Saturday, December 26, 2009

Copenhagen: Coda

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Feliz Navidad

Merry Christmas to all, may Santa fill your stockings with bright sunshine, a peaceful heart, laughter, health and happiness this season....

Kingston Plane Crash

An American Airlines plane overshot the runway in bad weather in Kingston last night. People were hurt but thankfully no one was killed. From the Gleaner report:

One hundred and forty-five passengers aboard American Airlines flight 331 from Miami narrowly missed death as the aircraft overran the Norman Manley International Airport runway in Kingston, ending inches away from the sea along the Port Royal main road last night.

More than 40 passengers aboard the Boeing 738 aircraft were taken to hospital, The Gleaner has learnt.

According to Information Minister Daryl Vaz, most of those suffered broken bones.

"Some (passengers) were shaken up badly, some are suffering from trauma and broken bones," Robert Mais, a passenger who walked off without any scratches told The Gleaner.

According to Mais, the plane, which was scheduled to depart Miami at 7 p.m., was delayed for an hour. The trip, he said, was bumpy "and the landing was terrible".

"We touched down pretty fast," he added, noting that he could hear the engine's reverse throttle, though the plane didn't seem to be slowing down.

Instinctively, he said he placed his head down, "and it was over in a flash. I hardly felt the impact of the crash".

Mais, who was seated in seat 6A in the business class section, said there was total darkness on impact, and everything was thrown out of the overhead compartments. He, however, did not realise the impact of the damage to the aircraft until he felt rain coming through the roof.

"When I came off the aircraft I saw that we were about 10-15 feet from the sea and boulders, so I walked on the beach to the road, where we were picked up by a bus."

Chairman of the Airports Authority of Jamaica, Mark Hart, when contacted, said it was possible that torrential rainfall affecting the island could have caused the pilot to experience visibility problems.

"It is obviously a blessing that at this time of the year, what could have turned out to be a catastrophe, we were saved from," said Hart.

At least one other airline was affected by the mishap. A Virgin Atlantic plane, fully loaded, heading for the United Kingdom, was delayed for an unknown period as the runway had to be closed.

Paul Hall, vice-president of NMIA, said the airport would be closed indefinitely and all flights would be rerouted to Sangster International in MoBay.

Efforts to get a comment from American Airlines officials locally proved futile.

About midnight, two ambulances pulled up at the Kingston Public Hospital with at least 10 passengers with minor injuries, one with a busted lip, others suffering with body pain.

Some passengers had been admitted earlier with broken bones, a source told this newspaper. Most of those admitted had head injuries.

The entrance to the accident and emergency unit was heavily guarded by more than a dozen armed police personnel.

Doctors and nurses were last night being called from home to boost resources at the reportedly short-staffed KPH, The Gleaner learnt.

Shortly after midnight, Edith Allwood-Anderson, president of the Nurses' Association of Jamaica, rushed into the casualty department, her face etched with concern.

At the Harbour View roundabout, amid pelting rain, police personnel cordoned off the area, blocking vehicular traffic to the accident site.

Superintendent Michael Bailey of the Kingston East Division, who was manning operations there, told The Gleaner at 12:30 this morning that no more injured passengers remained at the crash site. He said the police blockade at the Port Royal section of the Palisadoes strip would remain indefinitely.
~ Janet Silvera & Andre Wright, Staff Reporters - Jamaica Gleaner. Photo: Bryan Cummings

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Maasai being pushed out?

SEE UPDATE TO THIS STORY Jan 1, 2010. I was shocked and saddened to read a report in the New Internationalist this month about Maasai people being evicted from the Ngorongoro highlands in Tanzania that have supported them in order to make room for safari companies. This is totally outrageous. The report mentions Thomson Safari and I find it very puzzling that they would be associated with this type of ill-treatment of the Maasai. I traveled to Tanzania with Thomson back in 2001 and from my experience, they were very supportive of the local communities and had strong ties with local Tanzanians. Maybe there is more to this story than is being reported here. I hope to find out and will report back if I find anything further. In the meantime, here is the full account from the New Internationalist:
Hunted Down - Maasai Evicted so Foreigners can play:

In July this year the Tanzanian Field Force Police violently and unlawfully evicted 25,150 people from eight villages in Ngorongoro District that are traditionally used for dry-season grazing by pastoralists. Homesteads were burned, women raped, people were beaten, shot at and imprisoned. Three children went missing and, while two have since turned up, scraps of cloth are the only remains of the third.

The eviction was carried out in order to clear the area for hunting in the Loliondo Game Controlled Area, which borders the Serengeti National Park and is famous for its wildlife breeding grounds.

The area is controlled by a company from the United Arab Emirates called the Ortello Business Corporation (OBC).

The villagers have responded by demanding their rights. Fifty women marched on Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s biggest city, but President Jakaya Kikwete refused to see them. On returning home, the women were detained by police. ‘We think the Government intends to finish off our livestock and then finish us off as well... There is nothing else to do bar fight. We have nowhere else to go,’ explains Manyara Karia, a member of one of the affected villages.

This is not the only land dispute that Manyara’s village is contesting. A US company, Thomson Safari, bought 4,000 hectares of prime land under disputed circumstances in 2006, denying the Maasai grazing and water rights on land they have been dependent upon for decades.

Mysteriously, Thomson’s land boundary widens every year and 2009 saw the denial of water rights at two more water sources. ‘This year, the boundary has moved and comes right up to our bomas (homesteads),’ Manyara reveals. ‘We are now prohibited from using two more water sources. We used to go there for firewood, but now the Thomson security guards beat you if you go.’ Villagers, not knowing where the border lies, are accused of trespass and carted off to Loliondo police station, where they have to pay hefty fines before being released.

The OBC evictions suddenly stopped on 8 October to make way for village elections on 25 October. Local activists and non-governmental organizations believe that this is just the beginning of a new phase, however, and that the battle has just begun. A new Wildlife Act, which is waiting to be signed by the President, states that Game Controlled Areas cannot be situated where there are villages. In other words, villages must be removed from the area before the Act becomes operational.

Journalists are banned from the area, and the District Commissioner in Loliondo believes that concern about the evictions is a fuss over nothing and wants the whole thing hushed up. However, sources say that a new militia is being trained as a permanent force for the area and that new controls on the movement of livestock will soon be implemented. The District Commissioner has confirmed that OBC will be given land on a permanent basis for hunting. In response to this revelation, Maanda Ngoitiko, the Director of the Pastoral Women’s Council, declared: ‘We will carry on shouting. We will not be quiet!’
~ Rosie Martin

Related Posts:
Tanzania: Ngorongoro Crater
Tanzania: Serengeti National Park - includes info on the Maasai

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Feeding the Mountain

On clear days Portland is graced by the shimmering, luminous presence of Mt. Hood that towers 50 miles east of the city in the Cascade range. At 11,240 feet, it is the highest mountain in Oregon and a popular site for climbing expeditions. Reports are that since records were kept, and up to May 2002, 130 have died. Since 2000 alone, 14 people have been claimed by the mountain. This week, another 3 are gone. So 17 people in 10 years. And just like the December 2006 expedition search that riveted this city and the nation, where 3 climbers were lost (one was eventually found dead in a snow cave and 2 others were never found), the 3 climbers lost this week were not wearing a simple $5 locator device that could have helped rescuers find them.

It is unconscionable. The debate is raging here in Oregon why climbers are not mandated to wear locator devices. The opponents of the devices (who include experienced climbers!) say that it would “be more dangerous as it would give them a false sense of security.” Say what? Oh, so you would rather put rescuers at unreasonable risks to try and find you - like looking for a needle in a haystack up there on that dangerous mountain. You would rather that your families suffer unfathomable grief and trauma as rescuers desperately try to locate you for days. While your families and friends try to convince themselves and the world that “they were very experienced climbers, we're sure they're still alive, maybe in a snow cave.” You would rather that your bodies never be found.

This week three families are grieving and have gone through hell. The locator device may, or may not have saved their lives. But at least it would have given rescuers a chance to find the lost climbers while the weather allowed. One climber was found dead on Saturday and the going theory is that he was going for help and died of hypothermia. Two others are missing, and as it has now been 7 days and there was no locator beacon to pinpoint their whereabouts, they are presumed dead. Mt. Hood swallows them up. Again. For no good reason except egoic pride and a false sense of invincibility. Go figure.

After previous failed attempts to legislate mandates to wear the locator devices, will Oregon legislators finally do the right thing? Obviously we can’t rely on (some) climbers to take responsibility for their own lives. They would rather put rescuers at risk. They would rather untold sums of public money be spent in desperate, days long searches to find them. We all wear seatbelts by law. Does that mean I have a “false sense of security” when I’m driving? Of course not. Regrettably, probably nothing will be done. Again. This debate will just continue to rage the next time Mt. Hood gets hungry again. More suffering. More risk for rescuers. More tragedy.
Debate over devices that save lives, locate climbers
Mt. Hood Climbing Fatalities
Search suspended for missing climbers

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Only Pencils and Prayers - Greg Mortenson

Literary Arts presented Greg Mortenson in Portland last night to a sold-out crowd that packed the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. The author of Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time and the recently released Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan has built 131 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, through his Central Asia Institute (CAI), that serves 58,000 students, including 44,000 girls. The Pennies for Peace school program he started has raised $1 million from 100 million pennies donated by school kids in the U.S. for building the schools.

Mortenson began by telling the audience that he visits 200 schools in the U.S. each year and he always asks the school kids this question: "How many of you have talked to your grandparents about WWII, or the Vietnam War, or about the Civil Rights Movement?" He said only 10% of kids respond that they have. He said that 90% of kids have had this kind of talk with their elders in Afghanistan. Mortenson believes that we have lost the tradition here in the U.S. where we talk to our elders. He thinks that there should be storytelling in U.S. schools by elders, a practice that is done in Afghanistan. To reinforce his point, Mortenson then showed a short video of his own young daughter interviewing Tom Brokaw about his book The Greatest Generation and her asking questions of him about that generation's experience.

Mortenson then gave an interesting commentary about his experience in getting Three Cups of Tea published. The title of the book was set but the publisher insisted, despite Mortenson's objections, that the subtitle of the book should be "One man's mission to fight terrorism and build nations - one school at a time." Mortenson did not want the word "terrorism" in the subtitle. He wanted the subtitle to be "One man's mission to promote peace - one school at a time." The publisher insisted that their subtitle was the right one to sell books and so Mortenson had to relent to their wishes. However, he made a deal with them that if the book did not do well in hardcover with that subtitle, that they would change the subtitle for the paperback. Sure enough, the hardcover did not do well. With the new "promote peace" subtitle, the paperback book has sold over 300 million copies worldwide, has been on the New York Times bestselling list for three years, and is now required reading for Special Forces personnel being deployed to Afghanistan. Mortenson said that it was clear to him that the word "terrorism" breeds fear while the word "peace" inspires hope.
Mortenson's main message centered around the fact that education is critical in a world where some 120 million children are without the means to going to school. He quoted an African proverb that states that "If you educate a boy, you educate an individual; If you educate a girl, you educate a community." One of the reasons for this, he said, is that once girls are educated, there is a dramatic drop in birth rates, better infant mortality rates and it leads to income growth and women's empowerment overall. He said that in speaking to people in the region, their overall greatest desires are that they don't want their babies to die, and they want their children to go to school.Mortenson believes that education should be our top priority, nationally and internationally. He said that we could eradicate global illiteracy in 15 years if we were really committed to it. He spoke highly of the Teach for America program here in the U.S., the Americorps program and the success of the Pennies for Peace program which has inspired children in the U.S. to get involved and start projects in their own communities.

Mortenson said the key to the success of the schools he has started has been having the local communities involvement in every step. He said that is why his schools have not been adversely affected the way others have by the insurgencies in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The CAI schools are built on land provided by the communities, are built by local community workers which ensures their total commitment to the schools.

Mortenson acknowledged the audience's curiosity for him to speak about President Obama's latest decision to deploy 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. Mortenson said that there were 9 meetings held on Capital Hill and they were all held in privacy and secrecy. He believes that there should have been more transparency and that there should have been open hearings and testimony. He lamented the fact that the Afghanistan shura (elders) were not contacted. He said that the power base in Afghanistan does not lie with the central government which is corrupt. The real power base in Afghanistan is provincialized and lies with the shura. He drew comparisons with the Marshall Plan in Europe which was a provincialized plan and was therefore highly successful in its implementation. He questioned why this was not the method being used in Afghanistan. The real solution lies in building relationships. Mortenson said that the locals say that they don't want more fire power - they want more brain power!

Mortenson did offer supportive remarks for Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Admiral Mullen was given Three Cups of Tea to read by his wife and he has subsequently made it into required reading for the troops. Mortenson said he believes that the U.S. military now "gets it" - it's about building relationships. However, he said that the politicians in Washington don't get it and have not made many trips to Afghanistan to really see what's going on. He said we have to listen, build relationships and realize that no surge will ever bring peace.
Mortenson ended with his reasons for hope in the area and some good news. He said that in 2000, there were 800,000 kids in school in Afghanistan. Today there are 8.5 million kids in school, including 2.5 million girls. Land ownership is up, a central banking system is in place and roads are being built. He showed a picture of himself in a black turban along with tribal leaders in Urozgan Province, a remote and dangerous area in south central Afghanistan, the original home of Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Mortenson said that for years he had a dream of wanting to build a girls school in that area as it is the heart of Taliban country, however he felt it would be 20 years before he could see that happen. As it turns out, 13 shura of the province approached CAI in Kabul about helping them build a school in their region. The audience broke out in laughter as he showed a picture of these black turbaned tribesmen swinging gaily on swings at a CAI school. Mortenson said these men did not have childhoods like we have so for them a swing was a wonderful thing. They agreed to the building of the girls school but asked that the playground be built first.

Mortenson brought along field reports of CAI's work in 2009 and contained in it is the full story of the relationship building with the tribesmen in Urozgan Province. Wakil Karimi, CAI's Afghanistan operations manager is quoted as he worked to gain their trust while explaining the process of building a CAI school to the tribesmen: "I tell them, 'We are good and simple NGO, we work in village, not in city, and we don't have big office, or Landcruisers or gunman - only pencils and prayers.'"

Related Post:
Schools, Not Soldiers: Afghanistan
UPDATE - Dec. 17 - See Greg Mortenson Q&A with Andrew Proctor, Executive Director of Literary Arts, before he went on stage in Portland Dec. 14, 2009:

Monday, December 14, 2009

Jamaica Environment Trust

Jamaica Environment Trust has a new website that is worth checking out. The mission of the Trust is to "ensure the best possible stewardship of Jamaica's natural environment through a range of programmes designed to protect natural resources, increase environmental awareness and advocacy in civil society, develop vibrant environmental jurisprudence and ensure that a healthy natural environment is a key part of national development objectives."

The website details the Trust's campaign efforts: Save Cockpit Country, Protect Pellew Island and Keep Marine Mammals Free and includes some recent interesting reports on a whale stranding in St. Thomas and sea turtle monitoring in St. Mary.

Diana McCaulay, the Trust's CEO and founder has an interesting blog post titled Versus, In Copenhagen where she lays out the fundamental struggle that we can see playing out today in the headlines coming out of the Copenhagen Climate Talks. Diana says:
It’s complex, it’s global, it’s political, it’s long term – although horizons are shortening – and it’s all about VERSUS. The north vs the south. The rich vs the poor. Developed vs developing. Islands vs continents. Small vs big. Industrialized vs agricultural. Oil producers vs oil consumers. Those with oil and those without. Us vs those who come after us. The debate is extreme, polarized. Everyone’s positions are hardening. 1.5 degrees Celsius, say the small island states, not a degree more. Impossible, responds nearly everyone else - we can MAYBE discuss 2.0 degrees. 350 ppm, say the NGOs. 450 ppm say the governments. The scientists tear their hair. How much carbon, which base year, cap and trade, carbon offsets, carbon taxes, carbon rationing, carbon intensity, clean development mechanism, REDD – it’s all too much for the rest of us. And then there are the doomsday scenarios, whether you are listening to climate skeptics or climate campaigners. If we do nothing, catastrophe for the environment. If we do anything, catastrophe for the economy.

As I write, the tiny island nation of Tuvalu brought the negotiations to a standstill on Wednesday by demanding their proposals be heard. (Go Tuvalu!) The US and China are at odds. There’s a split between the island states and some African countries and other rapidly developing countries like India and Brazil. The EU mentions a sum in north/south aid. It is rejected as being entirely inadequate.

Thus far, VERSUS rules in Copenhagen.~ Diana McCaulay on Earth Talk, blog of Jamaica Environment Trust.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Climate Vigil

This weekend people around the world will be holding vigils to urge real action in Copenhagen on climate change. The events continue the united grassroots global action that is being spearheaded by and Bill McKibben. See the website for info on events being held all around the world.

Meanwhile, back at the talks today, McKibben posted this message on
The Alliance of Small Island States put forward a proposed draft of the treaty today. It's one of the first proposals from this whole conference that takes note of the fact that we're in a crisis, and that scientific reality trumps political reality. It calls for a concerted drive to return the planet's atmosphere to 350 ppm CO2.

And it means that your vigils over the next 24 hours are doubly, triply, quadruply important. Here's what I told the leaders of these 40 island nations today. "You have listened to the science, and acted bravely. The rest of the world doesn't pay attention because you are small, and lack armies. This weekend we are your army. Around the world, millions of people will take action on your behalf. Count on us."

I can't emphasize enough how brave these guys are. They are under intense pressure from the US, and other big powers, to sit down and shut up. But they are fighting for their survival. And for our survival. They are our champions. Please keep them in your hearts these next 24 hours. We're a team, a bigger one every hour.
~ Bill McKibben on

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Universal Declaration of Planetary Rights

I have always been interested in the Deep Ecology philosophy inspired by Arne Naess and embraced by activists such as Joanna Macy and John Seed, both of whom came up with the Council of All Beings workshops years ago. From the book Thinking Like a Mountain by John Seed, Joanna Macy, Pat Fleming and Arne Naess: "Deep Ecology questions the fundamental premises and values of contemporary civilization...within the framework of deep ecology, and contrary to key assumptions of Judaeo-Christian/Marxist/humanist tradition, humans are not to be viewed as the ultimate measure of value or as the crown of creation. We are but 'a plain member' of the biotic community and our arrogance with respect to this community threatens not only ourselves but all of life...we must come to understand that life forms do not constitute a pyramid with our species at the apex, but rather a circle where everything is connected to everything else...The themes of deep ecology echo the ancient earth wisdom of native peoples."

So I was particularly interested when I came across this article today on the website about Polly Higgins, a U.K. lawyer who has spearheaded a proposal to the United Nations that they/we adopt a Universal Declaration of Planetary Rights. The Declaration is clearly based on Deep Ecology principles and I am glad to see this being represented at the U.N. Climate Change Meeting:
From the Treehugger article titled "Never Mind a Climate Treaty, is it time to consider a Universal Declaration of Planetary Rights?"

Let's step outside what's being negotiated here at COP15 for one second and consider the notion that even if we get a fair, ambitious and binding climate agreement at the end of next week it really misses the point -- the point that we are not focusing on the sources of pollution, we are still commodifying forests, instead of legally recognizing that their is intrinsic value in nature. Is it time for a universal declaration of planetary rights? Polly Higgins, an environmental lawyer from Scotland, certainly thinks so:

She describes this approach as an entirely different paradigm than what's being discussed right now. A switch from viewing the planet as an inert thing -- which can be traded, damaged and which has no legal voice in itself -- to one that is a living entity. If you make that shift you have a responsibility to protect it.

The first step in this process, Higgins told me, is to start remapping where emissions are coming from. Rather than talking in terms of nations or even individuals, we need to talk about communities. Doing so you realize that corporations are a type of community and that 300 of them in the heavy extractive industries are responsible for the overwhelming majority of greenhouse gas emissions.

Turn Off the Carbon Emissions Tap at the Source
Higgins says, "You and I, as human beings, do not emit massive amounts of carbon emissions. It's actually looking at what is that we're doing that creates high levels of carbon emissions: Extraction of natural resources. If you turn the tap off at point of source you stop all those emissions being used."

She uses the example of hearing a neighbor abusing a child through your wall. "You'd go around to your neighbor and say 'Hey, that's got to stop.' You wouldn't say, 'Do you mind doing that a little bit less?'"

When the police arrive they are justified in taking action because that child has rights. It may not be able to represent itself in court, but it has rights that the community will (hopefully) defend.

That obviously doesn't hold true for a patch of forest in the Amazon. Communities may sue for reparations based on violation of their human rights -- something not always easy to prove -- but the forest itself has no voice.

But how do we get to a place were the planet itself has intrinsic legal value?
Higgins gives the example of the banning of slavery by the British 200 years ago -- one which Dr James Hansen has used of late as well, if in the context of greenhouse gases. It would be absurd to say to slave owners that you can still own slaves but just use them a little less -- once you recognize that these slaves are human beings with legal rights. You obviously have to ban slavery.

Still, there's a big leap between that (now) tidy example and granting the planet rights of its own. Even if you can get enough people on board with the idea, there's the issue of enforcement -- international law not always being the easiest thing to enforce in a world where, despite best intentions, might still makes right if you're an important enough nation.

OK. This short summary doesn't entirely do the notion of universal planetary rights justice -- check out Higgins' website: TreesHaveRightsToo -- but in among all the negotiations, the protests, and the raised voices it's worth considering the type of shift in consciousness, the shift in relation to the natural world, that ultimately needs to happen for 7+ billion people to live on this planet.
~Matthew McDermott on

For further information on Deep Ecology see:
The Council of All Beings
Joanna Macy's website
John Seed's website - Rainforest Information Centre
The Deep Ecology Platform

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Climate Justice and Grenada's Message

Grenada's Ambassador Dessima Williams outlines Grenada's recent experience with Hurricane Ivan and advocates for a strong agreement at the Copenhagen Climate Talks.

Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan wrote a provocative column today calling for climate justice titled "Saving Ourselves From...Ourselves:
Copenhagen offers the prospect of a robust political deal, endorsed by the world's leaders and witnessed by the world's people, that sets out clear targets and a timeline for translating it into law. To be a truly historic achievement, such a deal must do two things.

First, it must lay the basis for a global regime and subsequent agreements that limit global temperature rise in accordance with the scientific evidence. Second, it must provide clarity on the mobilization and volume of financial resources to support developing countries to adapt to climate change.

The stakes are enormous. Economic growth has been achieved at great environmental and social cost, aggravating inequality and human vulnerability. The irreparable damage that is being inflicted on ecosystems, agricultural productivity, forests and water systems is accelerating. Threats to health, life and livelihoods are growing. Disasters are also increasing in scale and frequency.

But despite the mounting evidence of negative impacts, reaching a deal will not be easy. It will require extraordinary political courage -- both to cut the deal and to communicate its necessity to the public.

A mindset shift is required. Distrust and competition persist between regions and nations, manifest in a 'no, you must show your cards first' attitude that has dogged the negotiations leading up to Copenhagen. This has to be overcome.

A deal that is not based on the best scientific evidence will be nothing better than a line in the sand as the tide comes in. But short term considerations, including from special interest groups and electoral demands, are working against long term solutions.

Success in reaching a deal will require leaders to think for future generations, and for citizens other than their own. It will require them to think about inclusive and comprehensive arrangements, not just a patched up compilation of national or regional interests.

A deal that stops at rhetoric and does not actually meet the needs of the poorest and most climate vulnerable countries simply will not work. The climate cannot be 'fixed' in one continent and not another. Climate change does not respect national borders. We are all in the same boat; a hole at one end will sink us all.

For it to work, climate justice must be at the heart of the agreement. An unfair deal will come unstuck.

Industrialized countries such as the United States must naturally take the lead in reducing emissions and supporting others to follow suit, but developing countries like India or China also have an increasing responsibility to do so as their economies continue to grow.

Tragically, it is the poorest and least responsible who are having to bear the brunt of the climate challenge as rising temperatures exacerbate poverty, hunger and vulnerability to disease for billions of people. They need both immediate help to strengthen their climate resilience as well as long-term support to enable them to adapt to changing weather patterns, reduce deforestation, and pursue low-emissions, clean energy growth strategies.

The deal must include a package of commitments in line with the science and the imperative of reducing global emissions by 50-85 percent relative to 2000 levels by 2050.

This requires a schedule for richer countries to move to 25-40 percent emission cuts by 2020 from 1990 baselines; clear measures for emerging economies to cut emissions intensity; and clarity about both immediate and longer term finance and technical support for developing countries, notably the poorest and most vulnerable among them.

Will we get there? The targets that have been proposed for emission reductions by many industrialized countries such as the EU, Japan and Norway are encouraging, as are those being made by the big emerging economies including Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, and South Korea.

Recent announcements by the US on emission targets represent a significant shift and provide a basis for scaling up commitments in the coming years. So does the recognition by emerging economies that they also have a role in supporting the most vulnerable countries.

Welcome too are the proposals for financial support to LDCs and small island states made at the Commonwealth Summit in Trinidad, as well as proposals by the Netherlands, France, and the UK, among others.

But much greater specificity on finance is needed. Existing ODA commitments to help the poorest countries meet the Millennium Development Goals need to be met. And significant additional finance that is separate from and additional to ODA needs to be mobilized to support them meet the incremental costs generated by climate change.

A deal which is not clear on the finance will be both unacceptable to developing countries, and unworkable. Finding the additional resources and communicating its necessity will not be easy, particularly in the current economic climate, but it must be done.

A successful deal could incentivize not only good stewardship of forests and more sustainable land use, but also massive investment into low carbon growth and a healthier planet, including in sectors such as energy generation, construction and transportation.

And it could usher in an era of qualitatively new international cooperation based upon common but differentiated responsibilities - not just for managing climate change, but for human development, social justice and global security.

Ultimately, at stake is whether our leaders can work to help us save ourselves from ... well, from ourselves. The legacy of today's politicians will be determined in the weeks to come.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Ocean Action Hawaii

Watch the amazing live surfing action today at the Quiksilver in memory of Eddie Aiku being held at Waimea Bay.

Some more good news out of Hawaii that a juvenile humpback whale that had been entangled in some 350 feet of rope was freed by workers from NOAA:

See more on the rescue efforts from KITV news video
Read the full story here.

Meanwhile, the big surf has arrived. Some great video shot by Dan Holme at Jaws on Maui of the tow in surfers:

More video from Oahu's North Shore from here.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Climate Change Talks: the United Voice

The climate talks begin today in Copenhagen. At least some people are taking it seriously - a rare joint editorial, including in the Jamaica Observer, was published today in 56 newspapers in 45 countries:
From the Guardian:
Today 56 newspapers in 45 countries take the unprecedented step of speaking with one voice through a common editorial. We do so because humanity faces a profound emergency.

Unless we combine to take decisive action, climate change will ravage our planet, and with it our prosperity and security. The dangers have been becoming apparent for a generation. Now the facts have started to speak: 11 of the past 14 years have been the warmest on record, the Arctic ice-cap is melting and last year's inflamed oil and food prices provide a foretaste of future havoc. In scientific journals the question is no longer whether humans are to blame, but how little time we have got left to limit the damage. Yet so far the world's response has been feeble and half-hearted.

Climate change has been caused over centuries, has consequences that will endure for all time and our prospects of taming it will be determined in the next 14 days. We call on the representatives of the 192 countries gathered in Copenhagen not to hesitate, not to fall into dispute, not to blame each other but to seize opportunity from the greatest modern failure of politics. This should not be a fight between the rich world and the poor world, or between east and west. Climate change affects everyone, and must be solved by everyone.
The science is complex but the facts are clear. The world needs to take steps to limit temperature rises to 2C, an aim that will require global emissions to peak and begin falling within the next 5-10 years. A bigger rise of 3-4C -- the smallest increase we can prudently expect to follow inaction -- would parch continents, turning farmland into desert. Half of all species could become extinct, untold millions of people would be displaced, whole nations drowned by the sea. The controversy over emails by British researchers that suggest they tried to suppress inconvenient data has muddied the waters but failed to dent the mass of evidence on which these predictions are based.

Few believe that Copenhagen can any longer produce a fully polished treaty; real progress towards one could only begin with the arrival of President Obama in the White House and the reversal of years of US obstructionism. Even now the world finds itself at the mercy of American domestic politics, for the president cannot fully commit to the action required until the US Congress has done so.

But the politicians in Copenhagen can and must agree the essential elements of a fair and effective deal and, crucially, a firm timetable for turning it into a treaty. Next June's UN climate meeting in Bonn should be their deadline. As one negotiator put it: "We can go into extra time but we can't afford a replay."
At the deal's heart must be a settlement between the rich world and the developing world covering how the burden of fighting climate change will be divided -- and how we will share a newly precious resource: the trillion or so tonnes of carbon that we can emit before the mercury rises to dangerous levels.

Rich nations like to point to the arithmetic truth that there can be no solution until developing giants such as China take more radical steps than they have so far. But the rich world is responsible for most of the accumulated carbon in the atmosphere - three-quarters of all carbon dioxide emitted since 1850. It must now take a lead, and every developed country must commit to deep cuts which will reduce their emissions within a decade to very substantially less than their 1990 level.
Developing countries can point out they did not cause the bulk of the problem, and also that the poorest regions of the world will be hardest hit. But they will increasingly contribute to warming, and must thus pledge meaningful and quantifiable action of their own. Though both fell short of what some had hoped for, the recent commitments to emissions targets by the world's biggest polluters, the United States and China, were important steps in the right direction.

Social justice demands that the industrialised world digs deep into its pockets and pledges cash to help poorer countries adapt to climate change, and clean technologies to enable them to grow economically without growing their emissions. The architecture of a future treaty must also be pinned down - with rigorous multilateral monitoring, fair rewards for protecting forests, and the credible assessment of "exported emissions" so that the burden can eventually be more equitably shared between those who produce polluting products and those who consume them. And fairness requires that the burden placed on individual developed countries should take into account their ability to bear it; for instance newer EU members, often much poorer than "old Europe", must not suffer more than their richer partners.

The transformation will be costly, but many times less than the bill for bailing out global finance -- and far less costly than the consequences of doing nothing.

Many of us, particularly in the developed world, will have to change our lifestyles. The era of flights that cost less than the taxi ride to the airport is drawing to a close. We will have to shop, eat and travel more intelligently. We will have to pay more for our energy, and use less of it.

But the shift to a low-carbon society holds out the prospect of more opportunity than sacrifice. Already some countries have recognized that embracing the transformation can bring growth, jobs and better quality lives. The flow of capital tells its own story: last year for the first time more was invested in renewable forms of energy than producing electricity from fossil fuels.

Kicking our carbon habit within a few short decades will require a feat of engineering and innovation to match anything in our history. But whereas putting a man on the moon or splitting the atom were born of conflict and competition, the coming carbon race must be driven by a collaborative effort to achieve collective salvation.

Overcoming climate change will take a triumph of optimism over pessimism, of vision over short-sightedness, of what Abraham Lincoln called "the better angels of our nature".

It is in that spirit that 56 newspapers from around the world have united behind this editorial. If we, with such different national and political perspectives, can agree on what must be done then surely our leaders can too.

The politicians in Copenhagen have the power to shape history's judgment on this generation: one that saw a challenge and rose to it, or one so stupid that we saw calamity coming but did nothing to avert it. We implore them to make the right choice.

This editorial was published Monday by 56 newspapers around the world in 20 languages including Chinese, Arabic and Russian. The text was drafted by a Guardian team during more than a month of consultations with editors from more than 20 of the papers involved. Most of the newspapers have taken the unusual step of featuring the editorial on their front page. Read How the Climate Change global Editorial project came about.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The giant waves of 1969: will the coming swell be even bigger?

Giant waves are expected in Hawaii in the next couple of days. From an article today on the Hawaii News Now website:
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - It was exactly 40 years ago, that a massive winter swell hit the north and west shores of the islands. Many surfers consider it to be the biggest swell in recorded history to ever hit Oahu's north shore.

The four-day swell peaked at midnight on December 2, 1969. State senator Fred Hemmings, who surfed with Eddie Aikau, remembers:

"We got to Makaha and obviously the north shore was closed out. Everything was breaking out on the horizon. You couldn't even paddle out to a location on the north shore, it was so wild" said Hemmings.

"Well, the '69 swell produced waves up to 50 feet. We think. I wasn't out. There were a few guys out" said Ricky Grigg.

Grigg is now an oceanographer at the University of Hawaii. He rode the swell - in southern California, where was studying at the Scripps Institute of oceanography.

"Yeah, I was going to Scripps at the time, and I caught a wave off Rumor Beach, La Jolla. Same swell, three days later. It was about 20 feet."

Grigg says he's 95 percent sure about Monday's forecast for mammoth waves. The weather systems that will produce the swell may be more powerful than the one that gave rise to the giant swell of '69.

"This storm is just as big. And it's moving slower, and it's a deeper pressure. And so if anything, its going to be as big or bigger."

That means the waves may cause destruction on Oahu's north shore - like they did 40 years ago.

"There was one and a half million dollars of damage in '69, whereas ‘74, ‘88, ‘98, had very little damage. Waves almost as big. But I think this is going to be comparable to '69, if not bigger, so expect some damage as well" said Grigg.

As Fred Hemmings remembers, 1969 was big.

"I think it was a lifetime swell for me. I haven't seen or been in the ocean like that since. And I was so scared, I thought I was gonna die. "

As a former big wave rider and an oceanographer, Ricky Grigg is urging everyone to be careful, and not to get too close to the water.

"Respect the ocean and be safe."

The giant waves of 1969: will the coming swell be even bigger? - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL Home
Surf News Network

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Schools, not Soldiers: Afghanistan

Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan
Yesterday I picked up a copy of Greg Mortenson's new book Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan which picks up where Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time left off. Three Cups of Tea told the story of how Mortenson, a former mountain climber who was rescued by villagers in Pakistan, came to find his life mission of building schools for impoverished children in Pakistan and Afghanistan. If ever there was a man who deserved to win the Nobel Peace Prize, Mortenson would be it! He will be in Portland on Dec. 14 and I am looking forward to hearing him talk.

In the wake of President Obama's announcement about sending more troops to Afghanistan, Nicholas Kristof has an interesting column today in the New York Times titled Johnson, Gorbachev, Obama where he quotes Mortenson who has so much experience with the local Afghan people. The column focuses on why local Afghans weren't more involved in the planning:

To me, what was most concerning is that there was never any consultation with the Afghan shura, the tribal elders,” said Greg Mortenson, whose extraordinary work building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan was chronicled in “Three Cups of Tea” and his new book, “From Stones to Schools.” “It was all decided on the basis of congressmen and generals speaking up, with nobody consulting Afghan elders. One of the elders’ messages is we don’t need firepower, we need brainpower. They want schools, health facilities, but not necessarily more physical troops.”

For the cost of deploying one soldier for one year, it is possible to build about 20 schools...

Over time, education has been the single greatest force to stabilize societies. It’s no magic bullet, but it reduces birth rates, raises living standards and subdues civil conflict and terrorism. That’s why as a candidate Mr. Obama proposed a $2 billion global education fund — a promise he seems to have forgot.

My hunch is that if Mr. Obama wants success in Afghanistan, he would be far better off with 30,000 more schools than 30,000 more troops. Instead, he’s embarking on a buildup that may become an albatross on his presidency.
~ Nicholas Kristof

For more on Mortenson's work:
Central Asia Institute
Greg Mortenson Blog