My New Year's Resolution continues.
Every day, I'll write a letter on climate change issues; some to the President, some to my Senators (Holy Carp! Soon I'm going to have to write a letter to Scott Brown. Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeewwwwwww!!!!) and my Representative (Ed Markey! Yay!), some to other figures in government, some to local or national newspapers.
I posted an earlier diary about twelve days ago in which I compiled all I'd done so far. It bore the clever title Eight Letters on Climate Change, and it covered my writing from New Year's Day to January 8. This diary covers from January 9 through the 19th. Those who are up on their arithmetic will notice that's eleven, not twelve. Yup; one day I wrote a letter and a fax.
I am anxious for two things:
First — Greenroots feedback. Specifically: good bullet points and catchy slogans I can incorporate; corrections of scientific and/or political errors; suggestions for organizations/people to whom I can creatively address myself; thoughts on style and framing; anything else.
Second — Greenroots use. Anything I've written as part of this series of letters may be used freely by any of you who would like to carry on this type of action (I frequently think it doesn't do a damn bit of good, except for the fact that doing it is better for me than just wringing my hands endlessly in front of the computer). If you like something I say, or the way I say something...please appropriate it for your own use.
These pieces are posted individually on my blog as I do them (I also write about music, atheism, education and India, so if you're interested, please drop in); they range from short blasts to longer, more erudite missives.
The letters themselves are in blockquotes; any headlines, supplementary notes and comments are above and below, just as I originally posted them.
Ready? Here goes:
Day 9: It's my daughter's birthday!
She got up this morning and opened presents; this afternoon we're having a party for the five-year-old birthday girl. Mid-morning she had a swim class, and while she was splashing around, I wrote a fax to the White House:
Dear President Obama,
Congratulations on nearing the end of your first year in office. I hope that among your accomplishments you can also recognize the extraordinary degree to which your political opposition has dedicated itself to frustrating and hindering your political and legislative agenda. You have bent over backwards to accommodate the Republicans, and over and over your readiness to accommodate has been treated as a weakness, leading to a dilution of your policy initiatives.
In the long run, the looming climate crisis is without doubt the single most important problem that you (or any leader) will be called upon to address. It is imperative that you use your communication skills to educate the public on this subject; there is no time left for us, for our culture and civilization, for the web of biodiversity upon which all planetary life depends. I beg of you, sir, to publicly acknowledge the importance of Dr. James Hansen's work — and to vigorously promote the absolute necessity for America to lead the world in the reduction of atmospheric CO2 to 350 parts per million.
Time is running out, and the Republican strategy appears to be, simply, to wait for the Rapture. We can't afford inaction.
Have you contacted your President today?
Day Ten: To a Local Paper
Very tired; very spaced out. Wife & kid were on their way out to a dance class and the car battery died, so this one was composed in the short interval between scrambling around with jumper cables and the arrival of a student.
Anyway, it went off to the Arlington Advocate, a local newspaper. We'll see.
UPDATE: They'll only publish letters from Arlington residents or businesspeople. So I'll send it along to the Boston Globe this evening.
Polls suggest that a significant proportion of the American people "don't believe in global warming." This represents a tragic failure in education and a tragic failure in communication. In the wake of Sputnik, science education in America became a national priority and we collectively accomplished wonders; in the wake of Reagan and the rise of the evangelical movement, science has been downgraded and degraded, and we collectively remain oblivious to a looming disaster. Our inability to understand the scary facts of global climate change is also a failure of imagination: surrounded by exhortations to "live for the moment" and reminded daily that "it's all about YOU," Americans cannot conceive of a multi-decade interval between cause and effect, cannot imagine that the tragedy of climaticide will affect them in any way. Our politics, our media, our educational system and our economic system are all contributors; this is a perfect example of a systemic problem.
Unfortunately, we are running out of time. The failure to achieve a meaningful climate treaty in Copenhagen and the unwillingness of science-ignorant senators to act on climate-change legislation may be the precursor to a "perfect storm" of devastating magnitude.
Day Eleven: To The Cambridge Chronicle
It's just after midnight, and I've got a busy day tomorrow. So I composed this one before going to bed. I think I'll try and make this a part of the routine as my schedule starts to get crazier in the coming weeks.
How easy it is for us human beings to fool ourselves! Because it's cold in Massachusetts, we conclude that "there's no such thing as global warming." Tell that to residents of Bulgaria, and to Puerto Ricans, who've both had record high temperatures. Tell that to people in Greenland, where the thermometer is hovering at around fifty degrees Farenheit. In January. The fact that large parts of the Northern United States are experiencing freezing temperatures only serves to demonstrate that local weather isn't the same as climate. But we, steeped in American exceptionalism, cannot imagine that the story of the Earth's climate isn't a Story About Us. And, steeped in the false notion that an economic model based on unending consumption is somehow good for the world, we cannot imagine making the sacrifices necessary for the survival of the planet.
It is a tragedy in the making, aided and abetted by a thrill-seeking, ignorance-abetting media more focused on celebrity scandals and "he-said, she-said" stenography than the urgent planetary need for accurate information and analysis. It is a tragedy of selfishness and shortsightedness, enabled by politicians who play rhetorical games with one another while gigatons of Arctic methane begin to thaw under the tundra. Yes, it's cold in Massachusetts. But it's getting hotter and hotter here on Earth.
Have you written a letter today?
Day Twelve: NPR Hears From Me
Driving home today, I switched back and forth between NPR and the Thom Hartmann show on Boston's progressive AM station (for which FSM be thanked!). NPR News ran a story on freezing weather in Florida, focusing on the damage citrus groves were taking from ice and snow, and mentioning that virtually the entire tropical fish supply of North America was jeapordized by the extreme cold (I never thought about thousands upon thousands of goldfish being raised in outdoor tanks in Florida, for sale to households across the nation, but there you are).
Naturally, the NPR announcers didn't say a thing about the role that global climate change has in freak weather events like this. So after I finished teaching this evening, I went to the NPR ombudsperson's page and submitted the following:
Fruit Freezes in Florida...
... and I heard the story on NPR News this evening.
While I found the story of potentially frozen citrus groves and iced tropical fish farms interesting, I was saddened (although not surprised, alas) that NPR did not do analysis of this story in light of the unfolding crisis of global climate change. A story like this one is a perfect vehicle to illuminate the fact that increased temperatures in some parts of the world can trigger freak weather (including unreasonable and unseasonable cold) in others.
Polls have shown that a significant proportion of Americans don't believe that global warming is happening at all, or don't believe that it is due to human agency. The current spell of extreme cold will inevitably trigger more statements along the lines of, "Global warming? Ha! Ha! Can't you see it's snowing outside!"
It is the responsibility of a news organization to help its audience figure out what the news means. The story of frozen fruit and fish in the American South would have been a perfect opportunity for NPR to do exactly that: teach its listeners a little bit about the difference between weather and climate, and why a warming planet can cause icicles in orange groves.
The future of the human species hangs on developing our ability to make sense of phenomena outside our accustomed scales of time and magnitude. The climate crisis is a perfect example; it is increasingly likely that our distractability and ignorance will prevent our taking meaningful action until it is too late to make a difference.
By failing to see this story for what it really is, NPR is enabling those who seek to deny the reality of our ongoing climaticide.
If any of you happen to hear them reading this on the air, please let me know!
Day 12A: a Quick Fax to Senators Kerry and Kirk
There's some excitement about Lisa Murkowski's proposed amendment to an upcoming bill dealing with raising the national debt ceiling, and CREDO sent out an email blast asking us to tell our Senators to oppose it. Her amendment will weaken the enforcement abilities of the EPA, making the Clean Air Act a hollow shell of its former self. Needless to say, that's a bad thing, and Murkowski's a bad influence.
This came concurrently with 1Sky's "Day to Call the Senate" or whatever it was they called it, so I dashed off a quick fax covering both issues to my Senators, Kerry and Kirk.
Dear Senators Kerry and Kirk,
Please vote against the Murkowski amendment on the debt ceiling bill scheduled to come to the floor on January 20th. We need robust enforcement of the Clean Air Act!
Also, now is the time to move forward on meaningful environmental legislation to deal with the threat of global climate change. Kerry-Boxer and Waxman-Markey are good starts, but we need to reduce atmospheric CO2 to 350 ppm, not 450 as these bills stipulate.
Not eloquent, but it said what needed to be said. Faxed to both of Kirk's offices and all of Kerry's, with the exception of the Springfield office, which appears to have been decommissioned.
Oh, and I also called Kerry's offices and basically read this to his staffers over the phone.
Need I say that it is a terrifying thought that Republican buffoon Scott Brown is as close as he is to gaining control of Ted Kennedy's old Senate seat? WTF?
Day 13: A Letter to The Secretary of State
In over ten whole minutes of web searching, I could not find a fax number for the Secretary of State's office, so this one is going off by snailmail.
Dear Secretary Clinton,
Over the long run, there is no issue more likely to contribute to profound global instability than runaway global warming. Projections of the sociopolitical effects of climate change include severe disturbances to farming economies caused by erratic weather, increased risk of near-apocalyptic fires in forested areas affected by severe heat, "water wars" triggered by drought and the elimination of glacial melt as a source for important rivers and aquifers, and, of course, the inevitability of millions of climate refugees, many in the world’s poorest nations.
Add to this the increasing likelihood that oceanic acidification will profoundly affect the food chain of much of earth’s life, and the terrifying prospect of gigatons of arctic methane being released into our atmosphere and bringing a greenhouse effect of unimaginable magnitude, and the possibility of a planetary enactment of a Biblical apocalypse becomes disturbingly likely. While some Dominionists may view this as desirable, hoping for the Rapture is not a valid environmental policy.
As the leader of the free world, the United States needs a diplomatic strategy that simultaneously fosters long-term thinking among the world’s governments (because a multi-decade gap between cause and effect is inherent in the processes of climate) and prompt and vigorous action (because the window of time in which our actions can make a difference to our descendants is rapidly closing). It is absolutely crucial that we take the initiative to bring about a worldwide agreement to reduce atmospheric CO2 to 350 ppm or less, as recommended by Dr. James Hansen and other climatologists.
Please make sure the world knows that America is ready to lead, both in finding ways to mitigate the unavoidable effects of climate change and in preventing further catastrophic changes from coming to pass.
Failure in this area is a guarantee of failure for all of us — all six billion of us.
A little long, but what the hell. Writing a shorter letter would have taken an extra fifteen minutes or so.
Day 14: Ed Markey Hears From Me Again
Last night I was doing bookkeeping for 2009, so I didn't write anything. This morning I'm strapped for time, so this letter came out kind of blunt. I also included some footnotes for the first time. This was prompted by the scariest thing I have ever read, over at Daily Kos.
January 14, 2010
Dear Representative Markey,
Thank you for your work in the area of climate change and environmental protection. As we are now discovering, the predictions of climate scientists have been profoundly erroneous. Without exception, climatologists’ projections of the rate and severity of climate change are turning out to be too timid. The world is heating up faster than they expected. Much faster. Much, much faster.
The latest news reveals that we face what is surely the most pressing existential crisis in humanity’s history. The recent discovery of atmospheric methane levels over the Arctic ocean ranging between a hundred and a thousand times normal is a terrifying augury of things to come (see below). Once the gigatonnes of frozen methane locked in the tundra begin to melt, climatic tipping points are going to arrive faster and faster, and the best-case scenarios will look like dystopian nightmares. The worst-case scenarios can be summed up in one word: Venus.
Unless we can learn to set aside international and intra-national differences of opinion and personality conflicts, the outlook for coming generations is dire. Your leadership is needed now more than ever.
Thank you again for your efforts in this field.
- "Scientists have uncovered what appears to be a further dramatic increase in the leakage of methane gas that is seeping from the Arctic seabed."
- "Fairbanks, Alaska—A team led by International Arctic Research Center scientist Igor Semiletov has found data to suggest that the carbon pool beneath the Arctic Ocean is leaking.
The results of more than 1,000 measurements of dissolved methane in the surface water from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf this summer as part of the International Siberian Shelf Study show an increased level of methane in the area. Geophysical measurements showed methane bubbles coming out of chimneys on the seafloor."
Day 15: Chastising the Washington Post
Daughter announced this morning that she wanted to stay home, and "make up a school at home." I agreed, with the caveat that she would have to spend a bunch of time alone, as I had work to do and some students later in the morning. In a minute or so I'm going to make some calls for the Coakley campaign. Today's letter is a remix of several earlier items; I'm now at the point where I have enough material to dissect and reassemble my output in multiple combinations. It's less work, or it would be if the prose wasn't on such a harrowing topic.
Each day brings new news about the magnitude of the looming climate crisis; most recently we learn that the Pine Island Glacier, largest of the glaciers making up the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet, has passed a "tipping point" and is now inexorably melting. Simultaneously levels of atmospheric methane over the Siberian Shelf in the Arctic Ocean now range between a hundred and a thousand times normal, indicating that gigatonnes of this powerful greenhouse gas which have been frozen under the tundra for tens of thousands of years are now starting to enter the atmosphere. The most significant thing about the predictions of climatologists is that they are without exception too conservative; tipping points projected for the end of this century now loom at the end of this decade.
The best-case scenarios for runaway global warming lead to terrifying dystopias, with millions of displaced climate refugees, worldwide food and water shortages, resource wars and devastatingly unpredictable weather patterns. The worst-case scenarios could lead to global temperatures soaring to levels inhospitable to any life at all. Venus, in short. And the scientific evidence (again, based on conservative projections) suggests that the probability of bad-to-worst-case outcomes is statistically significant. This country's rush to war in 2002 was based on evidence far less robust than that for human causes of global climate change: if the evidence of Iraqi WMD's was as strong as that for anthropogenic global warming, our troops would have found stacks of nuclear weapons freely sold in the bazaars of Baghdad.
And where is the Washington Post in all this? Firmly ignoring science and continuing to publish the glib (albeit erudite) misinformation propagated by George Will. The Post should correct this shortsighted policy immediately; there has never been a time in human history when enabling ignorance could have such devastating consequences.
Day 16: The Gray Lady
The New York Times has a length limit of 150 words; I managed to get it down to 149. Tomorrow I'll be out most of the day making calls for Coakley at a local phonebank. I hate doing it, but it's not something I feel a lot of choice about. My voice will be wrecked by the evening...with luck I'll recover before a full day of teaching on Sunday.
Another of the Times' stipulations is that letters have to explicitly address an issue discussed in a recent article. Fortunately, a few seconds of searching their site found me a recent piece on the possibilities of post-Copenhagen progress on climate, and I framed my letter around that. It was fun getting it trimmed to fit a 150-word maximum; I'll try again in another week or so.
If you have suggestions for other journals, papers, magazines or forums I can write to, I will be interested in hearing them!
American climate change negotiator Todd Stern’s is cautiously optimistic ("U.S. Official Says Talks on Emissions Show Promise" - John M. Broder, January 14). Unfortunately his caution is more reality-based than his optimism. Stern's statements are full of conditionals, as witness the end of the first sentence: "...if countries followed through on its provisions." The dilemma lies, as do so many of our problems, in the Senate, where a significant number of lawmakers have abandoned any notion of crafting policy around scientific consensus, basing it instead on poll numbers or ideological opposition to the current administration. And because our mass media has for years downplayed the threat posed by global climate change, the public has not grasped the terrifying reality of anthropogenic climaticide for what it is: a planetary emergency of unparalleled scale. Our failure to address this crisis with the requisite urgency may be the final failure of our species.
Day 17: Do You Seriously Think Newsweek Would Actually Print This?
I did 7 hours of phonebanking for Martha Coakley yesterday. You can read the story here if you're interested. Today I was teaching most of the day, so I didn't have time to write my letter until now. You'll note that I took the Brian Aldiss quote I'd used a few days ago (in my letter of January 7) and built a new edifice around it.
Do I actually think Newsweek will publish this letter? Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.
If you live in Massachusetts, remember to VOTE on Tuesday.
The science-fiction writer Brian Aldiss described civilization as "the distance man has placed between himself and his waste," and by this criterion ours is the most advanced civilization in human history. But it is increasingly obvious that when we are this distant from our waste, we are at best oblivious to it and at worst openly contemptuous of efforts to reduce it (as witness Dick Cheney's sneering remark that "Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy.").
The problem is, simply, that the laws of physics are oblivious to our posturing. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, and when the CO2 output of our civilization overwhelms the absorptive capacity of our oceans and forests, the earth's atmosphere will heat up. Let it get warm enough, and the frozen methane under the Arctic Ocean will enter the atmosphere, triggering a terrifying positive feedback loop. The best-case result of that is what is euphemistically called an "evolutionary bottleneck."
But it is much easier to fixate on the latest celebrity scandal du jour than it is to confront catastrophic climate change while there is still time. If the public understood the difference between denialism and scientific fact, it would be simple to recognize lies and debunk them. Instead, while the world's ecosystems collapse under the strain of our accumulated waste, irresponsible broadcast and print media bombard us with a steady stream of celebrity scandals, distractions and irrelevancies. Albert Einstein put it very clearly when he said, "We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive." What we need is nothing more or less than a new definition of civilization, one which embodies a wholly different attitude towards waste. If we do not act now to redefine civilization for ourselves and our descendants, our great-great-grandchildren will curse us for blighting their lives with a cultural and environmental heritage that amounts in the end to a world full of toxic trash.
Please feel free to cut and paste parts of what I've written into your own letters to our media and politicians. If you have suggestions for people and/or organizations I should write to, I would welcome them.
Day 18: Joe Biden Hears From Me
This morning I read a nice piece at Kos, titled "Vice-President Biden Bashes the Filibuster." Better late than never, I suppose. I still cannot believe it's taken the Administration this long to figure out that they're dealing with an opposition party that is entirely composed of people who think Fox News is genuinely Fair and Balanced; an opposition party of delusional sociopathic denialists, actually.
So I wrote Joe a letter. I emailed it to him at the WH website, and I'm going to print it out and mail it to him tomorrow.
It was interesting to craft a letter in which climate-change issues were the secondary theme rather than the primary focus. This will open up more possibilities on the days when I have time to compose new material rather than just recombine my old verbiage.
Dear Vice-President Biden,
I was deeply gratified to read that you recently made the statement that, "As long as I have served ... I've never seen, as my uncle once said, the constitution stood on its head as they've done. This is the first time every single solitary decision has required 60 senators. No democracy has survived needing a supermajority." The supermajority requirement has effectively stifled participatory democracy in our country. When a single senator from a low-population state can hold up a bill which is supported by the vast majority of the nation's population, we no longer live in a democratic republic.
While this situation has been made obvious by the continuous wheeling and dealing over health-care legislation, the supermajority requirement will stand in the way of meaningful action on another policy initiative, one that is even more important for our long-term viability as a nation and as a planet. How can genuine action on climate-change legislation take place in the face of the 60-vote requirement?
Our oceans are becoming acidified, with potentially catastrophic results for the billions on Earth who depend on the seas for their food. Atmospheric CO2 concentrations are already above the levels Dr. James Hansen calls the maximum to "sustain the climate in which civilization evolved and to which all planetary life is adjusted." America needs to assume the leadership responsibilities that go along with being a global superpower, and that means that passing a robust climate bill is essential at all levels: it's essential for our economy; it's essential for the health of our citizens; it's essential for our country's role in the world; it's essential for the survival of our planet.
I urge you to suggest to Majority Leader Reid and other members of the Senate that they adopt the proposal of Senator Tom Harkin, in which a gradually decreasing majority would be required for cloture. It is my understanding that this could come up for consideration at the opening of the next session of Congress, when the Senate Rules Committee can institute changes to the Senate's rules of procedure. We need to reform the abuse of the filibuster as soon as possible, so that a tiny minority of lawmakers can no longer effectively paralyze the Senate, making progress impossible.
I'm pretty tired. I did 5 hours of phonebanking for Coakley today and will be helping voters get to the polls tomorrow morning. If you live in Massachusetts, REMEMBER TO VOTE!!!
Day 19: A Post-Election Missive
Too tired after watching Coakley's unbelievable shambles of a campaign crash and burn to do much more than fire off a short one to the Boston Globe.
Massachusetts has officially elected a climate-change skeptic to the Senate. Among other things, this illuminates an unbelievable lack of scientific literacy in our schools, in our media, and in our politics. It is long past time for the White House to point out that denying something doesn't change scientific facts. The Earth's biosphere is in serious danger from decades of unregulated emissions of greenhouse gases; it's not just humans who are moving rapidly toward a catastrophic evolutionary bottleneck, but millions of other life-forms as well. The Bush administration addressed climate change by denying its origin, its severity, and sometimes its existence — while passing cynically titled anti-environmental legislation with a bare majority in the Senate. The Obama administration seems to address climate change in the opposite way: by acknowledging its origin, severity and existence, while timidly refraining from using the Presidential bully pulpit to educate the public about the most severe existential threat ever faced by humans. Scott Brown may think atmospheric CO2 concentrations soaring to Mesozoic Era levels is a sign of economic growth, but his descendants, and ours, will judge us very harshly for our failure to act effectively while we still had the time.
I phonebanked for Coakley, donated and did a bit of sign-holding at the polls. I think she would have been an excellent Senator. But...By Grabthar's Hammer, that was the worst clusterf**k of a political campaign I've ever seen or heard. Martha made John McCain's presidential run look like a finely polished gem.
That's all I've got as of Election Night at 11:27 pm. I'll write another letter tomorrow, of course...but it'll go in the next diary in this series.
Comments? Criticisms? Suggestions? Orchids? Onions? Bouquets? Brickbats?