a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

I voted for Jill Stein. Global warming is one reason why.

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 2nd November 2012

This Jill Stein ad only scratches the surface of the two-party pro-carbon consensus on display during the debates she was locked out of — and you know it:

  • “We have increased oil production to the highest levels in 16 years. Natural gas production is the highest it’s been in decades. We have seen increases in coal production and coal employment.” (Obama, Oct 16 debate)
  • “I’m going to make sure we can continue to burn clean coal.” (Romney, Oct 4 debate)
  • “…we made the largest investment in clean coal technology to make sure that even as we’re producing more coal, we’re producing it cleaner and smarter.” (Obama, Oct 16 debate)

Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.  At one point, Obama even took Romney to task for closing a coal-fired power plant in Massachusetts.

And that may not be the only consensus you’re excluded from with Obama and Romney: they share the same regrettable outlook on austerity, on growing the military, on preserving a system of all-but-untrammeled financial predation, on pushbutton drone assassinations(-plus-bystanders)(-plus-rescuers), on wholesale warrantless surveillance, on pre-emptive prosecutions, on indefinite detentions.

I voted for Jill Stein yesterday. Global warming is one reason why. No matter where you live, but especially if you’re in a “safe” state — one where one of the two major party candidates is far ahead, e.g., CA, CT, DC, GA, MA, MD (like me), ME, MO, NJ, NY, PA, OR, RI, SC, TN, TX, or WA — I think you should strongly consider it.

Voting for a third party candidate in yet another “most important election ever” sends a message — to be sure, one it’s best to amplify with blog posts, letters to the editor, tweets, and whatever other means you have to hand.  But it also helps future Green Party candidates get on the ballot — both indirectly, by drawing attention to a party whose values you share, and directly, by helping them qualify for the ballot more easily. You’ll likely be glad to have that choice in the years ahead. Give that choice a chance with your vote.

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Emergency Management, Climate Denialist Parties tied; Disaster Prevention Party distant third

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 1st November 2012

So far, the Obama administration appears to be doing a good enough job with post-Sandy relief efforts that even Republican governor Chris Christie has been effusive in his appreciation.  Adding to the surreal atmosphere was the Return of Michael “Heckuva Job” Brown, criticizing the Obama administration for being  too quick with their federal response — and then doubled down the next day asserting that Obama hadn’t got enough political mileage out of the disaster.  With enemies like these, who needs friends?

Get ready for more like this.

As Democrats bask in the glow of being the Party of Better Emergency Management, though, some voters were on the lookout for a little more: a commitment to fighting the global warming that’s fueling ever more frequent and powerful weather disasters — heck, even just acknowledgement of the problem.

We sure haven’t seen it in the presidential debates;  after the second debate, Charles Pierce of Esquire noted,

On Tuesday night, we had two guys arguing about who’s a bigger friend to coal, about who will allow the most oil drilling on federal land, and about who will best extract the most carbon-based fuels out from under the country over the next four years.

With that kind of leadership as a backdrop, I’ve seen discussions literally comparing New Yorkers — and perhaps coastal dwellers everywhere — to the Jews in pre-Holocaust Germany: doomed unless they leave or unless they’re saved by a political miracle, and wondering what it is that is paralyzing all of us from taking sensible action.  The fear is not far-fetched; it turns out to be an engineering exercise.   According to a Nature Climate Change article (Lin et al, Jan 2012):

…the change of storm climatology will probably increase the surge risk for NYC; results based on two GCMs [global climate models] show the distribution of surge levels shifting to higher values by a magnitude comparable to the projected sea-level rise (SLR). The combined effects of storm climatology change and a 1m SLR may cause the present NYC 100-yr surge flooding to occur every 3–20yr and the present 500-yr flooding to occur every 25–240yr by the end of the century.

(Via Corey Robin; emphases added.) Realizations like this shouldn’t just result in support for higher seawalls, though; it should re-energize political support for addressing global warming itself.

It seems to me we have an obvious opportunity to do that: if you’re in a “safe” state where Obama leads Romney by a wide margin or vice versa — like New York —  voting Green next Tuesday ought to be a pretty simple, low-risk, high gain experiment.*  A lot of people are on the verge of really getting it about global warming — but others are on the verge of giving up about it. Let’s raise our hands, vote Green, and show them all — and Democratic apparatchiks besides — that there could be a “fight global warming” bandwagon to get on.

You should follow up your “vote” message with some “messages about your vote”: letters to the editor, Facebook posts, tweets, and/or musical productions explaining what you’ve done and why; there may well be other reasons, from the war on civil liberties and human rights to the war on the safety net to the possibility of war with Iran.  But I would stress Hurricane Sandy, because people get that pretty easily right now.

Sure, there’s no guarantee the message will be received, or that it will be acted on.  But if you’d like your message to be heard, you’ve got to send it.

UPDATE, 11/1: Nation Suddenly Realizes This Just Going To Be A Thing That Happens From Now On (The Onion)
* If you’re in a swing state, vote Green too, *if* Stein really represents your views best — there is nothing whatsoever wrong with that, Obama never owned your vote, he can only earn it or lose it. I’d vote Stein in Ohio this year, because Obama lost my vote. And while I get why many would not, I think it should be because they, on balance, really *prefer* Obama over Stein when *all* is said and done — and not out of some misplaced sense of shame about otherwise helping Romney win.

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The greening of Van Hollen

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 18th July 2009

A couple of weeks ago, I got an email from Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) that read, in part:

Thanks to your hard work, the American Clean Energy and Security Act passed 219-212 in last Friday’s historic vote. Although, as we’ve said, key features of the bill fall short of what scientists say is urgently needed, there were several members of Congress who emerged as true climate leaders — including Congressman Van Hollen. Congressman Van Hollen is on a well-deserved recess until July 6th but I want to make sure he hears from his constituents when he gets back. That’s why on Tuesday, July 7th, I plan to hand-deliver a giant thank you card to his office. (Care to join me? Just email me)…

I decided against joining in on the giant thank you card. But I think the story of just how Congressman Van Hollen got the “climate leader” accolades and “climate herogala festivities CCAN has been bestowing on him is worth telling.

Gordon Clark, the 2008 election, and “cap and dividend”
In last fall’s election, Representative Van Hollen was opposed by (among others) Green Party candidate Gordon Clark — whom I supported. Van Hollen is a personally popular liberal Democrat elected in something of an uprising against local moderate Republican Connie Morella in 2002; he’s not hurting for campaign funds, and many in the area are proud he’s chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — despite Van Hollen’s association with the disappointing Democratic “opposition” to Bush between 2002 and 2008.

Clark, a long time activist in and director of peace and environmental movements,  campaigned hard and turned in a strong debate performance — which Van Hollen couldn’t attend due to the emergency bailout vote the same evening.  On Election Day Van Hollen easily outdistanced both Clark and his Republican challenger.

But the Clark/Green Party campaign was influential nonetheless; as often happens with third parties, they peel off some activists, they serve as an important source of ideas, and they can win some important skirmishes even if they wind up losing the contest. In this case, the skirmish Clark won was one for the endorsement of an influential local political group, Progressive Neighbors. In a very surprising development (covered on this site), Clark tied with Van Hollen after a kind of “mail-in debate” — the only debate of any kind between the two candidates in the campaign. Clark had parried Van Hollen’s less coolly composed letter with point after point detailing Van Hollen’s lack of leadership, especially on the financial crisis, peace, and environmental issues.

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Still fiddling while the planet burns

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 11th July 2009

On Thursday the G-8 group announced goals of no more than a 2 degree Celsius global warming, and an 80 percent reduction in emissions by 2050. But as the Los Angeles Times’s Jim Tankersley and Christi Parsons reported,

Leaders of the most developed nations again declined to commit themselves to any specific actions now or in the immediate future to curb the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming — actions that would require increasing energy prices, raising taxes or imposing other unpopular economic measures on their people. […]

China, India and other major developing countries, which pressed for action in the next decade by the G-8 countries, reacted by rejecting the package.

Meanwhile, Senate Environment Committee chair Barbara Boxer has reportedly pushed back her deadline to complete the Senate counterpart to the Waxman-Markey “American Clean Energy and Security” (ACES) 1200 page bill that passed by just 219-212 in late June.  Senator Boxer now no longer hopes to report a bill out of committee before the August recess, and Senate Majority leader Harry Reid hopes to “get to” a vote by October.

In addition to the delay, it’s likely the Senate will, if anything, weaken the bill; E&ETV’s Darryl Samuelsohn said earlier this week, “I don’t think that as the Senate bill starts to move forward you can expect those bills to get more aggressive on that front.”

Yet the ACES target of a 17 percent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2020 is considered inadequate by many environmentalists and climate scientists.  Were ACES goals met and continued at the same pace through 2050, the US would be on track for about a 60 to 65% annual carbon dioxide emissions reduction; while that seems impressive (assuming it’s actually accomplished), the odds are it would not be enough.  Writing as a group, the climate scientists of the blog “RealClimate” summarize two recent studies concluding that

…unless humankind puts on the brakes very quickly and aggressively (i.e. global reductions of 80% by 2050), we face a high probability of driving climate beyond a 2°C threshold taken by both studies as a “danger limit”. […]

Moreover, the graph to the right (from the same article) displays the authors’ best estimates that even an 80 percent emissions reduction among developed countries by 2050 would give our grandchildren not quite even odds of avoiding a two degree global warming by 2100 — and that the odds could be as poor as one in four.  To complete the “Paul Revere” quality of the post, they note that even a “mere” two degrees of global warming “stands a strong chance of provoking drought and storm responses that could challenge civilized society, leading potentially to the conflict and suffering that go with failed states and mass migrations” — to say nothing of sea level rises that may exceed 1 meter by 2100.

And we’re already more than halfway to that two degree rise in global temperatures.  Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists told the New York Times that “temperatures had already risen by 0.8 degree and would probably rise by another 0.6 degree based only on pollution already in the air, meaning that embracing that goal would require that major steps be taken almost immediately.”

At the G-8 summit, President Obama said, “I know that in the past, the United States has sometimes fallen short of meeting our responsibilities,” he said. “So let me be clear: Those days are over.”

Not by just saying so they aren’t.  It’s certainly to be welcomed that Obama, Boxer, and others are not denying the importance of global and national solutions to global warming.  But what they and other leadership have on tap is already late and getting later, and may well be insufficient to the challenges we face.  We’re heading off a cliff; it’s good our driver is finally awake, but it’s bad our “Stop the Bus” Committees are still dickering and hesitating about when and how hard to apply the brakes.

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Wilkins Ice Bridge collapse

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 8th April 2009

global warming
Image by MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC.

A Connecticut-sized ice shelf on the coast of Antarctica is poised to break away and float out to sea. Paul Harris of

Change at Wilkins has come fast, often taking scientists by surprise with the speed of the break-up. In February last year a 164- square-mile chunk broke off. Then in May another slab of ice, this time measuring 62 square miles, fell away. The ice shelf has lost a total of 694 square miles over the past 12 months, representing some 14 per cent of its size. That shrank the vital ice bridge to just 984 yards at its narrowest location. Now that bridge too is coming under huge strains.

NASA Earth Observatory adds:

The collapse of the ice shelf will not contribute to sea level rise, since the ice had already been floating on the water. When other ice shelves such as the Larsen, have collapsed, they allowed glaciers to pump more ice into the ocean at a faster rate, which did contribute to sea level rise. The Wilkins Ice Shelf, however, does not buttress any major glacier, says Scambos. The Wilkins Ice Shelf is the tenth major ice shelf to collapse in recent times, another sign that warming temperatures are impacting Earth’s fragile cryosphere.

(Emphasis added.)

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White House, Congress press for improved CAFE standards

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 2nd February 2009

The Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) program, enacted in 1975, requires the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to set fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks.  But while NHTSA is supposed to issue standards that are the “maximum feasible average fuel economy level that the Secretary decides the manufacturers can achieve in that model year,” the actual, observed effects of CAFE standards have been disappointing.

The graph to the right, by Greg Maring of Cambridge Systematics, is based on data from the  July 2006 EPA report “Light-Duty Automotive Technology and Fuel Economy Trends: 1975 through 2006″; those data indicate that improvements in the fuel economy of fleetwide, sales-averaged new light duty vehicles (cars and light trucks) essentially ended by the mid-1980s.  As the near vertical part of the yellow line in the graph shows, innovation from the mid-1980s through 2006 steadily improved the average horsepower of newly sold cars and trucks, while average fuel economy remained roughly constant (to be generous).

Last April, NHTSA proposed new CAFE standards for cars and light trucks covering model years 2011-2015 (PDF, 417 pages).  Although the agency proposed to make the standards somewhat more stringent (31.8 mpg by 2015), the proposal was roundly criticized (among other things) for overstating costs, and understating benefits including those resulting from curbs on automotive greenhouse gas emissions.  Another widespread critique was that the standards were based on the output of a predictive model without disclosing to the public either how the model functions or what critical inputs to the model are — in essence, eliminating the possibility of meaningful public comment on the proposal.  NHTSA said that it would issue final standards in November 2008 but failed to do so.

Obama and Markey crack the whip
A week ago, President Obama  directed NHTSA to issue standards for model year 2011 only, after consultation with the Environmental Protection Agency, and to do so by April 2009. Both the directive to consult with the EPA and other instructions to take into account a recent Supreme Court ruling (about carbon dioxide being a Clean Air Act pollutant) are strong indications of Obama’s intent to see higher CAFE standards than those NHTSA has proposed to date — in keeping with his campaign pledge to achieve 4 percent improvements each year in office.

On the same day, Representative Ed Markey — the new chair of the House Energy and Commerce committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Environment — sent new Secretary of Transportation Ray Lahood a detailed, three page letter stating that the CAFE regulations for 2011-2015 models proposed last year suffer from a “systemic overestimation of the costs of implementing fuel efficient technologies and a systemic underestimation of its benefits.”

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For Gordon Clark for Congress in Maryland’s 8th C.D.

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 26th October 2008

The following email was sent to impeachment supporters in the Takoma Park area; I’ve added a video link to the campaign video mentioned in the second paragraph.


Dear Takoma Park Impeach Bush & Cheney supporter,

We — Thomas Nephew, Lisa Moscatiello, and Michelle Bailey — are writing to endorse Gordon Clark (Green Party) for Maryland’s 8th Congressional District seat in the House of Representatives.  We’re confident that as the kind of independent thinker who has supported impeachment, you’ll be very impressed with Mr. Clark, who is opposing incumbent Chris Van Hollen (Democratic Party).  For our part, all three of us will be voting for him on November 4th.

To learn more about Gordon Clark, visit his web site at  While you’re there, be sure to check out his latest campaign video — a great two minute summary of why Gordon Clark is running for Congress.*  There’s also a video of his recent debate with Republican Steve Hudson and Van Hollen legislative aide Bill Parsons (Van Hollen couldn’t attend because of the bailout bill vote).

The centerpiece of Clark’s campaign is a Green New Deal — an Apollo program, Manhattan Project, and Marshall Plan all rolled into one — to put America on the path to renewable energy independence.  He also supports universal health care, opposes threatening war with Iran, and wants a complete withdrawal from Iraq; as you’ll see from an issues chart comparison, Chris Van Hollen falls short on these and other counts.  There’s more, everything is well documented — and you’ll probably find yourself agreeing with Gordon Clark much more often than not.

There will be a Clark volunteer meeting today (Sunday, October 26th) from 4-6PM at 822 Gist Avenue, Silver Spring; to get in touch with the campaign, contact Sara Gilbertie at 860-233-4097 or, or visit the campaign web site at

= = = = =

What about Clark’s views on impeachment?  Here’s what he told Internet radio host Chip Gibbons earlier this year:

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MD State Police spying scandal widens: environmental group targeted

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 22nd October 2008

Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) executive director Mike Tidwell writes that he, too, was listed as a “terrorist” by the Maryland State Police on their now-infamous “Case Explorer” database.  Tidwell:

Since 2001, I have devoted my life entirely to the peaceful promotion of windmills and solar panels to solve global warming. Apparently not everyone liked my work, however. Believe it or not, the Maryland State Police – your state police – put my name in their criminal intelligence database as a “suspected terrorist” as part of their larger program of collecting information about political activists in 2005-2006. I was on this outrageous “watch” list apparently because of a single act of peaceful civil disobedience I participated in outside a coal-fired power plant in 2004. CCAN’s former deputy director Josh Tulkin was also put in the database as was another former CCAN staffer who has chosen to remain anonymous. Neither of these people has ever been arrested for anything in their entire lives. (See background below)

So about one third of the entire Maryland CCAN staff – one of the largest environmental groups in the state – was officially spied on by the police while we peacefully promoted clean electricity and clean cars for Maryland. This is, of course, an outrage and a threat, not just to civil liberties in Maryland, but to the state’s entire environmental community. When people who are trying SAVE the climate and SAVE the Bay are considered terrorists, the world has truly been turned upside down.

ACLU-MD Tidwell asks readers to send an email to Governor Martin O’Malley asking him to release all surveillance files gathered by the MSP (who prefer to destroy the files), and to support comprehensive legislation (being drafted by local State Senator Jamie Raskin) to prevent similar abuses from happening again.  There will also be a 10:30 am rally tomorrow at the Silver Spring Metro station to further publicize the scandal and press these demands.  The rally and email campaign are both coordinated with the ACLU-Maryland, whose lawsuit helped uncover the scandal earlier this year.

This fishing expedition by the Maryland State Police task force was as un-American as McCarthyism or Nixon’s “dirty tricks” — it was a dry run for Chinese- or Stasi-style surveillance and infiltration of innocuous activist groups, and their labeling as literally enemies of the state.  Dry run is putting it kindly, actually — this was the real thing. The recently released Sachs report relays what I consider a snickering, bald-faced lie about how the “terrorist” designation was considered no big deal by those aware of it:

While the MSP employees with whom we spoke recognized that the individuals and groups under investigation here were not “terrorists,” under any reasonable and accepted definition of that word, none who were aware of the use of the designation seemed to consider that a government agency’s decision to label someone a terrorist, particularly when that label is included in an external database, could cause serious harm to that person’s reputation, career, and standing in the community.

Baloney. They knew full well they were putting a bureaucratic scarlet “T” on all of the people they labeled that way. For this assault on civil liberties to be fully repulsed, that needs to be turned on its head: the superiors involved should be disciplined and demoted, and those doing their bidding should be reassigned to simpler chores, like checking parking meters or directing traffic.

UPDATE, 10/23: CCAN online communications manager Susanna Murley has set up a “No Police Spying” facebook group, with photos from the rally; alternatively, see the CCAN blog post about it.  Also, the New York Times  Andrew Revkin (“.Dot Earth” blog) is covering the story.

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Greenland melt anomaly

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 30th November 2007

Via NASA Earth Observatory:

This image shows the Greenland melt anomaly, measured as the difference between the number of days on which melting occurred in 2007 compared to the average annual melting days from 1988-2006. The areas with the highest amounts of additional melt days appear in red, and areas with below-average melt days appear in blue. Although faint streaks of blue appear along the coastlines, namely in northwestern and southeastern Greenland, red and orange predominate, especially in the south.

2007/09/05: Arctic ice cap loss accelerates
2007/06/01: Puddles (Antarctic warming)
2005/04/22: Every day is Earth Day
2005/04/19: Earth’s albedo falling

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Arctic ice cap loss accelerates

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 5th September 2007

Loss of Arctic ice leaves experts stunned, the Guardian’s David Adam reports:

The Arctic ice cap has collapsed at an unprecedented rate this summer and levels of sea ice in the region now stand at record lows, scientists have announced. Experts say they are ‘stunned’ by the loss of ice, with an area almost twice as big as the UK disappearing in the last week alone. So much ice has melted this summer that the Northwest passage across the top of Canada is fully navigable, and observers say the Northeast passage along Russia’s Arctic coast could open later this month. If the increased rate of melting continues, the summertime Arctic could be totally free of ice by 2030.

As Daily Kos diarist “Barcelona” points out, since ice reflects sunlight and open water absorbs it, this isn’t just a symptom of global warming, but a cause of it as well — the process is self-accelerating. Speaking with Elizabeth Kolbert for her 2005 New Yorker series on climate change, scientist Don Perovich put it this way:

“Not only is the albedo of the snow-covered ice high; it’s the highest of anything we find on earth,” he went on. “And not only is the albedo of water low; it’s pretty much as low as anything you can find on earth. So what you’re doing is you’re replacing the best reflector with the worst reflector.”

The Guardian article seems to bear this out:

The Arctic has now lost about a third of its ice since satellite measurements began thirty years ago, and the rate of loss has accelerated sharply since 2002.

We got a Prius this spring, for what little that’s worth. (We like it a lot, too, though average mileage seems to be more like 40mpg than 50mpg, judging by the car’s instrumentation.) But we need to keep looking around for new ways to reduce our carbon footprint.

Or our warming footprint: maybe put aluminum foil on our roof? Or maybe we should all really start wearing those tinfoil hats we talk about a lot. Desperate times require desperate humor.

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