In the past, I asked what I saw as a stinging question: Whose "environment" is Environmental Defense defending? When it came to the Lieberman-Warner Coal-Subsidy Act, Environmental Defense and I were clearly on far different sides: ED wanting something in legislation, now, no matter how inadequate it might be, while I argue that the question was not seeking perfect, but simply demanding barely adequate as a minimum, and that it was unacceptable to support anything that did not provide a plausible path toward creating the conditions for averting catastrophic climate change.
With restraint, I’ve held my tongue and my fingers since then about ED. But, I am wondering why.
A few days ago, I read about how an environmental leader sent a long email to the leaders of the environmental community arguing that everyone should avoid linking Hurricanes Gustav and Hanna (which I am preparing for right now) to Global Warming. While I wondered who it came from, my reaction (to put it politely as possible): WTF!!!!!
Reality: Hurricanes are natural events. But, time is long past in which they (or other ‘natural’ weather events) occur absent consideration of Global Warming. Storm intensities are increasing as scientific analysis and modeling said would occur. And, the real-world data is suggesting ever more clearly that frequency of major storms are increasing as well.
Let us be clear: Damage from storms (or wildfires or floods or …) cannot be isolated to the impact of Global Warming. There would have been storms (even if weaker and perhaps less frequently) even without humanity playing a role. And, taking out wetlands, poor building codes, and other human activity help foster ever increasing potential for damage from storms.
But … BUT … BUT!!!!!!!
The reality is that these storms are related to Global Warming. And, with great focus given to them, these storms provide an opportunity to educate people about the very real impact that Global Warming is already having on our lives and the impacts that will come and the catastrophic changes that might come if we do not change course.
But, this message is bad even beyond the comments regarding Global Warming. It also argues that storm damage on the Gulf Coast should not be used as an opportunity to question how federal flood policy has encouraged reckless building decisions. Nor should the storms be used to discuss how additional offshore continental shelf (OCS) drilling could be a bad idea.
Okay, let me repeat myself: WTF!!!!!!!!
In any event, since reading that first analysis of the email, I have had the email forwarded to me by multiple people from multiple institutions and now know who authored it: Fred Krupp, "Environmental Defense". And, having received it from so many sources, I’ve decided that the full material (without email addresses) merits publication for others to see. Thus, below the fold, you make the read and decide whether you wish to join me in screaming: WTF? If this is what supposed environmental leaders are writing, thinking, advocating, should we be wondering why Congress cannot find its way to passing adequately strong legislation to deal with energy and environmental challenges?
The full email:
From: Fred Krupp
To: [LONG LIST … who I choose not to make public …]
Sent: Sun Aug 31 19:21:06 2008
Subject: Gustav and Hannah
Dear Green Group colleague,
The Green Group is a loose coalition of environmental (sometimes "environmental") organizations.
Some of the grassroots groups we work closely with in New Orleans have urged that national environmentalists use great care in how we message about Gustav and Hannah, especially if one or the other hits New Orleans or other Louisiana cities like Morgan City or Houma (neither of which has any significant levee system). If this occurs it will be a major human tragedy – even if evacuation efforts are foolproof this time – and it is critical that we support our Gulf Coast neighbors.
It could have been a "major human tragedy" but, more broadly, it could have been a major tragedy, as occurred with Katrina, with massive death and destruction not just to humanity, not just to human structures, but to the entire environment in which humans live, breathe, work, eat, etc on the Gulf Coast. Did "Environmental Defense" forget the environment?
EDF is working in close partnership with NWF, Audubon, TNC, and several regional and local NGOs to restore sustainability to the natural and human community in Louisiana. We all need to be aware that there is an NGO agenda in Louisiana focused on restoring this great waters ecosystem and the natural hurricane protection that the coastal swamp and marsh complex provided before national economic activity – the nation’s largest port system along with massive oil and gas extraction, importation, distribution, and processing facilities – severely damaged it. Included in this agenda is building a reliable hurricane protection system, and helping communities that want to rebuild so that structures are less vulnerable to water even when levees fail or are non-existent.
This is important and valuable work on multiple levels and from multiple perspectives.
Louisiana is not an example, it’s a place and community that we’re deeply involved with and it’s a place where we’re helping develop an incredibly strong public awareness of the connection between ecosystem health and community resiliency.
No place is an "example", yet any place and any event can serve as examples. No?
For example, a recent poll found that 84 percent of Louisianans thought that coastal erosion and loss of barrier islands were an extremely or very serious problem in their area, just behind gas prices at 87 percent and well above the economy at 68 percent and crime at 65 percent. 86 percent thought it certain or very likely that damage from hurricanes will be worse if Louisiana continues to lose its coastal areas and wetlands, and 78 percent thought it certain or very likely that the economy of Southern Louisiana will be threatened.
Sad that Louisiana is threatened but good, no?, that awareness is so strong.
Although as the "sportsmen’s paradise" Louisiana is a traditional conservationist state, it is not a hotbed of environmentalism. However, through listening to the issues and concerns of Louisiana citizens and government, we have been able to make common cause with them over the need to restore the Mississippi River delta’s coastal wetlands complex. The state is also a proud laboratory for new ideas on energy efficiency, sustainable communities, and development of carbon-sequestering natural restoration projects.
Win-win-win strategies demand that we figure out how to communicate and work across many boundaries.
Being environmentally smart is also being economically smart, health-care smart, energy smart. Krupp is claiming that this common cause is, increasingly, being seen. Good.
At this sensitive time we raise three potential areas where the message of the national environmental community could undermine this community, damage our efforts, and in the end damage the effectiveness of campaigns that refer to Louisiana. We hope you will consider them and join us in treading carefully during hurricane season.
Here it comes, from one of the richest and most powerful "environmental" organizations: Don’t step on my toes!!!!
Our first concern relates to the fact that any particular hurricane hitting Louisiana is not an example of how global warming is making everything worse. Hurricanes have been hitting the gulf coast for millennia, and some scientists say the geologic record shows that some were far stronger than Katrina or a likely Gustav or Hannah. There is recent research showing that warmer seas are increasing the average strength of hurricanes, and we should not shy away from saying that, but we must exercise extreme care in saying that Louisiana has been hit again because of global warming.
Anyone who is serious about Global Warming communications knows not to say, without caution, that X weather event was caused by Global Warming. The wildfires were not caused by Global Warming, but the environment in which they occurred was shaped by weather and climate changes that fit exactly within Global Warming models. Bad fire management and brush buildup up were major factors. A drought that clearly is exacerbated by Global Warming also has been a major factor. Global Warming did not cause California’s wildfires, but it certainly seems to have fanned the flames. This is reality and a reality that environmental organizations should not shy from addressing.
And, the same is true with hurricanes. Global Warming did NOT cause Katrina, Hanna, Gustav, or any other hurricane or cyclone — at least not directly and solely. But, there are cyclones and typhoons and hurricanes in seemingly greater numbers. They are, as the models predict, of growing intensity. No, Global Warming did not "cause" Gustav and Hanna (which could leave me and who knows how many others in the dark this coming weekend), but it certainly seems to whipping the waves and blowing the winds to greater intensity. This is a true message. And, it is an important message to communicate. And, if "environmental organizations" won’t communicate it, who will?
The most direct culprits – natural risk combined with engineering projects that are destroying the protective forests and marsh – are far more responsible for the extent of damage being inflicted on the coast.
Quite possibly true, the world is complex and there are many causes/effects. Thus, no one should say that all damage is "due to Global Warming" but this clarion call to avoid discussing Global Warming?
Moreover, Louisiana is not a polity that has embraced global warming as a serious problem although it is probably one of the first places that is dealing with the need to take the impacts of climate change into account. Blaming this particular hurricane on global warming runs the serious risk of coming off as opportunism in a community that knows full well that hurricanes are a normal fact of life, and could well set back attempts to engage this community on the issue.
Maybe emphasizing, the truth by the way, that Global Warming is driving a changed environment and humanity (that means us and the U.S.) might be important for "a polity that has embraced global warming as a serious problem". When it comes to hurricanes and rising seas, Louisiana is in the eye of the storm when it comes to Global Warming. Maybe it is time for that "polity" to embrace reality so as to start doing something about it. Who to help them recognize that reality other than environmental organizations?
Remember, Fred, that Louisiana "is also a proud laboratory for new ideas on energy efficiency, sustainable communities, and development of carbon-sequestering natural restoration projects." Maybe growing realization of Global Warming might transform this "laboratory" into a shining example — you think?
Second, a hurricane hitting Louisiana is not a good example of how federal flood policy has encouraged people to build in the way of danger. Louisiana’s coastal communities were there long before the federal government intervened. The vast majority are working class places located where they are because of jobs and culture, not a desire to have a nice beachfront house. There’s a huge equity and class issue problem with using coastal Louisiana as an example of how we must reform federal flood policy or the insurance system that can only be handled sensitively, not as a "lesson" right after a disaster.
Huh? Okay, sort of … There are tremendous amounts and numbers of working-class homes that are in threatened paths. There are also quite a few high-end homes and vacation places. While the Outer Banks might be a better "example" for a "lesson" about the problems of federal flood policy, the reality is that government regulation (including "federal flood policy") "has encouraged people to build in the way of danger". Should this be ignored, Fred?
Third, hurricane damage in Louisiana is not an example of how additional OCS drilling is a bad idea. Such an argument puts the national NGO community in the position of attacking an existing and major job creating force in a conservative state. The question of whether we should develop additional oil and gas production is completely appropriate for us to engage on, but using any damage to the existing infrastructure as an example of why offshore drilling is bad may very well be perceived as an attack on the existing industry and people employed in it. If people are thrown out of work, and gas prices impacted, messaging on this issue will very likely be taken as elitist and insensitive.
Advocates of offshore drilling have consistently lied about storm impacts on offshore drilling platforms. If there were major damage, if there were massive spills, it would have been inappropriate to highlight that this is a clear example of another reason why additional drilling is the wrong answer rather than fighting to get the nation of oil in the transportation sector. Even in the absence of damage, the storms are not a situation to highlight the national security, economic security, and environmental security hazards of offshore drilling.
We really appreciate your considering these issues and concerns. Many national, regional, and local NGOs stand in solidarity with the people of Louisiana and the coming months and years will provide plenty of opportunity for all of us to support development of a healthy and sustainable human and natural environment in coastal Louisiana.
PS: Evidently not all the environmental organizations ‘got’ the message. National Wildlife Federation has posted several strong statements about the relationship of hurricanes and global warming recently. For example, there is Hurricane Season is Heating Up: Train of Storms is Symptomatic of a New Era of Stronger Storms. Simply put: recommended.
"As communities along the Gulf Coast begin to assess the damage from Hurricane Gustav and three more storms are traveling across the North Atlantic, our thoughts and prayers are with those in harm’s way.
"While the past two years were relatively mild in terms of U.S. impacts, this hurricane season is a stark reminder of what science tells us to expect from a new era of stronger hurricanes fueled by global-warming: higher wind speeds, more precipitation, and bigger storm surge in the coming decades.
"The big picture is that global warming is allowing hurricanes to pack a bigger punch. Over this century, windspeeds could increase 13 percent and rainfall could increase 31 percent.
Sensitive to the realities that people, today, are threatened by storms but not shying away from communicating reality about the threats that we face and the even worse risks if we do not change our path to avert even worse implications of catastrophic climate change.
Friends of the Earth has also not shied away from addressing these issues. In response to Midwest floods, FOE issued U.S. Flood Policy Must Change to Prepare Midwest for Even More Extreme Precipitation Due to Global Warming.
Even if all global warming pollution ceased today, greenhouse gasses humans have already emitted would continue to warm the planet for decades. Extreme weather events like the heavy rains that have led to the current Midwest flooding are going to become more common. The U.S. government must prepare by restoring flood-prone areas in many places to their natural state and stop pushing the Army Corps of Engineers’ structural "solutions," which have repeatedly failed to protect human populations.
More directly to Krupp’s email, on 29 August FOE sent out an "environmental roundup" with the first item "Three News Developments on Climate Front".
If you’ve been reading the news over the past week, you may have come across several stories that illustrate the impacts of global warming. First, late last week, as Arctic sea ice continued to melt at near-record levels, scientists spotted nine polar bears swimming in the open ocean, raising the specter of polar bear drownings. These bears usually hunt on Arctic ice, but with the ice rapidly disappearing, polar bears were officially listed as a "threatened species" this spring. Shortly after that news arrived, we learned that massive new melting was taking place in Greenland, threatening to disintegrate one of Greenland’s largest glaciers. And now, on the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, yet another devastating storm — Gustav – appears to be headed toward our Gulf Coast. While we can’t attribute any individual storm to the climate crisis, we do know that on the whole, global warming is making such events more frequent and severe. These events are a clarion call. We must act boldly and rapidly to limit our use of fossil fuels and reduce the emissions of heat-trapping gases that are causing this crisis. [emphasis added]
Looks to me that Krupp’s email arrived at FOE too late to dissuade them from speaking truth.
Environmental organizations should be — as are NWF and FOE — speaking the truth about the realities of Global Warming. Krupp’s e-mail was a call for them to mute themselves, to avoid speaking truth to those who might find that truth inconvenient. Well, Fred, seems to me that we cannot shy from talking about An Inconvenient Truth, no matter how uncomfortable people find the truth. We will get nowhere on the path to solutions until reality-based policy-making and fundamental respect for science dominate the halls of power. Muting environmental voices is not, I would submit, a path for helping make that occur.