Mad as Hell, so I filled in a form letter

I wrote this letter to the faceless bureaucracy, in this case, the U. S. State Department.




My dear sir, madam, official of government,

I’m writing to insist that the State Department include a full life-cycle assessment of the impacts this proposed project (Keystone XL) will have on the global climate, and, how those changes to global climate stemming from this project will affect U. S. national security interests.

I highlight for attention the comments of US Pacific Forces Commander Admiral Samuel Locklear who this past month warned that climate change poses the greatest mid-term and long-term threats to the stability of the region and U. S. interests in the Pacific theater. This assessment is in keeping with the JOE 2010 and following reports from the U. S. defense department. It mirrors the published threat assessments on the subject of climate from other NATO member states.  I ask that you contact Admiral Locklear to include in your review his thoughts on the merits of Keystone XL, specifically, as it relate to U. S. national security.

I would also highlight the remarks of Jeremy Grantham on the threat continued burning of more energy-intensive hydrocarbons poses for security. Mr. Grantham, perhaps best well known as a immensely successful investor and chief investment strategist for Grantham Mayo van Otterloo (GMO), is also one of today’s most compelling spokespersons for an immediate policy reset on U. S. energy. I ask that you contact Mr. Grantham to include in your review his thoughts on the merits of Keystone XL, specifically, as it relates to U. S. national security.

I have followed energy and climate for some time. I could continue to list for your consideration the warnings on climate, increasingly grave, from individuals and institutions representing the most prestigious voices from science, business, health, and national security. But, in all honesty, many of these voices have already made their views known to the State Department, seemingly to little effect. And this is curious. And this is of concern. I think it hard to understand how the State Department could fail to consider a hydrocarbon energy project of this scale without considering an honest assessment of climate change as framed by national security.  Given what we know in 2013 to be the nature of the security threat, and how amplifying emissions will make severe harm from climate destabilization to America’s vital interests all the more likely, this is indeed inexplicable on the face of it. I insist the State Department change it’s review accordingly.

As for me, I do not have the expertise or eloquence to assist you more capably than Admiral Locklear and Mr. Grantham. However, I do have the standing to make an insistent claim. I’ve attached a photograph. It was taken four yeas ago. My son is now 11. My daughter is now 4. I offer them as standing to include my letter in your review of the merits of Keystone XL, specifically, as it relates to their present and future security as citizens of the United States.
Good day to you from Austin, Texas.

Jeff CrunK

David Roberts, He Tasks Me!

It’s 2012. Obama delivers his State of the Union Address. Talks climate, modestly. Talks renewables, modestly. Grist environmental writer David Roberts, admired by this writer, leads: “Obama can’t Change Polarization on Climate Change.” Thesis: polarization happened. Obama can do many things but he can’t undo that in a speech. Would be folly to try.

WAYBACK MACHINE, January 27, 2011

You with me? Did you make the trip intact? Touch all appendages to make sure.

Okay, so Obama gives State of the Union Speech. Does not mention climate change. Zip. Nothing. Nada. A certain Grist environmental writer, whose initials are D. R., leads: “Obama was Wrong not to Mention Climate Change in his State of the Union Address.” Thesis: POTUS blew it. Big moral failure not to go to school on climate. Revkin, (who this writer doesn’t much admire) totally “capitulating” to “myopic and counterproductive” logic that climate is hopelessly partisan topic.

Processing. . . . . Processing. . . .(and I’ll get back with you when the results are in)

Socially Subsidizing Natural Disaster

Only the foundation remains of a Staten Island house after Hurricane Sandy (Karstan Moran for the NYT).
The foundation of a Staten Island house after Hurricane Sandy (Karstan Moran for the NYT).

It’s kinda crazy for communities that prudently chose not to live in, say, a floodplain to give incentives for others to develop places that are naturally meant to flood, burn, and slide. Unfortunately, that’s how we as a society do.

This week New York Gov. Mario Cuomo proposed that New York state spend some $400 million to purchase the property of coastal residents whose homes and businesses were destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. The land would then be restored to undeveloped, publicly owned beachfront maintained by state or federal management.

Stuart Staniford at Early Warning saw merit in the proposal but then raised this objection. “On the other hand, it sets an interesting precedent: do we want to socialize all the losses of property owners who elect to live next to the ocean in an era when we pretty much know that the sea-level is going to rise and wipe out a lot of coastal property?”

My answer to that is yes we do, assuming we means most tax payers. Tax payers will save supertanker loads in money by ending current, regressive practices that subsidize natural disasters through a variety of public policies and private insurance. True to Stuart’s point if New York adopts Governor Cuomo’s proposal residents across the state will subsidize and reward private property holders along the coastline when sea and storm inevitably claim their coastal properties. But it will be a one-off subsidy. What ever that figure is should be weighed against the amount society pays to allow private development in geographies of moral hazard.

The country has a long history of socially subsidizing private property in natural ecologies of disaster, not uncommonly, and often by design, to the benefit of the affluent (see Mike Davis, The Case for Letting Malibu Burn in Ecology of Fear). Federal, state, and private insurance disaster relief checks flow with the regular pulse of fires and hurricanes in places like Malibu Canyon and Dauphin Island, Georgia. As climate change picks up we may find that without such reforms the nation’s property insurance system enters the same death spiral private health insurance is in today.

If history is any guide Gov. Cuomo’s proposal for a terminal social subsidy, as opposed to the current model of renewing social subsidies, will not gain widespread support in the near term. Why would coastal real-estate interests in Virginia want to fiddle with the current arrangement of having Midwesterners help foot the bill to get the Core to re-dredge the beaches every seven to ten years? But pros and cons of policy and special interest aside, I suspect the reason why we’re most unlikely to be seeing similar, ecologically sound land use proposals from federal politicians, at least, not the successful ones, is because there are obdurate social facts that even super-storms don’t easily wash away. Symbolically, retreat from nature is not part of the American myth of identity. A politician running on that message will be burdened by the emerald letter of Austerity that his or her opponents political machine has happily affixed to their chest.

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