The Star: Top climate scientists urge Canadians to vote strategically

October 9, 2008

From the Toronto Star, with a hat tip to The Stop Stephen Harper Blog and another excellent blog, Thoughts on Climate Change:

VANCOUVER–More than 120 of Canada’s top climate scientists have signed an open letter criticizing Conservative government policy and urging Canadians to vote “strategically” for the environment in next week’s federal election.”Global warming is the defining issue of our time,” said Andrew Weaver, a lead author with last year’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

But Weaver said Tuesday that Stephen Harper’s government “has yet to get engaged in the innovative and urgent policies that we need to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Canada.”

This is shaping up to be “the rare election in which the environment is the issue,” said the group’s John Stone.

Read the entire article here.

Tomgram: Chip Ward, Sarah Palin’s Holy War on Nature

September 23, 2008

Way back in September 2005, not so long after Katrina hit New Orleans and Americans discovered just what the Bush administration was — and wasn’t — capable of, environmental activist and author Chip Ward wrote a piece for TomDispatch, “Left Behind,” on “Bush’s holy war on nature.” In it he outlined just what that administration was, in fact, quite skilled at doing. He wrote, in part:

“During their time in power, Bush’s officials have worked systematically and energetically to undo half a century of environmental law and policy based on hard-learned lessons about how to sustain healthy environments. Strikingly, they have failed to protect the environment even when they could have done so without repercussions from special-interest campaign contributors. Something more is going on.”

While the administration’s “holy war on nature” has certainly gotten some real attention, issue by issue, in the mainstream media, its totality, its enormity has seldom been fully assessed. Now, John McCain has picked a vice presidential candidate who, as Ward, reminds us, is guaranteed to continue that same holy war — in her case, with special fervor. The media and Internet feeding frenzy on Sarah Palin has been… well, frenzied beyond belief. This piece, however, goes to the heart of what matters when it comes to the Alaskan governor. Tom

The Evolution of John McCain

Why He Picked Sarah Palin, Carbon Queen

By Chip Ward
Despite the media feeding frenzy, we still may be asking ourselves, “Just who exactly is Sarah Palin?” Mixed in with the Davy-Crockett-meets-SuperMom vignettes — all those moose hunting, ice fishing, snowmobiling, baby-juggling, and hockey-momming moments — we’ve also learned that she doesn’t care much for her former brother-in-law and wasn’t afraid to use her office to go after his job as a state trooper; that she was for the “bridge to nowhere” before she was against it; that she’s against earmarks unless they benefit her constituents; that she can deliver a snappy wisecracking speech, thinks banning books in libraries is okay, considers herself a pit bull with lipstick, and above all else, wants to drill the ever-lovin’ daylights out of every corner of her home state (which John McCain’s handlers have somehow translated into being against Big Oil, since she insisted on a marginally bigger cut of the profits for Alaskans).

Oh, and — not that this is very important to Americans or the planet — she now thinks that global warming might possibly be human-made… sorta… though she didn’t before, despite the fact that the state she governs is on the frontline of climate change. And, of course, she’s a classic right-wing, fundamentalist Christian: against abortion — check; against same-sex marriage — check; against stem-cell research — check; favors teaching Creationism in public schools — check.

It’s that last item, her willingness to put Creationism up against the teaching of evolutionary science in the classroom on a he-says-she-says basis, that’s far more revealing of just who our new Republican vice presidential candidate is than we generally assume. It deserves the long, hard look that it hasn’t yet gotten. Most Democrats and progressives tend to think of the teaching of Creationism as a mere sidebar item on their agenda of political don’t-likes, but it’s not. Sarah Palin’s bias towards Creationism is a window into her political soul and a measure of John McCain’s hypocrisy.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

Tomgram: Elizabeth de la Vega, Those Hard Rains Are Gonna Fall

July 24, 2008

Call it a bizarre water season or think of it as our future. In the Midwest, 500-year level floods. That means hydrologists believe that “a flood of this magnitude has a 0.2 percent chance (1 in 500) of happening in a given year in a specific location.” Of course, the last 500-year Midwestern floods happened only an uncomfortable 15 years ago in 1993. In the Southwest and Southeast, there have been droughts that, in the last year, have threatened to outrun recorded history, and then, of course, there’s California. That state has received a “record lack of rainfall” — state capital Sacramento got only 0.17 of an inch of rain this spring, thoroughly wiping out the previous record set in 1934. The result, of course, has left the state burning up well before its normal fire season officially begins about now.

You might think that Mother Nature, acting like some vengeful goddess, was sending a message to our legislators, but, as former federal prosecutor Elizabeth de la Vega points out below, don’t count on them paying much attention. We seem, in short, to be up a swollen creek without a paddle. (Or is it a dry gulch with lots of tinder and too many matches?) De la Vega “indicted” George W. Bush at this site back in November 2006 and wrote the popular book — a TomDispatch spinoff — United States v. George W. Bush et al.. She now returns focused on a remarkably crucial long-term problem — water — and a remarkably consistent, do-nothing Congress. Tom

Our National Water Policy…

Oh, Wait, We Don’t Have One
By Elizabeth de la Vega

“Lisa, the whole reason we have elected officials is so we don’t have to think all the time. Just like that rainforest scare a few years back. Our officials saw there was a problem and they fixed it, didn’t they?” — Homer Simpson

On June 24, 2008, Louie and I curled up on the couch to watch seven of the nation’s foremost water resources experts testify before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.

This was a new experience for us. For my part, the issue to be addressed — “Comprehensive Watershed Management Planning” — was certainly a change of pace from the subjects I ordinarily follow in Judiciary and Intelligence Committee hearings. I wasn’t even entirely sure what a “watershed” was. I knew that, in a metaphorical sense, the word referred to a turning point, but I was a bit fuzzy about its meaning in the world of hydrology. (It’s the term used to describe “all land and water areas that drain toward a river or lake.”)

What was strange from Louie’s point of view was not the topic of the day, but that we were stuck in the house. Usually at that hour, we’d be working in the backyard, where he can better leverage his skill set, which includes chasing squirrels, digging up tomato plants, eating wicker patio chairs, etc. On this particular afternoon, however, the typically cornflower-blue San Jose sky was the color of wet cement, and thick soot was charging down from the nearby Santa Cruz Mountains. Sitting outside would have been about as pleasant as relaxing in a large ashtray.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

Tomgram: Bill McKibben, The Defining Moment for Climate Change

May 15, 2008

Already climate change — in the form of a changing pattern of global rainfall — seems to be affecting the planet in significant ways. Take the massive, almost decade-long drought in Australia’s wheat-growing heartland, which has been a significant factor in sending flour prices, and so bread prices, soaring globally, leading to desperation and food riots across the planet.

A report from the Bureau of Meteorology in Australia makes clear that, despite recent heavy rains in the eastern Australian breadbasket, years of above normal rainfall would be needed “to remove the very long-term [water] deficits” in the region. The report then adds this ominous note: “The combination of record heat and widespread drought during the past five to 10 years over large parts of southern and eastern Australia is without historical precedent and is, at least partly, a result of climate change.”

Think a bit about that phrase — “without historical precedent.” Except when it comes to technological invention, it hasn’t been much part of our lives these last many centuries. Without historical precedent. Brace yourselves, it’s about to become a commonplace in our vocabulary. The southeastern United States, for instance, was, for the last couple of years, locked in a drought — which is finally easing — “without historical precedent.” In other words, there was nothing (repeat, nothing) in the historical record that provided a guide to what might happen next.

Now, it’s true that the industrial revolution, which led to the release of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere at historically unprecedented rates, was also, in a sense, “without historical precedent”; but most natural events — unlike, say, the present staggering ice melt in the Arctic — have been precedented (if I can manufacture such a word). They have been part of the historical record. That era — the era of history — is now, however, threatening to give way to a period capable of outrunning history itself, of outrunning us.

The planet in its long existence may have experienced the extremes to come, but we haven’t. The planet, unlike much life on it, may not — given millions or tens of millions of years to recover — be in danger, but we are.

When you really think about it, history is humanity. It’s common enough to talk about some historical figure or failed experiment being swept into the “dustbin of history,” but what if all history and that dustbin, too, go… well, where? What are we, really, without our records? Once we pass beyond them, beyond all the experience we’ve collected, written down, and archived since those first scratches went on clay tablets in the lands of the Tigris and Euphrates — now being stripped of their cultural patrimony — at least two unanswerable questions arise. Once history has been left in the dust, where are we? — and, who are we?

Let the indefatigable environmentalist Bill McKibben, who has a powerful urge to stop us just short of the cliff of the post-historical era, take it from here. Tom

Click here to read more of this dispatch.