Monday, January 20, 2014

As we celebrate the life and achievements of Martin Luther King, Jr. today, Climate First! posts a letter that the famed civil rights leader might have written to today’s climate activists.

                                                            January 20, 2014

Dear Climate Activists:

          I write because I understand that many in your movement are presently disillusioned, even despairing, of the current state of affairs in the United States regarding climate protection.  And, maybe, you have every right to be so.  

          The hour is late with regards to the well-being of the Earth and its inhabitants.  Scientists have concluded that we have ten, maybe twenty years at the outside, to avoid the unfathomable – the world’s climate lurching into instability, causing destructive super-storms, famine-inducing droughts, ferocious wildfires, flood-causing sea-level rise, numerous species die-off, and system-altering ocean acidification.  The ecological devastation to God’s Creation will be accompanied by widespread harm to human populations around the globe, many, of course, being marginalized and economically poor peoples who are least blameworthy for their horrific predicament.

          And despite the dire predictions of science, the vast majority of the world’s governments have done little to nothing to encourage a rapid transformation of their fossil fuel-based economies to ones based on clean renewable energies.  Meanwhile, the powerful private interests – especially the energy companies, some of the wealthiest corporations in human history – openly flout the apocalyptic warnings, pushing ahead to exploit the very last of the climate-wrecking carbon fuels, seemingly in a concerted effort to push the world beyond the point of no return vis-à-vis its climate.

          However, when I look back at the early years of our civil rights struggle in the U.S., I recall that we faced the same frighteningly low odds of success.  Standing in our way defiantly, was a white power structure that had codified a system of segregation, bolstered by a long tradition of brutal racism among some and placid acceptance among others.  Yet, through toil and suffering, we reached the mountaintop, overcoming what had earlier seemed nearly impossible to defeat.  And we did so through marches, sit-ins, and nonviolent direct actions, including, at times civil disobedience, all the while showing, as Jesus would have done, love     toward our opponents even in the face of their terrifying beatings and bombings.  And in time, as the moderate forces in our society slowly embraced the righteousness of our cause, the hardened walls of segregation and racism began to crumble.

          So, I offer the following advice gleaned from the struggle of an earlier time with the hope that it is helpful to your cause.

          First, when your more restrained colleagues and supporters counsel you to be patient as victory will surely come with reasoned negotiation without the unruliness of marches and massive resistance, remember what I wrote to my counterparts from the Birmingham City Jail in 1963: ‘We have waited for more than three hundred and forty years for our constitutional and God-given rights.’  And ‘we know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor.’  In a similar vein, climate activists can fairly argue that 20-plus years (since global warming science was first introduced to the American public) is long enough to wait for the country’s governmental and corporate leaders to address the environmental crisis that threatens our way of life, if not our very existence.  Clearly, reasoned negotiation through the political process has been an utter failure, a reality that portends a colossal intergenerational injustice about to be knowingly given to the young and unborn.  It is beyond question that widespread nonviolent direct action is now warranted to protect the Earth’s climate.    
          Second, I have heard that many in your movement express concern over those who advocate breaking the law in order to further the cause of protecting the climate.  Advocates for civil rights faced the same concerns in our time.  The concern is groundless.  I maintain that ‘there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.  I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."’  Those fighting for climate protection can rightly argue that the laws that support and promote expansion of fossil fuel use are unjust – they are fostering environmental injustice on whole populations of virtually powerless peoples.  As such, activists have an ethical imperative to refuse to abide by them.  Activists must take to heart that ‘nonviolent resistance is … based on the conviction that the universe is on the side of justice.’ 

          In close, I say that your cause to preserve a stable climate is noble and just, and that ‘to suffer in a righteous cause is to grow to our humanity’s full stature.’

                                                            Yours for the cause of Peace and                                                                               Brotherhood,

                                                            Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Short Primer on Climate Change

Climate change (also known as “global warming”) occurs when an over-abundance of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere causes the average temperature of the earth to increase.  Greenhouse gases (GHG), which include carbon dioxide, methane, water vapor, and other gases, permit the sun’s light to reach the earth’s surface, but then act as a blanket prohibiting some of the resultant warmth reflecting off the surface from escaping into space.  This “greenhouse effect” causes the earth’s lower atmosphere and surface to heat up.   

Before the industrial revolutions in various countries began to dramatically increase the amount of GHG in the atmosphere, the greenhouse effect acted naturally to warm the earth.  The phenomenon kept the earth’s average temperature at a comfortable (for humans, anyway) 58 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas without it, the earth would average around -2 degrees F.  Scientists have known about the greenhouse effect for many years.  A French mathematician, Jean Baptiste Fourier, first discovered the greenhouse  properties of carbon dioxide and other atmospheric gases in 1827.
Scientists began noticing changes in the earth’s climate in the late 1970’s, and some believed that GHG were responsible.  However, it wasn’t until Dr. James Hansen, of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), testified in 1988 at a U.S. Senate hearing chaired by then-Senator Albert Gore, that the climate change issue was brought to the attention of politicians and the general public.
Numerous bills addressing climate change were subsequently introduced by legislators from both political parties in response to Dr. Hansen’s groundbreaking testimony.  As the U.S. entered the 1990s, however, the issue of climate change began to increasingly get entangled in politics.  And since that seemingly nonpolitical introduction to the country in 1988, the issue has become deeply embroiled in national politics, probably  dooming any comprehensive federal response to climate change in the near future. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Scientists Overwhelmingly Agree That Human Activities Are Causing Climate Change

While much global warming science is constantly changing as researchers make new discoveries or revise old theories, the answer to the basic question of whether human activities are responsible for changes in the earth’s climate is nearly indisputable: anthropogenic greenhouse gases (GHG) are causing, at least in part, the earth to warm.  Whether one looks to a recent study that investigated individual climate researchers’ positions on the issue, or to a somewhat dated joint pronouncement on climate change issued by the science academies of numerous nations, the scientific community seems close to unanimity as far as the cause of the phenomenon.
A study (fn1) conducted in 2009 by researchers from Stanford University and other institutions, focused on some 900 climate researchers who were publishing in the field.  After grouping each scientist into either a camp that believed in human-caused global warming or a camp that was unconvinced of the notion, the study’s authors then searched for factors showing general acceptance of each scientist’s climate work; one factor consisted of how often the researcher had been cited in other published materials.  The study concluded that the overwhelming majority -- 97 to 98% -- of climate scientists who were most active in the field (as far as publishing) were convinced of the existence of human-caused climate change.  In addition, those scientists who were not convinced of human-caused global warming possessed less credibility in the scientific world than their colleagues who were convinced.  

Looking at the broader scientific community, a statement (fn2)  was released in 2005 by the science academies of Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Russia, United Kingdom, and the United States indicating  that there was “strong evidence that significant global warming is occurring,” an assertion that essentially supported the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)(fn3) .  The statement by the 11 science academies further stated that it was likely that most of recent climate change was due to human actions, and called on the world leaders to take steps quickly to reduce GHG emissions.
For anyone to claim that there is a lack of scientific consensus on whether humans are responsible for the warming of the earth amounts to either intellectual dishonesty or just plain ignorance.

1 See
2 See
3 The IPCC, formed by the United Nations and World Meteorological Organization, releases periodic reports analyzing, in part, the current state of knowledge in climate change science.  The IPCC is composed of thousands of scientists from around the world who volunteer their time.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Why Blog on Climate Change?

After spending much of the past year educating myself on climate change and related issues by investigating websites, attending talks, studying articles, as well as reading books, I find that I can no longer stand on the sidelines as the earth's climate careens toward certain catastrophe.

Being a practicing family law attorney, I do not have any particular expertise or insights on climate change or energy issues, or any scientific issue for that matter.  What I do have is a passion for the great outdoors, which for me includes all those wild creatures, mountain views, flowing streams, meandering hiking trails, and ecosystems local and far away that make-up our world.  In the weeks and months ahead I intend to channel that passion into a drive to convince local and national leaders in all walks of life to work towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions in a sustainable manner.

Living in the Washington, D.C. area affords me the unique opportunity to work locally in an effort to promote national and even international action on climate change issues.  Since working through the political or legal systems in the United States is unlikely to bring the needed change in time to avoid climate disaster, I will focus on activist means.  As a practicing Buddhist, any action that I engage in will strictly be nonviolent and result in no property damage.

Will you join me?