Welcome to the newest intermittent report from the Climate Letter Project. Have you written a Climate Letter recently?
The past couple of weeks have been very productive, LTE-wise. That's good. Earlier this year I had a dry spell — about 7 weeks without a single letter seeing publication. Depressing.
I'm coming up on a solid thousand letters, and though I often feel like a barnacle trying to change the direction of an ocean liner, the alternative is not writing them, which is existentially unacceptable.
My modus operandi remains the same, and I recommend it to you as well. I type "climate change news" into the search bar and prowl through the results, looking for the right combination: a news outlet that takes letters — and an article on some aspect of climate for which I feel comfortable generating about 150 words in response.
While I still send letters to the larger national papers and magazines, many are targeted to local and regional publications. Even though I'm from "out of town," the powers that be often see fit to include my work...presumably because the smaller papers don't get as many letters.
This batch of hits is something of a potpourri on climate-change issues: Richard Muller, drought, media irresponsibility, the environmental economy. Enjoy these — and please send some of your own. If everyone who reads this diary writes two letters a week, that's twice as many as if the same number of people only wrote one a week — and a hell of a lot more than if nobody wrote anything at all. It's not much, baby — but it's what we've got.
Okay, here we go:
The Winnipeg Star notes that American presidential politics doesn't seem to care, really:
WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Barack Obama promised to tackle climate change when he ran for the White House four years ago, but as he battles for a second term, he says little about the issue, even as the United States suffers through a drought of historic proportions, wild storms, and punishing heat that topples temperature records almost daily.La la la la la la. My father lives in Toronto, so I was an honorary Canadian for this letter, which was sent on August 9:
As late as April, he told Rolling Stone magazine climate change would be a central campaign issue.
"I will be very clear in voicing my belief that we're going to have to take further steps to deal with climate change in a serious way," he said.
Instead, Obama is fighting Republican challenger Mitt Romney in a tight race over the struggling American economy and stubbornly high unemployment. Gallup polling repeatedly shows the economy is the chief concern among American voters, at 65 per cent, while environmental and pollution issues were mentioned by less than one per cent of those polled.
Even without a big push on climate change, Obama has the support of environmentalists. Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said Obama "has done a substantial amount in his three years to fight the climate crisis." Romney, he said, "is taking his lead from fossil-fuel companies and does not even acknowledge there is a climate problem."
Romney has been accused of changing positions on the issue to curry favour with the most conservative Republicans, many of whom deny climate change exists.
This year's extreme weather may have forced climate change into the public eye, but we still hear that concerns about the economy must necessarily supersede environmental worries. This is a profoundly misleading notion.Published in the Winnipeg Free Press.
We have been able to ignore the crisis for so long because we have not yet recognized that the health of the economy and that of the planet are inextricably linked. The ecological "economy" of planet Earth has been functioning well for many orders of magnitude longer than industrialized humanity's fiscal economy. To elevate the importance of the latter over the former is to make a profound miscalculation with potentially disastrous consequences.
Ultimately, our prosperity depends on a healthy and consistent climate; if you subtract potable water, clean air, regular weather and flourishing biodiversity from the equation, the result is always going to be catastrophe — regardless of how well the GDP is doing that quarter.
The Santa Cruz Sentinel (CA) regrets that the public is so uninterested in the problem:
Maybe the lack of substance in the presidential campaign reflects a perception by President Barack Obama and Republican erstwhile nominee Mitt Romney that voters aren't really that plugged in.Yadda yadda yadda. This one was sent August 2:
If so, that would explain why issues such as climate change seem lost in the ether as the candidates seem content to trade daily attacks.
An illustration: Despite years of gloomy prognostications by scientists and California's efforts to get out in front on global warming, most people in this state know absolutely nothing about the controversial cap-and-trade program, which is due to be rolled out in November, the same month as the presidential election.
According to new polling by the Public Policy Institute of California, 57 percent of likely voters say they haven't heard anything about the program, in which the state will be auctioning off emissions permits. Cap and trade is a central part of California's AB32, signed into law by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006. AB32 sets limits on companies' greenhouse gas emissions, while allowing non-polluters to sell permits to companies that exceed the new limits.
The state will get money from these auctions -- with estimates as high as $1 billion annually. Gov. Jerry Brown is already eyeing this revenue to help pay for another controversial project -- high speed rail, which might explain why two of three Californians say they have little or no confidence the state will spend the auction money wisely.
Our species' survival is absolutely the most important issue of the century — indeed, the most important issue in our entire history on the planet. Right? Right. When surveys show that citizens aren't that worried about climate change, our media reliably poses the same old question: why not?Published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel.
The answer is pretty simple: because that same media has for years been hewing to an irresponsible approach that "balances" every genuinely worried climatologist with a petroleum-funded denialist — thus presenting "both sides of the argument." Our politicians take their cues from the media, so it's hardly surprising that all but a few of our elected representatives won't spend any more time on climate change than they have to.
If we want more people to be concerned about this very genuine and very terrifying threat, it is incumbent on our news media to inform them about it without equivocation or false equivalency.
The Sarasota (FL) Herald Tribune assesses the grim situation:
In drought-scorched parts of the country these days, some farmland bears a resemblance to NASA's photos of Mars' barren plains.The fossil-fuel industry is an ichneumon wasp which has laid its eggs inside our civilization. Ick. Sent August 12:
Here on Earth, crops are suffering. On Friday, the federal Department of Agriculture cut by 17 percent its estimate for the corn crop and said the U.S. soybean crop is expected to drop, too. Soaring prices are forecast.
The drought stems from a number of causes, science suggests. But some of it appears to be consistent with the kind of long-term drying patterns seen in global-warming climate models.
Furthermore, James E. Hansen, a NASA expert in the field, issued a report last week tying man-made climate change to three severe heat outbreaks from 2003 to 2011.
These latest developments won't resolve long-running arguments over global warming or its causes. But they heighten the sense that precious time to address the problem is evaporating.
There's no mystery as to what needs to be done: Carbon emissions from burning fossil fuel must be cut.
Why is our political system unable to address climate change in anything approaching a responsibly adult manner? The answer rests in the synergy of three separate forces, interacting to produce paralysis: fossil fuel money, politicians' cupidity, and media irresponsibility.Published in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
Taking full advantage of our compromised campaign finance system, the oil and coal industries use their huge financial resources to purchase the loyalty of as many lawmakers as possible. More of that same money funds conservative "think tanks" and "institutes" which generate spurious studies using cherry-picked data and misinterpreted statistics — and also produce telegenic pundits trained to deliver denialist talking points on cue. Hewing to the doctrine that there are two exactly equivalent sides to every story, our print and broadcast media then allow equal time to worried climatologists and petrol-funded shills — reinforcing the notion that "the debate on climate change isn't settled." Purchased politicians seize on this false notion as an excuse for continued inaction, which is all Big Oil and Big Coal require.
Repeat and fade.
The Black Hills Pioneer (SD) reprints Gene Lyons' piece on his cows:
Of all the ways nature has to kill you, drought may be the cruelest. The desiccation proceeds day after punishing day. The afternoon sun pounds the earth like a brazen hammer. As I write, the temperature here in Perry County, Ark., has reached 108 degrees.Sent on August 8.
The countryside is dying. There's nothing green in my pastures except inedible weeds. Even pigweed is drooping. Our pond dried up six weeks ago. The ground beneath is bare and cracked. Up on the ridge, some hardwoods are shedding leaves and going dormant; oaks are simply dying.
When I'd turned my cows into their new pasture last year, they kicked up their heels and frolicked like calves. So much fresh grass! Last week, they tore down a low-hanging limb from the persimmon tree they rest under most afternoons. They herded in and stripped the leathery leaves within an hour, the first green thing they'd eaten in weeks.
Lucky cows. Mine is basically a hobby farm, so I can afford to keep my small herd intact. Because spring came a month early, I had enough hay left over to see them through the summer. Neighbors who operate close to the margin have hauled thousands of cows to the sale barn — animals they'd planned on breeding. Pastures stand barren and empty throughout the region.
The National Weather Service calls it an "exceptional drought." Nobody I talk to can remember anything like it. 1980 was bad, but the devastation was more limited in scope. What's happening in Arkansas is taking place across the entire middle of the country — a remorseless, slow-motion catastrophe.
It's too bad Gene Lyons' cows don't watch FOX News or listen to conservative talk radio. They'd surely feel better on learning that their dessicated Arkansas pasture is an isolated anomaly and a liberal hoax. Seriously, don't you think the few remaining climate-change denialists in politics and the media must be getting a little uneasy? They're still trying to reject the science of global warming while the entire country is setting new records for heat and drought, and those pesky climatologists keep coming up with more corroborative evidence.Published in the Black Hills Pioneer.
And the environment just isn't cooperating with the denialist message anymore. When a freak snowstorm fell on Washington, DC, James Inhofe, the self-proclaimed "number one enemy of the Earth," built an igloo with a sign on top, mocking Al Gore. It's pretty hard to do that when you're on your third consecutive week of hundred-degree-and-higher temperatures.
This is what climate experts have been predicting for decades would be the consequences of a runaway greenhouse effect. Now, as their forecasts are coming true with disturbing frequency, the anti-science zealots are still hard at it, hoping to persuade us that there's nothing to worry about.
Mr. Lyons' cows know better. So should we.
The Boise Weekly, on Richard Muller:
One of the most-outspoken global warming deniers has reversed his stance on climate science, saying it is indeed human-made. The news that physicist Richard Muller had gone public with his reversal was even more surprising because his Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project is heavily funded by the climate change-denying billionaire Koch brothers.Dr. Muller is about to encounter the vicious, ignorant, gratuitously stupid face of modern American conservatism. Sent July 30:
Muller said that his new opinion stems from his own Koch-funded project, whose meticulous work, he said, led to the only explanation for rising temperatures was human activity.
In an Op-Ed in the New York Times, Muller was blunt about his reversal.
“Three years ago, I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming," Muller wrote."I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.”
Dr. Richard Muller has long been one of the go-to guys for conservative politicians and media figures who wanted scientific credibility for messages of climate-change denial. Along with a few other professional climate-science contrarians (such as Dr. Richard Lindzen, who's noteworthy as one of the vanishing few who still hasn't accepted a link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer), Muller publicly doubted the overwhelming consensus on the human origins of the greenhouse effect.Published in the Boise Weekly.
"Was," not "is." With the release of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Project's conclusions this week, Muller is now firmly aligned with the rest of the climatology community in accepting the reality and the dangers of anthropogenic climate change. At least, he's caught up with the conclusions of climate science from the late 1990s, which is a step in the right direction.
Muller's results, important though they are, won't convince anyone who isn't convinced already. If his experience is similar to that of other climatologists, he's going to receive hate mail and death threats from the same people who, a few months ago, were lionizing him as a scientist of great integrity and a courageous voice of dissent.
***********************************Many more climate letters can be found at Running Gamak. There's even a Climate Letter Mad Lib. Drop in, steal some of my letters, change the order of the clauses, and send them out under your name. It's easy! And while you're there? Check out some music, too.
Okay, that's all for now.
If you happen to wander over to Mitt Romney’s website, try to decipher his policy positions on climate change. But don’t look too long; climate change isn't even mentioned once.
The stakes are too high to play politics with our lives. Please sign our petition that asks Mr. Romney two simple questions:
When enough people ask, 350.org will deliver this petition to Romney campaign headquarters to see if he's ready to answer.
Please stay tuned for our follow-up report!