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Triggering a Climate Movement?

Anti-pipeline protesters Nov. 6. Photo by C MacDonald

Last week, while reporting about environmentalism inside the Occupy Wall Street movement, I had an interesting conversation with Indiana University professor Fabio Rojas about the “trigger” effect. It’s a theory about the momentum that tends to build once protests reach a critical mass of supporters. The movement’s own success sets up a sort of positive feedback loop that “triggers” or “signals to” other – perhaps more cautious or moderate – people that it’s O.K. to express their own frustrations and even take to the streets.

I wonder if that’s not at least part of what helped bring out so many people to yesterday’s protest against the proposed Keystone pipeline. Busloads of folks from around the country turned up to encircle the White House. There were more than enough to make it around the presidential compound. Chief organizer Bill McKibben sent out an email to supporters last night saying 12,000 people participated in what organizers sometimes jokingly referred to as a big “hug” meant give President Obama the support he needs to scuttle the deal. Of course, White House “headlock,”also seemed an apt metaphor given the number of people waving signs expressing their disappointment with the president.

The pipeline would cut southward across the country transporting tar sands oil from Canada to refineries in Texas. Supporters have essentially cast the battle as another jobs v. environment fight, though the Washington Post had a story Saturday exposing some pretty fuzzy math in Keystone’s assertions that 20,000 jobs would result. Critics oppose the pipeline for a number of local and global reasons. They say building it would lock the country into decades of continued fossil fuel dominance and destroy any chance at reigning in global warming before its too late, while oil spills from the pipeline could contaminate ecologically sensitive areas, chiefly the Ogallala Aquifer, which supplies water for drinking and crop irrigation across several Midwestern states.

Obama under pressure on pipeline. Photo by C. MacDonald

Riding around on my bike amid the smiling, chanting, occasionally singing and dancing crowd, the collective mood was joyous. This is what momentum-building apparently looks like compared to the general feeling emanating from the precursor: Last summer’s two weeks of civil disobedience at the same spot. Those rolling protests raised the profile of the pipeline fight and upped the pressure on the Obama Administration, but turnout was a disappointment. After initially trumpetting the news that more than 2,000 people had pledged to come to Washington and get arrested in front of the White House, organizers were left backtracking. In the end, more than 1,200 people were arrested.

About two weeks after the last tar sands protester made bail in Washington, however, Occupy Wall Street began. It’s conceivable that the tar sands protests acted as a “trigger” for the Occupy movement, though the anti-Wall Street activists have said their main inspirations are the Arab Spring and protests in Madrid.

Now, with thousands of people hunkered down in public squares and plazas around the globe, perhaps it seemed more reasonable than radical to take to the streets to defeat the pipeline that McKibben has referred to as “game over” for the environment. The trigger effect as more of a boomerang?

We may soon find out what it means for the pipeline decision but what about the prospects of triggering a wider climate justice movement? On that question, one thing bodes well for the protesters: Most in yesterday’s crowd are environmentalists from the get-go. True, some, particularly the contingent from Nebraska, may be acting primarily to protect their drinking water. And, there was definitely crossover from Occupy DC and other encampments around the country that are more concerned with the state of the economy, corporate greed and growing income inequality. Still, the vast majority of people, like the organizers themselves, were demanding action on climate change as much as protesting an oil pipeline. Shaping them into a formidable climate movement seems more doable than trying to redirect the anti-corporate sentiments of the Occupy movement into the related but less immediate issue of climate justice.

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.)

Tweets Galore, But Same Old Politics Dominate Obama’s State of the Union Speech

Millions of people tuned in to hear President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Wednesday night – and those were just the online viewers.

For the first time in history, the speech was not just broadcast live, it received the whole social media treatment: Facebook, Google, Twitter, and YouTube – not to mention live streaming via a special iPhone app – all of these online technologies figured prominently into the White House strategy to take Obama’s message to the widest possible audience. And, the Republicans countered with their own online speeches and chats.

All week, administration insiders heralded the address as a game-changer for the embattled president, whose approval ratings are sagging as midterm elections near, but the real game changer may be the speed and degree to which social networking has embedded itself into the country’s political process.

Read the rest of this post on allvoices.com.

One Year After Obamas Move In, Washington Losing its Black Majority

It used to be “the Black Broadway.”

Washington D.C.’s U Street N.W. neighborhood has long been considered an African-American cultural epicenter. Duke EllingtonDuke EllingtonDuke Ellington, Pearl BaileyPearl BaileyPearl Bailey and Sarah Vaughn were among the legendary performers, who played at a string of nightclubs and theaters along the thoroughfare.

That’s ancient history now. One year after the country first African American president moved into that big White House on Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington’s half-century status as a predominantly black city appears to be nearing its end.

Read the rest of this post on Allvoices.com

2010 and Beyond!

Hello Greendistrict readers! Happy New Year to all!

It’s a good ten days into the new year and about time I return from extended holiday hiatus. I’m kicking off 2010 with a few adjustments to my blogging habits: nixing the daily Green Lines sustainability roundup, for starters. It’s just too time consuming to compile that stuff. Besides, truly compelling stories don’t appear everyday. Instead, I’m going to focus on writing more substantive blog posts and make the Green Lines roundup a weekly feature filled with the most noteworthy and new reporting of the previous seven days. To get started, here are a few stories that caught my eye:

CBS News reported on vulnerabilities in the nation’s food supply.

Finally someone wrote a story on the brewing battle over biodiesel made from trees – or lumber scraps, that is. The Washington Post had a piece today about complaints from the lumber industry that the congressionally induced boom in fuel made from “woody biomass” could put cabinet makers and other producers of “composite wood” products out of business.  The story, however, makes no mention of the growing environmental concerns. To learn why the federal Biomass Crop Assistance Program is a bad idea from a sustainability standpoint you have to go elsewhere.

The greening of the U.S. House of Representatives: “The House saved almost 75,000 pounds of waste from landfills and cut nearly 400,000 pounds of carbon emissions last year through a new program to make the chamber’s offices more energy efficient,” according to Roll Call.

Mountaintop removal mining is causing vast and permanent environmental destruction, exposing people to serious health consequences such as birth defects, and should be banned, according to a new study discussed in this story in The Guardian.

“A federal jury awarded more than $100 million to 10 workers who claimed they were injured in 2007 when a toxic substance was released at BP’s Texas City plant,” The New York Times reports. Company officials reportedly expressed outrage though it’s hard to say why they were surprised since federal investigators came to the same conclusion as the jury. The company spends more on its “Beyond Petroleum” ad campaign depicting itself as a “green corporation” than it will be shelling out to the injured workers, which seems another reason to take the executive exclamations with a grain of salt.

The White House “regulatory czar” is pushing to nix the E.P.A.’s plans for tougher rules on coal ash, according to this story in the Wall Street Journal.

Here’s a scary piece on India‘s water mafias.

Los Angeles Times has a travel piece on the “endangered paradise” of the  Maldives islands, which is expected to be underwater if the world continues to dither on global warming.

Book Report: I just finished reading “Bitter Chocolate, The Dark Side of The World’s Most Seductive Sweet” by Canadian journalist Carol Off. It’s a harrowing but fascinating and well-researched tale of human rights abuses in the cocoa fields where chocolate’s main ingredient is grown. But be warned: The stories of children working Ivory Coast in slave-like conditions  may dampen your appetite for chocolate, as it did mine – or at least for chocolate not stamped with a “fair trade” label.

Hot Air at Copenhagen

In honor of the meager accord reached last week at the UN climate talks in Copenhagen – which even the New York Times called less meaningful than even the least ambitions expectations bandied about before the conference – I am reposting a link to this video with William Rees,  a professor at the University of British Columbia, who came up with the concept of the Ecological Footprint. Rees offers a compelling argument about why we humans are failing to act more aggressively in our own self-interest to beat back global warming.  He made the remarks at the GreenAccord conference in Italy a few weeks ago.

“We have the science to deal with the global warming problem and we’ve had it for some time. So the question is: what is it about the nature of our species that we are intelligent enough to know we have a problem but we are not capable of organizing socially in order to solve this problem?” –William Rees.

To hear more, check out the video by Alex Savulescu

Copenhagen Climate Talks Kick Off amid Global Skepticism

It’s deja vu all over again!

The UN climate summit began in Copenhagen this morning, at a time when the global public has begun (again) to doubt that climate change exists and that we’re the cause.

A couple of years ago it seemed debate had finally been put to rest by the vast majority of the world’s scientists, who insisted quite convincingly that the warming was unequivocal. But it’s funny how quickly we forget.

Public belief in global warming had already been slipping even before hackers stole thousands of embarrassing emails from one of the world’s foremost climate research centers. In the most damning exchanges, scientists talked about suppressing evidence that didn’t support the warming theory and manipulating the peer review process. The scandal, which struck like a high-magnitude earthquake in November, has shaken out aftershocks ever since.

The New York Times
has just filed this curtainraiser from Copenhagen detailing the damage to diplomatic efforts getting underway today. Many had hoped the talks would lead to an international political agreement on fighting global warming but the prospects have been complicated by a new wave of climate change denial, set off (to continue the metaphor) like a tsunami by the stolen email scandal.

Italian climate scientist Antonio Navarra, who was not caught up in the scandal but knows the scientists involved, defended his colleagues at GreenAccord a couple of weeks ago by basically saying people are people. In private emails, like private conversations, people may use strong words but that doesn’t make it criminal, said Navarro, who is director the Euro-Mediterranean Centre for Climate Change and a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

He went on to say that proof that the climate is changing is so convincing because it does not come from a single source or institution but from many sources and research centers.

“There is no single proof that is proving climate change,” he said. “We have an enormous number of contingency facts that are creating a picture that in itself is very convincing.”

A top Obama official quoted in today’s NY Times story makes much the same case:

“There will remain after the dust settles in this controversy a very strong scientific consensus on key characteristics of the problem,” John Holdren, President Obama’s science adviser, told a Congressional hearing last week. “Global climate is changing in highly unusual ways compared to long experienced and expected natural variations.”

Where does that leave us this week? Trapped in deja vu all over again?

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.

Today’s Greenlines: Clotheslines, Bike Paths, Farmers Markets, London Deforestation + More

This trend doesn’t seem to have hit DC yet, at least I haven’t seen many clothes hanging in my neighborhood, but people around the country are apparently fighting for their rights to clothesline.

The Streetsblog Capitol Hill picks up an AP story about how a majority of Americans recognize that they could play a role in helping the environment but don’t usually back up the talk with actions. Hmmm, the same thing could be said of world leaders.

A London exhibition of giant tropical tree stumps dramatizes rainforest deforestation. Check out the story and photo on the Guardian site.

The Washington Post reports from Indonesia on “A CLIMATE THREAT, RISING FROM THE SOIL”

DC Metrocentric gives an update on Penrose Square in Arlington, a rare example of an older suburban shopping center being revamped as a denser urban village with a pedestrian friendly mix of shops and housing.

The financially troubled Allegro apartments in Columbia Heights sold for $77.5 million, DC Metrocentric also reports.

We Love DC offers its five favorite bike routes.

DC nonprofits say they are seeing more demand and less moolah to carry out those services, Washington Business Journal reports on the survey.

Columbia Heights residents are meeting Saturday to discuss plans to bring a farmer’s market back to the neighborhood.

Today’s District Green: Hungry Cougars, Low-Gas Locomotives + the Power of Greenwashing

The Washington Post has a story on low emission trains that could seriously reduce pollution around train yards and the risk of cancer, heart and respiratory diseases among those living nearby.
Urban Places and Spaces seems only half-serious when suggesting we import cougars to take care of the region’s overpopulation of deer.
Are “green” energy companies joshing us? After hearing from so many wind power brokers at last weekend’s Energy Expo, his New York Times story is distressing. It asks: When electric utility customers pay extra for “green power certificates,” are they really getting green power?
Borderstan has a wrap up on last week’s “emergency” meeting at the 17th St. dog park.
WaPo also explores how electric car makers plan to address “range anxiety” by rolling out recharging stations.
Nanotechnology has enjoyed years of good press but it looks like a darker side is starting to emerge. E Magazine did an entire issue on human health concerns. Today, Environmental Health News publishes a report about new research showing that nanoparticles can kill and mutate fish embryos.
Tim DeChristopher, a 27-year-old University of Utah student who halted a Bush administration auction of oil and gas leases on federal land last year,  is in a tough legal position. Yesterday, a federal judge ruled that he cannot argue before a jury that he acted out of a necessity to protect the environment.
Greater Greater Washington has a roundup including a few bike and pedestrian news nuggets.
Susie Cambria urges everyone to tune into the DC Council hearings today and kindly provides a link to the webcast.
Finally, there’s a new development in the continuing saga of international climate talks: President Obama, in Beijing on an official visit, and Chinese President Hu Jintao both pledged Tuesday to work together to solve climate change, among other things. Should we dare to hope? Tune in tomorrow for the next installment of as the climate talks turn…
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