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The Climate Letter Project has entered its fourth year.  

Every damn day, I write a Letter to the Editor on climate change.  I'm now up to somewhere over 1,140 letters.  Yay, me.  A considerable number get printed.  All these letters can be found at Running Gamak, with various useful key words, should you wish to use one as a model for one of your own LTEs — hint, hint, hint.

Writing these letters has trained me to form ideas in 150-word bursts.  It's twitter at the word level.  One idea only, no more.  Analogies are good.  I sometimes think of it as a bumper sticker, simply explained.  

My post-election hit rate has gone up; since the new year I've had seven hits, which is a heck of a lot better than I was doing in November, let me tell you.

Today's diary follows the usual pattern: the letters I've written that have seen paper or electronic exposure over the past few weeks, arranged in a standardized format, with occasional asides or interjections from me.  

The subject material is grim.  Who enjoys writing about the destruction of the planet?  I'd rather be writing about music or education...but this is more important.  

For the most part, it's more a chore than a joy, but the work of these letters was succinctly described in this comment by my friend gmoke:

"What you are doing is a daily practice of conscience.  You are practicing Gandhian non-violence."
I'm wearing my feelings closer to the surface in my middle age, I swear.  The notion of myself as practicing Gandhian non-violence brought (and brings) me to the edge of tears.

But I digress.  While for the most part my routine includes the climate letter as a function of the daily drudgery, every so often there comes an article which demands a letter, which seizes me by the eyeballs and commands me to write.  

Today's compilation begins with one such.  

I first saw Megan Kimble's piece, "Date With A Climate-Change Denier" in a Western magazine called High Country News, and it struck me that she had barely scratched the surface of why a relationship with such a person is an exceptionally bad idea.  After a few peregrinations, my letter did find print, and stirred up a bit of a kerfuffle, too.

Follow me below the squigglies...

In the High Country News, Megan Kimble writes about her "Date With A Climate-Change Denier."  It's a good piece:
He nodded and thought this over. "Do you think this whole climate change thing is going to catch on?"

"What do you mean?"

"You know, 'global warming'?" His voice wore italics and, though his hands didn't leave the table, his fingers became bobbing quotation marks.

I opened my mouth and paused. He smiled that uncomfortable first-date smile and took a sip of his beer.

Hmm, I thought. Yes. The climate is changing, has changed, and humans are central to the story. Sheets of ice are cleaving away from glaciers and more and more carbon dioxide and methane molecules are swarming through the atmosphere, heating it up, and they will continue to do so whether or not the "idea" of global warming, you know, "catches on."

My date took another sip of beer and stared at me with the blue eyes that had prompted me to give him my phone number in the first place.

"I think climate change already has caught on?" I said, hating how my voice rose into a question mark. "I think it's happening? And I think a lot of people agree that, um, it's a … big deal," I said.

"Hmm," he said, and nodded, considering this. He smiled, and in a teasing, flirtatious tone, said, "So you're all into that, the global warming stuff?"

Some believe that the climate deniers will just die out. Not many in my generation get riled up about interracial marriage, for instance -- it is, for most of us, entirely a non-issue -- and many say that attitudes toward climate change could similarly shift with time. The academic term for old ideas dying along with old people is called "cohort replacement," and according to this logic, all we have to do is wait.

According to this logic, however, an eligible young woman does not find herself on a date with a very cute 28-year-old man who puts "global warming" in quotation marks.

"Well … I sort of don't think climate change is something to be believed in," I said haltingly. "I mean, it kind of … is." I hesitated, wondering, should I go further?

This letter was surprisingly difficult to write, perhaps because I couldn't go with any of the regular formulae that have now become pretty much second nature.  Sent 12/12/12:
While it may not be possible to screen your dates for "acceptance of climate change," as Megan Kimble imagines in her entertaining article on the problems of dating climate-change deniers, there are many reasons to suggest that those who reject scientific evidence are poor relationship material.

Those who deny the ominously accelerating greenhouse effect are choosing to live in their own more convenient version of reality.  Uncomfortable facts are excluded, straightforward facts and figures rationalized and massaged, data cherry-picked to demonstrate opposite meanings — these characteristic denialist behaviors are also key ingredients in dysfunctional and abusive relationships.  By mocking the overwhelming climatological consensus, Ms. Kimble's hunky date showed he's the kind of guy who thinks words and facts mean exclusively what he wants them to mean — no more, no less.  It goes without saying he's hardly relationship material.  

Similarly, America's political and media systems need to end their romance with the well-funded climate denial industry.  Both our policies and the public discussion of them must be founded in reality, not rooted in fantasy — and this is nowhere more important than on the issue of climate change, a threat larger than any our species has faced in recorded history.

Warren Senders

UPDATE: This didn't get into the High Country News, but the article was reprinted on January 12 in the Salt Lake Tribune, so I sent them this letter unaltered.

And they published it.

And it promptly accrued almost 100 comments, the overwhelming majority of which are from climate-change denialists who think both Megan Kimble and I are poopy-heads.  Read 'em and weep.


If you're interested in some of the processes I use in generating these letters, here are a couple of links to my blog, where you can see everything I write (all the stuff that never makes it to print), along with a couple of how-to articles, like this, and this, and this.

Okay, back to letters.  Next up, Down Under!


The Canberra Times runs an op-ed by a chap named Nicholas Stuart, who gets the brass ring:
Even if you still believe there is doubt about the specific linkage between carbon dioxide emissions and the rising global temperature - and I do not believe there is - there can be no doubt about the increasing incidence of extreme climatic events. The hottest January on record resulted in terrible bushfires across the nation, while at the same time we've suffered devastating floods in the tropical north: Australia can no longer rely on ''global action'' to avoid the catastrophe that climate change represents.

Yet you would not know this listening to what passes for political debate in this country. Politicians still seem to believe that all that is required during a natural disaster is for them to tour the affected area, nodding sympathetically and promising relief.

Environmental catastrophe is framed as the ''work of nature'' and therefore inexplicable. By pretending we cannot comprehend why this is happening we absolves ourselves from dealing with reality. This means that individuals can avoid the hard choices about the future while society pretends it can still afford to ''nationalise'' the losses. A far better way of coming to terms with the way the climate is changing is provided by the internal workings of insurance companies.

Businesses don't deal in academic theory. They deal in reality. That's why the cost of insuring against damage caused by natural disasters is climbing, because the companies realise that the chance of these events is increasing. There's nothing ideological about this and certainly no pro-Labor bias at work.

The opposition needs to explain immediately how it will deal with climate change because the holes in its current program are so large, and urgency so absent, that one inevitably returns to the possibility that Tony Abbott doesn't believe in climate change at all.

Aye.  Sent Feb. 5.
Nicholas Stuart has it exactly right in his description of climate change as an existential crisis.  We humans have faced other crises of our own creation before this; the life-shattering forces of war and the morally overwhelming phenomena of slavery and genocide come to mind.  But these, all-encompassing and inescapable though they may be, have always played out on a planetary stage that has changed its shape slowly if at all.  The climate crisis, rendering our feeble political systems incompetent and impotent, is a threat of an entirely different nature.

War, slavery, and injustice transpire on a historical timescale of decades and centuries, while climatic processes have taken place over millennia, over eons.  Now, climatic transformations are happening with the speed of war.  With our wasteful consumer economies and our fossil fuel addictions, we have unwittingly triggered an auto-immune response from the natural environment upon which our lives depend.  Our species' continued survival hinges on how rapidly we can understand these facts and their implications.

Warren Senders


This next one is interesting.

Usually I write to newspapers, relatively often to newsmagazines.  I was published in Time once, some of you may recall.  I still write to them, but I doubt they'll call on me anytime soon.  Same with USA Today

Depending on the paper, a letter selected for publication may not see print for a week or longer.  Often I am contacted by the papers to authenticate my submission, the usual alert that it may be printed.  BTW, Murdoch papers never call to confirm that I am who I say I am.  Just sayin'.

Anyway, the usual turnaround time for a letter to show up in your local fishwrap is 4-5 days, sometimes less.

I submitted the letter below to the Chronicle of Higher Education, and it was published — forty-five minutes later.  A magazine catering to smart people.  What a concept.

Anyway, per aspera ad astra:


The Chronicle of Higher Education notes that fossil-fuel divestment turns out to hold little or no liability for college endowments:
College-endowment managers who resist the growing call to divest their holdings in fossil-fuel companies may be doing so for little or no financial reason, according to a new report.

An analysis released on Tuesday by the Aperio Group, an investment-management firm that offers its clients a “socially responsible index,” among other investment strategies, found that while divesting from fossil-fuel companies does not necessarily add value to a portfolio, it does not subtract value from it either, and it increases the risk to investors at such a modest level as to be negligible.

In recent months, student groups at more than 200 colleges across the country have begun pushing their institutions to divest from fossil-fuel companies. A handful of smaller institutions, including Unity College and Hampshire College, have recently adopted strategies to reduce their investments in such companies, but most colleges have responded warily to the notion.

No doubt part of that wariness is that fossil-fuel companies are viewed as reliable profit generators, and divesting from them is seen as a financial handicap, even less attractive at a time when endowments have struggled because of the recession.

Because we won't be responsible if it costs us anything.  Sent January 31:
While it's encouraging to know that college endowments aren't likely to suffer from shedding fossil-fuel investments, divestment would be a good idea regardless of its economic impacts on university portfolios.  The business model of big oil and coal companies is profoundly destructive, relying as it does on reintroducing millions of years' worth of fossilized carbon into the atmosphere each year in a geological eyeblink, without regard for the climatic consequences.

While "bottom-line" rationales are popular and convenient, we must remember that one of the deepest goals of higher education is the inculcation of a broad sense of responsibility to and for the greater social good.   We do not teach subjects; we teach human beings — and the quality of our teaching is reflected in our students' commitment to a better future.

And there is no surer guarantee of a worse future than continued support of fossil fuels.  They may be hugely profitable, but fossil fuel corporations epitomize an irresponsible disregard for our shared Earthly heritage and the continued happiness and prosperity of our descendants, and colleges and universities investing in them are abdicating their institutional responsibilities to our common posterity.

Warren Senders


The Tar Sands.  The fucking Tar Sands.

Remember this photo?

Here's a diary I wrote on how to write a letter about the Tar Sands.  In Fucking 2011, for FSM's sake.

I know just how that lady feels.


The Toronto Star reflects on the Keystone XL:
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, joined by 10 U.S. governors, released a letter recently urging President Barack Obama to swiftly approve the Keystone XL pipeline project.

As always, the argument is simple, and narrowly framed: 1. Canada has a lot of oil and the U.S. needs oil. 2. We don’t have enough pipeline capacity to handle our ambition for unconstrained growth in oilsands production. 3. Building the pipeline will create jobs.

What could be simpler? Nothing — as long as you pretend climate change doesn’t exist and don’t make it part of the conversation.

Post-Hurricane Sandy and scorching heat waves in the mid-west, that’s becoming a less tenable argument, at least in the U.S. In his second inaugural address, Obama called attention to the need for action on climate change, calling for America to lead the transition to sustainable energy sources. It’s an important reminder that we need to look at the issue through a different frame, one that pipeline project proponents and many in government are trying hard to avoid.

Scientists are telling us that, to avoid the worst effects of climate change, greenhouse gas emissions need to peak by 2017 and drop drastically by 2050. The International Energy Agency (IEA) — a leading voice on energy research and analysis of which Canada is a member — recently reported that unless we change course, by 2017 the energy infrastructure will be in place to produce the emissions that will take us across the 2°C warming threshold. The U.S. and Canada (under our current federal government), along with many other countries, have agreed to work to avoid crossing this threshold, the point at which our climate may become seriously destabilized. Furthermore, the IEA tells us that, to stay under 2°C warming, two-thirds of all known fossil fuel reserves will have to stay in the ground.

Never mention the CC word.  Ever.  Sent January 24:
The economic arguments for exploiting the tar sands — oil is cheap; society needs that energy to continue economic growth —  are analogous to the self-serving rationalizations of addicts everywhere.

Oil's always been expensive; we've just left its significant costs for our descendants to pay.  Neither post-extraction cleanup or public health impacts are usually included in our calculations — and, of course, the catastrophic consequences of accelerating climate change must never be mentioned or considered.

The economic growth argument is a failure both on intellectual (we live on a finite planet) and moral (recall Edward Abbey's statement that growth for its own sake is "the ideology of the cancer cell") grounds.

The Keystone pipeline's not just a single disaster in the making, but multiple disasters on different scales of size and time.  For the sake of our posterity, the Tar Sands oil must stay in the ground.

Warren Senders


The daily headlines offer some powerful opportunities for framing.  This letter was written shortly after the Newtown shooting, and I was pretty fucking mad.  I think it shows, even though I try to keep an erudite tone.  I'm kind of amazed that they published it.


The Duluth Tribune runs an op-ed from George Erickson, advocating that we, um, pay attention and actually, you know, do something:
Some people might argue the distractions of the holidays and the fiscal cliff made the New Year a poor time to address climate change. But neither of those issues was as important as the shocking examples of climate change delivered by 2012 — one right after another.

While the fossil-fuel industries have spent millions on anything-for-a-buck campaigns to continue the status quo, nature has been shouting at us — and often has gone unheard.

In 2012, the U.S. set more than 4,000 daily high-temperate records, and that was just in July. Drought spread across 80 percent of the country, leaving Lake Meade so low the intakes for Hoover Dam’s generators may soon have to be lowered, which would reduce the dam’s generating capacity. Across the West, wildfires blackened 9 million acres of forest, while in the North, Lake Superior reached a record high temperature. Now add the damage wrought by Hurricane Sandy and the abnormal onslaught of 39 late-season tornadoes that prowled the South on Christmas Day.

Sleepers, wake!  Sent January 13:
Just as firearms advocates are always telling us not to discuss gun control in the aftermath of a shooting, politicians and media figures have been saying for years that while sometime in the future might be a good time to discuss climate change, we don't have the political will to do it now.  The NRA's argument loses any moral authority it might have claimed once shootings start happening every day — and those who've been trying to delay discussion of the greenhouse effect and our future on a climate-transformed planet must abandon their position once it's clear that such a future is here already.  With superstorms, crippling droughts, devastating heat waves, and anomalous weather events happening every day around the world, ignorance is no longer a viable option.

If we fail to address climate change in a comprehensive and scientifically-grounded way, our children won't get to address it at all.

Warren Senders


The one and only citisven was kind enough to send me an actual hard copy of this one from his hometown paper — first time ever published in the Chronicle, though I've been sending them stuff since the beginning.


The San Francisco Chronicle reports on one of our technological back-up plans:
One afternoon last fall, Armand Neukermans, a tall engineer with a sweep of silver bangs, flipped on a noisy pump in the back corner of a Sunnyvale lab. Within moments, a fine mist emerged from a tiny nozzle, a haze of salt water under high pressure and heat.

It didn't look like much. But this seemingly simple vapor carries a lot of hope - and inspires a lot of fear. If Neukermans' team of researchers can fine-tune the mechanism to spray just the right size and quantity of salt particles into the sky, scientists might be able to make coastal clouds more reflective.

The hope is that by doing so, humankind could send more heat and light back into space, wielding clouds as shields against climate change.

The fear, at least the one cited most often, is that altering the atmosphere this way could also unleash dangerous side effects.

"Ten years ago, people would have said this is totally wacky," Neukermans said. "But it could give us some time if global warming really becomes catastrophic."

When, not if.  Sent January 6:
While the prospect of geoengineering technologies for mitigating climate change's effects is terrifying, the crisis allows for no non-terrifying outcomes.  We're midway through a mass extinction of a magnitude unprecedented in human history; our greenhouse emissions have achieved a critical mass sufficient to forestall an ice age 50,000 years from now (even if we completely stopped burning fossil fuels today); melting methane in the Arctic has transformed the "Venus effect" from a never-in-a-million-years nightmare to a statistically significant probability.  

There's no single cause of the climate disaster, and no single solution. But the business-as-usual approach which has brought us to this point must be rejected; we humans must transform ourselves, our communities, and our nations — putting the survival of our species above our short-term gratification.  Armand Neukermans' work on increasing cloud reflectivity could never as dangerously uncontrolled an experiment on Earth's atmosphere as the multi-century endeavor known as industrial civilization.

Warren Senders


Culture and Philosophy Break

And when I'm not writing letters, what then?

I'm a music teacher by profession.  I love my work; I love my students; I love the songs I sing.  

But I am plagued by doubt.  Is music really a great healer, a great consoler, a great unifier — or is it ultimately a distraction from the ongoing struggle against those who are wrecking our beautiful planet?

Can I in good conscience teach and transmit the songs I learned at my Master's feet in India, when the very existence of a human future into which my tradition extends is now cast in doubt?

This is a song in the raga Tilak Kamod in the thumri style; part of a concert I gave in the Indian city of Nashik two years ago.

And is it even possible for me to still my voice?

In my darkest moments I think to myself that as a musician I will have an important obligation should our greatest fears come to pass; I must comfort and console my sistren and brethren as the end approaches.  After all, a gig's a gig.

What do you think?

Okay, here's the last two letters in today's compilation.  Enjoy, if that's the right word.


The Honolulu Weekly notes that climate change has arrived in Hawaii:
For years we’ve been hearing ominous rumblings about climate change and its many implications for the planet, especially Hawaii and other islands in the Western Pacific. The scenarios fueled by a rapidly expanding body of science are sobering: rising temperatures and prolonged droughts, dying coral reefs and dwindling fish stocks. Rising sea levels will eventually, for some atolls and low-lying areas of Hawaii, bring total inundation.

“We have lots and lots of science,” says Jesse Souki, director of the Office of State Planning (OSP). “We have a pretty good idea of what the problem is, and what’s going to happen. The hard part is figuring out what to do about it.”

The islands make a good hook for a standard screed on GOP idiocy.  Sent January 4:
Hawaii isn't alone.  Every day, nations, states, regions and communities around the world are finding that climate change is no longer an abstraction but a difficult and sometimes dangerous reality.  When the weather goes haywire, farmers can't plan.  When out-of-season storms start happening more and more often, the whole notion of "season" goes out the window — along with vulnerable infrastructure.  When mountaintop ice vanishes, people in the valleys who've depended on glacial melt for their water are forced from the land they've occupied for millennia.  And when islands are under threat from rising sea levels, tourism may take a back seat to simple survival.

But while people everywhere on Earth are waking up to the threat of climate chaos, there is still one place where the rapidly metastasizing greenhouse effect has failed to make an impact.  In the offices and caucus rooms of Congressional Republicans, global warming is still a liberal hoax, not a potentially devastating reality.  While these conservative lawmakers may answer to different constituencies, they all represent, ultimately, the same state of denial.

Warren Senders

The Capitol Times (Madison, WI) has a nuanced discussion of climate denial in the educational system. What's happening in WI is happening everywhere.
The far right dominates the world of “climate change denial,” which Wikipedia defines as: “A set of organized attempts to downplay, deny or dismiss the scientific consensus on the extent of global warming, its significance, and its connection to human behavior, especially for commercial or ideological reasons.”

You don’t even need to leave the state to find one of the nation’s leading practitioners. In a PBS “Frontline” program titled “Climate of Doubt” that aired in October, U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls, argued that scientists have failed to convince Congress about global warming.

Which brings me to Casey Meehan, born in Janesville and educated at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. For six years, Meehan taught high school psychology and history in the Janesville and Monona Grove school districts before returning to UW-Madison to pursue a Ph.D. in education.

Meehan has just finished his dissertation on how climate change is taught in Wisconsin schools. You might not be surprised by his conclusion: Unlike most subjects on which there is scientific consensus, with climate change the human role typically is taught as an open question.

Meehan’s initial focus upon returning to school was environmental education, but he says he noticed that not much had been written about the teaching of climate change.

“I started thinking more about how climate change is such an ideologically polarizing topic, and I was just curious about how schools were dealing with that,” he told me in an interview. “How are they teaching this topic that the public thinks a range of things about, but scientists think something very specifically about?”

Yup.  December 31:
Once upon a time, political conservatives were simply cautious people who feared change — especially change that threatened their economic security or social position, as witness their early opposition to such mainstays of American society as Social Security.  But somehow over the past few decades, conservatism has become resistant, not to change, but to reality itself.  While this is evident in their responses to issues like marriage equality and immigration policy, nowhere does it do so much harm as in the politicized discussion of the climate crisis.

Thanks to the Right's relentless demonization of scientists and environmentalists, even the most anodyne statements about the natural world are now considered too controversial for free discussion in schools, as demonstrated by Casey Meehan's illuminating study of the problems Wisconsin teachers face in addressing climate change.  The fact that educators cannot address scientific reality in their classrooms without risking parental backlash is a sad commentary on scientific literacy in America — and a demonstration that conservatism has become a grotesque parody of its former self.

Warren Senders


All right, dear ones, that's it.  Go and write some letters.  Type "climate change news" into your searchbar, and poke around until you find something that tickles you a bit.  If one person starts doing daily climate letters because of this diary, our effectiveness has just doubled.  

I sure wish I could come to DC.  




"Forward On Climate" Blogathon: February 11 - February 15, 2013
Diary Schedule - All Times Pacific


Please join tens of thousands of Americans on the National Mall in Washington, DC on Feb. 17 from 12:00 pm-4:00 pm to urge President Barack Obama to take immediate action on Climate Change.  

President Obama has now listed Climate Change as an important part of his second term agenda. Legislative proposals and debate will occur in Congress.  President Obama can take executive action to move Forward on Climate now; he can reject the toxic Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.  A recent study in Canada has linked tar sands with cancer, something First Nations groups have reported for years - with the result being increased cancer rates, deformed wildlife, and a variety of other negative impacts.  President Obama can also direct the Environmental Protection Agency to set carbon standards for power plants.

Let your voice be heard.


Our Daily Kos community organizers (Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse, citisven, boatsie, JekyllnHyde, rb137, and peregrine kate) coordinated this blogathon with Bill McKibben of to help spread the word.

  • Monday, February 11

7:30 am: A Siegel.
11:00 am: citisven.
1:00 pm: Shaye Wolf, Climate Science Director for Center for Biological Diversity.
3:00 pm: Van Jones, President and Co-Founder of Rebuild the Dream.
4:00 pm: Glen the Plumber.
5:00 pm: Kitsap River.

  • Tuesday, February 12

11:00 am: Allison Fisher, Outreach Director for Public Citizen's Energy Program.
1:00 pm: Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., President of the Hip Hop Caucus.
3:00 pm: gregladen.
5:00 pm: WarrenS.

  • Wednesday, February 13

11:00 am: Jeremy Bloom.
1:00 pm: Congressman Ed Markey, Democratic Candidate for 2013 United States Senate MA Special Election.
3:00 pm: FishOutofWater.
5:00 pm: Roger Fox.

  • Thursday, February 14

11:00 am: Marty Cobenais (Ojibwe), U.S. Pipeline & Heavy Haul Resistance Organizer for Indigenous Environmental Network. Liveblogging with Tom Goldtooth (Dine' and Dakota), Executive Director of IEN and Oglala Sioux Tribal Vice President Tom Poor Bear.
1:00 pm: rb137.
3:00 pm: James Wells.
5:00 pm: jlms qkw.

  • Friday, February 15

10:00 am: Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, Chief Executive Officer of Green For All.
11:00 am: Agathena.
3:00 pm: DWG.
5:00 pm: JekyllnHyde.

Please remember to republish these diaries to your Daily Kos Groups.  You can also follow all postings by clicking this link for the Climate Change SOS Blogathon Group.  Then, click 'Follow' and that will make all postings show up in 'My Stream' of your Daily Kos page.

Originally posted to Climate Change SOS on Tue Feb 12, 2013 at 05:00 PM PST.

Also republished by DK GreenRoots, Climate Hawks, and Bending the Buzz.

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