Category Archives: World

2011: A year for the record books

When it comes to climate, 2011 isn’t just going down in the record books for all the freakishly extreme weather. In certain circles, it’ll also be remembered as the year scientists and other experts broke longstanding scientific taboo and started talking about how those individual weather events could be linked to global climate change.

“Extreme weather and associated societal impacts have increased in recent years. With our changing climate, the nation must be prepared for more extreme weather in the future,” National Weather Service director Jack Hayes said in a video posted on the service’s website along with a new report tallying 2011’s record breaking weather disasters. This year, 12 separate weather events cost the country $1 billion or more each to clean up, a significant increase over pasted years, according to the agency, a branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“In my weather career spanning four decades, I’ve never seen a year like 2011,” Hayes went on to say. “Sure, we’ve had years with extreme flooding, extreme hurricanes, extreme winter snowstorms and even extreme tornado outbreaks. But I can’t remember a year like this in which we experienced record-breaking extremes of nearly every conceivable type of weather.”

Meanwhile this year, climate extremes also unfurled across just about every other continent. Drought induced famine in Africa, dramatic floods in Bangkok, and extreme heat, forest fires and other “weather events” left people dead, damaged or displaced from their homes and livelihoods. The “freak weather” even made Time magazine’s list of the top ten U.S. news stories of 2011.

For years, science’s stock refrain has been that an individual weather event could not prove or disprove climate change. Scientists, traditionally, have taken a historian-like long view; While hotter temperatures and more extreme storms and droughts were consistent, generally speaking, with global warming, natural variations and other factors made them reluctant to connect the dots between individual events and a slow moving global trend.

Such reticence, however, has evaporated this year faster than Texas drinking water. A slew of reports on “climate extremes” published in the last few weeks have sounded alarms about the climate-weather connection, even as international negotiators have dithered over what to do to reign in runaway greenhouse gas emissions fueling climate change.

Late last month, the U.N.’s International Panel on Climate Change issued a special report, its first ever, examining the connections between weather and climate. It concluded that global temperatures and sea levels have almost certainly risen, and increasingly intense droughts and storms are going to exact more and more harrowing tolls on humans, as well as “sectors with closer links to climate,” such as “water, agriculture and food security, forestry, health, and tourism.
The World Meteorological Organization and the International Energy Organization also issued warnings that we are standing at the precipice of irreversible changes. WMO’s provisional status report issued Nov. 29 concluded that 2011 was the 10th warmest year on record and might have been hotter if it hadn’t been for La Nina, a weather event known to cool global temperatures.

“Concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have reached new highs. They are very rapidly approaching levels consistent with a 2-2.4 degree Centigrade rise in average global temperatures which scientists believe could trigger far reaching and irreversible changes in our Earth, biosphere and oceans,” WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said in a statement that accompanied the report.

Meanwhile, the International Energy Organization issued perhaps the most dire report of all last month when it warned the world was on track for a  6°C  (11°F) temperature increase. “[F]or every $1 of investment in cleaner technology that is avoided in the power sector before 2020, an additional $4.30 would need to be spent after 2020 to compensate for the increased emissions.”

That’s a prospect that David Roberts railed against as “beyond any reasonable doubt, game over,” in a post in Grist earlier this week.
Despite the evidence supporting some serious carpe diem, the news out of Durban suggests we’ll get more of the same procrastination and paralysis  that dominated international climate talks for years.

The U.S. position, which has maintained its opposition to binding emission cuts over the passed few decades no matter if a Democrat or Republican in the White House, is particularly ironic considering the latest report from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication that suggests that climate extremes are moving the U.S. public to believe in climate change in ways that the science has failed to do.

In perhaps the most interesting poll results since the climategate scandal broke two years ago, propelling climate denialism to new heights, the Yale report, published Dec. 7, found that while the percentage of people who understand global warming is happening has remained unchanged since last May, at 63 percent, slightly more people, 65 percent, told the pollsters that global warming is affecting weather in the United States. Belief that human activity is fueling the warming also edged up 3 points to 50 percent of those polled. Perhaps even more significantly, “A majority of Americans (57%) now disagree with the statement, “With the economy in such bad shape, the US can’t afford to reduce global warming” – an 8 point increase in disagreement since May 2011.”

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The Climate Two Step

More caution needed on climate change, scientists say.

If news were like music that sets the tempo of public opinion, the latest spate of climate change headlines is tapping out something like a two-step. One step closer to certainty, then the music reels toward denialism; Inspiring, if brief, performances by grassroots activists, flanked by the chorus line of corporate sponsorships and murky backroom dealings.

Last week the world’s leading scientific authority on global warming, the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, issued a report linking extreme weather to climate change and urged governments around the world to step up their efforts for dealing with “climate extremes.” The same day U.S. Congress  killed plans for a national climate agency.

Months of protesting the Keystone pipeline led to a postponement that could provide bureaucratic deathblow to the project. But it turns out that defeating the pipeline will not keep the Canadian tar sands from flowing to refineries via other routes, including the millions of miles of existing U.S. pipelines that already transport — and sometimes spill — the particularly gooey and toxic fossil fuel.

The Sierra Club‘s longtime leader Carl Pope has finally stepped down amid what the Los Angeles Times said was “discontent that the group founded by 19th century wilderness evangelist John Muir has compromised its core principles.” Pope’s replacement, Michael Brune, declared “done” the $1.3 million sponsorship deal Pope had championed with the makers of Clorox  bleach. Brune vowed to never again risk sullying the venerable institution’s reputation by shilling for another corporate polluter. Having been one of those who criticized the Sierra Club’s Clorox deal, it’s good to see the new leadership heeding concerns about greenwashing. But virtually all of the the country’s other flagship environmental groups are beholden to corporate “sponsors” and “partners” today, as the recent greenwashing scandals involving  World Wildlife Fund and the National Park Foundation and their corporate sponsor, the Coke-a-Cola Co, atest.

On Climate, Are we the 99% or more like the 1%?

Street protest in DC on Oct. 8

There’s such an upwelling of environmentalism flowing into the Occupy movement right now. My new piece on the Alternet.org site assesses what the Wall Street protests could mean to climate activism and other fights. Occupy Wall Street has not only inspired people around the world to protest against corporate corruption and income equality; It’s prompted reexamination of what “just” and “equitable” would look like when it comes to emissions cuts or the Keystone pipeline fight. Plenty of people are debating these subjects right now. I’ll just say that a sustainable economy predicated on a healthy planet seems like the kind of justice we need about now.

Climate Change: Are we also the 99%

The GreenAccord conference took place last week.

I got back late last night from the GreenAccord environmental conference in Italy, an annual gathering that brings together journalists from around the globe with some of the foremost experts on climate change and the many interconnected environmental problems threatening human – and planetary – health.
The conference has always emphasized environmental justice, a focus made even richer by the large contingent of reporters from developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, where some of the worst impacts of climate change are expected and have, indeed, begun. This year, however, the political dimensions of the climate debate were in even starker relief.  Several speakers suggested that the world’s elites are insulating themselves from the worst aspects of global warming. There were shades of the Occupy movement with its assertions that the world’s wealthiest 1 percent are ruining the world for the rest of us.

Resource economist William Rees argued that we’re already seeing the beginnings of “eco apartheid” as wealthy individuals, corporations and entire governments scramble to secure the best remaining cropland, water rights, mineral and fossil fuel deposits and other dwindling resources, while blocking climate responses that threaten their wealth. Robert Engelman, the new executive director at of the environmental think tank, Worldwatch Institute, expressed similar views. Meanwhile Brazilian philosopher Euclides Mance, of the World Social Forum, advocated dumping our corporate-dominated economy for one based on solidarity. He discussed experiments underway in Brazil and elsewhere to replace currency with a system of credits that would essentially allow people to barter for goods and services.

As soon as I shake off the jet lag, I must start writing an article that will discuss some of these ideas in more detail. Stay tuned!

While I was away, my story on the economy of food trucks posted to The Atlantic magazine’s “Cities” website. While off subject for those focused solely on environmental issues, it’s an interesting tale of how, even in a sputtering economy, agile entrepreneurs can find a path forward. Perhaps there is a more universal take-away there? You can find the story here.

Some of the “many hearts” of Oct. 6 Protest

Many hearts + Signs at Oct. 6 protest

 

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Doesn’t sound half-bad: If we all lived like Parisians, the world population would take up pretty small portion of the Earth, according to this visualization by Tim De Chant at the website Per Square Mile.

A Call for a “Deep Green” Uprising

After news yesterday drew attention again to the failed strategy and sad co-opting of many mainstream green groups, it begs the question: Is a Deep Green Resistance the way to galvanize mass action on climate change? A growing number of activists – Bill McKibben, Tim DeChristopher, Mike Roselle and others – say it will take a civil rights-like movement to wake people up to the society disrupting challenges climate change will bring (and many experts say has already begun.)

While they represent very different places on the political spectrum, they’ve all given up on a broad consensus and aim instead for inspiring a small but effective minority of people willing to put themselves on the line. But that’s about all they seem to agree on. The DGR — which according to its website will have both public and underground branches —  is already under friendly fire from Roselle and other activists who raise some interesting questions about how to start a green revolution without losing mainstream appeal.

Never one to mince words, Roselle’s take on the new resistance: “Deep Green Doo Doo.”

He elaborated in a Facebook post yesterday: “Not that some new thinking is not required, but I’m always sicious of people providing answers to problems which are themselves questions. They have not identified any issues that were not being discussed back in the 1960’s. I’m not a pacifist, but this sort of preaching to the choir is very damaging to the chances, however slim, of building a real movement. We can be the Muslim Brotherhood, or we can be the crowd at Tafir Square? Do we want peaceful transition, or a civil war? Its really up to us.”

The Importance of Forests, Farmers + Product Safety

A few news stories of note this morning:

Seeing the forest’s role: “By 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in regions with absolute water scarcity and two-thirds of the world’s population may experience water-stress conditions. Forests capture and store water and can play an important role in providing drinking water for millions of people in the world’s mega-cities.” The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization calls on countries to recognize the links between healthy forests and drinking water supplies and do a better job protecting both.

Small farmers lead the way: In a just released short film series, TVE Asia Pacific profiles farmers in Cambodia, the Netherlands, Niger, and South Africa who are members of Prolinnov, a global network  that promotes local level innovation by small farmers.

New Consumer Product Safety Database targeted by “Koch congressman” – Quick, before U.S. Representative Mike Pompeo gets his way! Check out the government database Pompeo has targeted for extinction, some say as a way of paying fealty to his political patrons at Koch Industries.

Not Exactly Preaching to the Choir: Can a Climate Activist Convert Immigrant Advocates?

Rev. Billy + choir via revbilly.com

I caught a rather unusual double-marquee performance art extravaganza last weekend starring art world darling Guillermo Gomez-Pena and actor/activist Rev. Billy of the Church of Life after Shopping.

Have you hear of the phony reverend? His real name is Billy Talen, and his is not religion-as-usual. He does have a terrific choir, though, filled professional singers and actors. I caught their act at a conference against mountaintop removal coal mining earlier this fall. The audience of mountain activists couldn’t get enough of Billy’s spoofy evangelism and responded with appropriately-churchy conviction.

Last Friday night at  Gala Hispanic Theatre, the reception wasn’t quite the same from the largely Gomez-Pena inspired crowd. They clearly enjoyed the Mexican/American/artist/activist’s observations, mostly on the sorry state of the country’s immigration debate. He didn’t have much of anything to say about the environment or our unsustainable consumerist ways, Rev. Billy’s two big issues. And Talen, looking very much “the white man” (even whiter than most in his impeccable suit and mane of frosted hair) steered far clear of the immigration divide.

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The Trouble with Corporate Sponsorship

Having chronicled the corrupting influence of corporate donations to environmental groups, I found myself in uncomfortable territory last weekend while helping my husband, videoartist Alberto Roblest, produce “Present Interval / Intervalo del Tiempo,” a temporary public art installation that, for two nights, took over an alleyway in Washington D.C.’s Adams Morgan neighborhood.

Even before the trouble began, I was feeling a little queasy about Alberto’s deal with Best Buy. The electronics retail chain had agreed to loan him video projectors in exchange for sponsorship bragging rights.

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