Must-read landmark in psychology of climate

March 19, 2014

“What were they thinking?”   We invoke this question on behalf of our descendants to shine a certain unforgiving light on the dissonance between our “understanding” of the climate crisis and our actions.

I don’t think I’ve ever read a more thought-provoking answer to this question than Zadie Smith’s essay in the April New York Review of Books, “Elegy for a Country’s Seasons.”Hedgehog messenger

Don’t let the title fool you.  It does have some moving nostalgia about the wonderful, local things we’re losing to climate disruption.  But that’s not what it’s about.  It’s about our failure to deal, and how we still might.  I’m not sure how much of it I agree with, but I find it haunting.

I quote the end at length.  Yes, it’ll give away the punch line.  But I bet once you read it, you’ll read the rest.

Oh, what have we done!  It’s a biblical question, and we do not seem able to pull ourselves out of its familiar – essentially religious – cycle of shame, denial, and self-flagellation.  This is why (I shall tell my granddaughter) the apocalyptic scenarios did not help – the terrible truth is that we had a profound, historical attraction to apocalypse.  In the end, the only thing that could create the necessary traction in our minds was the intimate loss of the things we loved.  Like when the seasons changed in our beloved little island, or when the lights went out on the fifteenth floor, or the day I went into an Italian garden in early July, with its owner, a woman in her eighties, and upon seeing the scorched yellow earth and withered roses, and hearing what only the really old people will confess – in all my years I’ve never seen anything like it – I found my mind finally beginning to turn from the elegiac what have we done to the practical what can we do?


Why, oming, Why? The “Equality State” goes reality-free

March 18, 2014

Has truth met its match in the Wyoming Legislature?

The State of Wyoming has blocked adoption of the new science standards contained in the national “Common Core” curriculum.  The Star-Tribune reports:coaloverkids7

“[The standards] handle global warming as settled science,” said Rep. Matt Teeters, a Republican from Lingle who was one of the footnote’s authors. “There’s all kind of social implications involved in that that I don’t think would be good for Wyoming.”

Teeters said teaching global warming as fact would wreck Wyoming’s economy, as the state is the nation’s largest energy exporter, and cause other unwanted political ramifications.”

Climate Parents are fighting back.  Stand with them here.


Up4Climate#: Senators pull all nighter to talk reality

March 10, 2014

In a frontal assault on the ecosystem of denial, at least 28 Senators will be up all night tonight, talking about climate.

Up4Climate

Up4Climate

Yakkity-yak, you say, why don’t they do something about it?  Because too many Democrats and all the Republicans are afraid.   On the D side, they’re afraid of Big Fossil’s money, which is poised to pin them on the wrong side of jobs if they act on climate.  On the R side, a few of them are proud climate deniers, but most of them know better.  They too are afraid of Big Fossil, and the prospect that talking like anything but a nut about climate will win them an oil-funded primary challenge from the Tea Party.

So they won’t act on climate.  And if you can’t act, why talk?  And since everybody stopped talking, it reduced the pressure to act.  And so on, til we’re toast.

The Senators are breaking that vicious cycle of silence and denial and inaction.  They are talking.  And the more they talk — the more they spend time and words on the unimaginably grave consequences of doing nothing — the harder it becomes to sit still.The ecosystem of denial cannot, ultimately, withstand direct daylight.

Encourage them here.


Rise. Shine. Truth. Jail.

March 3, 2014

1. 398 young people were arrested yesterday at the White House, protesting the Keystone XL pipeline.  Jamie Henn of 350.org has a quick dispatch here.

“An entire movement has thrown itself into in this Keystone fight, from local frontline groups to big national green organizations,” 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben wrote in an email. “But this weekend shows the power and bravery of some of the most crucial elements: young people, and activists who understand the centrality of environmental justice.”KXL protestors

2. Joe Romm has an important, Oscar-inspired post on climate communications today.  He argues:

The two greatest myths about global warming communications are 1) constant repetition of doomsday messages has been a major, ongoing strategy and 2) that strategy doesn’t work and indeed is actually counterproductive!

These two items are related.  Nothing can break through the fog of denial about the scale of the problem like the courage and resolve of young people going to jail to make the case.  Especially when it’s so difficult to get a reliable read from the news media, one of the best ways to calibrate a threat is by observing the level of urgency with which people respond.  By that measure, we’ve got a long, long way to go to close the gap between what we know about the climate threat and how we’re acting.

We owe a debt of gratitude to the protestors for jumping into the breach.


Seeing red: temperature change over time and by region

February 25, 2014

Yap yap yap, it’s what a blog is for I guess.  But a good climate science picture is worth at least 997 more yaps. And an animated longitudinal data set, well, there just aren’t enough yaps to compare.

This one from NASA packs a wallop.   It’s data, but it’s alive.  53 seconds of eerie, scorching silence.


Go figure: Giant dirty oil pipeline is a climate problem

December 19, 2013

Keystone XL could dramatically increase climate pollution.  So suggests an important new study from the Stockholm Environment Institute, available here.

The authors have identified and fixed a critical flaw in how the question of net climate impact is generally analyzed.  They’ve shown that big capacity additions in global markets have price effects that tend to sustain and expand demand and therefore production over time.  Intuitively, this seems straightforward, but many economic models miss this effect.

In a sane world, this would not be news.  The pipeline is designed for the express purpose of mainlining up to 830,000 barrels per day of extremely carbon intensive fuel into global energy markets.  It should hardly be surprising or contentious that climate-wise, it sucks.Dog bites man

And yet the President raised the question in his historic June climate speech, promising to reject the permit for Keystone if it “significantly exacerbates the problem of climate pollution.”  At the time, the State Department’s scandalously flawed draft EIS had already given us reasons to worry that he would arrive at the wrong answer.

This part of the President’s speech was a big surprise – the pundits said he would avoid KXL like the plague.  But we still don’t really know what he meant.  It’s been a bit of a Rohrschach test for climate advocates.

Eric de Place at Sightline thought it means we’re toast.  This freaked me out, because Eric’s a flippin genius.  However, I remain hopeful – if only by sheer will – that the President’s climate test on KXL will turn out to be a watershed, and a good one.  Just the fact that he made climate impact a dispositive test is huge, a genie that can’t be rebottled.  Regardless of what he meant or how he intends to apply the test, it establishes and highlights a vital principle for climate action:  first, we have to stop making it irrevocably worse (the Keystone Principle).  (The principle has conspicuously not been applied to other critical federal actions, like environmental review of coal export, or coal leasing.)

The claim that KXL will not meaningfully increase climate pollution rests first on the assumption that the Alberta tar sands will be fully exploited, with or without the pipeline.  This has been roundly and repeatedly refuted.  But what bugs me most about it is the implicit fatalism.  The tar sands are one of the largest global carbon pools that must remain in the ground if we are to stabilize the climate before it spirals out of control.  Assuming that they will be fully vaporized is simply capitulating to climate disruption, and to the fossil-fueled tyranny that keeps us careening toward this cliff with no accountability, no policy, no democratic control of our institutions.  It seems like an innocent analytical assumption, but it amounts to ratifying Jim Hansen’s dire warning:  Game over.

Surely that is not what the President meant when he posed this test, toward the end of his rousing climate speech, in which he effectively said for the first time, Game On.  When he talks about Keystone now, his message is basically, “Settle down.”  He complains that everyone is overblowing it:  the proponents vastly overstate its economic benefits, while opponents exaggerate its climate impacts.  He seems irked that this has become a defining test of his resolve on climate.   He gets cover from liberal opinion leaders like Eric Chait, who contend that Keystone is the wrong fight.

Like Joe Romm, I strenuously disagree; I think it’s a fair and appropriate and vital test.  Keystone is both a conspicuous example and a powerful symbol for the single most important and immediate thing we must do to execute a winning climate strategy:  stop making long-term fossil fuel infrastructure investments that make the problem not just worse, but completely intractable.

But whether Eric Chait or Joe Romm or even the President himself thinks Keystone is the ideal test of his commitment to responsible climate action is now completely beside the point.  The emerging climate movement made it the real-world test.    The only question left is whether the President will pass or fail it.


“We can stop this madness”: Philippines climate negotiator begins hunger strike

November 12, 2013

You can donate to relief efforts for the victims of Haiyan here.

And you can do something for the prospective victims of still-preventable climate disasters here.  And here.


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