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Earth Day Weekend Wrap Up

Now that Earth Day has turned 40, it apparently takes an entire weekend for all the celebrating. Anybody go to the concert on The Mall? We were planning on it but the weather was so lousy we headed to AFI Silver to see “Greenburg” instead. Sure, it’s not a terribly verdant way to wrap up such a big anniversary but this ain’t no banner year for the environment either.  Here are a few links to stories I’ve read over the birthday weekend:

The new Gallup poll released late last week provides fresh insight into just how much public concern has slipped over global warming and other environmental woes.  But no amount of denial can change the growing avalanche of scientific data pointing toward a warming world. For a comprehensive explanation, you can’t beat this piece in The Economist magazine. Sure, it gets a big bogged down and wonky in spots, but it will give you all the information you need next time you find yourself in cocktail party conversation with a skeptic.

Wine Lovers beware: Here’s a story on the new Climate Desk site explaining how global warming is wrecking havoc in vineyards.

Here’s a story on how the world’s remaining old-growth rainforests are being flushed down the toilet.

Rebecca Solnit reviews Bill McKibben’s new book “Eaarth” and mixes in a few climate change extras on TomDispatch.com.

“The party’s over” according to the Washington Post, reporting on the latest International Monetary Fund’s assessment of the state of the world economy. Funny, both the IMF and McKibben are essentially calling for the same thing: a downsizing and rethinking of what’s considered “the good life.”

The Coal industry is on the ropes as even the nation’s power plants vow to “go green,” says the Wall Street Journal. Plant operators are now turning to natural gas, the paper reports. But what about the growing controversy over fracking?

Selling(out) the environmental movement - Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman posts on Washington Post and New York Times stories examining corporate influence inside Big Green groups. Calling it “the 800-pound gorilla in the environmental movement,” Goetzman notes that it’s about time the mainstream press examined questionable deals the nation’s leading environmental groups have cut with corporate polluters, not to mention the very corporate style in which many of these nonprofit groups operate today.

Ever since Johann Hari’s piece, “The Wrong Kind of Green,” ran in The Nation last month, a glaring spotlight is on environmental groups that shill for their corporate donors. Sadly, these unlikely alliances have turned our corporate watchdogs into corporate lapdogs.

I was quoted in Hari’s piece and my book provided some background in that story, which made me quite happy and proud to help get this conversation started; I’m not so happy about the way the climate change denial camp has discovered my research, however. An outfit calling itself Freedom Action has been running a full page ad in the Washington Examiner detailing the astronomical salaries of some of the country’s environmental leaders. WWF-US chief Carter Roberts makes about $510,000 a year; EDF’s Fred Krupp takes home $474,000, and so on. You can find the same info. on page 21 of my book or just pick up the Examiner! The only problem with Freedom Action is it’s trying to derail any attempt at climate action but mixing things up with kooky ideas about birth control meds that end up in the nation’s water supplies.

Stepping Back to Move Forward on Global Warming?

The big news yesterday was that Obama kept his campaign promise and moved forward with plans to drill for oil in off the country’s coasts. This news was largely met with celebratory tones and running commentary on the great compromiser skills of the U.S. president. What received less play were two stories about the climate change debate.  The Associated Press reports here that the scientists embroiled in the “climategate” email scandal have been cleared of any wrongdoing by a British parliamentary panel. Meanwhile, The Huffington Post covered a new Greenpeace report that followed the money – nearly $50 million since 1997 – paid by Koch Industries to finance a campaign of climate change denial.

Having a hard time seeing the forest for the trees?

What do these developments mean for the climate change debate?

OK, so, we learn investigators found no evidence that UK climate scientists have “cooked the books” to make global warming look worse than it is; news that underscores that climate change is not just real, it’s going to get very bad unless we do something and the time for action is quickly slipping by. On the same day this report comes out, we get a peak inside the “climate denial machine” and its a view into a well-oiled, well-financed campaign paid by corporate interests that stand to lose a lot if our politician were ever to act to reign in runaway global warming. But Koch, Exxon and other denial financiers apparently aren’t in any immediate danger. (See story news item one.)

Seeing the Forest for the Trees

"Tree of Life No. 3" by Alberto Roblest

Climate scientists say we need to keep the world’s remaining forests vertical to help reign in global warming before things get out of hand. But exactly how trees drink in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is a complex question. Trees don’t sequester the same amount of warming-inducing gases at all times throughout their lifespan. Here’s a report that gives a detailed explanation of how it actually works.

Democracy Now Show Today on Big Greens Standing in the Way of Climate Progress

The buzz created by Johann Hari’s hard-hitting article, The Wrong Kind of Green,  in The Nation magazine is finally generating some much needed attention for the outrageous behavior of some of our leading environmental groups. This morning, Amy Goodman of Democracy now interviewed Johann and me about Big Green groups such as Conservation International, the Sierra Club, Environmental Defense, and The Nature Conservancy – that are endorsing the climate policies sponsored by their corporate donors and allies in Washington. There is just no getting around the fact that the proposals backed by these groups will do little to head off runaway climate change. As Hari pointed out this morning, some of these policies will actually encourage more logging in tropical rainforests, despite ample evidence that we need those trees standing to sop up climate changing greenhouse gases.

Hari was very effective exposing these false solutions but left things on an optimistic note by mentioning the creative nonviolence campaigns climate activists have unfurled in the UK. I wish there had been more time so that I could have mentioned that the real grassroots of US enviornmentalism – not the big national groups that have been coopted by Washington’s deal making mentality and corporate donations – are also experiencing an encouraging growth spirt.

In doing some research for a magazine article and possibly a new book, I’ve been talking to activists all over the country in the last few weeks.  Julia “Judy” Bonds, who has been fighting mountaintop removal coal mining in her Appalachian community for a dozen years, says “you can’t put the genie back in the bottle.” In the last five years, she says a movement has begun to take shape and it’s just a matter of time before it sparks change. She likened the tense standoff between coal miners and mountaintop removal foes like herself to the bloody civil rights struggle started in Selma, Alabama in 1963 that  was widely credited with helping pass the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Author Bill McKibbon is calling for people to take to the streets and join the 350.org civil disobedience campaign he launched. Tim DeChristopher, the guy who threw a wrench in the Dec. 2008 Bureau of Land Management auction of oil and gas leases on public lands, says we have to throw ourselves into the machine that’s threatening our existence.  McKibbon, DeChristopher, Julia “Butterfly” Hill, Mike Rosselle and many other activists have set up small radical groups that are all advocating that people – the average citizens like you and me – take to the streets to demand that President Obama and other lawmakers address global warming.

Considering how little we protest today, it’s hard to image the country will rise up and demand environmental sustainability. But they are doing it in the United Kingdom, so why not here? And if we don’t, who will? Bonds says her activism has shown her that politicians don’t lead, they merely follow the will of the people. It’s time for the people to take their fate into their own hands, she says.

Increasingly Endangered Communities Sue Corporate Polluters over Global Warming

The New York Times has a piece profiling an Alaskan village that is suing ExxonMobil, Shell and other big polluting corporations. They want the companies to pay to relocate villagers from an island north of the Arctic Circle which is losing the sea ice that long served as a barrier protecting the island and its residents. Here’s an expert from the story:

“The case is one of three major lawsuits filed by environmental groups, private lawyers and state officials around the nation against big producers of heat-trapping gases. And though the village faces a difficult battle, the cases are gathering steam.”

Water, Water Everywhere but Not a Drop to Drink!

While rising sea levels may get a lot more ink as a frightening impact of global warming, climate change is also fueling water shortages all over the place:

TomDispatch reproduces this article originally posted the winter 2009/10 issue of World Policy Journal about Iraq‘s increasingly dire water shortages, ultimately caused by climate change but exacerbated by power plays – in the form of reservoir construction – by two of Iraq’s parched upstream neighbors – Iran and Syria.

The New York Times reports from Bolivia on how once plentiful water is disappearing as the glaciers melt.

Nepal, as we’ve discussed before in this blog here and here, is another country facing water shortages as Himalayan glaciers melt.

Today’s Greenlines – Toxic toys, Tainted Food, Bad Water, Rising Temperatures + New Literature on How Climate Change Can Literally Drive You Mad!

from The Guardian's Copenhagen Essay


The DCist: reports of the death of the H Street shuttle might have been greatly exaggerated.

It looks like the Advoc8te at Congress Heights on the Rise put in a late night to upload the results of her Freedom of Information Act Request regarding the investigation of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission 8C‘s spending. Check it out.

DC MUD says a community boycott is brewing in Ward 7 against the Polin Memorial Community Development, a residential project set to break ground tomorrow. The fracas  is over community benefits that the developers, apparently, haven’t been too forthcoming about. Read more. Oddly, the WaPo piece makes no mention of the controversy, though it did merit some ink in today”s Washington City Paper Loose Lips column.

The Washington Post has a story on how, as the holiday gift-giving season arrives, toys are still not safe from harmful toxins. On a somehow related theme, the paper also has a piece on how our far flung global food supply system puts us at greater risk of eating tainted food.

While some would claim world temperatures have been cooling recently, the World Meteorological Organization announced today in Copenhagen that it’s just not true. “The period from 2000 through 2009 has been ‘warmer than the 1990s, which were warmer than the 1980s and so on,’ said Michel Jarraud, the secretary general of the international weather agency,” according to the New York Times story.

The Times also has this cheat sheet identifying the different players and what they want out of Copenhagen.

Mother Jones has a story on how climate change can drive you crazy – literally! “King’s College London psychiatrists recently published a metastudy of how the many charming side effects of rising temperatures—natural disasters, infectious diseases, mass migration—can really harsh your mental mellow, to say the least.” Read more.

WaPo reports that the Swine Flu outbreak could be the mildest pandemic since the advent of modern medicine.

WaPo also has a long story rehashing yesterday’s announcement by the US Environmental Protection Agency that it plans to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

I just discovered this new site: DC Food for All. It has posts about farmers’ markets, rants on the country’s food system and a passionate defense of keeping chickens in the city, among other things.

Missed this important story yesterday: More than 20 percent of the nation’s water treatment systems have violated key provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act over the last five years, according to a NY Times analysis of federal data. After you read that story, if you want to know more, check out the NY Times’ entire series on water pollution.

I leave you this morning with The Guardian‘s photo essay from Copenhagen.

Greenlines – Copenhagen Summit Edition

With the UN climate summit getting underway in Copenhagen tomorrow, the web is a buzz in stories about the talks and whether they could yield an international action plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions and head off more global warming. Here are a few highlights:

UK newspaper, The Telegraph, has a nifty climate change timeline that stretches all the way back to 1824, when a French physicist described “the greenhouse effect” for the first time.

Though expectations remain low for a meaningful accord, President Obama has changed his travel plans and will now be on hand for the critical negotiations that could led to an international agreement on cutting the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean an accord in the offing. The Associated Press is reporting: “Twenty congressional Republicans, including the top House GOP leadership, sent a letter to the president Friday expressing their ‘grave concern’ that the U.S. delegation might commit to mandatory greenhouse gas emissions reductions.”

Copenhagen officials are gearing up to crack down on protesters converging on the city. Among those planning to march Dec. 12 are Apa and Dawa Sherpa, the Nepalese mountaineers and activists, who talked about global warming’s threat to the Himalayas at GreenAccord last month. Hopefully, they will stay safe and out of the pens Copenhagen law enforcers have installed to hold arrested activists.

Some experts say its too late to head off at least some climate change. If you agree, you might want ot check out Washington Post on what the Dutch are doing to adapt to climate change and a future with higher sea levels and storm surges.

Let them eat kelp! Speaking of adaptation, the Los Angeles Times has a story on a couple of kelp farmers in Maine who are trying to revolutionize the American diet with seaweed. The stuff, which they sell to Whole Foods Market, among other places, is good for you and good for the environment. Kelp grows fast without need of fresh water, fertilizer – or land, for that matter.  It also cleans the ocean, sopping up excess nutrients and the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. The story suggests we may all one day be eating more ocean veggies. So far, however, the aquatic farmers struggle to overcome the “yuck” factor.

Glacial Flooding: Another Threat of Global Warming

For years, I had heard about how glacier melting caused by global warming was imperiling the world’s fresh water supplies, the vast majority of which come from mountains. But I hadn’t thought about the flooding threat the rapid melting poses to mountain communities until I listened to presentations by mountain geographer Alton Byers and Nepalese mountaineers Apa Sherpa and Dawa Steven Sherpa last week in Italy.

A quick search of the Internet, provides plenty more detail on this phenomenon, known as a glacial lake outburst. Here in the United States, lakes formed by melting glaciers on Mount Rainier in Washington State have burst their banks, causing flooding several times in the last quarter century. Alaska and Wyoming, among other places, have also seen flooding caused by the failure of glacial lakes. But rural mountain communities in the Himalayas are among the most endangered in the world. The United Nations Environment Program has an inventory of these potentially dangerous water bodies in the Himalayan countries of Nepal, Bhutan, Pakistan and parts of India and China.

It’s not a new phenomenon. Apa Sherpa lost his farm in the sudden August 1985 outburst from the Dig Tsho glacial lake in Nepal that destroyed fourteen bridges and caused $1.5 million in damage to a nearly finished hydropower plant. Since then, experts have seen a rising number of similar flooding disasters.

The UN estimates that tens of thousands of lives are at risk in the Himalayas alone as rising temperatures accelerate the melting. It is one of several threats the rapid retreat of glaciers is causing in these and other mountainous countries from Peru to Switzerland. Besides flooding, these countries area already reporting declines in fresh water supplies used for drinking and irrigating crops. Experts estimate that a billion people around the world live in river basins fed by glaciers and melted snow. And, hydroelectric power is also expected to decline sharply as the melting continues in coming decades.

Efforts to solve the problem are also underway. In Bhutan, the government received help earlier this year from international groups to drain Thorthormi Tsho lake before it could flood the valley below it. The operation has been held up as an example of how glacial countries might adapt to climate change.

Peru, which has dealt with the problem for decades, has developed ways to drain these lakes and harness hydroelectric power from the melt water, Byers says. He is now working with Peruvian officials to bring the knowhow to Nepal, where about two dozen glacial lakes are considered critically dangerous and more will likely form as the world’s glaciers disappear by or before the end of the century.

“We don’t want to move. We want to stay and solve this problem,” Dawa Steven Sherpa told journalists at GreenAccord last week. He recalled hearing his grandfather talk about how it was once possible to cross a  glacial mountain pass connecting Nepal to Tibet on the other side of Mount Everest. Today, that snow and ice are gone and way impassable. Long established climbing routes have also disappeared elsewhere in the region, exposing rock and rubble and making climbing more treacherous, he said.

To draw attention to global warming ahead of next week’s international climate talks in Copenhagen, Nepal’s Cabinet is meeting this week at the Mount Everest base camp, 17,192 feet (5,240 meters) above sea level. Dawa and Apa Sherpa, meanwhile, are heading to Copenhagen, where they plan to join other activists for a Dec. 11 march.

“This is not a problem we can run away from,” according to Dawa Sherpa. “This is a problem we are going to have to face head on and solve.”

After 36 Years, Sherpas Bring Daring Mt. Everest Helicopter Rescue Full Circle

Italia1 at base camp. Photo courtesy of Guido Landucci.

As glaciers melt – presumably as a result of global warming – mountaineers are stumbling upon the castoffs from long-ago climbing expeditions. All kinds of mementos – from empty cans of beans to dead bodies – are being released from icy tombs as the snow recedes.

One such discovery led to an unexpected meeting last week in Viterbo, Italy between mountaineers from Nepal and the son of an Italian Air Force captain, who piloted an ill-fated rescue mission 36 years ago.

Lifelong Viterbo resident Guido Landucci had wondered for years what had become of his father’s helicopter after it crashed on Mount Everest in 1973. He was a boy of 12 at the time and grew up hearing about the daring mission to rescue stranded climbers on their way to the top of the world’s highest peak. His father made it out alive. And no one was killed in the accident but the aircraft was left behind.

Apa Sherpa

It lay hidden under the snow until earlier this year, when Apa Sherpa, a legendary Nepalese guide, happened upon the wreckage. EIAA Italia1, the call sign of the Italian Air Force craft was clearly visible on the tail that jutted out of an expanse of whiteness. Somebody snapped a photo, which found its way into a presentation Apa gave to journalists at the annual GreenAccord environmental conference Nov. 27 in Viterbo, a city about 60 miles north of Rome.

He and his friend and fellow environmental activist Dawa Steven Sherpa had come to Italy on their way to climate talks next week in Copenhagen, where they will join in street marches aimed at pressuring world leaders for an international accord to combat global warming.

Nepal is one of those places where climate change is already showing itself with dramatic effect. As the glaciers retreat, the region’s fresh water supply is expected to decline, which could lead to severe water shortages. An even more immediate worry are unstable glacial lakes that form in valleys where the melt water accumulates.  Apa Sherpa, who has scaled Mount Everest 19 times, a world record, lost his home and nearly his life when one of these glacial lakes burst its banks and flooded the countryside below. Dozens of similar lakes threaten communities in Nepal, Peru and other high-mountain countries.

For the two climate activists, the photo of the downed helicopter merely illustrated expedition detritus surfacing as the snow goes.  What they didn’t know was that Landucci’s wife was in the audience and brought the news home to her husband that evening. The next day, Guido turned up at the conference and vowed to oversee retrieval of the helicopter in what will be a cleanup effort on a grand scale; The craft is considered the biggest piece of human waste ever left behind on the famous mountain.

Landucci, a financial adviser who has never been to Mount Everest, considers Apa Sherpa’s visit to his hometown a poetic turn of events and says he will find a way to retrieve the copter in the name of his father, Captain Paolo Landucci, who passed away in 2004. When I spoke with him the day after he made his promise, he planned to seek help from the Italian Air Force and mountaineering clubs and was looking forward to his first trip to Nepal.

“This is not the end of this story,” he says. “The story just beings again in another direction.”

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