atmosphere. That it is arch-denialist James Inhofe’s home state that has to cope with tons of unexpected snow adds an extra fillip of irony to the news.

While it’s indeed counterintuitive that a hotter atmosphere can lead to extreme snowstorms, humanity’s intuitions don’t include imaginary numbers, DNA, or radioactivity either (hence the importance of, and the need for, science). Steadily rising global temperatures’ complicated and unobvious effects include heat waves, extreme precipitation, and droughts like the one currently baking Oklahoma’s ground, blizzard or no.

While Senator Inhofe and his denialist fellow-travelers may not grasp how a hotter atmosphere makes once-in-a-century storms more frequent, their rejection of climate science hamstrings our capacity to cope with a national emergency. Ignorance is no foundation for policy.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 2, Day 9: The Paranoid Style

The Detroit News has a pair of columnists, Donald Scavia and Knute Nadelhoffer. They reiterate the danger we’re in:

In his inaugural address, President Barack Obama said, “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.” It was gratifying to hear the president finally making climate change a priority. The evidence is overwhelming and the time to act has long been upon us.

Make no mistake: The fact that our climate is changing beyond the bounds of natural variation comes from many indisputable scientific sources, including advanced satellite sensing systems, the chemistry of Greenland and Antarctic ice cores, ancient tree rings, shrinking Arctic ice caps and literally millions of ground- and sea-based measurements. The recently released National Climate Assessment draft report and the peer-reviewed science upon which it is built confirm that our planet is warming, droughts and storms are more severe, air quality is worse and the negative effects of these changes are damaging our health and economy. If we continue the unabated release of climate-warming gases, temperatures will continue to climb and extreme weather events will increasingly disrupt our lives and livelihoods.

Historical global warming is incontrovertible and the rate of warming in the Midwest has, in fact, accelerated in recent decades. Between 1900 and 2010, the average Midwest air temperature increased by more than 1 degree Fahrenheit. But it increased twice as fast between 1950 and 2010 and three times as fast between 1980 and 2010. The length of time that ice covers our lakes is decreasing. Winter snow-cover seasons are shorter and interrupted by thaw events.

And predictably they get a storm of denialist conspiracy theorists in the comments. Sheesh. Sent Feb. 1:

The evidence of planetary climate change is not just supported by an overwhelming consensus of climate scientists, but is now visible to the eye, all over America and the world. But this won’t be enough to convince the denialist contingent that the greenhouse effect isn’t a liberal plot hatched in secret meetings between Al Gore, the United Nations, and a non-specified group of socialist scientists.

While these half-baked conspiracy theories laughably fail any sort of inspection, the lack of evidence feeds rather than starves the paranoid mindset. If temperatures are climbing, it’s because of collusion among scientists, or cosmic rays; if droughts are killing off our amber waves of grain, it’s because of sunspots, or environmentalists cutting the water lines — or something, anything, other than what it is — the consequences of drastically increased atmospheric CO2.

While there has long been a vibrant streak of anti-science faux populism at work in American conservatism, the accelerating climate crisis offers these willfully ignorant citizens and their representatives an unparalleled opportunity to damage our nation and our planet irreparably — simply by obstructing reality-based energy and environmental policies. History will not treat them kindly.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 1, Day 30: Look! Look! A Mouse!

The headline reads “Speech Gives Climate Goals Center Stage.” The New York Times (which recently shut down its Environment desk entirely):

WASHINGTON — President Obama made addressing climate change the most prominent policy vow of his second Inaugural Address, setting in motion what Democrats say will be a deliberately paced but aggressive campaign built around the use of his executive powers to sidestep Congressional opposition.

“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” Mr. Obama said on Monday at the start of eight sentences on the subject, more than he devoted to any other specific area. “Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.”

The central place he gave to the subject seemed to answer the question of whether he considered it a realistic second-term priority. He devoted scant attention to it in the campaign and has delivered a mixed message about its importance since the election.

I’m a literary dude, I guess. Sent January 23:

“Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow! / You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout.”
Climate change may have taken center stage in the President’s second inaugural address, but its primus inter pares position in Mr. Obama’s rhetoric is nothing compared with the scene-stealing we can expect from the accelerating greenhouse effect over the next four years. With profound and far-reaching geopolitical, humanitarian, economic, and environmental implications, our transforming climate will become the single most influential player in world affairs. Well before the end of this century, the human costs of extreme weather, droughts, heat waves, and rising sea levels will dwarf that of all planetary armed conflicts combined; include the impact on the rest of Earth’s biota, and it’s uncomfortably likely that “ingrateful man’s” fossil-fueled madness may well presage the final act of a Lear-like tragedy, leaving only a few survivors on a planet ravaged by “sulphurous and thought-executing fires.”

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 1, Day 29: What He Was Doing In My Pajamas, I’ll Never Understand.

The Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot runs an op-ed:

In the four years since a 2009 federal report detailed global warming in America, the evidence has become harder to ignore.

It’s not just the freaky, violent weather of 2012, the warmest year on record. It’s also temperatures over the past decade, the highest on record.

“Americans are noticing changes all around them,” concluded the National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee in a draft report released last week.

The report, mandated by Congress, was last compiled in 2009. Since then, the panel says, the case for global warming has grown more widespread:

“Residents of some coastal cities see their streets flood more regularly during storms and high tides. Inland cities near large rivers also experience more flooding, especially in the Midwest and Northeast. Hotter and drier weather and earlier snow melt mean that wildfires in the West start earlier in the year, last later into the fall, threaten more homes, cause more evacuations, and burn more acreage. In Alaska, the summer sea ice that once protected the coasts has receded, and fall storms now cause more erosion and damage that is severe enough that some communities are already facing relocation.”

All well and good. The Second Inaugural should be a help. Sent January 22:

To anyone who’s been paying attention, the recently released National Climate Assessment is hardly breaking news. After all, 2012 was marked by devastating droughts, all sorts of extreme weather, and heat waves strong and sustained enough to make the year the hottest yet recorded in human history. Still, as Groucho Marx once asked, “Who are you gonna believe? Me, or your lying eyes?” A significant number of Americans still reject the evidence when it comes to climate change.

That’s why President Obama’s Second Inaugural Address was a big deal. By making a firm commitment to address the threat, the President came down on the side of science, delivering a strong rebuke to those still locked in the denialist mindset. Presidential follow-through must include the rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline project, and initiatives to promote the work of climate scientists, so that the American public can understand the threat posed to our nation and our posterity.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 1, Day 28: The Autograph Of The Beast

Thomas Lovejoy tells us in the NY Times just how f**ked we are, in a column entitled “The Climate Change Endgame”:

WHETHER in Davos or almost anywhere else that leaders are discussing the world’s problems, they are missing by far the biggest issue: the rapidly deteriorating global environment and its ability to support civilization.

The situation is pretty much an endgame. Unless pressing issues of the biology of the planet and of climate change generated by greenhouse gas emissions are addressed with immediacy and at appropriate scale, the matters that occupy Davos discussions will be seen in retrospect as largely irrelevant.

This week, in Bonn, out of sight and out of mind, international negotiators will design the biodiversity and ecosystem equivalent to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. A full eight years have passed since President Jacques Chirac of France acted as host at a meeting in Paris to create this “Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.”

Progress has been painfully slow. Only now is the “platform” and its work program — to assess status, trends and possible solutions — being designed. In the meantime, rates of extinction and endangerment of species have soared. Ecosystem destruction is massive and accelerating. Institutional responsiveness seems lethargic to a reptilian degree.

I hate these sports terms. Sent January 21:

If we are to overcome our culture’s systemic aversion to addressing the ever-more-urgent climate crisis, we should stop using the lexicon of sports and entertainment. When Thomas Lovejoy refers to the ongoing and accelerating environmental collapse as an “endgame,” or James Hansen opines that carbon release from the Canadian tar sands would be “game over” for the climate, the terms carry with them the suggestion of another round, a second chance. This framing is also consistent with the notion, derived from Abrahamic religious tradition, that our life on Earth is but a prelude to another phase of existence, an afterlife of bliss and rectitude.

Well, for all the times that afterlife’s been invoked, it’s never been verified, and the “game over” awaiting our children on a drastically warmed planet will be more like a catastrophic football riot writ large than the anodyne mulligan the phrase implies. Earth has no “reset” button.

Warren Senders