Year 2, Month 4, Day 13: Okay, You Can Have My Lunch Money.

The Irish Times’ Frank MacDonald writes about the continued push to get people to pay attention to climate change, dammit:

WITH WORLD attention grabbed by a succession of natural disasters in New Zealand and Japan as well as popular revolts in north Africa and the Middle East, the United Nations will be seeking this week to put climate change back on the international agenda.

Nearly four months after last year’s moderately successful climate summit in the Mexican resort of Cancún, delegates from 193 countries have gathered in Bangkok for a preliminary round of talks aimed at paving the way for progress at next December’s summit in Durban.

They’re conscious that global warming “hasn’t gone away, you know”, as Gerry Adams TD once said of the Provisional IRA.

Indeed, 2010 was officially one of the hottest years on record, with heatwaves, floods, landslides, forest fires and other “extreme weather events”.

I’ve just about lost my patience. I submitted the following (ahem) modest proposal to the Irish Times on April 4:

If we are really serious about getting climate change back on the international agenda, we need to recognize that the world’s governments are universally dominated by corporate influence. The biggest and most powerful of these giant economic actors are the ones which sell us oil and coal; since a paradigm shift in planetary energy use will impact their profit margins, they’ve opted to hold the future of human civilization for ransom. I’d like to propose a new approach: total capitulation to their demands. How much would it take to persuade oil CEOs (who’d otherwise have to sacrifice a tenth vacation home or fourth private jet) to support a planetary conversion to renewable energy? I should think about three trillion dollars would do it; that works out to about $450 for every person on the planet — a small price to pay for the continued survival of our species.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 2, Day 2: The Future Is Here Already

The Khaleej Times is a news organization based in the UAE. They ran a version of the AP story on Ban Ki-moon’s changed approach; the same day their headline noted a “sudden storm” that “played havoc” in the northern part of the country. A nice connection that worked pretty well in this letter.

It is a sad irony: on the day that U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is reported to be “shifting focus” in the fight against climate change, the lead story in the Khaleej Times is headed, “Sudden storm plays havoc in the Northern Emirates.” A post-global-warming atmosphere will feature quite a few such sudden and extreme weather events, which can confidently be expected to wreak havoc wherever they show up. “Once-in-a-century” floods will come every decade; weather patterns that have been consistent and dependable for countless generations are going to go steadily more awry. As weather predictions become ever more unreliable, the only things to remain certain will be agricultural disruption and infrastructural destruction. It is to be hoped that Ban Ki-moon’s focus on sustainable economic development will provide effective motivations for the world’s biggest greenhouse emitters to change their ways, since “saving the world” didn’t seem to do the trick.

Warren Senders

Month 11, Day 25: Curiouser and Curiouser

The Independent (UK) runs an article on the newly issued UN climate report. The comments are a huge pile of stupid.

When it comes to global climate change and the possibility of a genuinely robust treaty on carbon emissions, it is depressing to realize how hard we have to work to achieve — nothing. After months of international name-calling and internecine disputes, the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases seem locked in a Red Queen’s race in which any agreement will fall short of what is really needed. It’s easy to understand why; governments are set up to dampen the impulses of rapid change, since a society undergoing constant radical transformations would be difficult to live in. But climate change is different; what we hear from scientists is equivalent to a cardiologist’s unequivocal statement to a heart patient: change your habits immediately, or die. And from our climate negotiators? Denial and bargaining. Just as you can’t make a deal with coronary artery disease, there is no bargaining with the greenhouse effect.

Warren Senders

Month 11, Day 6: It’s Always A Good Day When I Discover a Good Word

Business Week runs a short AP squib on a plea from the UN Conference on Food Security, asking that the potentially devastating impact of climate change on agricultural systems be taken into account in developing a meaningful climate treaty.

This letter introduces a new and useful word: veriphobia. It means “fear of truth.” Use it in good health.

The message from the UN Conference on Food Security inadvertently provides an excellent illustration of the extraordinary disconnect between reality and the Republican Party. The actual facts show conclusively that climate change is real, it’s causing huge damage already, and it’s going to have a devastating effect on agriculture all over the world. But the facts are no longer relevant to today’s GOP, which is deeply invested in an irrationally anti-science ideology built entirely on opposition to ideas or policies suggested by its political opponents. Does anyone think it’s likely that Republican politicians (even those from farming states which will bear the brunt of global warming’s effects over the next century) will acknowledge or accommodate the needs of climate-threatened farming nations? To do so (alas for the rest of us) would threaten these veriphobic denialists with a terrifying fate: having to admit error.

Warren Senders

24 Oct 2010, 8:50pm

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  • Month 10, Day 25: Real Journalism?

    The Arizona Daily Sun reports on a talk given by a UN Climate Panel representative, and does a surprisingly good job of it.

    Chris Field is entirely accurate, both in his assessment of the risks and dangers posed by runaway global heating and in his understanding of the obstacles and complications that make concerted action difficult. If we are to move forward in coping with this threat, it’s essential that all of us realize that the costs of action, while large, are a tiny fraction of the costs of apathy. Measuring the impact of climate change in human terms gives us terrifying numbers: of drought refugees, lives lost to flooding and fires, of millions of acres of dessicated cropland. Measuring it in monetary terms is equally scary: the long-term economic impacts of global climate change will easily amount to many trillions of dollars. In this context, it’s clear that those who resist action on the grounds of cost are terribly short-sighted. When floodwaters are rising, only a fool claims sandbags are too expensive.

    Warren Senders

    Month 9, Day 4: Fair is Fair.

    The San Francisco Chronicle ran a short AP story on the UN Climate Commission’s position regarding financial aid to poorer countries.

    The United Nations has the correct position on additional funding to poorer nations to aid them in coping with climate change. The facts are inescapable: the poorer the country, the lower their per capita greenhouse gas emissions. Compared with the CO2 released into the atmosphere by the United States (five times more than our share of world population), Pakistan’s is little more than a rounding error. While climate change’s effects will be felt everywhere in the world, it is the industrialized West which is overwhelmingly responsible for the increasing atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases.

    We tell our children to accept responsibility for damage they cause. We grownups must do the same, and face the fact that our fossil-fueled conveniences are destroying the world in which we live — and that it is unfair to make the poorest of the world’s people pay for the destruction the wealthiest have brought them.

    Month 8, Day 23: Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream

    I’ve never written to Ban ki-Moon before. His statements about climate change make it pretty clear that he gets it in a way that hardly any American politicians do.

    It was extremely difficult to find any useful contact address. The UN has a generic email submission page which I finally used…but I’m going to try and get something more substantial once they open for business tomorrow.


    Please forward to the Secretary General – RE: Geopolitical Implications of Climate Change

    Dear Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon,
    Your recent words about the disaster in Pakistan show that you are one of the few public figures who is willing to recognize climate change as one of the primary causal forces behind that country’s devastating floods. It is evident to any thinking observer that a steady increase in extreme weather events (as predicted for decades by climatologists) will lead to dramatic changes in the structuring foreign policy.

    Humanity can go in two directions. The nations of the world can join together to develop strategies for resource allotment and the deployment of infrastructure as needed to combat the devastating effects of short-term weather events (thereby preventing food and water wars, or other political manifestations of climatic emergency) — or they can continue on the path of what the economist Naomi Klein aptly terms “disaster capitalism,” in which any crisis is used as an opportunity for exploitation and the curtailment of human liberties.

    The first path will lead to our survival as a species, the second inevitably to our doom.

    We have often wondered: if humanity could find a common adversary, could old national rivalries be set aside? In that respect, the climate crisis offers us an opportunity to transform our ways of thinking about ourselves as a species and our role on the planet. What is happening to Pakistan today could happen to one of the world’s wealthiest nations next week; the transformed climate does not play favorites in the long run.

    This is the first time that humanity has faced a planet-sized enemy, an enemy that cannot be defeated by force of arms or by political maneuverings. We have created this threat ourselves, and to defeat it we must change ourselves at a deep level.

    We can no longer waste time and treasure on the destructive distractions of war; there is a greater enemy to overcome.

    Yours Sincerely,

    Warren Senders

    Month 3, Day 18: The United Nations Is On The Case?

    It’s relatively difficult to take an AP report about internecine disagreements within the U.N. Climate team and turn it into a letter. In the event, I used the article as a hook for a relatively standard polemic, which went to the Boston Globe.

    It’s reassuring that the member states of the United Nations continue to keep climate change on the table, despite the failure of the Copenhagen conference and the inability of the U.S. Government to do anything substantial towards reducing America’s grossly disproportionate contribution to the climate crisis. The 1997 Kyoto agreement would have been a good first step to addressing the problem — if it had been ratified in the 1970s. Climatologists agreed years ago that Kyoto’s proposed 5 percent reduction on carbon emissions is a pathetically tiny band-aid on a gaping wound. The nations of the world need to do more than “expand” Kyoto — we need to recognize that an extraordinary situation demands an extraordinary response.

    Global climate change is a crisis of environment, because human activity is on the verge of making our relatively benign biosphere a lot less welcoming. It is also a crisis of perception, because for the first time human beings must abandon “local thinking” in both time and space, and take responsibility for one another everywhere on the planet, and across the centuries to come. Are we up to the challenge? Ban ki-Moon thinks so. I hope he is right.

    Warren Senders