Monday, May 30, 2011

Runaway carbon coupled with failure of UN Climate talks means: We’re on our own.

Act locally, 'cause your government is not there for you.

 “We’re on our own.” That’s the stripped down conclusion I’ve reached about where we’re heading on climate change, given political inaction and corruption at the federal level in the U.S. This month I completed a presentation on the U.N. Climate Talks to fulfill requirements for a Certificate in Conflict Resolution from my alma mater, Marylhurst University (what better conflict to study than the beleaguered, intractable climate talks).  Daily headlines informed my research and have made me less optimistic about the prospects for any success at the U.N Climate Talks. COP 17 is slated for December this year in Durban, South Africa. With the expiration of the Kyoto Protocol agreement next year, and the evidence of our changing climate on daily display, (hello extreme tornadoes in U.S mid-west; extreme flooding in Pakistan, Australia, and Caribbean countries last year to mention only a few) it would be logical to assume that everyone, every citizen of the world, every country of the world, would be united in wanting to come to agreement about reducing carbon. Of course, like me, you would be altruistic, perhaps naïve if you had such a thought.

There is no debate anymore about climate change. It is here. Look around. Pick up a newspaper. Extreme weather events are everywhere. No part of the globe is unaffected now. Everyone is talking about it. If you’re not, then you’re not paying attention. Watch this startling video to see how the Caribbean could be re-shaped by rising sea levels.  Goodbye downtown Kingston, Jamaica where I was born.  Goodbye Jamaica's major airport, the Norman Manley International Airport.  Goodbye the Palisadoes strip where the airport is located. If sea level were to rise only 1 metre in the Caribbean, the impacts would be catastrophic.  21 Caricom airports would be lost. Nearly 1,300 square kilometres in Caricom countries would be lost and 110,000 people displaced. Caribbean countries that would suffer the greatest economic losses would be the Bahamas, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and Belize.

Scientists are united that human-caused climate change is here due to the dangerous rise of carbon in the atmosphere. The consensus is that we need to be at 350 parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere for the climate to be stable. We have not been at 350 parts per million since about 1987! We’re at 393 ppm as of April 2011.

And steadily rising. How’s this for a headline in today’s Guardian:

Worst ever carbon emissions leave climate on the brink
Record rise, despite recession, means 2C target almost out of reach

Economic recession has failed to curb rising emissions, undermining hope of keeping global warming to safe levels.  Greenhouse gas emissions increased by a record amount last year, to the highest carbon output in history, putting hopes of holding global warming to safe levels all but out of reach, according to unpublished estimates from the International Energy Agency.

The shock rise means the goal of preventing a temperature rise of more than 2 degrees Celsius – which scientists say is the threshold for potentially "dangerous climate change" – is likely to be just "a nice Utopia", according to Fatih Birol, chief economist of the IEA. It also shows the most serious global recession for 80 years has had only a minimal effect on emissions, contrary to some predictions.
Last year, a record 30.6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide poured into the atmosphere, mainly from burning fossil fuel – a rise of 1.6Gt on 2009, according to estimates from the IEA regarded as the gold standard for emissions data.

"I am very worried. This is the worst news on emissions," Birol told the Guardian. "It is becoming extremely challenging to remain below 2 degrees. The prospect is getting bleaker. That is what the numbers say."

Professor Lord Stern of the London School of Economics, the author of the influential Stern Report into the economics of climate change for the Treasury in 2006, warned that if the pattern continued, the results would be dire. "These figures indicate that [emissions] are now close to being back on a 'business as usual' path. According to the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's] projections, such a path ... would mean around a 50% chance of a rise in global average temperature of more than 4C by 2100," he said.

"Such warming would disrupt the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people across the planet, leading to widespread mass migration and conflict. That is a risk any sane person would seek to drastically reduce."

Birol said disaster could yet be averted, if governments heed the warning. "If we have bold, decisive and urgent action, very soon, we still have a chance of succeeding," he said. Read rest of article here.

Ah, I like that: “Bold, decisive and urgent action, very soon.” How quaint. Dear Dr. Birol, come and see what we deal with in the United States for elected officials. In the most wealthy, most developed country in the world, the country responsible for 25% of the carbon emissions in the atmosphere, our elected clowns in office give us bold, decisive and urgent action AGAINST doing anything on climate change or lowering carbon emissions! The Governor of New Jersey just announced he plans to pull the state out of a multi-state initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Governor of Texas suggests that the solution to drought in his state is to “pray for rain.” And the lovely U.S. House of Representatives is working to dismantle the Clean Air Act.

More headlines offer evidence that the U.N. Climate Talks are going nowhere fast. The U.S. Envoy for the talks said in April that the talks are “unworkable.” And the United Nations head of the U.N. climate treaty secretariat said in simple terms what everyone knows: “Washington's inaction on climate legislation is a "very serious hand brake" on world efforts to combat global warming.” So there you have it. Forget the U.S. government. As the Union of Concerned Scientists said in a recent statement:

Instead of standing in the way of progress, Congress should stop pandering to the deep pockets of the fossil fuel industry and allow the EPA to protect the public’s health from global warming, while also enacting the comprehensive climate and energy legislation the country needs to build a clean energy economy, create jobs, protect the environment, and ensure a healthy future for our families.

Which leads me back to: “We’re on our own.” And if you are a small island nation with full knowledge that you are headed for disaster, better act on your own to mitigate your losses.  Fortunately, some U.S. states and cities get it. And that, in my opinion, is where the “bold, decisive and urgent action,” will take place in the United States. Not at the federal level. Not in states with GOP governors who are beholden to their fossil fuel industry paymasters. But in cities like Chicago, which is "preparing for a permanent heat wave" and doing extraordinary work to prepare itself for climate change. In bike-friendly cities like Portland, Oregon, where, “on a per capita basis, [carbon emissions] have fallen by 17% since 1990. And last but not least, in citizen initiatives: installing solar panels, eating locally produced food, joining in climate action group efforts such as 350.org and lowering our individual carbon footprints as much as possible.  Maybe it's going to be the "Kids versus global warming" team who will get us through this.  If only we had such enlightened leadership in Washington.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A link between climate change and Joplin tornadoes? Never! ` Bill McKibben in the Washington Post


Another timely piece written by Bill McKibben of 350.org in the Washington Post. You have to wonder where we are heading given the rising evidence of severe weather events caused by climate change, and the the stick-your-head-in-the-sand and pretend-its-not-happening response by the totally inept, corrupt and dysfunctional political class in the U.S. Meanwhile, cities drown or are destroyed by tornadoes.

Keep Calm and Carry on
By Bill McKibben

Caution: It is vitally important not to make connections. When you see pictures of rubble like this week’s shots from Joplin, Missouri, you should not ask yourself: I wonder if this is somehow related to the huge tornado outbreak three weeks ago in Tuscaloosa, or the enormous outbreak a couple of weeks before that—together they comprised the most active April for tornadoes in our history. But that doesn’t mean a thing.

It is far better to think of these as isolated, unpredictable, discrete events. It is not advised to try and connect them in your mind with, say, the fires now burning across Texas—fires that have burned more of America by this date than any year in our history. Texas, and adjoining parts of Oklahoma and New Mexico, are drier than they’ve ever been—the drought is worse than the Dust Bowl. But do not wonder if it’s somehow connected.

If you did wonder, you’d have to also wonder about whether this year’s record snowfalls and rainfalls across the Midwest—resulting in record flooding across the Mississippi—could somehow be related. And if you did that, then you might find your thoughts wandering to, oh, global warming. To the fact that climatologists have been predicting for years that as we flood the atmosphere with carbon we will also start both drying and flooding the planet, since warm air holds more water vapor than cold.

It’s far smarter to repeat to yourself, over and over, the comforting mantra that no single weather event can ever be directly tied to climate change. There have been tornadoes before, and floods—that’s the important thing. Just be careful to make sure you don’t let yourself wonder why all these records are happening at once: why we’ve had unprecedented megafloods from Australia to Pakistan in the last year. Why it’s just now that the Arctic has melted for the first time in thousands of years. Focus on the immediate casualties, watch the videotape from the store cameras as the shelves are blown over. Look at the anchorman up to the chest of his waders in the rising river.

Because if you asked yourself what it meant that the Amazon has just come through its second hundred-year-drought in the last four years, or that the pine forests across the western part of this continent have been obliterated by a beetle in the last decade—well, you might have to ask other questions. Like, should President Obama really just have opened a huge swath of Wyoming to new coal-mining? Should Secretary of State this summer sign a permit allowing a huge new pipeline to carry oil from the tar sands of Alberta? You might have to ask yourself: do we have a bigger problem than four-dollar-a-gallon gasoline?

Better to join with the US House of Representatives, which earlier this spring voted 240-184 to defeat a resolution saying simply “climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for public health and welfare.” Propose your own physics; ignore physics altogether. Just don’t start asking yourself if last year’s failed grain harvest from the Russian heatwave, and Queensland’s failed grain harvest from its record flood, and France and Germany’s current drought-related crop failures, and the death of the winter wheat crop in Texas, and the inability of Midwestern farmers to get corn planted in their sodden fields might somehow be related. Surely the record food prices are just freak outliers, not signs of anything systemic.

It’s very important to stay completely calm. If you got upset about any of this, you might forget how important it is not to disrupt the record profits of our fossil fuel companies. If worst ever did come to worst, it’s reassuring to remember what the US Chamber of Commerce told the EPA in a recent filing: there’s no need to worry because “populations can acclimatize to warmer climates via a range of range of behavioral, physiological, and technological adaptations.” I’m pretty sure that’s what they’re telling themselves in Joplin today.

Bill McKibben is founder of the global climate campaign 350.org, and Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Stunning Canary Sky Video


El Cielo de Canarias / Canary sky - Tenerife from Daniel López on Vimeo.

This beautiful video comes to us from Daniel Lopez:
Scenes taken from Tenerife, more than 2,000 meters above sea level and over a year to capture all possible shades, clouds, stars, colors from a unique landscape and from one of the best skies on the planet.
Read More.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

"Unplugging from the Empire"

Take a walk in the forest
Inspiring words for these challenging times from the field of Ecopsycology:

"If you are discouraged, try unplugging" article by Linda Buzzell in Huffington Post:

Ecopsychologist Dr. Craig Chalquist has come up with a nifty and empowering "to do" list for those of us who are feeling discouraged about our individual and collective economic, political and environmental situations. He calls his process "Unplugging from the Empire: 30 Immediate-Impact Action Items."

Chalquist offers "suggestions for withdrawing your support from destructive institutions busy warring, polluting, spying, monopolizing, stealing wealth or ruining air, water, soil, and ocean" and urges us to "make them change or die by depriving them of what they need - and feel better about how you live."

So what's on his list? Here are a few ideas he encourages us to consider:

Move your money from a big (bailed out) bank to a more deserving local bank or credit union...

Wean yourself from the big chain stores...

Buy local food at farmers markets, coops and small local stores...

Don't buy anything you don't really need...

Buy glassware instead of plastic; don't use plastic bags or buy bottled water...

Keep your savings out of the hands of unethical investment speculators (try ethical investing)...

Pay down your credit cards...

Turn off cable TV...

Don't buy books from publishers that print works by the likes of Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh etc..

Use ethical phone carriers (e.g. credomobile.com)...

Use ecotherapy methods like spending time outside, gardening, being around animals, etc. to stay healthy...

Learn the basics of first aid and medical care...

Don't support politicians funded by big petroleum or other questionable industries or lobbyists

Learn about socially responsible investing...

Stay informed by using reputable and alternative news sources...

Reinhabit the place where you live by getting to know its ecology, climate, cultures, prehistory, native flora and fauna and the unique features that make up its spirit or soul...

For good food, networking and resource swapping, start or participate in a community garden.

Just taking a few constructive steps towards sanity can go a long way towards giving us the feeling that what we do really matters at every level. At the very least, we feel better about ourselves (and save money) if we start to live our values. And we also create the possibility that if enough of us stop feeding the machine that is destroying our lives and the planet, it may "change or die." 


For more on Ecotherapy and Ecopsychology, visit the Ecotherapy website and Dr. Craig Chalquist's website.