The Climate in Emergency

A weekly blog on science, news, and ideas related to climate change


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6 Steps to Save the World from President Trump

This post includes a lot of material that actually showed up in the last two posts, but as my list has evolved and gotten more useful, I thought I’d share the updated version. It’s less a discussion and more of a simple to-do list. These items are listed in rough order of priority, since some have deadlines coming up soon. Please pass this around. Thank you.

1. Maybe Keep Mr. Trump Out of Office

No, getting Trump impeached is a bad idea. For one thing, that would give us President Pence, and that would be worse. But there are other options–all long shots, but still viable.

  1. Demand a recount. Jill Stein is organizing recounts in several key states. The Clinton campaign has joined the effort. Neither Dr. Stein nor Ms. Clinton expect to change the outcome of the election this way (and Dr. Stein does not care whether Mr. Trump or Ms. Clinton is president), the objective is only to stand up for fair play. But there is a chance. Check Dr. Stein’s website to see if she needs money or other assistance.
  2. Ask Republican electors to vote for Hillary Clinton instead. So-called “faithless electors” must pay a fine or other penalty in some states, but their votes are still valid, and this flexibility is exactly why the Electoral College exists. There is no official process for contacting the electors, but many are public figures and do have offices. Since the electors don’t have a responsibility to listen to “constituents” anyway, I don’t think it matters whether you live in their state or not. Just call as many as you can. Be polite and friendly, and focus on talking points likely to appeal to Republican party leaders, since that’s what most electors pledged to Mr. Trump are. Remember, a lot of Republican leaders don’t like Mr. Trump, anyway. It’s a long shot, but if we can get just 40 of them to switch, Mr. Clinton will be president. Here is a partial list of current Electoral College members.

2. Block the More Extreme of  Mr. Trump’s Appointees

I discussed how and why to block political appointees last week.  The short version is to sign whatever petitions you want to, but the real power lies in calling your senators and also those senators on the relevant committee. Start with Myron Ebell, the climate denier Mr. Trump wants to head the EPA. If your focus is on human rights, remember that it is always the disenfranchised who bear the brunt of pollution and climate change, and that of all the mistakes our government could make, allowing environmental disaster would be far the hardest to un-do.

Here’s the process, in brief:

  1. Look up Mr. Trump’s appointees. Here is a list that looks like it’s being regularly updated. Focus on those appointments that require Senate confirmation.
  2. Identify appointees you want to protest.
  3. Look up which Senate committee (or committees) has jurisdiction over that person’s prospective job. Use this link.
  4. Do an internet search for that committee’s web page. It will list the committee’s current membership with links to each member’s page—which will list the phone numbers for his or her office. Remember to CALL, not email. Remember that each Senate committee has its counterpart in the House. Don’t get the House committee by mistake. The US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources has jurisdiction over the EPA. Here is a link to its page.
  5. Make a call list with all the members of the committee and your two Senators on it. Remember to remove any Senators who are leaving office in January and remember to call their successors when they come in. Fortunately, none of the members of the Energy and Natural Resources committee are leaving, so you can call all of them now.
  6. Make your phone calls.

3. Call the House Oversight Committee and Ask for a Bipartisan Review of Mr. Trump’s Financials and Conflicts of Interest

Honestly, I’m not sure if this will do anything useful, but since we are fairly sure Trump is slimy, knowing the exact depth of his slime probably can’t hurt. The number is (202) 225-5074

4. Attend Protest Marches, Especially Large Ones

There is a big demonstration planned on women’s rights in DC for just after inauguration. So far, the organizers seem to be communicating largely through Facebook, and the details are not set yet. Stay tuned. The objective here is to demonstrate that women and their allies DO matter politically and DO have power—both to put Trump and his cronies on notice and to let women who are afraid right now know they aren’t alone. Men and genderqueer folk are apparently welcome. I’m going.

I do hope to see a similar large demonstration on environmental issues soon, especially since Trump has signaled he’s open to having his mind changed on that one.

5. Donate Money

Mr. Trump has more or less promised to use his power to try to do horrible things to the environment, to Latinx and Muslim immigrants, and to anyone who needs affordable healthcare. Women, LGBT folk, and people of color are justifiably worried as well. And, since the election, bigots of all stripes seem to have felt emboldened, making everything many of us do that much harder already. Fortunately, there are groups already established that know how to fight this sort of thing and they are gearing up to respond. They need cash.

If you want suggestions and handy links, here are a few:

  1. The Environmental Defense Fund is currently matching donations two-to-one AND is focusing particularly on protecting President Obama’s climate legacy against Mr. Trump.
  2. The Sierra Club Foundation  funnels donations into a variety of conservation and environmental education-related projects and has an excellent rating from various charity-watchdog groups.
  3. The Natural Resources Defense Council  supports various conservation projects with a particular focus on pursuing polluters through legal challenges.
  4. Earthjustice works through the courts to push for environmental progress.
  5. The League of Conservation Voters supports the election of pro-environment candidates at every level.
  6. The Union of Concerned Scientists supports independent conservation science and stands up for climate scientists currently facing harassment.
  7. The ACLU defends the civil rights of individuals in court.
  8. Planned Parenthood is famous for its contraceptive services and controversial for its abortion services, but it provides much more, from basic gynecological care to cancer screenings and anonymous HIV testing to periodic men’s sexual health clinics, whether or not the patient can pay. The tragedy about attempts by Congress to de-fund Planned Parenthood for its abortion services is that the law already bars Federal money from going to abortion; “de-fundin Planned Parenthood” has no impact on abortion, but will deny low-income people life-saving healthcare.
  9. The Southern Poverty Law Center fights hate and extremism in court, supporting LGBT and immigrant rights, among many others, and works for criminal justice reform.
  10. The Delaware Alliance for Community Action. Yes, this organization is pretty local, but local organizations do important work. If you don’t live in Delaware and want to find something closer to home, go ahead.
  11. The Newspaper. Seriously, high-quality journalism is under threat right now, largely for economic reasons. Buy a subscription to a high-quality paper that still does true investigative journalism. A free press is not free and needs our collective support.

6. Be Kind and Be Brave

This is a BIGGIE. As I said there are a lot of newly emboldened deplorables out there now who think it’s ok to treat other people badly. We have to show them otherwise. If you see someone being treated badly, say something. If you are treated badly, fight back. If you see someone who is hurting or afraid, ask how you can help. Find the people in your community you don’t normally talk to and ask them what’s going on. There’s a lot of information online about how to do this. Seriously.

 


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Civic Exercise

I’ve spent much of the last few days making, or attempting to make, political phone calls. For your future reference and edification, I’d like to report on what the process has been like–I posted something similar a few weeks ago, but I’ve learned some things since then that I’d like to pass on.

First of all, I have to admit that nobody I’ve encountered through this process has said anything about climate change. My primary reason for volunteering for the Democrats this year–and my reason for writing about it here–has been the simple fact that only the Democrats offer a realistic prospect for climate sanity at this point. I’ve written before about how much I wish that weren’t so, nothing against the Democrats, we just need more of a diversity on the issue. But we have what we have, and we must use it.

Sometimes making progress depends on letting go of the larger vision for a while and chugging through the grim practicalities of the current moment.

Because we need a Democrat in the White House right now, and because we likewise need a Democratic majority in the Senate and at least a climate-sane majority in the House, I’ve been making GOTV calls for both Mrs. Clinton and for a series of Congressional candidates mostly in swing states.

GOTV stands for get out the vote. That means getting people who already agree with your candidate to actually go vote. GOTV becomes the primary focus of most campaigns in the final days leading up to any election and its efforts can include everything from asking people if they plan to vote (apparently studies show that once someone says “I will vote,” they are more likely to actually do so), to making sure voters know where their polling place is, to actually offering rides to the polls and other logistical support. The number of people who want a candidate to win is typically larger, sometimes much larger, than the number who actually show up at the polls. In this particular election, GOTV is especially important because Donald Trump is hugely unpopular. In a very real way, Hilary Clinton’s most serious opponent is not the Republican nominee but her own shadow, the momentum against voting that she must overcome.

By the time you read this, the election will likely already be over. Even now, a majority of votes have probably already been cast and we are just waiting to hear the report. I’m not trying to influence your vote now, but rather to make some helpful suggestions for next time–if there is a next time. I freely admit to not being sure on that point at the moment.

So.

I have now made phone calls for three different organizations and attempted to make them for at least one more. I have made hundreds, possibly over a thousand, calls. The majority of those calls were to wrong numbers or disconnected numbers. Another large group were people who weren’t home. A small number involved recipients who did not want to be called, and a few of those were very rude to me. Most were friendly. Very few actually seemed open to the content of my call. I’m not sure how much of a difference I really made, but I would have felt remise had I not tried. I believe I got better at it as I went along.

Suggestions for Volunteers Making Political Calls

  1. Expect the organization you’re working with to make things unnecessarily difficult. Depending on whom you are working with, you may find it hard to get instructions, hard to understand your instructions, or simply impossible to find a human being to answer questions. The instructions you do get could be impossible to carry out, require resources you don’t have, or just sound like a bad idea. Start trying to volunteer early in the campaign in order to give yourself time to get through all this. If one organization doesn’t work for you, try another. And keep your cool. Getting frustrated and quitting helps nobody.
  2. Expect yourself to get tired. Making phone calls to strangers frightens me. Bothering people frightens me. Being treated as though I were personally responsible for every single unsolicited call ever stresses me out. I’m pretty brave, but being stressed and frightened is tiring. I doubt I’m alone. The fact of the matter is I can’t make as many phone calls at a time as I thought I could. Until you learn your limits, keep your commitments small.
  3. Once you get going, the going will get easier. Seriously. Make a couple of phone calls and it will get easier.
  4. Feel free to depart from the script. I’m no expert, but I can’t help but think that a phonescript that would alienate or insult me if I received it would also turn away other voters. Use your judgment, and make changes if you need to. If you’re uncomfortable with your script, you’ll probably also make the recipient uncomfortable. One of the changes I made, for example, was to ask the recipient if this was a good time to talk before launching into my script. If the recipient sounded tired or irritable, I’d give them an abbreviated version. All that being said, remember the scriptwriters know more about this stuff than you do. When in doubt, follow instructions. And never get apologetic for the call. If you believe you shouldn’t be making the call to begin with, don’t make it.

Suggestions For People Receiving Political Calls

  1. If you don’t want to talk, say so quickly and politely.
  2. If you want to be removed from the list, say so directly: “Please take me off your list.”
  3. Give the caller a chance to treat you well: don’t hang up or be rude or flippant unless the caller gets aggressive first.
  4. Recognize that the caller has no control over whether or not you are on their list.
  5. Recognize that there are dozens, maybe hundreds, of organizations that have your number. If you’ve already told 83 of them to stop calling, don’t take your frustration out on the 84th
  6. Don’t assume you know what the call is about: if you don’t want to talk at all, excuse yourself politely but firmly and hang up, but remember political calls aren’t always campaign adds. They might just be trying to ask if you know where your polling place is.

And finally…

Would organizations please coordinate so the poor folks in swing states don’t get 83 GOTV calls in one weekend? Please!

This is it. This election is the big one. We have a chance if the results go one way, but hope may require a serious miracle otherwise.

There is a passage in Ursula K. LeGuin’s fantasy novel, The Farthest Shore, which I don’t have memorized, but in it one character speaks to another (who is sleeping) and says something like:

Now we stand on the balance-point, and if I fall, you fall, and all the rest…but only for a little while. No darkness lasts forever, and even there, there are stars. Still, I should like to see thee crowned in Havenor, under the rune-symbol we brought for you before ever you were born.

We stand at the balance-point, and if the electorate falls tonight, then so does Hilary Clinton and so does the planet. But even then, we should not despair. No darkness lasts forever, and even in the dark, there are stars. Still, I should like to see her crowned in Havenor–sworn in in Washington, under the sign of democracy that was created before any of us were born.


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Climate Campaigns

I could write about the recent flooding in Ellicott City, Maryland, which is apparently yet another unprecedented example of extreme weather reminding us that the climate no longer makes sense.  But really, we know this stuff already. So, I want to talk about politics.

I’m not going to stop doing science posts, or any of the other categories you’re used to my covering, but I’m planning on starting a new series on climate policy, vulnerability, and electoral politics in each state. I don’t know how many I’m going to get through by November, especially as I won’t do one every week, but I’ll do as many as I can. We put so much national attention into the Presidential elections, when the reality is that the President can’t do much of anything for the climate without a cooperative Congress. And which party takes the Congress depends largely on how Congressional districts are drawn, a process done, generally in a very partizan way, by the state legislatures every ten years. So, “down ballot” candidates matter a lot for the planet and we hardly ever hear about them.

We need to find ways to think about and support local races as national races, because that’s what they are.

Consider that we need a climate-sane majority in both houses in order to have a strong, climate-sane energy and transportation policy. Consider also that not every Congressional race is going to be competitive this year and not every competitive race will involve a climate-sane candidate. The climate-sane Congress we need nationally is therefore dependent on a small number of local races. If a national environmental advocacy group can identify those races and funnel money and strategic expertise towards those climate-sane candidates, we would have a good chance of taking Congress.

Is such a national campaign underway? I don’t know yet. But I can find out. And, if not, maybe this blog series will help support such an effort?

Stay tuned.


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Single Issue Voter

As the Republican National Convention proceeds, I’m not hearing anyone talk about climate change. Meanwhile, this summer the nation has already coped with violent storms (including tornadoes in Maine yesterday), multi-day killer heat waves  giving us yet another record-breaking June, droughts, and frightening floods. All part of the new and progressively destabilizing normal.

This blog is neutral on all issues other than climate change, but I do personally care about other issues. I am aware than my readers also care about other issues, some of which are life-and-death matters in various ways. But climate change is different. On every other topic, mistakes now mostly hurt the people of now. Correct the problem, and the damage will ease and then heal. Climate change, in contrast, will cast a shadow lasting for many generations. Some of the damage will simply not be reversible.

I suspect most regular readers of this blog are politically liberal, but I hope I have some conservative followers as well. To you I say please notice what the Republicans are ignoring. Vote Democrat or vote third-party this time—push your political leaders into taking climate seriously or else. National security, public health, the economy, all those other issues ultimately depend on our successful handling of this one.

We (meaning climate-sane people) must take both the White House and the Capitol Building this cycle. If we don’t, climate-denier leaders will undo whatever good we have managed to win so far. We’ll have to start over in four years or eight years. We’re running out of time.

Conservation used to be a Republican value. It could be again. Why allow all climate-sane solutions to be Democrat ideas?

Come on. We need you.


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Trumped Up Differences

This blog is politically neutral on all issues except climate change. Because Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for President, is on record as a climate denier and his Democratic opponents both have good records on climate–for that reason and that reason alone, this blog will endorse the Democratic nominee. I, personally, have opinions on other issues, but this blog does not.

I will need to touch on some other issues here, however.

I am very concerned by the insistence of many progressives that there is no substantive difference between Mr. Trump and Secretary Clinton. I fear that such an assumption could result in a Republican victory, should Mrs. Clinton become the nominee, as she is expected to do. At the same time, I am sympathetic to that stand because I said the same think about George W. Bush and Al Gore in 2000.

I was a Ralph Nader supporter.

Now, to be clear, Ralph Nader did not cost Al Gore the election. Even if every single Nader supporter would otherwise have voted for Mr. Gore (which is not true), the claim that Mr. Gore was somehow owed those votes, that either major party ought to be left free to claim all votes on its side of the aisle by default, should be deeply troubling to anyone who cares about political diversity, competition, or free speech.  So, I still believe in the validity of third-party and independent candidacies.

I do not believe, as I once did, that there was no substantive difference between then-Governor Bush and Vice President Gore. That was a mix of logical fallacy and political naivete on my part that I now regret and I see the same fallacy in play today.

Ignore the fact, for the moment, that Mrs. Clinton is an establishment candidate while Mr. Trump is a rather vocal outsider–that right there is a huge difference between the two, but let’s focus on the fact that the two belong, to one degree or another, to the moneyed class. They are both privileged insiders in a way most Americans, especially most people of color, simply are not. Yes, it’s true that both probably agree on many issues, just as Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore probably agreed on many issues. There are people for whom the occupant of the White House seldom makes any immediate difference because their troubles fall into that category of troubles that almost anyone capable of reaching the White House in the first place must agree not to try to solve.

But to assume therefore that the occupant of the White House doesn’t make any difference to anybody is a logical fallacy, and the very same one I fell into sixteen years ago.

While campaigning for Mr. Nader, I uncritically absorbed and then repeated a series of talking points that consisted largely of rumors to the effect that both major party candidates were morally slimy.  For example, I heard and repeated that Mr. Gore had supported the financial rights of pharmaceutical companies at the expense of AIDS victims in Africa and that his campaign had accepted large donations from exactly the same corporate interests that were supporting Mr. Bush. But even if those rumors were true, the existence of slime on both parties did not prove that both were slimy in the same ways or that the differing patterns of slime balanced each other out. For example, Mr. Bush was pro-life, while Mr. Gore was pro-choice.  Had the election come out differently, the political landscape on that issue might be very different today.

Of more immediate relevance to this blog, Mr. Gore has always been a vocal climate hawk. While Mr. Bush was not a climate denier and paid somewhat more lip-service to the issue than many other politicians of the time, throughout his presidency he effectively and persistently undermined any progress on the issue. Had that election turned out differently, the US would not have pulled out of Kyoto and might have become a global leader on climate action twelve years earlier. Those are twelve years the world will not get back.

Donald Trump is running as an outright climate denier who has made an explicit campaign promise to pull out of the Paris agreement.

So, let’s say that Mrs. Clinton is as slimy as they come. Let’s say she’s an unrepentant criminal who cares for nothing but power and will happily serve her corporate masters if elected–I don’t personally believe it, but let’s just say all the bile launched in her direction over the years is deserved. She does have a good record with the League of Conservation Voters and she has vowed to protect and continue President Obama’s climate protection policies.

So, if you don’t like Hillary Clinton, don’t vote for her. Vote for Bernie Sanders, if you still have a primary to look forward to, and if Mrs. Clinton does win the nomination, vote for Jill Stein or some other alternative. But just don’t pretend there is no difference between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump.

The difference between the two of them could well be the future of the entire planet.

 


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Groundhog Day!

It’s Groundhog Day, the day when, supposedly, a groundhog in Pennsylvania predicts the weather by seeing or not seeing his shadow. It’s the closest we have to a climate-related holiday.

It’s an odd holiday–never mind how a groundhog could predict the weather, how can one groundhog give a single prediction for the entire country? And why six weeks? We can explore these questions briefly and then I’ll get back to talking about climate.

Groundhog Day itself goes back to Europe, where a group of interrelated traditions had various animals–hedgehogs, bears, badgers, perhaps even snakes–breaking hibernation in February to predict the remaining length of winter. The underlying idea is that clear weather in early February is, counter-intuitively, a sign of a late spring. And that association may well hold, at least in parts of Europe, for all I know.

February 1st or 2nd is also a cross-quarter day, one of the four days per year mid-way between a solstice and an equinox (the solstices and equinoxes are the quarters). The other three are May 1st, August 1st, and November 1st. All four were holidays in at least some of the pre-Christian European religions and all four survive as folk traditions and Christian holidays. All four are also holidays within the modern religion of Wicca. So today or yesterday is not just Groundhog Day but also Candlemas, Brigid, or Imbolg, depending on your persuasion, and all involve the beginning of spring. I have always heard that in European pagan tradition, the seasons begin on the cross-quarters, not the quarters–thus, spring begins not on the Spring Equinox but on the previous cross-quarter, in February. I’ve always wondered if perhaps “six more weeks of winter” is a remnant of cultural indecision as to which calendar was correct–whether spring should begin in February or six weeks later, in March.

In any case, we in America got Groundhog’s Day when German immigrants in Pennsylvania adapted their tradition to the New World–Germans looked to hedgehogs as prognosticators, but hedgehogs don’t live in America (porcupines are entirely unrelated). Groundhogs do. In the late 1800’s, the community of Punxsutawny announced that THEIR groundhog, named Phil, was the one and only official groundhog for everybody, thus utterly divorcing the tradition from any concern with local weather. There are rival Groundhog’s Day ceremonies, but Phil is still the primary one.

Groundhogs (which are the same thing as woodchucks) do sometimes take breaks from hibernation, though they don’t necessarily leave their burrows. There are various theories as to why, but most involve the need to perform various bodily processes that hibernation precludes–including, perhaps, sleep. Hibernation is not the same as sleep, after all. But there is evidence that male groundhogs spend some of their time off in late winter defending their territories and visiting females. They actually mate after hibernation ends for the year, but apparently female groundhogs don’t like strangers. Thus, it is actually appropriate that Phil is male–the groundhogs who come out of their holes in February are.

Anyway, underneath the silliness at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawny, Groundhog’s Day is about a cultural awareness of weather patterns and animal behavior. Certain times of the year are cold and other times are not, dependably. If we pay attention, we can know what to expect and we can organize holidays and cultural observances around that knowing. In this sense, then, Groundhog’s Day is not about weather but about climate. Climate is the roughly stable pattern that makes it possible for ordinary people who don’t have supercomputers or satellites to predict the weather simply by watching the world around them.

We’re losing that, now. It’s fifty degrees outside, where I live. In February. And while warm, springlike weather is pleasant and I intend to go out in it as soon as I’m done writing this, there’s always something unnerving about unseasonable conditions. Yes, we’re under the influence of El Niño, a complicating factor. I’ve discussed the relationship of El Niño to global warming before, but that’s not the point here. The point is that the patterns our cultural traditions are build on–climate–are eroding. The world is getting less reliable, less like home.

It’s a little thing, as consequences from climate go, but one likely to have a profound effect on us psychologically. There is still time to do something about it. Get involved politically, support climate-sane candidates.

Now.