Year 4, Month 12, Day 31: Drink A Cup For Kindness’ Sake…

Aaaaand this letter marks the official end of the Climate Letter Project. That doesn’t mean I won’t be writing more, but that I am freeing myself from the one-a-day demand. I’m putting that daily energy into working on the Climate Message Project, q.v. Happy New Year!

This, from the Express Tribune (Pakistan):

The head of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Dr Rajendra Pachauri, called for greater cooperation between Pakistan and India when it comes to managing our joint water resources (the Indus River System), on his last visit to Pakistan. An Indian himself, he pointed out that our “culture and history has shown us that we can harmonise our actions in consonance with nature”. He also called for greater cooperation in the fight against climate change.

Last week, an India-Pakistan dialogue on energy and climate change was held to discuss this very topic, hosted by the Heinrich Boll Foundation and the Sustainable Development Policy Institute in Islamabad. Experts from India and Pakistan came together to explore ways in which they could jointly hold their governments accountable to what needs to be done about climate change. According to sustainable development expert, Dr Tariq Banuri, who currently teaches at the University of Utah, “the science has become more certain and climate change is more certain now… the massive floods of 2010 were not part of our history; there are changes in weather patterns. Yet, climate policy is paralysed — people just don’t want to act.” There is a leadership vacuum at the global level, where climate change talks have stalled over the principle of equity.

A revision of one that saw publication in Dawn a while back. December 19:

South Asia will confront enormous challenges in the next few decades as the greenhouse effect intensifies, destabilizing weather patterns and making agriculture increasingly unpredictable. Potential strategic and political impacts could easily include bitter resource conflicts and refugee movements that would dwarf the horrors of partition.

The fact that this region has historically contributed hardly anything to the industrial emissions which have precipitated the climate crisis lends these looming disasters a sad irony. Meanwhile, the nations which were major sources of carbon pollution over the past century have been insulated from the effects of their behavior by geographical serendipity.

While morality demands that the industrialized world act immediately to reduce greenhouse emissions, the countries currently bearing the brunt of this human-caused climatic disruption must both reinforce their physical infrastructure (to ensure that humanitarian emergencies are easily resolved), and their diplomatic infrastructure (to ensure peaceful resolutions to the geopolitical crises that will invariably accompany global climate change).

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 12, Day 26: Sliding Down The Razor Blade Of Life

The Dallas Morning News, on the belated introduction of fossil fuel corporations to climatic reality:

Exxon Mobil used to spend millions of dollars to lobby against efforts to tax or limit carbon emissions, and even denied the existence of man-made climate change. Now, the energy giant and several other businesses are factoring the likelihood of a carbon tax into their long-range plans.

We applaud this awakening, which research group CDP North America chronicles in a recent white paper. It brings a dramatically new dynamic to efforts to restrict carbon emissions. By CDP’s tally, at least 29 major companies — familiar names such as Wal-Mart, Microsoft, Walt Disney, Wells Fargo, General Electric and at least nine major energy companies — see a carbon tax in their future and are in the process now of building it into their business plans.

It’s (past) time for Congress to do the same.

Several factors underlie the development of this new dynamic, not the least of which is business pragmatism. Opinion polls show strong public support for the need to act on climate change. Legal victories have given the Environmental Protection Agency a stronger hand in regulating emissions. And President Barack Obama has vowed to regulate carbon emissions from coal plants, a major step toward the U.S. meeting its promise to reduce carbon emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and 80 percent by 2050.

Exxon Mobil’s transformation, the first hint of which can be traced to a speech by chairman Rex Tillerson in 2009, is particularly significant. Exxon Mobil is among the nation’s most conservative companies. Its new position puts it at odds with the more conservative wing of the GOP, which denies climate change and opposes policies that would put a price on carbon.

But Exxon Mobil recognizes that fossil fuels, its lifeblood for decades, are falling out of favor around the world and that burning them probably contributes to global warming. Economists concur that establishing a price on carbon pollution would be an effective market-based incentive to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, like oil and coal, and encourage use of lower-carbon natural gas, nuclear energy and renewable energy alternatives, such as solar, wind and battery power.

When your voters are more conservative than Exxon, what are you going to do? December 12:

Republican politicians normally jump to do the bidding of their paymasters in the fossil fuel industry, so the growing readiness of big oil to embrace a tax on CO2 emissions should provide an opportunity for our profoundly dysfunctional government to move forward on policies that actually address some of our civilization’s primary contributions to global climate change. But “should” is a long way from “will.”

These lawmakers are trapped between a corporate rock and a demographic hard place; the tea-party zealots who are the majority of Republican primary voters are reflexively anti-science to the point that simply acknowledging the reality of climate change is electoral poison in many heavily gerrymandered Congressional districts. The result is certain: paralysis and gridlock in the face of crisis.

It’s long past time for our politicians to respect the laws of physics and chemistry and their implications for humanity. A carbon tax is long overdue.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 12, Day 21: Crying All The Way To The Bank

The Portland Press-Herald’s Bill Nemitz has some words for Maine’s Governor LePage:

Ahoy, Governor LePage!

Not sure if you can hear me over the wind and the waves, but I can’t let another day pass without congratulating you on that epiphany you had last week before a crowd of transportation industry types:

You finally believe in global warming!

What’s more, now that you’re an ocean-is-more-than-half-full kind of guy, you’ve gone from denying that the Earth’s climate is rapidly changing to embracing it as the second coming for Maine’s frozen economy.

“Everybody looks at the negative effects of global warming, but with the ice melting, the Northern Pass has opened up – the new sea traffic is going across the north,” you told the Maine Transportation Conference on Wednesday. “So maybe, instead of being at the end of the pipeline, we’re now at the beginning of a new pipeline.”

No argument there, Big Guy. The more those Arctic waters stay open, the more Maine’s deep-water ports stand to benefit as jumping-off points for an endless parade of not-so-slow boats to China.

Well spoken, sir. December 8:

Now that denying the existence of a planetary environmental crisis is no longer viable, expect the talking heads of our media and political environment to start asserting that we must “balance” climate change mitigation with economic expansion, a stance which has the advantage of being temporarily plausible until we remember that infinite growth is impossible on a finite surface.

By asserting the fiscal returns to be expected from a melted Arctic, Governor LePage goes a step further, embracing a global catastrophe as a potential profit center. Which is, quite simply, insane.

Remember the old saw, “health is our greatest wealth?” The Earth’s health is the foundation of all human prosperity, and our planet’s resources (water, food, the environment’s ability to process our wastes) are limited. Impressive quarterly returns won’t protect our grandchildren from rising sea levels, agricultural collapses, oceanic acidification, and the other consequences of an accelerating greenhouse effect.

Warren Senders


Year 4, Month 12, Day 15: That’s Not A Feature

The New York Times, on New Jersey’s pine beetle problem:

BLUE ANCHOR, N.J. — “Heads up!”

Deep in the woods, the whine of chain saws pierced the fall air, and Steve Garcia shouted a warning to fellow loggers as a 40-foot pitch pine crashed to the ground.

He was chopping down trees to save the forest as part of New Jersey’s effort to beat back an invasion of beetles.

In an infestation that scientists say is almost certainly a consequence of global warming, the southern pine beetle is spreading through New Jersey’s famous Pinelands.

It tried to do so many times in the past, but bitterly cold winters would always kill it off. Now, scientists say, the winters are no longer cold enough. The tiny insect, firmly entrenched, has already killed tens of thousands of acres of pines, and it is marching northward.

Scientists say it is a striking example of the way seemingly small climatic changes are disturbing the balance of nature. They see these changes as a warning of the costly impact that is likely to come with continued high emissions of greenhouse gases.

I was in the NYT in August, so this is a long shot. But what the hell. December 3:

New Jersey’s outbreak of pine beetles is part of a larger story. The predicament of the Pinelands is shared with the maple trees now producing insufficient sap for Vermont’s syrup industry, and with the Midwest’s drought-ravaged cornfields. Beyond our nation’s borders, the story includes tiny landholders in Bangladesh whose farms are threatened by rising sea levels, and the citizens of island nations gloomily awaiting the day their homelands disappear beneath the waves.

Each individual, community and nation is affected differently by the onrushing greenhouse effect. With a cast of billions, the story of climate change is one of a grave threat to our shared humanity and the future we share.

Climate action needs to be polycentric and polytemporal; diverse local responses should be coordinated with broader regional initiatives — and immediate action must be integrated into a multi-generational effort. When it comes to climate change, “now” means the next millennium.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 12, Day 13: Run To The Rock For Rescue, There Will Be No Rock

The New York Daily News, on the future of our various forms of sublimated combat:

Hockey fans frustrated with the Rangers, Islanders or Devils might find solace in this vision: their players just disappearing, swallowed by ice rinks turned to pools of water.

As Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler used to ask on “Saturday Night Live,” “Really?”

The prospect is broached by a group making a rare foray into public policy: the National Hockey League, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, National Football League and U.S. Olympic Committee.

On the same day Senate Democrats executed the so-called “nuclear option,” the sports folks were meeting under the Capitol with a House-Senate task force on climate change.

The talk was not of the usual business of preserving antitrust exemptions or fending off calls for better drug testing or safer play.

It was the impact of climate change, which they all concede, on the future of their sports.

Without casting their lot with many specific Obams administration policies, the traditionally cautious and risk-averse assemblage conceded the need to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

“These are great American businesses, great American cultural institutions and there being here means a great deal,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), a sharp former federal prosecutor and son of a career diplomat who’s made 51 Senate floor speeches on climate change.

He rightly rails against climate-change deniers and “phony-baloney organizations designed to look and sound like they’re real,” as well as scientists on corporate payrolls “whom polluters can trot out when they need them.”

What was fascinating is that he was not surrounded by tree-hugging true believers, but top officials from sports leagues mindful of the diverse politics of their fans, and not big on wading into contentious areas.

I don’t care about any sports other than Quidditch and 43-man Squamish, but this was just too tempting to ignore. December 1:

Even leaving aside the questions of carbon footprint, fossil-fuel consumption, and the like, the long-term viability of American professional sports is closely tied to our national handling of climate change. Why? Put simply, our national pastimes are a function of our prosperity; the resources of cash, infrastructure and time not earmarked for our immediate survival needs. When long-term sustained drought cripples corn and wheat production, food prices will climb; when extreme storms devastate coastal regions, athletic stadiums will find more immediate utility as emergency housing for thousands of suddenly homeless families.

And, of course, when the continuity of our lives is increasingly disrupted by the countless small impacts of a transforming climate, we’re going to have less time and energy for all the things we’ve taken for granted that make our lives rich and enjoyable.

Climate change’s implications will be felt everywhere in our cultural life from baseball to ballet.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 12, Day 4: We Owe Our Souls To The Company Store

The Hindu (India) notes the latest move from the policy-making arms of our corporate overlords:

US wants poor countries to also pay into the Green Climate Fund. The move left the G77 countries angry and made them officially register complaint against negotiations being conducted in bad faith.

In a late night manoeuvre on Thursday the US backtracked from its obligation to the promise of the $ 100 billion funds by 2020 for poor countries instead demanding that the developing countries too should be asked to contribute.

The move by the US of inserting a new fundamental idea going against the decisions that have been taken in previous years at the UN climate negotiations left the G77 countries angry and made them officially register complaint against negotiations being conducted in bad faith.

One of the G77 negotiators walking out of the meeting at about 3 am on Friday told The Hindu, “Now we are renegotiating decisions that all countries agreed to at previous Conference of Parties (annual climate talks). This is the last day of the Warsaw talks and all some countries are trying to do is throw this critical question of finance into disarray.”

He said, “It was decided earlier that the $ 100 billion annually will be provided by the developed countries by 2020 to help the developing countries fight climate change. They agreed to it. Now they are slipping in the idea that developing countries should also contribute to this fund. Besides this they see private investments as a large part of the funds to begin with. This is plain and simple backtracking.”

Infuriating, but hardly surprising. November 23:

While it’s no longer explicitly advocated by developed nations, colonialism is far from dead. The United States’ recent moves to limit financial commitments to poor countries living on the front lines of catastrophic climate change is a case in point.

This sudden reversal makes an ugly kind of sense when we recognize that all the world’s countries, rich and poor alike, have been colonised by multinational corporations; the US government bends to the will of its owners, who are no longer the people of the United States, but the giant companies which have reaped unimaginable wealth from the extraction and sale of fossil fuels. Where the world’s people recognize the need to avert a rapidly metastasizing climatic disaster, these corporations only see a potential drop in profits. When business interests dominate and direct the world’s climate and energy policies, this is nothing more than corporate colonialism at its most malign.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 12, Day 1: Aaaaaand the countdown continues….

The Irish Times tackles the keep-the-coal-in-the-ground story:

Most of the world’s coal reserves “will have to stay in the ground” and further investment in mines and coal-fired power stations could go ahead only if it did not jeopardise the goal of limiting global warming to two degrees, UN climate chief Christiana Figueres warned yesterday.

Addressing a coal and climate summit in Warsaw, organised by the World Coal Association to coincide with the UN’s 19th climate change conference, she urged the industry to “honestly assess the financial risks of business-as-usual” in the context of its contribution to global warming.

So I revamped yesterday’s letter and sent it along. November 20:

The slow catastrophe of global climate change may be the primary reason all our remaining coal needs to stay buried, but it’s not the only one. The climatic consequences of increasing atmospheric CO2 overshadow the extraordinary history embodied in our fossil fuels. Countless millions of years before humanity’s emergence, trees and plants soaked up the abundant sunlight of the Carboniferous Era, then fell to the forest floor. The passage of eons effected their transformation into the oil and coal we now burn with such profligacy.

Everywhere in the world, we treat our oldest things with reverence. Whether it’s a song from bygone days, a cave painting from our species’ prehistory, or a document hallowed by passing millennia, we respond with justifiable awe to any reminder of time’s vastness. From this perspective, the casual waste of fossilized sunlight thousands of times older than our species is another facet of the metastasizing environmental tragedy wrought by our addiction to fossil energy.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 11, Day 30: Yep Rack, Doodli-doo-dah!

The Seattle Times is one of many papers reporting on Christiana Figueres’ words to coal producers:

WARSAW, Poland — In a speech Monday in Warsaw, the United Nations’ top officer on climate change warned coal-industry executives that much of the world’s coal will need to be left in the ground if international climate goals are to be met.

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, spoke to industry leaders at the World Coal Summit, which the Polish government called somewhat incongruously to run at the same time as an important U.N. climate conference led by Figueres.

Poland relies on coal for nearly 90 percent of its electricity, and the government has upset the European mainstream by spurning efforts to slow the use of the fuel.

Figueres told the coal executives that they were putting the global climate and their shareholders at a “business continuation risk” by failing to support the search for alternative methods of producing energy.

So I dug out the “oldest thing in the world” letter, gave it a few tweaks, and sent it on its merry way. November 19:

For a moment, ignore the terrifying mathematics of climate change, and contemplate the mind-bending miracle manifested in the fossil fuels we burn so casually. Every therm from these sources is long-preserved sunlight from eons before humans emerged on Earth. Half a billion years ago, the Carboniferous era’s trees grew tall on the the sun’s light before they fell to the slowly accumulating forest floor, where over millions of years they gradually turned into oil and coal.

People everywhere regard the very old with reverence. Ancient documents, buildings hallowed by the passage of centuries, or songs transmitted through countless human generations — all these are rightly understood as reminders of our species’ long and inspiring saga. So how can we justify the casual consumption of sunlight a thousand times older than humanity?

Irresponsibly burning coal is not just an environmental catastrophe. It’s a grave insult to the antiquity of our planet.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 11, Day 28: God Loves Poor People, Huh?

The New York Times addresses the festering rhinoceros in the room: the economic inequities that are exacerbated by climate change:

WARSAW — Following a devastating typhoon that killed thousands in the Philippines, a routine international climate change conference here turned into an emotional forum, with developing countries demanding compensation from the worst polluting countries for damage they say they are already suffering.

Calling the climate crisis “madness,” the Philippines representative vowed to fast for the duration of the talks. Malia Talakai, a negotiator for the Alliance of Small Island States, a group that includes her tiny South Pacific homeland, Nauru, said that without urgent action to stem rising sea levels, “some of our members won’t be around.”

From the time a scientific consensus emerged that human activity was changing the climate, it has been understood that the nations that contributed least to the problem would be hurt the most. Now, even as the possible consequences of climate change have surged — from the typhoons that have raked the Philippines and India this year to the droughts in Africa, to rising sea levels that threaten to submerge entire island nations — no consensus has emerged over how to rectify what many call “climate injustice.”

Makes me wanna holler — hold up both my hands…November 17:

Global warning’s cruel irony is that the greenhouse emissions triggering the crisis are an unanticipated consequence of industrial and technological changes which have benefited the world’s most privileged, while it is the economically and politically disenfranchised billions who have already begun to feel the consequences, losing their lands, their hopes, and their lives.

In comparison to that of the developed nations, the carbon output of the Philippines is statistically insignificant, yet its citizens are now facing massive devastation from a tropical storm of unprecedented magnitude — just the sort of extreme weather event which climatologists have been predicting for years as a consequence of the intensifying greenhouse effect.

Unlike earlier genocides carried out under the aegis of economic expansion and colonialism, climate change’s impact on the world’s poorest people wasn’t planned. But this does not absolve the developed world of responsibility for the havoc wreaked and the damage wrought.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 11, Day 26: All A Friend Can Say Is “Ain’t It A Shame.”

The Financial Times gives Jeffrey Sachs a podium:

…Unlike other cases of policy delay, the costs of delay on climate change are not just lost time but also lost opportunity. As the world talks the atmosphere fills with greenhouse gases. The chances of meeting a 2C target will disappear imminently unless a strategy is put in place. This makes the lobbying by the fossil fuel industries against control measures even more understandable. They are not just buying time; they are trying to burn through the targets.

It’s a good article. I recycled the letter that went to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer a few days ago. November 16:

It is a powerful irony that business and financial communities frequently assert that actions to mitigate climate change and prepare for its inevitable impacts would cause economic damage, while ridiculing environmentalists as “unrealistic.” This demonstrates only that some of the world’s most powerful economic actors are unable to conceive of time spans beyond the next financial quarter.

There’s nothing “unrealistic” about reinforcing infrastructure, updating our power grid, moving the global energy economy away from carbon-intensive fossil fuels, and rewarding waste-free manufacturing. These practices are ways to invest in the future, to minimize damage and preserve the best that our society has to offer. Climate scientists are unambiguous in their warnings to the world: there are rough times ahead, and Typhoon Haiyan is an example of what we can expect as the greenhouse effect continues to intensify. If you know a storm is coming, preparing for it is pure common sense. The corporate sector needs to learn ways of thinking that are focused not on immediate profit, but on the long-term survival of our civilization — and our species.

Warren Senders