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Event Report: Thursday, November 15 — The Boston, MA appearance of the Bill McKibben Do The Math roadshow.  2500 people almost completely filled Boston's Orpheum Theater.

My wife, daughter and I got there a little late as the video finished playing, and got some seats way up in the nosebleed section.  We're in the upper right corner, an unresolvable blur.

Massachusetts has its own chapter of, called 350 Massachusetts.  Massachusetts Kossacks, please give them some love.

Here's how they set up the event:

(Incidentally, at 0:47 in the above video, I am visible sitting next to the projector table.  End of self-advertisement.)

Facing a packed Orpheum Theater, McKibben told the crowd that the old concert hall held special memories for him from 1979, when he heard The Ramones perform there.  Big laugh.

Well, I had memories of the Orpheum, high school days included trips into Boston for plenty of rock concerts, although by the time the Ramones were making it big I'd moved on to develop a love of jazz.

But the vibe this Thursday was a long way from a jackhammer rendition of "I Wanna Be Sedated," and the message from Bill, co-host Naomi Klein (and a plethora of visiting voices on video) was anything but soporific.  In fact, the Do The Math tour could just as correctly be called the Wake The Fuck Up tour, if Bill wasn't basically such a polite person.

Here are some short bumper sticker versions of the Do The Math show:

We've got one chance left.  Let's not blow it.

Fossil fuel corporations are civilizational criminals.

To hit them where it counts, cut off their money supply.

We're All In This Together.

Let's expand those bumper stickers a bit.

We've got one chance left.  Let's not blow it.  
Scientists have known about climate change for more than fifty years.  The information has been widely available to the public since...well, since Bill's book The End Of Nature came out in 1989.  Remembering those days, he self-deprecatingly told the crowd, "I figured that everybody'd read my book, and they'd just automatically do the right thing."  Big laugh.

As politicians do, our politicians have chosen electoral exigency over civilizational necessity, repeatedly kicking the climate can down the road for some other leader in some other, more unified America, to address.  That's always been an option.

Until now.

The 2009 Copenhagen Climate Debacle Conference demonstrated to the whole world that "political leadership on climate" is an oxymoron.  The only countries willing to go out on a limb were the ones without influence, either on climate-change politics or on climate change itself.  The countries whose greenhouse emissions form the biggest drivers of this slow-motion catastrophe were universally paralyzed, incapable, incompetent.  Eventually the Copenhagen Conference issued an anodyne statement expressing a mild preference for a maximum temperature increase of 2 degrees celsius.

So the world's nations have, rather tepidly, agreed that more than 2 degrees of warming is unacceptable.  Leave aside the ominous fact that most responsible climate scientists think we're well on track to overshoot this limply proffered target — at least there's a target.  At least there's a number.

And once you Wake The Fuck Up Do The Math, it's scarily clear that the window of opportunity for us to slow the planet's steady warming is closing.

Of course, the killer numbers for Doing The Math are the ones Bill told us about in his epic piece in Rolling Stone, Global Warming's Terrifying New Math.


Scientists estimate that humans can pour roughly 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by midcentury and still have some reasonable hope of staying below two degrees. ("Reasonable," in this case, means four chances in five, or somewhat worse odds than playing Russian roulette with a six-shooter.)
(Here's) why this new number, 2,795 gigatons, is such a big deal. Think of two degrees Celsius as the legal drinking limit – equivalent to the 0.08 blood-alcohol level below which you might get away with driving home. The 565 gigatons is how many drinks you could have and still stay below that limit – the six beers, say, you might consume in an evening. And the 2,795 gigatons? That's the three 12-packs the fossil-fuel industry has on the table, already opened and ready to pour.
At this point, volunteers from 350 MA started bringing in bottles of beer and putting them on a table — and Bill (after praising the locally brewed artisanal beer) began rattling off collegiate synonyms for drunk.  Wasted, destroyed, plastered, blasted.  Those didn't sound so funny when applied to the planet instead of your roommate.

And, Bill pointed out, the fossil fuel industry is still actively searching for more shit to burn, and focusing increasingly on dirtier and dirtier fuels.  As pictures of the Tar Sands devastation showed on the screen, the 350 MA volunteers began carrying still more beer onstage.  McKibben had asked them to help make the point about how dirty and awful the tar sands oil is by bringing some cases of the worst beer they could find.

Keystone Light.

Coincidence?  I think not.

Which brings us to the next bumper sticker:
Fossil fuel corporations are civilizational criminals.
Thursday morning a bunch of us DK bloggers had a phone conference with Bill.  Here's one of my exchanges with him:

WarrenS:"As individuals working on our own grassroots levels, how can we really help steer the national conversation in this direction? None of us are mega-investors, and we don't own newspaper chains..."

Bill McKibben: " your roles as media people the key is, as always with these sorts of things, repetition, of this basic idea that the fossil fuel industry now plays the role in connection to the health of the planet that the tobacco industry played in relation to our health as individuals.  That didn't happen overnight, that change in perception about the tobacco industry.  It took endless amounts of repetition, of work and organizing, and so will this.  But it's the message that needs to get out, that these industries, which had nothing to apologize for back before we knew the science of climate change, are now, in essence, rogue industries....and the political dynamic changes."

Remember these guys?
Fossil fuel corporations have known about climate change since the first scientific studies of the greenhouse effect came out.  But it was only a few months ago that Rex Tillerson, Exxon's CEO, first admitted that humanity's greenhouse emissions cause climate change.  Watching him is uncannily reminiscent of the Seven Dwarves' testimony.
"It's an engineering problem, and there are engineering solutions."  

"Moving crop production areas around." (He's moving his hands around so fast you almost don't notice that he's apparently talking about relocating Iowa, perhaps somewhere North of the border.)

It's overwhelmingly clear that fossil fuel production is an industry that rewards unethical and stupid people.

It's overwhelmingly clear that these companies are exemplars of corporate sociopathy: short-sighted, profit-driven, inattentive, greedy, heedlessly destructive.

Naomi Klein (my nomination for official Smartest Person On The Planet) put it best:

To hit them where it counts, cut off their money supply.

Another exchange with Bill:

WarrenS: It seems to me, Bill, that it's not enough to push the fossil fuel companies out of the way — they have to be replaced with something on an ongoing steady basis, and this is what's so complicated, the renewable sector in our energy economy is so small and we want to simultaneously grow it and get it in there while getting the fossil fuel people out of the way.  Does it fit with environmental ethics to get fossil fuel people involved in renewable energy?

Bill McKibben:  Absolutely.  We talk every night about the need these guys to become energy companies.  The problem is, they won't do it right now because there's too much money to be made on fossil fuel.  The ROI on coal and oil and gas, especially oil and gas, is so high...these companies made $137 billion in profit last year alone; they've been shedding their wind and solar divisions left and right...until we manage to impose on them a really serious price on energy, the odds of that happening are pretty small.

WarrenS:  How do we get them to pay that price?

Bill McKibben: That can only be done politically, in Congress, and via the UN eventually, and that's why we have to diminish the power of the fossil fuel industry, because they've been able for twenty-five years to stop this from happening.  Their power is great enough that it's never come close, even though every economist in the world — literally, every economist! — says "internalize those externalities."

Internalize those externalities.  

It was Boston, so there were lots of college students in the audience.  Bill brought on Naomi to remind us that the campaign for divestment from South Africa was instrumental in bringing about the end of apartheid, and she (with an assist from Desmond Tutu on video) drew the connection between economic and racial injustices and the planetary injustices brought about by our abuse of nature.

Climate change is not just an environmental issue, but a moral issue — the moral issue of our time.  Economic actors who perpetuate such a planet-wide moral outrage must be punished, and corporations know no other form of punishment but an end to their profit margins.

What this means for all of us?

Our personal investment portfolios (snicker), our retirement accounts, our pension funds at work, our colleges' investment portfolios — all the places where our money is put to work earning more money — must stop dealing with the merchants of planetary destruction.  

No more investment in fossil fuels.  

No new investments, starting today.  Old investments tapering off, to end in five years.

Can we do it?

The crowd roars affirmation.

Divestment won't be easy, but as Bill reminds us, changing the laws of physics is impossible.  

We're All In This Together.

Finally, we need to recognize that climate change cannot be disconnected from our economic problems.  To say addressing the environmental crisis would be "economically irresponsible," or that "we can't afford it," is itself egregiously irresponsible, especially as after-the-fact remediation is turning out to be very expensive indeed.  But beyond the fact that a trillion dollars in prevention is worth a quadrillion dollars in cleanup, beyond the cost-benefit analyses, the core fact is that if our economic model hinges on unlimited consumption, our economic model needs to change PDQ, because you can't have unlimited consumption on a limited planet.

Naomi talked about how Occupy reinvented itself as a disaster-relief organization, bringing food and supplies to victims of Hurricane Sandy.  And then she corrected herself, pointing out that Occupy from its inception has always been about providing relief from disasters.  Loud roars of approval.

Bill and Naomi focused mostly on the human costs of climate change, which was appropriate, given that the room was full of humans.  But I'd like to remind everyone that our planet is full of life, all of it sharing the same fundamental molecular building blocks, growing up together under the same sky, the same sun.  Earthly life evolved collaboratively over billions of years, and shows the diversity and beauty of DNA by manifesting in countless forms and systems (including some with the capacity to blog about it).  To disrupt this intricate fabric through the consequences of our own ignorance and irresponsibility...what a fuckin' shame.  I wouldn't like it if a dinosaur-killer hit Earth and wiped out all life, but somehow that's different from doing it to ourselves.

When Buckminster Fuller was a very old man, an interviewer asked him, "Do you ever regret not having the chance to travel on a spaceship?"  Bucky smiled and said, "I am on a spaceship."

As are we all.  

Solutions to the ongoing climate catastrophe may not arrive.  We might never make it to the stars.  It's well within the realm of possibility that the demons we've unleashed are larger and more powerful than any human effort can ever be.  Earthly DNA may have only a slim chance of survival into the next millennium.

But if we — all of us — don't join the fight, that chance goes instantly from slim to none.

The Letters Column
Now, me?  I'm a letters-to-the-editor guy.  As of November 16, I've written 1,053 letters; one a day since January 1, 2010.

My hit rate has been diminishing recently.  I think it's because I've been too successful; LTE editors are more and more likely to say, "Oh, no...not Senders again.  Let's give someone else a shot at 15 seconds of fame."  Googling my name gets a lot of hits, all on the same subject (hasn't brought a lot of people to my blog, though).

So I'd like to change the nature of the game somehow, to get more people involved in writing climate letters on a regular basis.  A lot more people.  

If I can teach how to write 150-word blasts on climate change, then it's not just my voice vying for placement on the op-ed page.  

Your suggestions are eagerly solicited.  Could we organize an LTE blogathon?  I would be happy to do an online workshop or a semi-regular virtual class.

Here are a couple of recent letters, which haven't seen print. Why don't you change around the order of phrases, swap in a few synonyms, and send some out yourself?

The New York Times has an Op-Ed from a guy named Dieter Helm, who argues for a Carbon Tax:
Europe’s “answer” to global warming is wind farms and other current renewables. But the numbers won’t ever add up. It just isn’t possible to reduce carbon emissions much with small-scale disaggregated wind turbines. There isn’t enough land for biofuels, even if corn-based ethanol were a good idea (a questionable proposition). Current renewable-energy sources cannot bridge the gap if we are to move away from carbon-intensive energy production. So we will need new technologies while in the meantime slowing the coal juggernaut.

There are three sensible ways to do this: tax carbon consumption (including imports); accelerate the switch from coal to gas; and support and finance new technologies rather than pouring so much money into wind and biofuels.

Putting a price on carbon is fundamental. If consumers and businesses do not bear the cost of their carbon pollution, they won’t do much about it. This carbon price should not discriminate between locations: global warming is global. If China does not put a price on carbon, and Europe does, then China will effectively receive a huge export subsidy.

The good news is that many new energy technologies are coming down the track: next-generation solar, geothermal and even nuclear technologies, and methods to harness the energy of gravity via the ocean’s tides. There have been major breakthroughs in solar. Work is also under way to develop better energy-storing batteries, smart grids and electric cars. All of those advancements will need public support.

What is missing across Europe, the United States and China is a global agreement on a proper carbon price. More than any other measure, a tax on carbon consumption is what’s needed to slow the warming of the planet.

This one was sent November 12:
At the beginning of the twentieth century, horses provided much of our local transportation.  The early adopters of automobiles faced ridicule, absurd legal constraints, and an economy that was slanted against the needs of drivers.  But eventually equestrian transport moved from a cultural default setting to something far more specialized, and now a ride in a horse-drawn carriage is a secular ritual for important or sentimental occasions.  Naturally, it's more expensive than it was a century ago.

Similarly, consider coal.  For centuries our civilization has been burning these conveniently flammable rocks with profligate disregard both for their antiquity and their damaging effects on our health and our planetary environment.  It is time for us to offer coal an honorable retirement, and focus on energy sources of our own time rather than the concentrated sunlight of the Carboniferous Era.  A carbon tax is a great way to begin this transformation.

Warren Senders

The Athens Banner-Herald (GA) runs a column by one Eugene Linden, who is trying to tell people something:
Even as Sandy underwent its bizarre metamorphosis from hurricane to winter storm, the question arose in many inquiring minds (at least those not beholden to a solemn oath of climate-change denial): Was this historic storm a symptom of global warming? Climate science has two ready answers: Absolutely! And, of course not!

On the one hand, a warming globe makes megastorms more probable, while on the other, it is impossible to pin a global warming sticker on Sandy because the circumstances that turned it into a monster could have been mere coincidence.

There is, however, another way of looking at Sandy that might resolve this debate, and also help frame what we really should be worried about when it comes to global warming: An infrastructure created to defend against historical measures of worst-case natural threats was completely overpowered by this storm.

New York City’s defenses were inadequate, and coastal defenses failed over a swath of hundreds of miles. Around the nation, such mismatches have been repeated ever more frequently in recent years.

This summer, barge owners discovered that dredging in the Mississippi River, predicated on the history of the river’s ups and downs, left it too shallow for commercial traffic because of the intense Midwestern drought. And, famously, levees in New Orleans that were largely through the process of being improved even as Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005 were still breached in 50 places. Then, seven years to the day after Katrina struck, Plaquemines Parish was drowned by Hurricane Isaac in flooding residents described as worse than Katrina’s.

Will the American public wake up?  Details at eleven.  This was sent November 10:
The relationship between global climate change and extreme weather events like Superstorm Sandy, or the drought that devastated America's corn belt this summer cannot be understood without recognizing the big difference between specific causation and systemic causation.  A specific rock broke a specific window; a specific iceberg collided with the Titanic; a specific O-ring failed on the Challenger.  Conversely, a metastatic lung tumor cannot be traced back to a single cigarette, and the catastrophic weather that hammered America's East coast cannot be attributed unambiguously to the accelerating greenhouse effect.  But does this mean that smoking is safe, or that our emissions of carbon dioxide are without effect on the planet's weather systems?  In a word, no.

By conflating these two different kinds of cause, our media has abdicated its responsibility to the citizenry it is supposed to serve.  If we as a nation (indeed, as a species) are to survive and prosper in the coming centuries, we can no longer afford ignorance on matters of basic science.  It is time for all of us to face the facts.

Warren Senders

The Chillicothe Times-Bulletin (IN) has a good column by a chap named Bill Knight, who calls out the deniers nicely:
However, deniers and apologists remain bold. If they're ostriches hiding heads in sand, they're powerful birds. Fox News still tries to legitimize those who deny the evidence, (recently airing a British tabloid's story based on a report by a U.K. agency — which criticized the broadcast as misleading). Besides disinformation, the most disturbing reaction has been from corporations and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson suggests that humans will just adapt to changed climate, saying, "Changes to weather patterns that move crop production areas around — we'll adapt to that."

The Chamber in a brief filed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency urged officials not to regulate carbon: "Should the world's scientists turn out to be right and the planet heats up," the Chamber wrote, "populations can acclimatize to warmer climates via a range of behavioral, physiological and technological adaptations."

More sensible insights come from environmentalist and journalist Bill McKibben, who recently warned about Earth facing three crucial numbers: 2 degrees Celsius (or 3.6 Fahrenheit), the maximum increase in global temperatures that the planet can tolerate; 565 gigatons (a gigaton is 1 billion metric tons), the most carbon dioxide that can be released into the air by midcentury and remain below that 2-degree mark; and 2,795 gigatons, the amount of proven reserves of coal, oil and gas available for burning.

Rupert Murdoch and all those in his sphere of influence are doing irreparable damage to our collective future.  Sent November 9:
Conservative groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce use a lot of doublespeak when they try to explain away the frightening facts of the climate crisis.  What on Earth do they mean when they assert that humanity can adjust to a radically transformed climate "via a range of behavioral, physiological and technological adaptations"?

"Behavioral adaptations" like car-pooling or recycling are worthy activities, to be sure, but they're inadequate coping strategies for a world that's drastically hotter and racked by catastrophic weather events.  Is the Chamber actually just telling us to run for the hills?  And how will "technological adaptations" like electric cars or wind turbines protect us against extreme droughts and superstorms?  "Physiological adaptation" is easy to understand.  It's an Orwellian euphemism for dying in large numbers.

If our species is to prosper in the coming centuries, we must stop denying and distorting the facts of the climate emergency.

Warren Senders

The Southern Oregon Media Group's Mail Tribune reports that Oregon's former SoS is one of those reality-based guys:
Bill Bradbury figures you don't have to be a climate-change expert to know which way the wind is blowing.

The former Oregon secretary of state, who will discuss "Climate Reality" Thursday evening at Southern Oregon University, said he has seen denial over climate change slowly fade since he began giving talks about it in 2006.

"When I first started giving presentations, it was very normal to have a small group of deniers attending," said Bradbury, 63. "Now I don't need to convince anyone that climate change is happening.

"The focus has changed to, 'OK, so what are we going to do about it?' " he added. "There are some who believe there is not much we can do to change the direction we are going. But most believe we can change how we act and affect climate change."

Bradbury was one of the first 50 people trained in Nashville to spread the climate-change gospel according to former Vice President Al Gore. Bradbury has given about 300 presentations on climate change in Oregon, outlining the need to reduce carbon pollution caused by dependence on oil and coal.

In addition to recent weather extremes, including the fact this past July was the hottest on record for the nation, Bradbury will talk about energy needs in Oregon and strategies to reduce carbon pollution. As part of Gore's Climate Reality Project, he met with leading climate change scientists this past summer.

Recent nationwide polls indicate about 70 percent of the population believes the global climate is changing because of human activity.

Will our talking heads pull out of their own rears?  Who the hell knows?  Sent November 13:
While the 2012 election forcefully demonstrated the power of statistical analysis, it should also end the mainstreaming of climate-change denial in our media and politics.  

While Nate Silver's prediction models were astonishingly accurate, he and other statisticians were mocked before the election by commentators relying less on science than on their own inscrutable blends of gut reaction and wishful thinking.  By midnight Tuesday, however, it was clear: real-life numbers didn't match those in the Republican bubble of denial.  Conservatives' cognitive dissonance as mathematical reality overwhelmed their expectations was dramatic (and occasionally hilarious).

Well, the world's climate scientists are numbers-and-facts people, rather like Mr. Silver.  And those same Republican pundits and politicians have denied the science of climate change for decades, ignoring the profoundly troubling results of genuine analysts while extolling the expertise of ideologically-convenient denialists.  Not any more — a superstorm's far more tangible than a 100-EV margin, and when climatic reality finally overwhelms conservative preconceptions, the results won't be funny at all.  

Warren Senders

Well, that's all for now.  It was a fantastic evening.  

Now it's up to us, as it always is.



Originally posted to WarrenS' Blog on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 05:38 PM PST.

Also republished by J Town, Climate Change SOS, Climate Hawks, DK GreenRoots, Bending the Buzz, and Boston Kossacks.

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