- Tom Athanasiou interviewed on “After the Catastrophe”
If you liked After the Catastrophe, or even if you didn’t, you might want to check out my (long) interview with Sasha Lilly on Against the Grain on KPFA-FM. It’s called Trumping Global Warming, it was recorded on January 30th, and it’s not too bad.
- January 31st, 2017
- Implications for Australia of a 1.5°C future
Slowly but surely, the “fair shares” issue is taking the stage. It has to if we’re going to get anywhere near the Paris temperature targets, which I will conservatively characterize as “well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.” Which brings me to Implications for Australia of a 1.5°C future, which my colleague Sivan Kartha just wrote for a few brave Australian climate groups.
It’s an interesting report, for two related reasons. First, it is brief, and it sticks very closely to the mainline implications of the carbon budget approach, laying out the logic of the high-ambition Paris targets in a clear, step by step, fashion. Second, it is conservative. Not only does it reference the Australian fair share, as calculated by the Climate Equity Reference Project for the Civil Society Equity Review of the INDCs, but it also references a far more forgiving estimate of Australia’s fair share, one calculated by the Australian Climate Change Authority in 2014.
The report’s headline result, which the Sydney Morning Herald gave as Australia’s carbon budget to be exhausted in six years, is an understated one. If, that is, you actually want to meet the Paris targets, which is to say, if you actually want to reduce the risk of an utter catastrophe in which, to quote a recent paper by Jim Hansen and colleagues, the “Social disruption and economic consequences” arising from “large sea level rise, and the attendant increases in storms and climate extremes,” that trigger “conflicts arising from forced migrations and economic collapse” that are so severe that they could even “make the planet ungovernable, threatening the fabric of civilization.”
Not that Australia is going to drop its emissions to zero in six years. This isn’t in the cards and we all know it. But it should do its level best, and support a great deal of offshore mitigation as well. This, in any case, is what it would mean for it to do its fair share.
- September 9th, 2016
- Unfinished Business: Adaptation Finance
Paris was a breakthrough, no question. At the same time, it left us with a whole hell of a lot to do. The problem is that much of it has to do with offshore suffering. And, well, this doesn’t exactly seem to be a moment of high internationalism.
Still, it’s worth reminding ourselves that global solidarity is going to be an absolute necessity if we want to to avoid global catastrophe. And that, despite this moment of strange, strained, nationalism, there are people that are desperately in need of a helping hand. You don’t need to forget the poor and the vulnerable in the US to remember the 3.5 billion poorest people around the world who face increased risk of floods, droughts, hunger and disease.
So let’s spare a moment to note, in particular, just how pathetically little adaptation funding there is on the table. Here’s a graph:
And here’s a link to Unfinished Business, a new report from Oxfam International that will give you a rundown on exactly how to read the graph. (Hint: The big numbers in the blue bar are official lies; the real amount is much smaller.)
And here are a few words from the report itself: “In particular, the [Paris} agreement left many questions on climate finance unanswered. It extended the Copenhagen commitment from developed countries to jointly mobilize $100bn per year by 2020 for climate action in developing countries by another five years through to 2025. And it strongly calls for those countries to increase their funds for adaptation beyond current levels. But it failed to include meaningful mechanisms to ensure that adaptation finance will increase sufficiently, or to address the massive neglect of adaptation compared to mitigation in international climate finance flows to date.”
Keep the phrase “Unfinished Business” in mind. It will come in handy as we make our way though the post-Paris years.
- July 11th, 2016
- Finally, something on Brexit that makes sense
I refer to George Monbiot’s Roots of the Rubble. And lest you think that I have strayed, and that there is nothing here about the climate crisis, just search for the word “emissions,” which appears (appropriately) in the phrase “cut their emissions and pay their taxes.”
- June 30th, 2016
- Lost in translation in a bottom-up world?
I’ve just read an interesting paper by one Jonathan Pickering (University of Canberra). It’s called Top-down proposals for sharing the global climate policy effort fairly: lost in translation in a bottom-up world? and is well worth reading, not least because it is a corrective to the view, unfortunately popular on the “climate street,” that Paris is a fraud because, well, only a top-down principle-based regime could possibly be real.
Pickering, for his part, offers a nice capsule analysis of why a top-down regime was never in the cards, and not just because the wealthy countries of the North refused its disciplines. Also, and importantly. there’s the unfortunate fact that:
“While developing countries have supported the idea that developed countries should share their efforts according to a common formula, they have resisted the idea that developing countries themselves should be subject to the same formula.”
This position was justified, and probably still is, by the Convention’s statement that developed countries should “take the lead” in protecting the climate system, but it had consequences in any case, and we’re facing them today.
- June 21st, 2016
- Stories of the Future
Here’s the TEDx San Francisco talk I gave on October 29th 2015. I call it “Stories of the Future,” though the TEDx shows it as “Make it Bigger,” by which I meant our conception of the problem. I’m afraid it wasn’t one of my best performances. Still, it’s not bad; in fact, it might be the best talk I know on climate crisis and the “second machine age.” And if you prefer old media — like reading a website — the script is below.
It’s often said that the 20th Century began, not in 1900, but in 1914, with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and the subsequent outbreak of World War I.
This raises a question about the 21st Century — has it begun yet? I think it has, though it’s hard to mark its exact beginning. To do so, you need a storyline. A story of the future.
If you want a dystopian story, it’s easy to date its beginning. Just use September 11, 2001.
But what if you want to tell a helpful story? One in which we actually deal with our greatest problems. A believable story in which the historians of the future look back to our time, today, as a time of new beginnings. What date, exactly, would mark these beginnings?
Let me suggest two possible dates, marking two very different storylines, which are fated to play out together.
- June 1st, 2016
- Farmer suicides soar in India as deadly heatwave hits 51 degrees Celsius
There’s really nothing to add this article from the UK Independent. But it’s a good reminder that the most important of all equity issues is climate stabilization itself. To the extent that we fail, the poor will suffer.
- May 23rd, 2016
- The best graph of the warming, as it approaches 1.5C
The steady rise of Earth’s temperature as greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere and trap more and more heat is sending the planet spiraling closer to the point where warming’s catastrophic consequences may be all but assured.
You can see this metaphoric spiral become real in a new graphic drawn up by Ed Hawkins, a climate scientist at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom. The animated graphic features a rainbow-colored record of global temperatures spinning outward from the late 19th century to the present as the Earth heats up.
- May 10th, 2016
- EcoEquity statement on Paris
A collection of internationally-oriented US-based groups has released statements on the Paris Agreements. It’s an interesting collection, neither optimist nor pessimistic, and the statement itself is short and focused. We agree on the fundamentals.
Here’s EcoEquity’s blurb:
Tom Athanasiou, executive director of EcoEquity, said “The Paris Agreement is a breakthrough but not yet a success. Not by a long shot. It marks the end of a long international stalemate, but the emergency mobilization we need is still only a hope. What we know for sure is that the Paris regime is nationally driven. As the wealthiest nation on Earth, the US has the responsibility to lead. We certainly have the capacity, and the technology, to do so. The question now is if we can wrest back control of our democracy, and finally act.”
And here’s the statement itself:
NEW YORK — Secretary of State John Kerry plans to join world leaders in the celebratory signing of the Paris climate agreement in New York tomorrow. In lieu of celebration, U.S. civil society leaders are urging the Obama administration to take immediate, aggressive action in order to give the world a fighting chance to meet the agreement’s goals.
The Paris agreement acknowledges the urgent need to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels to avoid catastrophic climate change, but the greenhouse gas pollution-cutting pledges of signatory countries fall critically short of meeting this critical target.
The U.S. has played a major role in the agreement’s inadequacy. It has refused to do its fair share and take responsibility for the country’s historical contribution to today’s global climate emergency. Instead, the U.S. has unjustly shifted this burden to the developing countries in the Global South and has failed to provide its fair share of financial support to enable developing countries to take meaningful climate action.
To fight the climate crisis, the U.S. must keep fossil fuels in the ground, undertake a clean energy revolution, and provide the Global South with the financial and technological assistance demanded by science, equity, and justice.
- April 23rd, 2016
- Renewables Build-out is too Slow to hit Paris Targets
SciDev Net has an interesting, and extremely bracing, view of the new Roadmap for a Renewable Energy Future report from the International Renewable Energy Agency. In a nutshell, it says that developing countries that already have a high share of renewable energy in their power mix have it by virtue of “traditional bioenergy” and are unlikely, all else being equal, to grow this share further, this because of a “skyrocketing demand for cheap electricity” that still favors fossils over “modern renewables.”
To be sure,
“many developing countries made huge strides towards deploying renewable technologies over the past decade — but this rise is now leveling off. Instead, these countries are turning towards fossil fuels to meet the energy demands of their citizens.”
“Nicholas Wagner, an IRENA programme officer who helped prepare the report, says countries such as Brazil, Ethiopia, Kenya and Nigeria “have a high share of renewable biomass as part of their energy portfolios.” [This is mostly traditional biomass.] But rather than rapidly building out their infrastructures with modern renewables, these countries have “turned to fossil fuels to power greater demand for heating, cooling and transport, he says.”
“Beate Braams, a spokesperson for Germany’s energy ministry, says the drop in the proportion of energy coming from renewables in developing countries could be because growing energy needs are largely being met by other sources. “If there is a growing energy demand in an economy and if this additional demand is covered by fossil fuels, the relative share of renewables will decrease, even if there is no decrease in absolute terms for renewable energy,” she explains.”
To be extra clear, the bulk of the report is extremely optimistic about renewables. As of course is IRENA.
- April 11th, 2016
- Bill McKibben’s “Terrifying New Chemistry”
For years now, the gas-as-a-bridge-fuel optimism squad has worked hard to reassure us. We could muddle through after all, and stop dreaming about, say, a global crash program to reach global “net zero emissions” by 2050. In effect, there’s a business-as-usual path forward to the renewable future. All you have to do is accept gas into your transition story, and you can avoid an “unrealistically” rapid phase out of fossil energy, while still avoiding the nuclear option.
Alas, it does not appear that the angels of history will be so kind.
In 2012, Bill McKibben’s Terrifying New Math thrust carbon-budget accounting into the mainstream. In the process, he made it clear to all that (as the scientists had already known), there would be no easy path forward. We were facing an emergency situation, and the first wisdom was to admit it. Now, if we’re lucky, his Terrifying New Chemistry will do the same for frack gas, which is to say fugitive methane, which is to say that, unless McKibben is wrong, the “gas as bridge fuel” path is not an option, not if we actually intend to avoid catastrophe. As The Nation’s pull quote has it, “Our leaders thought fracking would save our climate. They were wrong. Very wrong.”
- March 25th, 2016
- Fair Shares: A Civil Society Equity Review of INDCs
An unprecedentedly broad and diverse coalition of global civil society organizations and social movements (see the list here) has just released a joint assessment of the national pledges of action (called “INDCs” in UN lingo) that are being submitted in the global climate negotiations.
This assessment was done with eyes towards both adequacy and equity. Fundamentally, it asks what the INDCs add up to in relation to a 1.5°C / 2°C degree goal, and if each country is pledging to do its fair share of the necessary mitigation action, based on its historical emissions and its capacity to act. When it comes to public mitigation finance, adaptation, and loss & damage, the assessment restricts itself to estimating total global needs.
Technically, the Civil Society Review draws upon the analysis and modeling of the Climate Equity Reference Project, which is, of course, strongly associated with this site. However, it is done with respect to specific range of equity settings, one which defined the agreement within the coalition and, notably, one which is narrower than the range of settings supported by the Climate Equity Reference Calculator. On the adequacy side, it is referenced to a challenging global mitigation pathway that represent a widely used distillation of the most stringent category of pathways in the IPCC scenario database.
There are many details, most of which are explained in the report. The key point however, and please keep this in mind, is that the review does not argue that countries should only do their fair shares. Rather, it seeks to identify which countries are offering to do their fair share, which need to do more to meet their fair share, and which must be supported to do even more — sometimes much more — than their fair share if the world is to reach a below 2°C or even 1.5°C pathway.
The full report, the summary report, and the list of supporting organizations can all be found at http://civilsocietyreview.
org. This site also contains a form by which your organization can add its name to the list of supporters, if it wishes to do so.
- November 10th, 2015
- The Truth about Adaptation
A recent essay, entitled Hurricane Katrina showed what “adapting to climate change” looks like is proof of this, and given that we’re still on track for a full-fledged climate catastrophe, it’s required reading. And be clear about the context here — this is not a brief against adaptation, which will be essential — but an argument against those who pretend to seriousness by presenting adaptation as an alternative to a full-bore mitigation mobilization.
Here are some of Robert’s key points:
* Adaptation will be extremely expensive — much more expensive than reducing carbon emissions up front — and just as politically difficult.
* Mitigation is altruistic and universalist; adaptation is tribal and local. In other words, Adaptation “is not global but local, not universal in impact but highly targeted. A billion dollars of mitigation helps everyone a little bit; a billion dollars of adaptation helps a few people a lot. Specifically, adaptation helps people who have the luck to live in areas that can afford it.”
* Mitigation slows the spread of inequality; adaptation speeds it up. This one I will quote at length:
- August 25th, 2015
- The People’s Climate Test
Late in June, a coalition of global civil society organizations launched The People’s Test on Climate 2015, a set of high-level considerations that they suggest we keep in mind when we judge the outcome of the Paris COP. As we inevitably will. It aims to highlight the fundamentals: to stress the importance of climate action for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people, and to insist that the real goal is and has to be progress towards a more just and sustainable society.
The People’s Climate Test is useful because it skirts the choice between “success” and “failure” — Paris is unlikely to be either — and instead asserts the importance of three high level goals:
* Sustainable energy transformation – redirecting finance from dirty energy to clean, affordable, reliable and safe renewable energy, supporting people’s solutions including decentralized community renewable energy systems, banning new dirty energy projects, ensuring that access to clean, affordable, reliable and safe renewable energy is a public good, reducing energy consumption particularly by wealthy elites, and ensuring that reducing poverty and achieving justice is prioritized throughout the transformation;
* The right to food and water – ensuring people’s access to water and to land for climate resilient food production, stopping land grabs and the ongoing conversion of land from food to commodities like biofuels that are falsely presented as solutions to the climate crisis, and supporting sustainable agro-ecology and climate resilient food production systems
* Justice for impacted people – securing and building the resilience of impacted people including reparations for the world’s impoverished and marginalized people who have no role in causing climate change, yet whose lives and livelihoods are endangered by its effects, supporting a just transition for workers into the new environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive economy, and supporting people- and community-driven adaptation and rehabilitation solutions.
It states these, and then lays out the test itself. “To meet that test, the Paris Summit must:
* Catalyze immediate, urgent and drastic emission reductions – in line with what science and equity require, deliver urgent short-term actions, building towards a long-term goal that is agreed in Paris, that shift us away from dirty energy, marking the beginning of the end of fossil fuels globally, and that keep the global temperature goal in reach;
* Provide adequate support for transformation – ensure that the resources needed, such as public finance and technology transfer, are provided to support the transformation, especially in vulnerable and poor countries;
* Deliver justice for impacted people – enhance the support to adaptation in a new climate regime, ensure that there will be a separate mechanism to provide reparations for any loss and damage that goes beyond our ability to adapt, and make a firm commitment to secure workers’ livelihoods and jobs through a Just Transition;
* Focus on transformational action – ensure that renewable and efficient solutions are emphasized rather than false solutions that fail to produce the results and protection we need, such as carbon markets in land and soil, dangerous geoengineering interventions, and more.”
This is a good list! Keep it in mind. And watch this space.
- August 21st, 2015
- Still Losing, After All these Years
Since we’re coming up on the Big Paris Meeting, and since it’s more or less inevitable that it’s going to be widely judged to be a failure (even if it’s not!) it’s worth noting that the DivestInvest movement is also failing to deliver the big breakthrough that we now so clearly need. This, at least, according to a piece called Fossil fuel industry still winning the investment war that Alex Kirby just published over at Climate News Network.
What’s the problem? Only the impacable force of fossil capitalism as usual. The economics of renewables are every day better than the last, but as far as the investment industry is concerned, that’s no reason to scale back fossil investment, not even fossil investment that’s increasingly unlikely to pay off at anything like the expected rate. If at all.
I don’t bring this up to be snarky. The fact is that nothing is working fast enough, at least not yet. But with the cost of solar dropping, and the negotiations posed before a possible breakthrough, and the Pope making all-important connections between climate change and economic justice, there’s clearly a smell of change in the air. In all this DivestInvest is critical key, even if it’s not the silver bullet that its boosters imagined.
There isn’t going to be any silver bullet. Not unless you count the overarching ethos of the movement, the one that Paris is going to spotlight. To wit: we’re in this together, and we’d better start acting like we know it.
- July 29th, 2015
- Pope Francis vs the UN: Who will save the world first?
Man, I wish I had written this. . .
“Everyone, it seems, recognises that Pope Francis’ encyclical is a striking document. But to really appreciate its significance, it’s worth contrasting it with another document that purports to tackle the same challenge: the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs).
The SDGs have emerged from a long, complex process, stretching over the past four years. They are hanging on a promise to be able to eradicate “all poverty, in all its forms, everywhere” by 2030, and to do so in a way that moves us to a more environmentally sustainable economy.
But while the pope’s encyclical has caused a stir around the world, almost no one is excited about the SDGs. On the contrary, they live almost exclusively in the dry, technocratic world of international development. This isn’t for want of trying by the UN and others. They have invested a lot of money trying to whip up popular enthusiasm and would love nothing more than to see the sort of excitement that has greeted the encyclical.
The problem is that, unlike the encyclical, the SDGs are not fresh, or paradigm shifting. They don’t offer anything that gets the blood flowing. They can’t be sold as exciting because they simply aren’t.
This is a question of substance. The encyclical is visionary. It is bold, uncompromising and radical, where the SDGs are staid, timid and mired in a business-as-usual mentality.”
Read the whole essay at The Rules . . .
- June 25th, 2015
- Laudato Si’
51. Inequity affects not only individuals but entire countries; it compels us to consider an ethics of international relations. A true “ecological debt” exists, particularly between the global north and south, connected to commercial imbalances with effects on the environment, and the disproportionate use of natural resources by certain countries over long periods of time. The export of raw materials to satisfy markets in the industrialized north has caused harm locally, as for example in mercury pollution in gold mining or sulphur dioxide pollution in copper mining. There is a pressing need to calculate the use of environmental space throughout the world for depositing gas residues which have been accumulating for two centuries and have created a situation which currently affects all the countries of the world. The warming caused by huge consumption on the part of some rich countries has repercussions on the poorest areas of the world, especially Africa, where a rise in temperature, together with drought, has proved devastating for farming. There is also the damage caused by the export of solid waste and toxic liquids to developing countries, and by the pollution produced by companies which operate in less developed countries in ways they could never do at home, in the countries in which they raise their capital: “We note that often the businesses which operate this way are multinationals. They do here what they would never do in developed countries or the so-called first world. Generally, after ceasing their activity and withdrawing, they leave behind great human and environmental liabilities such as unemployment, abandoned towns, the depletion of natural reserves, deforestation, the impoverishment of agriculture and local stock breeding, open pits, riven hills, polluted rivers and a handful of social works which are no longer sustainable”.
- June 24th, 2015
- The Plot Against Trains
A few days ago, after a horrible train derailment, the New Yorker‘s Adam Gopnik published these finely-chiseled words:
“What is less apparent, perhaps, is that the will to abandon the public way is not some failure of understanding, or some nearsighted omission by shortsighted politicians. It is part of a coherent ideological project. As I wrote a few years ago, in a piece on the literature of American declinism, “The reason we don’t have beautiful new airports and efficient bullet trains is not that we have inadvertently stumbled upon stumbling blocks; it’s that there are considerable numbers of Americans for whom these things are simply symbols of a feared central government, and who would, when they travel, rather sweat in squalor than surrender the money to build a better terminal.” The ideological rigor of this idea, as absolute in its way as the ancient Soviet conviction that any entering wedge of free enterprise would lead to the destruction of the Soviet state, is as instructive as it is astonishing. And it is part of the folly of American “centrism” not to recognize that the failure to run trains where we need them is made from conviction, not from ignorance.”
- May 16th, 2015
- Ecomodernism, the Breakthrough Institute version
Clive Hamilton, the free-thinking Australian green critic who gave us Requiem for a Species, has just published a finely tuned takedown of the Breakthrough Institute’s so-called “Ecomodernist Manifesto.” He, or perhaps his editor at the Earth Island Journal, called it The Technofix is In. It’s a perfectly appropriate, though mild, title.
It’s a must read, and a model of restraint. I will say that, had I written it, it would contain some examples of the bad news environmentalism that makes it so easy for the Breakthrough Boys to get away with this kind of thing. But Hamilton’s reframe is excellent, and not to be missed. It helps clear the way for the, well, “left ecomodernism” we need, the one in which technology is given its proper due, but only its proper due.
- April 23rd, 2015
- North-South climate finance much smaller than “we have been led to believe”
An important post on the Brookings Institute site a few days ago (U.N. clarification: North-South climate finance may be closer to lower bound of their estimate) indicates that there may be a lot less North / South climate finance on the table than we have been led to believe. Click through for the details and the impeccable sources (Martin Stadelmann and Timmons Roberts) but in any case be clear about the bottom line:
“Today [Feb 26, 2015] the U.N. has published a “clarification note” where it explains that the actual number for North-South climate finance may be closer to the lower bound of the $40-175 billion mentioned in its “Biennial Assessment and Overview of Climate Finance Flows” report. . . This is an important clarification. . . Our own 2013 estimate for North-South private climate finance flows was $10-37 billion, comprising foreign direct investment for renewable energy, recycling, and environmental technology manufacturing.
If we take the $2-37 billion range for North-South private finance according to existing estimates . . . and add the U.N. estimate of $35-50 billion for North-South public finance . . . total North-South climate finance is somewhere between $37 billion and $87 billion, clearly closer to the lower bound of the U.N. estimate of $40-175 billion, and certainly less than half of the upper bound.”
- February 28th, 2015
- Richest 1% will own more than all the rest by 2016
Wealth: Having it all and wanting more, a recent report from Oxfam International, is a milestone on the road to blunt realism. To wit:
Global wealth is becoming increasing concentrated among a small wealthy elite. Data from Credit Suisse shows that since 2010, the richest 1% of adults in the world have been increasing their share of total global wealth.
In 2014, the richest 1% of people in the world owned 48% of global wealth, leaving just 52% to be shared between the other 99% of adults on the planet. Almost all of that 52% is owned by those included in the richest 20%, leaving just 5.5% for the remaining 80% of people in the world. If this trend continues of an increasing wealth share to the richest, the top 1% will have more wealth than the remaining 99% of people in just two years, as shown in the figure below, with the wealth share of the top 1% exceeding 50% by 2016.
Share of global wealth of the top 1% and bottom 99% respectively; the dashed lines project the 2010–2014 trend. By 2016, the top 1% will have more than 50% of total global wealth.
What to do? Oxfam makes the following suggestions:
Clamp down on tax dodging by corporations and rich individuals
Invest in universal, free public services such as health and education
Share the tax burden fairly, shifting taxation from labour and consumption towards capital and wealth
Introduce minimum wages and move towards a living wage for all workers
Introduce equal pay legislation and promote economic policies to give women a fair deal
Ensure adequate safety-nets for the poorest, including a minimum income guarantee
Agree a global goal to tackle inequality
Would it be enough? Nope. Would it be a start? Yep. Have we got a chance of stabilizing the climate system (let alone the ecosystem) if we don’t think at least this big? Nope.
- February 26th, 2015
- Book Review: With Liberty and Dividends for All
This will probably sound wrong, but Peter Barnes’ new book, With Liberty and Dividends for All, is surprisingly good. It presents as a kind of wonky little instructional book – and I suppose it is – but it’s thoughtful, and it draws big and relevant conclusions, and it’s very good on the power of ideas. And its ideas are good and useful ones, especially now that neoliberalism has been dragged into the lights so that we can all finally see its twisted, death-wish logic. If you’ve ever wondered if there might be something really big at the core of the Cap and Dividend proposal – like, say, if there’s a link between emergency climate mobilization and proposals for guaranteed national incomes, or if “pre-distribution” is actually a real thing – then this little volume is for you
The basic idea here is that the natural and social matrix within which we live is thick with all sorts of common resources, which the neoliberals would love to privatize but which should instead be treated as “co-owned wealth.” And though Barnes is as much a climate hawk as any of us, he’s not just interested in the global carbon sink. He’s thinking, too, about the electromagnetic spectrum, and oil and mineral extraction rights, and a whole lot more besides. And his goal is to create a “dividend society” in which everyone – even your right-wing Uncle Bob – has a vested interest in the protection on the greater world.
So read this book. And when you do, keep something in mind – Cap and Dividend will not work at the global level, this for a lot of reasons that I’m not going to get into right now. But at the national level, in a world where we desperately need good ideas about the “adjacent possible,” it may well have a pretty solid role to play. And this is now the book on the subject.
- January 30th, 2015
- Does Fairness Matter in International Environmental Governance?
I haven’t had time to write about Lima, but if you’re paying any attention at all, you already know that the “differentiation” issue blew wide open as COP20 went into overtime. Which means — to skip a few steps — that the equity debate is most assuredly on the agenda for this, the Paris year, and for COP21 in Paris in December. With this in mind, you could do worse than read Oran R. Young’s Does Fairness Matter in International Environmental Governance? Creating an Effective and Equitable Climate Regime . Which, by happy coincidence, you can download here.
I do not love this essay. In particular, I think it is badly flawed by its exclusive emphasis on per-capita emissions rights, an idea that has a lot more traction among academics than it has in the “real world” of the climate negotiations. But I do much admire Young’s hard-headed argument for why equity matters, in that very same real real world. To wit:
“I argue that there is an identifiable and significant class of environmental issues in which we should expect those trying to solve problems to take considerations of fairness or equity seriously. This argument does not depend on assumptions about the influence of altruistic motives or the existence of some sort of international community that produces deep feelings of social solidarity among members of the international system. Rather, I take the view that most states have good reasons to think hard about matters of fairness or equity when it comes to addressing a well-defined class of environmental problems. The problem of climate change, I argue, belongs to this class.”
“I see little evidence to conclude that the members of international society or the agents who act on their behalf in international negotiations are so deeply socialized regarding considerations of fairness that they respond to such concerns out of a sense of obligation or consider them as a matter of second nature when dealing with largescale issues like climate change. Rather, my argument is that such considerations come to the fore with regard to situations that exhibit a cluster of identifiable features. The most prominent of these features are (i) the inability of key states to pressure or coerce others into accepting their preferred solutions, (ii) the limited usefulness of utilitarian calculations like various forms of cost/benefit analysis, and (iii) the need to foster buy-in or a sense of legitimacy regarding the solutions adopted in order to achieve effective implementation and compliance over time with the prescriptions embedded in any agreements reached. Especially in combination, these conditions produce situations in which states have good reasons to pay attention to considerations of fairness or equity.”
The essay isn’t long.
 The real citation is Young Oran R. (2013) Does Fairness Matter in International Environmental Governance? Creating an Effective and Equitable Climate Regime. In: Toward a New Climate Agreement: Conflict, Resolution and Governance . C. Todd, J. Hovi, D. McEvoy, (eds.), Routledge, London ISBN: 0415643791.
- January 5th, 2015
- Big Oil wants to BURN it all
Very nice piece by William D. Cohan in The Nation, here.
I’m a full-time climate guy, but even so I rarely encounter this kind of honesty. In particular, the whole under-theorized problem of “stranded assets” has become a source of odd optimism. As if the ground truths of the Carbon Bubble will somehow, decisively tip the scales towards rationality and long-term thinking.
It’s not going to happen, not in any simple way. The fossil cartel breeds confident, exterminist ideologues. Its captains have the power to persevere in their beliefs. Not, perhaps, forever, but for a long time yet.
They will have to be stopped.
- December 28th, 2014
- Book Review: This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate
This review of Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate was first published in the Earth Island Journal, here. See this notice on Klein’s own site.
The first thing to say about Naomi’s Klein’s latest book is that its title makes a grand promise — This Changes Everything – and that’s before you even get to the subtitle, which sets up a face-off between capitalism on one side and the climate on the other. The second thing to say is that no single book could ever meet such a promise. Klein, with careful aplomb, does not attempt to do so. Rather, she offers a tour of the horizon upon which we will meet our fates. Or, rather, the horizon upon which we will attempt to change them.
In the face of such huge topics, Klein’s strategy is a practical one. She defers the problem of capitalism-in-itself (as German philosophers used to call it) and focuses instead on our era’s particular type of capitalism – the neoliberal capitalism of boundless privatization and deregulation, of markets-über-alles ideology and oligarchic billionaires. Her central argument is not (as some have insisted) that capitalism has to go before we can begin to save ourselves, but rather that we’re going to have to get past neoliberalism if we want to face the greater challenges. Klein writes:
Some say there is no time for this transformation; the crisis is too pressing and the clock is ticking. I agree that it would be reckless to claim that the only solution to this crisis is to revolutionize our economy and revamp our worldview from the bottom up – and anything short of that is not worth doing. There are all kinds of measures that would lower emissions substantively that could and should be done right now. But we aren’t taking those measures, are we?
At the outset Klein asks the obvious question: Why haven’t we, in the face of existential danger, mobilized to lower emissions? There are lots of reasons, but one stands above all others. We have not mobilized because “market fundamentalism has, from the very first moments, systematically sabotaged our collective response to climate change, a threat that came knocking just as this ideology was reaching its zenith.” In other words the climate crisis came with spectacularly “bad timing.” The severity of the danger became clear at the very time when “there-is-no-alternative” capitalism was rising to ideological triumph, foreclosing the exact remedies (long-term planning, stricter government regulation, collective action) that could address the crisis. It’s a crucial insight, and it alone justifies the price of admission.
- November 17th, 2014
Check out http://www.climatefairshares.org/
This elegant system, put together by Friends of the Earth EWNI and Jubilee South Asia Pacific Movement on Debt and Development, is based on the “responsibility and capacity index” analysis embodied in the Climate Equity Reference Calculator. Its map interface is very cool, and simple to use, for it presents only a single Equity Settings profile. This is, for the record, a “high equity” profile defined by the Strong 2C pathway, high progressivity settings (including a $50,000 luxury threshold), a 1850 historical responsibility start date, a 50/50 responsibility/capacity weighting and “capacity adjusted” domestic emissions.
PS: John Vidal’s wrote a article on the climatefairshares site (September 21, 2014) in the Guardian. See it here.
- September 26th, 2014
- How ugly is this going to get?
Bill McKibben has a nice comment he called Let them build seawalls.
Writing from his perch at the Cato Institute, Charles “Chip” Knappenberger explains why the U.S. should avoid taking a leadership role in any climate negotiation: because others have more at stake:
Such information is carefully concealed in Obama Administration reports, such as the one issued recently by the Council of Economic Advisors that predicts escalating costs the longer we delay serious climate change mitigation efforts. Instead of focusing on domestic costs of climate change, the report is built around an estimation of the global cost for carbon dioxide emissions—which, by the Administration’s numbers—is some 4 to 14 times greater on a per ton of emitted CO2 basis than those projected for the U.S.
Translated: climate change is going to be worse for Bangladesh, so let them deal with it. . .
Read the whole thing, it’s not long.
- August 29th, 2014
- Carbon Majors Funding Loss and Damage
Ready for a stimulating new cut across some old territory? Think about “responsibility,” and take a look at Carbon Majors Funding Loss and Damage, a discussion paper by Julie-Anne Richards and Keely Boom of the Climate Justice Project — “an independent not for profit, non-government organisation that uses the law to expose environmental and human rights issues relating to climate change.”
Among other things, the analysis here includes the idea of corporate — rather than national — historical responsibility. In fact, it shows “that a small number – fewer than 100 – entities have a significant responsibility for the climate change currently being experienced.” More generally, it’s based on the idea that private entities that have profited from, and continue to profit from, the fossil-fuel economy should be responsible for a good fraction of the “loss and damage costs” associated with carbon pollution.
This is a ground breaking idea, and it deserves a lot more attention, in this our unfortunate age of corporate personhood. “Persons,” after all, have responsibilities as well as rights.
- August 26th, 2014
- What would a fair UN climate change deal look like?
Great but not perfect, alas. For example, the opening tag says “New equity calculator says UK needs to cut emissions 94% by 2020, US by 73% and China just 9.4%.” And of course this will be read as implying that the is the one sole result of the calculator. When in fact is it one among many.
Here’s comment that I made soon after the piece was posted:
“Not that I’m complaining about the publicity, but one clarification. Where the RTCC author says . . .
China’s emission trajectory for 2020 is a whopping 16,688 MtCO2e, just under the target total for the whole world. But the ERF calculator says it just needs to shave off 1,575 MtCO2e, or 9.4%.
What he should have said is something like . . .
China’s emission trajectory for 2020 is a whopping 16,688 MtCO2e, not much less than the mitigation target for the whole world. Of this, according to the ERF calculator, it needs to itself finance mitigation of 1,575 MtCO2e, or 9.4%. (It’s “fair share”). The total mitigation that needs to take place within its borders is, of course, much greater, and amounts to about 4,673 MtCO2e, or 28% of China’s projected 2020 baseline emissions.
The problem is that this last number is hard to read out from the Calculator UI as it currently stands. We will fix this.
Also, the case RTCC used is (Include land use emissions, 1950 responsibility start date, weak 2C pathway, Capacity/Responsibility = 50/50, development threshold = $7,500) is not the one I would have chosen. If you exclude land-use emission from the calculation and use 1990 as the responsibility start year (this reduces the global mitigation requirement) the readout on China would be:
China’s emission trajectory for 2020 is a whopping 16,750 MtCO2e, more than the mitigation target for the whole world. Of this, according to the ERF calculator, it needs to itself finance mitigation of 1,845 MtCO2e, or 11%. (It’s “fair share”). The total mitigation that needs to take place within its borders is, of course, much greater, and amounts to about 4,690 MtCO2e, or 28% of China’s projected 2020 baseline emissions.”
- August 25th, 2014
- This is still physically possible . . .
. . . So, really, we just have this wee little political problem!
- May 26th, 2014
- Equity and spectrum of mitigation commitments in the 2015 agreement
Equity and spectrum of mitigation commitments in the 2015 agreement is really a fine piece of work!
We don’t just say this because it’s fair minded and forward looking. We say it because, though we’re pretty full-time on global climate equity, we rarely see stuff as helpful as this.
Equity and Spectrum was just published by the Nordic Council, which is evidently “the official inter-parliamentary body in the Nordic Region” It was authored by Steffen Kallbekken, Håkon Sælen and Arild Underdal, and it’s essential reading for one reason above all — the Paris showdown is less than two years away, and there’s some work to be done before it arrives.
Warsaw was a bad sign. The authors of Equity and Spectrum say that, “at best, modest progress” was made, but they are being too kind. Moreover, they probably know it. Take a look at their summary of the COP19 outcome (section 4.3) and you’ll see what I mean. Warsaw was in many ways a dark and embittering experience, and the more I think about it the more I see it as a warning, one that we had best heed.
The key point of this comment: The authors of Equity and Spectrum have to a large (but not entire) degree reached the same conclusions as we, the authors of this Greenhouse Development Rights framework, and as the Equity working group of the Climate Action Network. They cite the GDRs work, and discuss the Climate Action Network’s Equity Reference Framework proposal in detail, and it is the later discussion — and how they integrate it into a larger discussion about the path forward — which we were so pleased to see. They unfortunately miss the fact that the CAN work is essentially a generalization of the “responsibility and capacity index” approach that underlies GDRs, but you can’t have everything.
Here’s how they introduce their position, early in their paper:
“We argue that a potentially feasible and constructive way forward is a mutual recognition approach. This approach implies that parties should accept a set of norms, and a range of interpretations of these norms, as legitimate (i.e. as consistent with the CBDR/RC). Parties should also respect a principle of reciprocity, which means that any (interpretation of a) principle of fairness invoked by oneself can legitimately be invoked also by others.”
This is exactly right, and extremely important, for it does indeed appear to offer a way forward. Which is to say that if we’re all very clever, and very lucky, this will be widely recognized by COP20 in Lima in December. And put into motion as well.
- April 18th, 2014
- The IPCC Report Is an Understatement
There are two things to keep in mind if you would know the climate future. The first is that, as scientific statesman John Holdren likes to say, it will come to us as a mixture of mitigation, adaptation, and suffering. The second is that the suffering will be disproportionately visited upon the poor and the innocent.
Where once there was constant recourse to “this storm/drought/surge is consistent with global warming,” we’re now increasingly likely to hear “this storm/ drought/surge would not have happened without global warming.”
Hold these thoughts when considering the massive tome just issued by the IPCC’s Working Group II. (The much briefer Summary for Policymakers, or SPM, is here). Working Group II (or “WG2” for short) is the part of the International Panel on Climate Change – the largest, most sustained, and arguably most important peer-reviewed scientific enterprise in history – which is focused on understanding climate-change related “impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability.” Its report, released on Monday, comes halfway though the year-long roll-out of the three volume set that together make up the IPCC’s “Firth Assessment Report.”
Volume I is focused on climate science in itself – the “physical science basis” of the crisis. It was released in September and can be found here. Volume III, due out later this month, is focused on mitigation – that is, on what the nations of the world can do to slow and then, hopefully, stop greenhouse gas emissions.
Since the release of WG1’s report in late 2013 has perhaps faded from memory, it’s useful to recall it and to pause to appreciate that WG1 did its job well. In fact, it’s not too much to say that the first volume, coming at a time when climate denialism was already sagging, gave us a fine marker of its now accelerating decline. It did so by stepping past the contrived denialist shitstorm that was “Climategate” with a decisive summary and restatement of our increasingly firm – and increasingly grim – understandings.
- April 3rd, 2014
- Peak Oil – Are we there yet?
Jason Marks, the editor of the increasingly interesting Earth Island Journal, asked me to be the “minus” in Peak Oil – Are we there yet? — a debate on Peak Oil and Climate Change. The “plus” side is argued by Aaron G. Lehmer-Chang of Bay Localize. He definitely has a point, though, personally, I think I make the stronger argument, in a brief piece called Peak Oil as Wishful thinking. Alas, my son doesn’t like it. He particularly doesn’t like the phrase “shock troops of idiot neoliberalism.”
Sigh . . .
- December 2nd, 2013
- Worse than I thought
The Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report is a useful item. In a world where income statistics are generally the best we can do, it leverages its customized Swiss-banker research machine to estimate the real stats, the ones about wealth itself. Wealth as in ownership. I say “estimate” because, well, the really rich don’t particularly like being studied. Anyway, Global Wealth Report 2013 contains some stats I’ve been looking for. Here’s they are, from page 10:
“Our estimates for mid-2013 indicate that once debts have been subtracted, an adult requires just USD 4,000 in assets to be in the wealthiest half of world citizens. However, a person needs at least USD 75,000 to be a member of the top 10% of global wealth holders, and USD 753,000 to belong to the top 1%. Taken together, the bottom half of the global population own less than 1% of total wealth. In sharp contrast, the richest 10% hold 86% of the world’s wealth, and the top 1% alone account for 46% of global assets.”
Here’s a picture that, among other things, shows you where there rich actually live:
- December 1st, 2013
- How Science Is Telling Us All To Revolt
Another great piece from Naomi Klein, one she called “How Science Is Telling Us All To Revolt.” Seems like the theme of her forthcoming book is becoming pretty clear. . .
Klein opens with Brad Werner’s legendary presentation at the last AGU meeting in San Francisco, and goes on from there.
There was one dynamic in the model, however, that offered some hope. Werner termed it “resistance” – movements of “people or groups of people” who “adopt a certain set of dynamics that does not fit within the capitalist culture”. According to the abstract for his presentation, this includes “environmental direct action, resistance taken from outside the dominant culture, as in protests, blockades and sabotage by indigenous peoples, workers, anarchists and other activist groups”.
Serious scientific gatherings don’t usually feature calls for mass political resistance, much less direct action and sabotage. But then again, Werner wasn’t exactly calling for those things. He was merely observing that mass uprisings of people – along the lines of the abolition movement, the civil rights movement or Occupy Wall Street – represent the likeliest source of “friction” to slow down an economic machine that is careening out of control. We know that past social movements have “had tremendous influence on . . . how the dominant culture evolved”, he pointed out. So it stands to reason that, “if we’re thinking about the future of the earth, and the future of our coupling to the environment, we have to include resistance as part of that dynamics”. And that, Werner argued, is not a matter of opinion, but “really a geophysics problem”.
- October 30th, 2013
- OECD Secretary General calls for rapid transition to global zero carbon economy
The OECD is of course a keystone institution of the wealthy world. And yet its new report, Climate and carbon: Aligning prices and policies, and in particular this speech by Angel Gurria, its Secretary General, is excellent, concise, and surprisingly frank.
I’ve come here today to argue that whatever policy mix we cook up, it has to be one that leads to the complete elimination of emissions to the atmosphere from the combustion of fossil fuels in the second half of the century . . . We don’t need to get to zero tomorrow. Not even in 2050, although we should be a long way down the track by then. But sometime in the second half of the century we will need to arrive there.
How are we going to do so? With a policy mix designed to price carbon, phase out coal, increase the ambition of the current pledges, get beyond policy wobbles on renewables, and phase-out fossil-fuel subsides.
- October 20th, 2013
- After Denialism? Obviously not, but . . .
Back on April 1st, I published a long piece called Everybody Knows: Climate Denialism has peaked. Now what are we going to do?, which argued, among much else else, that denialism had peaked. This is, to me, a more or less self-evident truth, but some of my friends seem to think it’s just wishful thinking. Which is too bad, because the “Now what are we going to do?” question really ought to be all we’re talking about.
In this line, Dave Roberts, over at Grist, just published Conservatives seek alternatives to climate denialism, come up short, and it’s a must read. As Leonard Cohen put it, “There’s a mighty judgement coming, but I might be wrong.”
- July 2nd, 2013
- News Flash: Money makes you selfish!
I know it’s hard to believe, but watch Exploring the Psychology of Wealth, ‘Pernicious’ Effects of Economic Inequality. It’s a brief report by the PBS Newshour’s Paul Solman, no raving leftie he, and it’s worth even waiting out the leading advert from . . . Goldman Sachs!
The research being reported here is by UC Berkeley psychologists Dacher Keltner and Paul Piff, and it’ll seem more than a bit familiar to anyone who’s read The Spirit Level. That said, this is a tidy, amusing, and convincing take on the corrosion that is economic stratification.
The report begins with the fact that the drivers of luxury cars are “anywhere from three or four times” more likely to cut off pedestrians that people driving less expensive cars, and goes on to observe that rich people steal more candy in fake psychological tests, and are more likely to cheat in a game of chance, lie during negotiations, endorse unethical behavior, or steal at work.
Watch this spot, if only for the story of the rigged Monopoly game. The one in which the “person assigned the role of rich person” gets to roll an extra time. . .
“we found consistently with people who were the rich players that they actually started to become, in their behavior, as if they were like rich people in real life. They were more likely to eat from a bowl of pretzels that we positioned off to the side. They ate with their mouths full, so they were a little ruder in their behavior to the other person.”
And just the opposite too:
“If I take someone who is rich and make them feel psychologically a little less well-off, they become way more generous, way more charitable, way more likely to offer help to another person.”
Maybe that’s the bright side?
- June 24th, 2013
- GDRs shows its head in Bloomberg piece from Bonn
A new piece by Alex Morales on bloomberg.com features the rather unambiguous title of Climate Fix That’s Fair Assigns U.S. Three Times Chinese Effort. It begins with these paras:
“A fair climate fix would assign the U.S. almost three times the effort of cutting carbon dioxide output as China, which in 2006 became the biggest emitter, research by the Stockholm Environment Institute suggests.
The U.S., the biggest historical emitter, would have responsibility for 29.1 percent of the greenhouse gas cuts needed in 2020 to keep the planet on a pathway that avoids the worst effects of global warming, according to the institute’s calculations. That compares with 10.4 percent for China, 22.9 percent for the European Union and 1.2 percent for India.
The research aims to quantify how the principle of equity can guide emissions targets being devised at United Nations climate talks among more than 190 nations that aim to write by 2015 a new treaty to take hold from 2020. Two weeks of discussions began today in Bonn, Germany. Debate about fairness has frequently stalled the discussions as nations wrangle over who bears the greatest responsibility for tackling climate change.”
The piece is worth reading, for it’s a glimpse into the next round of the climate talks, which seems like they may finally face reality. Ethical reality as well as scientific reality.
The piece extensively quotes the Stockholm Environment Institute’s Sivan Kartha, and features numbers from the Greenhouse Development Rights framework. The real news, though, is that the “fair shares” discussion is no longer confined to a few activist networks and research institutes. There are rumblings of a larger effort, perhaps even a semi-official one.
What’s not clear in this piece is that we can easily afford to save our civilization. This has always been the case, though the politics are rather challenging, and people have balked at drawing conclusions.
The difference now is that everyone can now see the elephant in the room.
- June 3rd, 2013
- Why Climate Change is not an Environmental issue.
This video is great. Except for a bit of nit picking, the only criticism I can raise against it is that it doesn’t dip into the equity issue. But it pretty much gets everything else right. And it does so in 5 minutes and 5 seconds!
- May 24th, 2013
- Study finds belief in free market economics predicts rejection of science
See a mildly snarky comment from The Raw Story here, or the original study (NASA Faked the Moon Landing —Therefore, (Climate) Science Is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science) from Psychological Science. But two warnings: the study is behind a paywall, and it contains the phrase “conspiracist ideation.”
- April 22nd, 2013
- The new Carbon Bubble report
All we have to do is decide to not commit civilizational suicide – and the markets crash!
The first Carbon Bubble report, released a few years, was a very big deal. It told us that the whole “peak oil” trope was just wrong, that the real name of the problem was Unburnable Carbon. And it led Bill McKibben to publish his fabulous Rolling Stone article. And then came the Do the Math project, and the whole carbon divestment movement. Definitely a very big deal.
And now comes the second Carbon Bubble report, Wasted Capital, which was just released. It’s Phase II of the project and, far from being a rehash, it’s proof that the fundamental approach is sound. In fact, it’s huge news. Lord Stern (of the Stern Review) is now fronting. The modeling has been fine tuned, and now shows – among other things – that Carbon Capture and Sequestration is extremely unlikely to save our bacon. There’s an improved geographic analysis which shows just how hard the Carbon Bubble is going to hit the emerging economies of the developing world. There’s a huge amount of evidence that, not just stars like Jeremy Grantham but mainline financial analysts around the world are taking the argument on-board, and in a big way. There’s even a bit of speculation about how this is all going to interact with new round of the climate negotiations, which will reach their (next) crisis in the winter of 2015, six years after Copenhagen.
- April 22nd, 2013
- The New Abolitionists
Global warming is the great moral crisis of our time
You may have already read Wen Stephenson’s The New Abolitionists. It was published in the Boston Phoenix some time ago, and it’s bounced around. But just in case you missed it, stop and take a look. Now, if necessary.
I don’t mean to say that this essay is above criticism. It contains nothing on the global side of the crisis, for example, and this even though the climate crisis is quintessentially global. And the discussion of worst-cases (the Tim DeChristopher meets Terry Root passage) is more than a bit thin.
Which is where this bit comes in:
“Once I realized that there was no hope in any sort of normal future,” DeChristopher tells Tempest Williams, “I realized that I have absolutely nothing to lose by fighting back.”
Actually, DeChristopher does allow some hope. “If you look at the worst-case consequences of climate change, those pretty much mean the collapse of our industrial civilization,” he tells Williams. “But that doesn’t mean the end of everything. It means we’re going to be living through the most rapid and intense period of change that humanity has ever faced. And that’s certainly not hopeless. It means we’re going to have to build another world in the ashes of this one. And it could very easily be a better world.”
This, I have to say, just doesn’t work for me.
Another weakness. There’s next to nothing here on how the rich / poor divide makes it next to impossible for us to succeed, not as long as we remain a “climate movement” per se. Even a “climate justice” movement, as DeChristopher and Stephenson mean the phrase, doesn’t put justice front and center.
Still, this piece is a keeper. It’s not just good, it’s damn good. Kudos to Stephenson.
- March 4th, 2013
- Climate Change Will Cause Food Prices To Soar
I’ve noticed that when people draft their “scare the shit out of you” summary paragraph — the one that, it seems, we’ll be reworking for the rest of our lives — they often forget food prices, which will be rising fast and soon. This is unfortunate, in all sorts of ways. Human suffering, for one. Game changing political movements, for another.
Anyway, Oxfam is taking the lead on this front, and its work deserves a great deal more attention that it’s received. Start with Extreme Weather, Extreme Prices: The costs of feeding a warming world, which was published last September. Joe Romm wrote a nice summary here.
For a bit more historical context, don’t forget Brecht and Weill’s Three Penny Opera, wherein we get this little bit of advice: “However much you twist, whatever lies you tell, food is the first thing, morals follow on.” (Click to listen to a fantastic version! Listen to it loud!).
- March 3rd, 2013
- The free-market case for world government
(in five bullet points)
• The sine qua non of free market economics is secure property rights.
• The likelihood of severe and potentially catastrophic anthropogenic climate change is in part a consequence of our inability to enforce any right to protection from the harm to life and property caused by the cross-border impacts of greenhouse gas emissions.
• A secure regime of property rights requires enforcement and (in the long run) legitimacy.
• The existence of cross-border impacts requires the cross-border reach of enforcement and legitimacy.
• This implies a relatively strong version of world government.
What could be clearer?
–Paul Baer ([email protected])
Atlanta GA, USA
- February 28th, 2013
- The Flood Next Time
Basically, it’s a caution — in this case against ever expecting an extreme event, even one as extreme as “Superstorm Sandy,” to act as a real wake up call. And the author has done her homework. For example, here’s a nice part of the setup:
But do disasters act as turning points, or wake-up calls, or teachable moments? Do those oft-discussed silver linings really materialize? It seems easy to conjure examples in the affirmative. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire led to stricter factory safety standards, the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 to the Mississippi River levee system. But those are the exception, not the rule. The BP spill was supposed to wake us up to the costs of our reliance on fossil fuels — as were the Exxon Valdez spill and the 1970s oil shocks. Aurora followed Virginia Tech and Virginia Tech followed Columbine, and gun control laws remain unchanged. When disasters throw a kink into frenzied everyday life, we talk about the things we’re now forced to talk about — but what happens to all those conversations when urgency diminishes and regular life returns?
- February 20th, 2013
- A good question, don’t you think?
- February 18th, 2013
- Rebecca Solnit on 2012, and on 2013 as “year zero”
I’ve been worrying myself lately, trying to imagine a positive future that I can actually believe. As opposed to sinking into science-based Catastrophism.
Rebecca Solnit takes a different tack in her end-of-year essay for Tom Dispatch, and, I gotta say that, despite a few clunkers — e.g. “For millions of years, this world has been a great gift to nearly everything living on it” — it rings true. In fact, her overall approach to the what-the-hell-do-we-do-now problem, one that’s both accessible and encouraging, has clear advantages over my “we need to actually plan for a fair global transition” style of rationalism.
Solnit’s point, basically, is that fighting to save the world will allow us to live well — in the classical sense of living “a good life’ — even as we face the dark and iffy days ahead. And that, by pursing both solidarity and clarity, we might also find that we have a real chance at a desirable, and even emancipatory future.
“Everywhere people are at work to build a better world in which we — and some of the beauty of this world — will be guaranteed to survive. Everywhere they are at war with the forces threatening us and the planet. I usually avoid war metaphors, but this time it’s barely a metaphor. Our side isn’t violent, but it is engaged in battle, and people are putting their bodies on the line and their lives behind the cause. The other side is intent on maximizing its profit at the cost of nearly everything.”
- December 23rd, 2012
- America’s first “climate dividend”
Great piece in the Huffington Post today on California’s new climate regime. Mike Sandler, in a piece called The Birth of Carbon Pricing and Delivering California’s First ‘Climate Dividend‘ can see what, alas, many climate activists miss — allowance auctions can be understood in a very positive light indeed. Sandler writes here of America’s first climate dividend and offers an analysis that is astute in both its details (which I will skip, hoping that you read the article) and its overall import. He even quotes the mad utopians at the California Public Utility Commission on the commons logic that is carefully embedded in the new system:
“The equitable distribution of revenues recognizing the “public asset” nature of the atmospheric carbon sink refers to… the idea that the atmosphere is a commons to which all individuals have an equal claim…Returning revenues equally to all residential customers is more equitable and comports with the idea of common ownership of the atmosphere given that residential ratepayers will ultimately bear the increased costs as a result of the Cap and Trade program.”
Read the article. It’s a relief after all the recent bad news.
- December 5th, 2012
- Checking in with Naomi Klein
Naomi Klein, as it happens, is working on both a book and a movie on the climate crisis. Which is great, because she’s a talented spokeswoman, and a key strategist, and she’s working to put together a new framing, one that actually helps us get our arms around the crisis.
There’s a lot happening on the climate front, and most it is is integrated, one way or another, into this very nice half-hour interview with Bill Moyers. The Moyers headline is “Capitalism and climate,” but the real thrust of Klein’s rap here is the climate crisis as an historic opportunity for progressives. The propaganda campaigns of the carbon cartel, 350’s Do the Math tour, the mainstreaming of the Carbon Tracker work, the great refocusing that has come in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, it’s all grist here.
This interview is worth a close listen. As you do, study her framing. It’s damn good, though not perfect. Naomi, in particular, doesn’t have much to say on the international side, at least not here. Which is not at all a surprise, since the “US in the world” problem is a very, very difficult one. The good news is that there’s really no fundamental disconnect between the domestic and the international sides of the climate justice agendas. It’s clear, at this point, that we’re all in this together. It’s just that some of us are riding first class, while others are trapped down in the holds.
And this is just as true within the US as it is globally.
- November 19th, 2012
- “It is crucial that scientists sound a more realistic, more desperate, note on global warming.”
Amazing letter in Nature, by legendary — well, OK, famous — investor Jeremy Grantham. You gotta read it, especially if you’re a scientist.
I have yet to meet a climate scientist who does not believe that global warming is a worse problem than they thought a few years ago. The seriousness of this change is not appreciated by politicians and the public. The scientific world carefully measures the speed with which we approach the cliff and will, no doubt, carefully measure our rate of fall. But it is not doing enough to stop it. I am a specialist in investment bubbles, not climate science. But the effects of climate change can only exacerbate the ecological trouble I see reflected in the financial markets — soaring commodity prices and impending shortages.
- November 14th, 2012
- Book Review: America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy
America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy, by James Gustave Speth (Yale University Press, 2012, 272 pages)
Gus Speth has been around the block — cofounder of the World Resources Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council, senior environmental advisor to President Jimmy Carter, head of the UN Development Program, Dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Sciences at Yale, and a whole lot more. He’s been a busy man, and more importantly, he’s an honest one. While not repudiating his past efforts, he readily admits that, at least when it comes to “the existential threat of climate change,” they‘ve come to “ashes.” These days, civil disobedience is at the top of his very crowded agenda. His footnotes hold surprises (I was particularly amused to see Peter Barnes and Tony Negri sharing a citation). He’s well worth reading.
Speth’s particular talent — evident here as in his earlier books — is that he’s a kind of encyclopedist. As Herman Daly says on the book’s blurbs page, America the Possible offers a “selective, judicious, and integrated” narrative that brings together “the best current thinking on the American political economic crisis.”
The selections are generally excellent, and are animated by their integration into Speth’s overall argument, which is that when we collect and organize our best ideas, and then fit them together in just the right way, we can construct a coherent vision of a new and far better America, one that’s ready to prosper even amidst the coming storms. Such arguments have, of course, been made before, but Speth’s version is so wide-ranging that after a while you realize that he’s trying to summarize the shared ambitions of the progressive American green movement as a whole. This is of course a Very Big Ask, but all told Speth is remarkably successful. Which is not to say that there aren’t some real holes in his argument. But even the book’s weaknesses don’t seem his alone, but rather the shared weaknesses of, well, the progressive American green movement.
- November 12th, 2012
- After Sandy, solidarity
Excellent point from Oxfam’s excellent Tim Gore, in a blog post called From superstorm Sandy to climate solidarity: How extreme weather can unlock climate action. To wit, climate disruption creates opportunities for solidarity, and we had better seize them.
Here’s a bit more:
“This increased confidence in attributing climate change to specific impacts on people’s lives, and on the bottom lines of businesses and entire countries, means weather extremes like Sandy should now be treated as major opportunities to leverage political action on climate change. It’s an idea that has gained increasing attention in recent years, from Alex Evans to David Attenborough (and in Oxfam, Duncan Green’s been haranguing us about getting better at seizing “windows of opportunity” for years).
In the context in which an abrupt change of course is needed to address the climate crisis – one some have compared only to mobilisation for war – crisis moments can create unique windows of opportunity for non-linear political change. That is precisely what we need. They can catalyse clear shifts in the values and priorities of citizens, business and political leaders around the world. Climate disasters in the global North and South alike are reminders of the common threat we face, and of the need to act collectively and urgently to avert yet greater harm.”
- November 2nd, 2012
- Book Review: Praful Bidwai’s “The Politics of Climate Change and the Global Crisis”
Praful Bidwai is a former Senior Editor at The Times of India and one of South Asia’s most widely published columnists. He’s also the author of the recent book The Politics of Climate Change and the Global Crisis: Mortgaging Our Future. This book is notable in a number of ways, and not just because it contains a long and coherent chapter called “Alternative Visions: What would an Equitable Global Climate Deal Look Like?”
Bidwai is a rare analyst. He writes as a man of the South, but at the same time he can be extremely critical of the South’s negotiating postures. In fact, he devotes an entire chapter — “Rooted in Incoherence: Anomalies and Contradictions in India’s Climate Policy” — to an excoriation of India’s stance in the negotiations, which he judges to be incoherent, duplicitous, and short-sighted, and all of these by virtue of being rooted in an unjust model of development. His essential claim here is not simply that India’s position is an undemocratic one that ultimately serves its elites, though this is a line he develops at length. It is also that India’s position is based on unsound ethical claims that cannot possibly support a fair global accord. That, in particular,
“the per capita norm does not capture, nor is it logically related to, the central concern highlighted by recent climate-related scientific findings: namely, the urgent need to prevent dangerous climate change.”
- September 21st, 2012
- Is Pablo Solon still a sign of the times?
Pablo Solon, formerly the Bolivian Ambassador to the United Nations, is not the sort of guy who goes along to get along. You may recall that he delivered a now famous, late night speech explaining why Bolivia chose to “stand alone” by not signing the Cancun climate agreement. It was, frankly, an astonishing performance, and while I didn’t entirely agree with it, well let’s just say that it punctured a consensus that had gotten just a wee bit too cozy.
Walden Bello, the founder of Focus on the Global South, is similarly not known for timorous opinions. Walden is plainspoken even by the standards of Asian civil society, and quick to speak of fundamental things — capitalism at the edge being one of them. These day’s he’s also an elected representative in the Philippine Congress, where, I’m guessing, reality is more clearly visible that it is in, say, the US Congress.
Together, Solon and Bello have just knocked out Why are climate negotiations locked in a stalemate?, a must read op-ed that ran in the Bangkok Post on September 4, just as the last round of the climate talks was nearing its conclusions. And it’s not just interesting. It’s surprising and instructive. For example:
“The refusal of the North to curb high consumption and the intention of big emerging economies to reproduce the Northern consumption model lies at the root of the deadlock in the climate change negotiations. . .
In reality US and China both want a weaker climate agreement. The US because their influential politicians and corporations are not committed to deep real cuts. China’s leaders realise that the longer they can put off a legally binding agreement, the better for them. . .
The climate talks stalemate is not the result of a contradiction between the two biggest powers but of a common approach not to be obliged to change their policies of consumption, production, and gaining control of natural resources around the world. . .
The position of the delegations of the US and China and many other countries reflects more the concerns of their elites than of their people. . .
The elites of emerging economies are using the just demand of “historical responsibility” or “common but differentiated responsibility” in order to win time and have a weak binding agreement by 2020 that they will be part of. The deliberate prolonging of the stalemate means allowing business as usual. Given that this strategy has led to a dead end, it is imperative that in the UNFCCC negotiations civil society must regain its independent voice and articulate a position distinct from that of the Group of 77 and China.”
Do, please, note the word “just” that appears before the word “demand.” This is not a rap on the UNFCCC’s equity principles. It’s a cold-eyed view of the realpolitik of a situation in which the “big emerging economies” have “launched into high-speed, consumption-dependent, and greenhouse gases-intensive growth paths.”
The climate negotiations are getting interesting again, and not a moment too soon. We are, all of us, in a very tight spot, and while this op-ed will strike some in the South as unhelpful, the key point, for me, is the insistence that “the elites,” and not “the North,” are the key obstacle to mobilization. In any case, if anything is certain, it’s that “civil society” finding its “independent voice” is a very good idea.
- September 6th, 2012
- Chris Hedges blows it — apocalyptic radicalism won’t save us, nor should it
I hate to rant, but I’m going to anyway.
I collect “apocalyptica” and Chris Hedges’ Life is Sacred went right into the file. It was the lines “The planet is dying. And we will die with it” that did it.
I’m only writing this because Hedges is good. Sometimes he’s very good. But this is not helpful, and not just because the planet is not dying. It will recover, as I’m sure, in our less hyperbolic moments, we all know.* It’s also because this kind of hyperbole is based on a fatal refusal of will, and an overarching pessimism that must be refused.
Here’s Hedges’ concluding paragraph:
“Politicians, including Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, serve the demented ends of corporations that will, until the final flicker of life, attempt to profit from our death spiral. Civil disobedience, including the recent decision by Greenpeace activists to chain themselves to a Gazprom supply vessel and obstruct a Russian oil rig, is the only meaningful form of resistance. Voting is useless. But while I support these heroic acts of resistance, I increasingly fear they may have little effect. This does not mean we should not resist. Resistance is a moral imperative. We cannot use the word “hope” if we do not fight back. But the corporations will employ deadly force to protect their drive to extract the last bit of profit from life. We can expect only mounting hostility from the corporate state. Its internal and external security apparatus, as the heedless exploitation and its fatal consequences become more apparent, will seek to silence and crush all dissidents. Corporations care nothing for democracy, the rule of law, human rights or the sanctity of life. They are determined to be the last predator standing. And then they too will be snuffed out. Unrestrained hubris always leads to self-immolation”
I wish I could remember the name of the fallacy here, the one in which an opinion becomes so large and monochromatic that it overwhelms proportion. And in this case, even hope.
We can do better than this.
* The fate of our civilization, of course, is more uncertain.
- September 4th, 2012
- After capitalism? A quick note from a climate hawk
Kudos to George Monbiot, who just wrote one of his good columns. Really good, though I think the title may be wrong. It’s called After Capitalism, and it makes the main point clearly and with animated brio. To wit,
To answer the question of what the world will look like after capitalism, we first have to decide what we mean by capitalism. If it means a system that arises from lending money at interest, then there will be no “after capitalism”. . . If on the other hand capitalism means something like the current dispensation, which allows a few people to seize much of the wealth generated by everyone, which blocks social mobility, which re-engineers the political system to serve the economic elite, then, yes, there’s a lot we can do about it.
For the past 200 years, men and women have fought stoicly for political democracy. Now we should fight for economic democracy. The natural wealth of the world, its land, its soils, its crops, minerals, water, forests, fish, is limited. The wealth arising from its use and multiplied through all the complex layers of the modern economy, is also limited, bounded ultimately, as the subprime mortgage crisis showed us, by the real value of assets in the physical world. Just as it was wrong for monarchs and aristocrats to concentrate so much political power in their hands, so it is wrong that billionaires and corporations should be permitted to seize so much of the common treasury of humankind: the wealth arising from the use of a finite planet.
We deserve a political and economic system that redistributes both wealth and the decisions about how it is used. Not communism, but an advanced form of social democracy. . .
This last point is critical, because “social democracy” is a variant of capitalism (which is the issue with the title). “Economic democracy” is a more open-ended notion, and could go either way. In any case, and at the risk of appearing ridiculous, let me say that there has to be a way forward that does not demand the entire overthrow of the capitalist system as a precondition of social-ecological renewal. There simply has to be, because given the short time we now have to embrace transformational change – a time too short to evolve and deploy a whole new political economy – the alternative is that we would be doomed.
But we are not doomed. We’re in danger, sure, but we’re still alive, and can still make our own histories, and it follows that we are not doomed. Thus it cannot be that “capitalism,” per se, is the problem. It must be this particular capitalism that’s at issue, and in particular its drive to concentrate both power and wealth within a self-serving and increasingly incompetent elite caste. All of which, it seems, we are condemned to debate within the cramped and distorting confines of a strange and overarching metaphor, the one in which the problem is something called “growth.”
Which brings us to the “green growth” debate, though it will have to wait.
- August 29th, 2012
- Todd Stern: Half Right, All Wrong
There was a bit a firestorm in the climate world a few weeks back. It started after Todd Stern, the US special envoy for climate change made a speech that included the following comment:
“For many countries, the core assumption about how to address climate change is that you negotiate a treaty with binding emission targets stringent enough to meet a stipulated global goal – namely, holding the increase in global average temperature to less than 2° centigrade above pre-industrial levels – and that treaty in turn drives national action. This is a kind of unified field theory of solving climate change – get the treaty right; the treaty dictates national action; and the problem gets solved. This is entirely logical. It makes perfect sense on paper. The trouble is it ignores the classic lesson that politics – including international politics – is the art of the possible.”
The firestorm? Basically, Stern was attacked for turning his back on the 2C target. See for example, Kate Sheppard in Mother Jones here, and Foreign Policy here, and all sorts of other public and list-bound communications, many of them from the South. Even the EU was upset.
Stern then issued a clarification, which did in fact clarify. The emphasis here is mine:
- August 15th, 2012
- Hansen’s smoking gun
Remember when climate change was something our grandchildren were going to have to deal with?
That was then. Today, we’re in a different world. It’s impossible to say exactly when we made the transition, though the usual sense is that it occurred sometime between, say, 2010 – a catastrophic year in which, for example, Pakistan (as in “nuclear-armed Pakistan”) suffered floods so epic and destructive that they actually pushed the population down the ladder of development — and, say, 2012, the year in which the dust-bowlification of the American heartland became a fact on the ground.
James Hansen uses a more scientific dating system. In his new paper, Public Perception of Climate Change, written with Makiko Sato and Reto Ruedy and published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science on August 6th, he proceeds by setting a formal baseline, which he does in terms of the three decades from 1951 to 1980. These were the last of the old epoch. Since then, we’ve no longer been in the Holocene, but rather have been busily drilling ourselves further and further into the Anthropocene.
Or, to use Hansen’s favorite metaphor, we’ve been busily loading the “climate dice.” Back in the Holocene, two faces of the dice were (red) “hot,” two were (white) “average,” and two were (blue) “cold.” Today,
“we find that actual summer-mean temperature anomalies over global land during the past decade averaged about 75% in the “hot category”, thus midway between four and five sides of the die were red.”
- August 14th, 2012
- Rio+20 — a brief bottom line
I was considering writing a Rio+20 review, but what’s the point? There are plenty of them on the net, and in any case, you’ve probably made your own judgements already.
Do note, when deciding who to believe, that despair is not our friend. Not that “hope,” as we usually know it, is much better. But the challenge before us is clearly to save ourselves, and as much of First Nature as we can, and in this regard, it’s helpful to know — if only as a matter of pacing — that humanity’s total footprint is about twice as large as it was back in 1992.
Speaking of pacing, the schedule to flesh out the Sustainable Development Goals proposal calls for action by 2015, which is the same year that the climate negotiators have penciled in for their next big breakthrough. Lots of luck to everyone, ourselves included.
I picked my favorite “Rio was not a disaster” piece. It’s by Chee Yoke Ling of the Third World Network, and it’s called Renewed Political Commitment Obtained. I would have added “at least on paper” to the title, but this is not TWN’s point. Which, to be clear, is that Rio was a successful defensive battle, and that — at least on the “Common but differentiated responsibilities front” — we have lived to fight another day.
In any case, before being too blue about Rio, keep in mind the state of the climate talks. Until we have a breakthrough on that front, we can’t really expect transformative change on any other. At least not at the inter-governmental level.
- June 29th, 2012
- Best thing on post-Durban so far, IMHO
Can I pick out one article or commentary and say that it’s the “best piece” on Durban so far?
I nominate Looking Beyond Durban: Where to from Here? by Navroz K. Dubash, a policy activist at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi. It’s short, it’s diplomatic, it’s well-informed by what other commentators have argued, and most of all its forward looking. It focuses, that is, on the real issue, which is “Reconceptualising Climate Equity” after Durban.
You should read the whole thing, but here’s the key bit:
“A re-formulated approach to climate equity should embrace an important distinction between responsibility for an action or culpability and responsibility to respond, or a duty (Rajamani 2011b). An approach that combines attention to industrialized countries’ historical responsibility for the problem with an embrace of the responsibility to explore low carbon development trajectories is both ethically defensible and strategically wise. Ironically, our own domestic national approach of actively exploring “co-benefits” – policies that promote development while also yielding climate gains – suggests that we do take climate science seriously and have embraced responsibility as duty. However, by focusing on articulating rigid principles, rather than building on our actual policies and actions, we weaken our own position. Is accepting a responsibility (understood as duty) to explore low carbon development pathways (as part of a larger package that keeps focus on industrialised country culpability) a slippery slope towards ever more onerous commitments? The answer depends, in part, on the domestic policy and regulatory framework that India establishes to implement its chosen approach of pursuing co-benefits. If this framework is robust, leads to domestic actions that actively explore low carbon options, and to tangible carbon gains, then India is well placed to defend itself against further demand
- January 24th, 2012
- Development without Carbon: Climate and the Global Economy through the 21st Century
Elizabeth Stanton, an economist at the Stockholm Environment Institute who is active in the Economics for Equity and Environment (the E3 Network), has done a service in Development without Carbon. It’s a crystal-clear paper that lays out a simple framework for thinking about equitable development within a constrained emissions space — like this planet. It’s goal, particularly, is to show that traditional economic models are not up to the job, but that the job itself remains doable.
- January 9th, 2012
- Kevin Anderson meets Dave Roberts
In early 2011, when I first read “the Anderson Bows paper” (the actual title of which is Beyond ‘dangerous’ climate change: emission scenarios for a new world) I did so too quickly. Grist.org’s Dave Roberts, in what I shall call his “Brutal Logic Trilogy,” was a much closer reader. His trilogy, which takes off from the paper, is published here, here, and here, and is essential reading, as is the paper itself. Though if you’re short of time, it’s probably better to listen to this talk by Kevin Anderson, in which he presents the paper’s main conclusion and also riffs rapidly and revealingly about many of the surrounding issues.
- January 3rd, 2012
- Naomi Klein’s Capitalism vs. the Climate
Naomi Klein’s Capitalism vs. the Climate is both excellent and remarkable. Though, when I saw it sourced (by the new climate blog Planet3.0) as being from “the American hard-left magazine The Nation” I almost choked. I am, I confess, a man of a certain age, and I remember what “hard left” used to mean.
I don’t think of The Nation as being “hard left.” Nor Klein for that matter.
Anyway, her title is catchy, but also a bit misleading. Most of her case isn’t against capitalism in itself, but against “capitalism-as-usual,” or “contemporary capitalism,” or “the corporate sector, with its structural demand for increased sales and profits.” Which is I suppose what you’d expect, this being a reasonable piece. Because it’s not at all clear that we’re up against capitalism in itself. What we know for sure is that we’re up against this capitalism. That we either fix it or it’s “game over,” as Jim Hansen recently put it.
Klein touches only lightly on the really tough issues in the climate and capitalism debate (yes, there is one!), which she does – cleverly? strangely? — in the “Ending the cult of shopping” section. This is where we get the problem of “growth” (the most confusing abstraction of them all) and the reference to Tim Jackson’s definitional book Prosperity without growth (download the original report here for free). The problems of redistribution, and of desire (the democratic disciplining of desire) are only suggested. In other words, there’s not really much here about the problems of capitalism in itself.
Which is fine with me, at least for now.
There are people out there writing books about how capitalism (the thing itself) is absolutely and intrinsically incompatible with the continuation of human civilization as we know it – and Klein, at least to my mind, has done us a major service by taking a different tack. It seems to me that she’s not taking an abstract position, but speaking, concretely, for renovations so grand and sweeping that we’d have a hard time recognizing them as “reforms,” in the old sense.
I should speak for myself. And my view is that, while the climate crisis is a crisis of capitalism, it’s also a manageable one. Which is to say that we’re not already doomed. But to save ourselves, we have to create a different kind of capitalism. Nothing more is possible in the limited time left before us – the climate clock really is ticking – but it’s actually quite a lot. Recognizing this is radical enough for me.
- November 20th, 2011
- Africa — Leapfrogging to the future?
Christian Aid, with the help of some friends (full disclosure: EcoEquity is among them) has just released an excellent report entitled Low-carbon Africa: Leapfrogging to a green future. The report is interesting on two levels.
First, it makes the case that..
“Africa is able to deliver clean and sustainable energy to millions of energy-poor people across the continent without increasing greenhouse gas emissions” … It has the “renewable power potential to drive a green economic expansion across the region.” To wit “an abundance of resources and its sustainable development ambitions give Africa a real advantage when it comes to renewable energy.” And that, “with access to a ‘leapfrog fund’ from global mitigation finance, this could lay the ground for a low-carbon future.”
Second, it raises the question of a “leapfrog fund.” Which comes to this — given the pressing need for energy services in Africa, and given the importance of providing these energy services on the basis of renewables, does Africa not have a claim against the global climate finance system, whatever it turns out to be, for the technical and financial support that will be needed to ensure rapid, low-carbon development? And, if so, who should foot the bill?
- November 14th, 2011
- The truth about the rich
Two things, both of them insanely great.
First, the amazing Global Wealth Report that has just been released by the gnomes at Credit Suisse. This report can be misinterpreted as evidence for all sorts of geo-economic hypotheses, but what it really is, at least in my view, is excellent support for the “twice divided world” thesis, which insists that the divide between the North and the South be taken together with that between the rich and the poor. For an extended commentary on the report — and the climate negotiations — see my High Speed History essay.
Second, George Monbiot’s latest screed, which he called The Self-Attribution Fallacy. I don’t agree with George about everything, but this one has the EcoEquity seal of approval, big time. And by the way, the book he references — Branko Milanovic’s The Haves and the Have Nots, is absolutely a must read.
- November 8th, 2011
- Public secrets (via David Horsey)
- October 30th, 2011
- Monbiot against populationism
What with the 7 billionth baby and the UN’s (badly reported) revision of its population projections, the old romance between the apologists and the Malthusians has much heated up lately. George Monbiot replied with this short, sweet takedown, which would be hard to beat. (“Population is much less of a problem than consumption. No wonder the rich are obsessed by it.”)
In the “parameters matter” department, here’s the point to remember. The increase in projected peak-population (from 9 billion to 10 billion) was the result of “what appeared to be an arbitrary decision to change one of the inputs it fed into its model. Its previous analysis was based on the assumption that the average number of children per woman would fall to 1.85 worldwide by 2100. But this year it changed the assumption to 2.1.”
- October 27th, 2011
- Do the Math: Burning the Tar Sands = Climate Catastrophe
See the original of this article on the Earth Island blog.
The first wave of Keystone XL Pipeline protests – the arrests at the White House – was one for the books. At a time of crisis in the climate movement, and in the Obama presidency, the protesters managed to open a major new front in the carbon war and even to invigorate the domestic climate movement. Moreover, there’s every reason to hope that the resistance to the pipeline will keep rising. Still, a friend of mine recently asked me: “Why oppose this project and why now? Why is this an important line in the sand?”
It’s a fair question. And it’s critical to realize that the answer does not turn around the dangers of a pipeline spill, though these are real, but on the climate implications of tar-sands development. Right now, as it becomes obvious that the supply of conventional oil is not infinite (see, for example, here, and here), the future of energy is coming into play in a new way. And so it’s absolutely imperative to prevent the better possibilities from being closed down by a junkie energy policy that doubles down on fossils by targeting high-carbon, “unconventional” dregs like Canadian bitumen. In fact, allowing major investments in fossil-dregs infrastructure would be catastrophic, even in this a world of catastrophes.
Others have done rollups of the arguments against XL. See, for example, this quick briefing. But I’m going to skip right over the politics, the economics and all the other local color and head straight for the tar-sands / climate-catastrophe math. I’ll try to get it clear because, while lots of us have heard that Jim Hansen says it’s “game over” if the carbon in the unconventional Canadian fossil fuels is liberated, few of us know exactly what he means.
- September 28th, 2011
- Two Months to get a Robin Hood Tax?
Oxfam International’s From Poverty to Power blog has a great piece, today, on why the stars may be lining up for the a Financial Transaction Tax. I won’t say anything else about it, save that you should absolutely read it. Particularly if you worry about where the money is going to come from to fund what they used to call “social progress.” Such as, you know, climate adaptation. Especially now that the elites have decided to hide under their austerity blanket. But don’t get too optimistic. When little Timmy Geithner was in Europe last week, he went out of this way to oppose the FTT. See, for example, here.
- September 21st, 2011
- Why Fucking Bother?
The “terms of reference” are interesting. In case you can’t be bothered to click through to them, here they are.. View Full Text »
- August 24th, 2011
- Resource scarcity, fair shares and development
This excellent “discussion paper” was written by Alex Evans for the World Wildlife Fund and Oxfam, which deserve loads of kudos for supporting it. And, more generally, for thinking big. The tone of the post-Copenhagen debate, after all, is a rather defeated one, and most climate folks are searching around for one kind of climate pragmatism or another. Grand thinking about equity, and about its role in rising to the coming crisis, is rare indeed.
Evans is a long time member of what, for lack of a better term, I will call the fair-shares party, and he knows his way around. Accordingly, Resource scarcity, fair shares, and development covers a lot of ground. And it does so in a brief and well-organized way. Skip the graphics and it’s only 17 pages long. You should absolutely read it, and while you’re trying to find the time, let me make only two comments:
- August 18th, 2011
- Stephen Colbert on the Heritage Foundation on US Poverty
This guy has missed his calling!
- July 31st, 2011
- Is $76 trillion a lot of money?
Compared to what?
As it become obvious that the climate crisis is real, and that it can’t really be separated from a political and economic crisis that’s every bit as sprawling and strange, this sort of question – Is $76 trillion a lot of money? — becomes increasingly hard to avoid. The problem is that it’s also hard to handle, particularly in the context of the “We’re broke” panic that has so suddenly (and conveniently) come to dominate our political lives. Still, the bottom line is that it’s not going to be cheap to save human civilization. Even a figure like $79 billion would be cheap, compared to the alternative.
This particular figure is from the World Economic and Social Survey 2011, published by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and it immediately tells us that DESA is not primarily concerned with the kind of realism that defines debates in the halls of northern power. I can’t vouch for all the details (the 2011 Survey is hundreds of pages long) but the overall analysis seems sound. And if this is, as it seems, the highest climate-transition cost-estimate yet published by an authoritative source, it’s also one that, frankly, is finally getting high enough to be believable.
- July 25th, 2011
- Book Review: Paul Gilding’s “The Great Disruption”
Why the climate crisis will bring on the end of shopping and the birth of a new world
Paul Gilding, Bloomsbury Press, 2011
See the Earth Island Journal for another version of this review.
“The great disruption” is a bit of an odd notion. It suggests that big trouble is on the horizon, but also that it’s not really going to be that bad. A “great disruption” is not anything like, say, a “long emergency” (James Howard Kunstler), or a “collapse” (Jared Diamond), and it’s certainly nothing like “the revenge of Gaia” (James Lovelock). All three are acknowledged here, and points duly granted, but Gilding’s opinion is that, after a rough transition, maybe a few tough decades, we’ll nevertheless come out right.
It’s a clever strategy, and it fits Gilding’s argument, and it certainly has its advantages. For one thing, it moves the reviewers to immediately give you the adult nod. This book, you see, is not just another apocalyptic screed, but rather (Kirkus) “a remarkably optimistic view of the brave new world in our future.” Gilding even got a high-five from Tom “the world is flat” Friedman, right there in the august pages of the New York Times. He has friends in high places. Sales are brisk.
So it’s no surprise that activist types tend to grumble when Gilding’s name comes up. Nor is the problem just his “optimistic view.” It’s also that he’s long been trading off the years, back in the early 1990s, when he was head of Greenpeace International. The affiliation didn’t stick, and Gilding then used it to launch himself as a high-level (big corporations) green-business consultant. Not a good way to win love among the grassroots folks. I’m willing to bet that few among them will ever read The Great Disruption.
- July 20th, 2011
- “Squawking indignant right-to-luxury dickwipes”
There’s not really much to say about You shut your goddamn carbon-taxin’ mouth, except that it’s brilliant, and that it doesn’t mince words, and that it’s Australian, and that you’ll never quite think about the denialists in the same way again. Actually, there is something more to say — that the core of this piece is getting to something important. Something really important.
You can see it shining through here:
“The dumbshititis was also evident in the audience of the Prime Ministerial Q and A on Monday, where the average question could be summarised as, “I’m a person, and I don’t like paying money. Can I not ever pay money for things?” My favourite line, from a surgical swab of a man towards the end of the show, was that because he earned too much to be eligible for low-income handouts, “I feel I’ll be taxed into poverty.”
This taps into a very prominent feature of our political landscape: the constant line from Tony Abbott that Australian families are hurting, that Aussies are doing it tough, that life is somehow getting harder, that the cost of living is on the rise.
Shenanigans, Tony. Let’s get one thing very clear. Australians, en masse, are enjoying a better standard of living than has ever been enjoyed in this country’s history.
- July 18th, 2011
- From “peak oil” to “unburnable carbon”
Peak oil is many things, but this isn’t about peak oil, so I don’t have to try to enumerate them. But do recall just one version of the peaker story – peak oil as a repository of hope. This is the take in which, despairing of other avenues to rapid, large-scale change, we look to peak oil to at least save us from the more extreme forms of climate disaster.
The idea here is that, as we burn our way through the peak, fossil fuels will get more expensive and this will tip the competitive balance to low-carbon energy sources. So that despite the obvious reality of the day – let’s just say “governance failure” for the moment, and leave it at that – in which it’s all but impossible to price carbon at anything like its true social cost, its price will nevertheless rise, maybe even fast enough to save our bacon.
Does anyone still believe this? They won’t after reading the Carbon Bubble report, which was just released by the impeccably capitalist Carbon Tracker Initiative, which describes itself as “the first project of Investor Watch, a non-profit company established by its directors to align the capital markets with efforts to tackle climate change.” This report, which is unfortunately based on current science (unfortunately because current science is pretty terrifying) begins by noting that we have a mere 565 Gigatonnes of CO2 left in our shared planetary 2000 to 2050 carbon budget, if we intend to maintain a high probability (80%) of holding the warming below 2C. Which we should absolutely do, for lots of reasons — think “managing the unavoidable, and avoiding the unmanageable.” It then goes on to demonstrate, by simple arithmetic, that “only 20% of the total reserves can be burned unabated, leaving up to 80% of assets technically unburnable.”
Which is to say that peak oil can’t save us, because if we get anywhere near it we’re toast. Instead, the only transition scenarios that might hold water are those in which we manage to leave fossil fuels behind while we still have plenty to spare. A future not of peak oil but rather of unburnable carbon.
- July 16th, 2011
- Moving Planet demands
Just in case you thought that the climate movement was at a standstill, check out the demands behind the global Moving Planet day of action. If you think you see a new focus, a new emphasis on the obligations of the rich in a time of global emergency, well you would be right. Nor is this an accident.
- July 12th, 2011
- Cap & Dividend will be back
Cap & Dividend will return. I can’t prove it of course, but I’m willing to predict it, and this despite (unattributable) rumors that top US environmental strategy makers are “doubling down” on their old political calculations.
Why do I think so? Just a feeling, but an educated one. For one thing, Maria Cantwell, one of the two authors of 2009’s CLEAR act (the last legislative vehicle for Cap and Dividend), recently gave this speech at the Brookings Institution, and according to Mike Tidwell of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, it was spun by one of her top aides as a “soft launch” for a re-introduction of CLEAR. Nothing definite, but something.
The other reason is that Cap and Dividend makes ethical and political sense, and I’m betting that ethical and political sense comes back into fashion in the not too distant future. Seriously. On this front, see a sharp little piece called The Climate Justice Imperative. It’s by good-guy economist Jim Boyce.
- May 27th, 2011
- Finally, a comprehensive study of “outsourced emissions”
It’s been a long time coming, but a team led by Glen Peters, of the Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo, has finally published a comprehensive “consumption-side” analysis of global greenhouse-gas emission, one that takes international trade fully into account.
Estimates of “outsourced emissions” or “embodied carbon” have been knocking around for a while now, but this one is different. This time the study – Growth in emission transfers via international trade from 1990 to 2008 — is comprehensive, and this time the publisher is the Proceedings of the US National Academy of Sciences, and that’s going to make the results, and their implications, harder to ignore.
What consumption-side carbon accounting means is that, if a widget is manufactured in, say, China and then shipped to, say, the US – where it is “consumed” – the carbon embodied in the widget goes not on China’s books, as per the usual practice, but on America’s. The difference makes a difference. In fact, since 1990 – the Kyoto Protocol’s baseline year – 75% of the growth in the North’s consumption-based emissions took place in China.
- April 27th, 2011
- Washing machines as doorways to wisdom
The word “inequality” has, for far too long, been taken as code for “poverty.” It’s time to take it as well as code for “wealth.” And what is wealth? When does a person or community qualify as part of the global economic elite? What is a luxury, and who decides? Lots of questions here, and they couldn’t be more topical.
Enter Hans Rosling, who has with his gapminder project emerged as one of our very best guides to the statistical complexity of this, our civilization at the edge. You could easily, and productively, spend a day studying the ins and outs of his fabulous presentations, and learning how to do your own with gapminder desktop. But of course you’re too busy, so why don’t you instead invest nine minutes watching this brilliant video, from a talk Hans recently gave at TED Women.
Serious. Just do it. Right now.
- March 31st, 2011
- The Power of Doom
Here, from the excellent Labor Network for Sustainability, is a rather inspired from-the-heart piece that looks straight into the abyss and finds, not despair, but rather the foundation of a true global climate-justice mobilization, one that might just be able to scale. The pivotal paragraph of Fighting Doom: The New Politics of Climate Change says it very well indeed:
But my political alter ego is oddly less pessimistic. Rather than triggering gloom, the climate crisis has surprisingly stirred up more hope than I have felt in twenty years as a progressive activist. After decades of progressive retreat it is a strange feeling. But I am haunted by the suspicion that this coming crisis may be the first opportunity we have had in generations to radically re-shape the political landscape and build a more just and sustainable society.
- March 7th, 2011
- Rising Food Prices, Al Jazeera, and the irrelevance of the “skeptics”
Care to watch an excellent panel discussion on rising global food prices, one that puts climate change right at the center of the story — which is of course where it belongs — but also touches on the “right to food,” the crisis of agricultural over-pumping in the developing world, the need to provide contraceptive services to poor women, the role of commodities speculation, the democracy movement in North Africa and the threat of civilizational collapse? Click here to go to Al Jazeera to see it.
By the way, I claim, with absolutely no evidence, that the “skeptics” movement has peaked. That they will never again receive as large a portion of undeserved attention as they got during “climate gate.”
What’s this got to do with drought and desertification? Quite a bit, actually.
- February 18th, 2011
- Gap Between Rich And Poor Named 8th Wonder Of The World
Usually, we try to comment on the reports and articles we reference here. But, in the face of this, what can we say? Save that we know that, somehow, this must be linked to the global climate crisis.
- January 31st, 2011
- Is efficiency the problem?
A lot of us have wondered, for years, why efficiency doesn’t solve the problem. Why, for example, Amory Lovins — though he sometimes makes so damn much much sense — is somehow, still, so wrong. It’s something you can’t quite put your finger on.
The answer has a lot to do with “market failure,” of course, but there’s more to it as well.
Part of the problem seems to lie in an economic dynamic known as the “rebound effect.” Which comes, basically, to the fact that when energy — or any other “good” — gets cheaper, we tend to use more of it. As if we were implacable, insatiable, and ultimately doomed. Which would be a pretty simple-minded view of the situation.
And, in truth, David Owen’s The Efficiency Dilemma, published in the December 20, 2010 issue of the New Yorker, seems to be just a wee bit simple minded. Until the end, when Owen, having done the work necessary to justify a conclusion, plays out his hand in this fine passage:
“Decreasing reliance on fossil fuels is a pressing global need. The question is whether improving efficiency, rather than reducing total consumption, can possibly bring about the desired result. [U.S. Secretary of Energy] Steve Chu told me that one of the appealing features of the efficiency discussions at the Clean Energy Ministerial was that they were never contentious. ‘It was the opposite,’ he said. ‘No one was debating about who’s responsible, and there was no finger-pointing or trying to lay blame.’ This seems encouraging in one way but dismaying in another. Given the known level of global disagreement about energy and climate matters, shouldn’t there have been some angry table-banging? Advocating efficiency involves virtually no political risk — unlike measures that do call for sacrifice, such as capping emissions or putting a price on carbon or increasing energy taxes or investing heavily in utility-scale renewable-energy facilities or confronting the deeply divisive issue of global energy equity. Improving efficiency is easy to endorse: we’ve been doing it, globally, for centuries. It’s how we created the problems we’re now trying to solve.”
Too many people still think that “equity,” as it is called, is a luxury that we cannot afford. They’re wrong, though I can’t prove it. But this article is an oblique argument for the prosecution — for “confronting the deeply divisive issue of global energy equity” — that suggests that the matter could nevertheless become plain.
- January 10th, 2011
- Clever “Cap and Share” video
Cap and share, it must be said, can only work within countries. But, that said, it’s a fine idea, and a useful one. And this amusing video is a nice intro to it.
- January 4th, 2011
- Everything you always wanted to know about emissions trajectories…
Well, not everything. But you’ll find a good, almost definitive summary in The Emissions Gap Report: Are the Copenhagen Accord pledges sufficient to limit global warming to 2° C or 1.5° C? This report, organized by the UN Environment Program, basically consists of a meta-analysis of the various current studies of emissions pathways and their consequences. It’s focused on the Copenhagen pledges (which are judged to be way too weak) and is notable for taking proper account of 1.5ºC as well as 2ºC targets, for closely analyzing the loopholes by which the wealthy countries propose to avoid actually having to deliver on their nominal emission-reduction commitments, and for taking a good look at the need for “negative emissions” in the not too distant future. This is not a notion that realists usually dwell on, but here it’s even defined.
The tone is a little clinical. And there is a wee bit of soft-pedaling — for example, the range of 2020 emissions targets that is consistent with “likely” chance of holding the warming to 2ºC is judged to be 39-44 GtCO2 equivalent, which is not, actually, a range that can fairly be called “approximately 44.” But put this aside. The main point is that, after reading this report, you’ll know the key thing — if we’re going to squeak by, it’s going to be by way of a pathway that has no historical parallel. The necessary rate of annual, global emissions decline alone makes this crystal clear.
This report doesn’t go into the ethical-political failings that have stalled international progress, but this is no real surprise. These failings, though, cannot forever be set aside. Inevitably, they will be the focus of another round of increasingly visible analysis. They have to be. One way or another, we’re heading into a new world.
- November 29th, 2010
- Copenhagen Accord pledges are paltry
There is of course an ongoing, bitter debate about the Copenhagen Accord, about what it is and what, in the end, it will finally mean. Briefly, it comes to this: Does the Accord’s “pledge and review” architecture open a new way forward, one that can succeed even given the sorry state of America’s climate politics and, for that matter, American democracy? Or does it rather invite us into a future in which the rich and the responsible escape their proper obligations, and by so doing condemn the poor and the innocent, and eventually the rest of us as well, to the suffering and violence of extreme global warming?
The final resolution of this debate will take time, and, it seems, a great deal of acrimony. But one matter, at least, is already clear. The Accord’s “pledges” are entirely inadequate to the goal of avoiding “dangerous climate change.” This is a matter of broad consensus among the analysts, who have published a variety of cogent commentaries on the Copenhagen pledges. But a recent article in Nature, straightforwardly named Copenhagen Accord Pledges are Paltry, is the most notable of the quantitative analyses, and the one among them that’s actually required reading.
- August 19th, 2010
- Martin Khor on Climate Equity
If you’ve been following the international climate-equity debate, you probably already know that Martin Khor, former director of the Third World Network and now head of the South Centre, has been one of the driving figures, and you will probably be familiar with his views. But concision is its own reward, and the new issue of the South Centre bulletin contains a short piece in which Khor lays out his position in a very clear, and useful, manner.
The piece, Climate Deal Needs Equity In Carbon Space, is framed as a comment on a recent conference, organized by the Tata Institute for Social Sciences and held in late June in Mumbai India. This conference, which was focused on exploring the the “carbon budgeting” approach to global burden sharing was interesting indeed — see the brief comment here. But Martin’s comments are of broader interest. Note, in particular, that he reports that [Indian Environment Minister Jairam] “Ramesh indicated that India will take the lead in the UN climate negotiations in using the carbon budget to develop the paradigm of equitable access to atmospheric space and how this is to be put into operation.”
All this may seem pretty abstract to those in, say, the US, where the Administration’s attempt to pass climate legislation has failed, and rather pathetically, but it is not. This will be a long game, and if we’re going to win it, we have to bring climate change down from the sky and reveal its implications, in people’s daily lives. This, like it or not, will take you to the land of the “equity debate.”
- July 28th, 2010
- Equity, Energy Access, and Global Carbon Space
If you take a look at Global Carbon Budgets and Equity in Climate Change, an extremely interesting and forthright set of papers and reflections compiled by India’s Tata Institute of Social Sciences, you’ll see that the “equity debate” is alive and well, at least in the developing world.
Equity, Energy Access, and Global Carbon Space, the paper by Surya Sethi, is particularly interesting. Sethi was for many years a member of India’s climate negotiating team, and while this is no long the case, his views still carry real weight. And what views they are! The fundamental questions of climate justice are neatly listed here. The injustice that would follow from any accord that allows the wealthy to continue to “occupy” more than their fair share of the atmospheric space is quickly explained. A tidy case is made for a regime of dual obligations, one in which the long-time over-polluters of the North are assigned “negative entitlements” that can only be discharged with “signicant actions within their borders and action beyond their borders, with finance and technology.” And, critically, a bit of bile is reserved to excoriate the reality of intra-national injustices within the South, injustices that allow southern elites to “hide behind their poor.” View Full Text »
- July 26th, 2010
- Energy [R]evolution
We’re pleased to note that Greenpeace Internationals new Energy [R]evolution study finds a prominent place for the Greenhouse Development Rights approach to global, fair-shares, cost sharing. This, to be sure, is a largely techno-economic study, but Greenpeace does not imagine that rapid technological change will occur in the absence of a major commitment to equity and fairness.
With equity, though, and using only existing technology, the skys the limit.
The Energy [R]evolution demonstrates how the world can get from where we are now, to where we need to be in terms of phasing out fossil fuels, cutting CO2 while ensuring energy security. This includes illustrating how the worlds carbon emissions from the energy and transport sectors alone can peak by 2015 and be cut by over 80 percent by 2050. This phase-out of fossil fuels offers substantial other benefits such as independence from world market fossil fuel prices as well as the creation of millions of new green jobs.
The report homepage, where you can download the full report, can be found here. The logic of its use of GDRs is simple:
But although the Energy [R]evolution envisages a clear technological pathway, it is only likely to be turned into reality if its corresponding investment costs are shared fairly under some kind of global climate regime. To demonstrate one such possibility, we have utilized the Greenhouse Development Rights framework, designed by EcoEquity and the Stockholm Environment Institute, as a way of evening up the unequal ability of different countries to respond to the climate crisis in their energy polices.
For an example of the press coverage, see for example this article from Reuters.
- June 9th, 2010
- Naomi Klein on Carbon Debt
In this fine, wide-ranging speech, delivered Feb 25 under the auspices of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Naomi Klein did an excellent job of introducing the carbon debt approach, as it has come to be known.
I won’t attempt to summarize her presentation, or to enumerate its many virtues, but I will say that Klein’s approach to the problem of rich-world climate obligation is not without its problems. Note, for example, that her discussion is framed entirely in North / South terms, and that it focuses more or less exclusively on the responsibility of the North to the South. There’s not a word here about the rich / poor divide, or about the southern elites, or about class, or about the problem of capacity, which this site of course believes to be the second half (the first, of course, is responsibility) of the Who Pays equation.
To say this is to broach a key set of political and strategic questions. Add them to the list that Klein lays out here and you’ll have a good bit of the international obligations debate laid out before you. Not all of it, to be sure but given that she goes so far as to broach the criticism that she received for using the language of reparations, its a pretty good start.
By the way, Klein ends her talk with an interesting claim, one very relevant to the Who Pays debate, one that quite adroitly flips the terms of reference here in a manner that just might be very helpful indeed:
When we talk about climate reparation, we talk about those scary numbers, like $600 billion, what gets peoples back up is the idea that this money is going to come out of their pockets, but why should that be? Why should it come from regular taxpayers? With the right kind of taxes and penalties, the oil and gas sector, big coal, agribusiness, and the banks that finance them, the players that actually are responsible for both climate change and underwriting the climate-change denial movement, can be made to foot this bill. The polluter should pay.
- March 26th, 2010
- The Robin Hood tax
There’s lots to be said about Copenhagen. One of the key points, however, is too seldom made — the fogs have gotten thinner. In particular, it is now obvious, at least to those who care to know: unless “we” come up with a fair and reliable source for the hundreds of billions of dollars a year that is going to be needed, not only for the climate transition, but also to invest in a lives and dignity of the poor, around the world, then we’re toast.
Fortunately, there are lots and lots of ways to source such funding, and one of the most straightforward, as this little film explains, is the tax formerly known as the “financial transactions” or “Tobin” tax.
But no more…
- February 10th, 2010
- The 350 ppm Carbon Dioxide Challenge and How to Achieve it
There are many within the climate movement who, if truth be told, would prefer it if the lefts now deeply serious, and increasingly sophisticated, engagement with the climate challenge were to be, well, soft-pedaled. The left, after all, is still dangerous place to be, particularly in the US.
We do not rank ourselves within this tendency. For one thing, we do not believe that the climate crisis can be managed without real (if not absolute) economic justice, and this alone puts us on the left. For another, the question that most concerns us is global emergency mobilization, and at this point were not at all sure that the existing social formation (to quote Immanuel Wallenstein) is up to the job.
In this context, The 350 ppm Carbon Dioxide Challenge and How to Achieve it, a little essay by one Renfrey Clarke, can only be praised. It contains a few nuances that we could quibble with, but the overall framing of Clarkes argument, and his angry tone, are entirely justifiable. And, frankly, he is a reasonable man:
To argue that the capitalist system cannot afford to deal with climate change is thus at least technically wrong. The system has paid a similar or much greater cost in order to meet previous challenges. The central reason why the nettle of climate change is not being grasped is that private capital is exactly that private, required to produce profit for specific people and corporations. Combating climate change means profits foregone, in the case of oil left in the ground and stranded assets, in the case of coal export facilities made idle. Both the oil and the coal trains are owned by particular corporations, able to lobby politicians, influence media outlets and fund political parties and candidates.
There is nothing here to disagree with.
- January 14th, 2010
- The climate scoreboard
This scoreboard isn’t perfect. For one thing, it doesn’t really show national proposals — a term that implies that countries are suggesting levels of effort for others as well as for themselves. These are actually pledges, not proposals. And for another thing, national pledges are in no way compared to national fair shares — what countries should be doing. But leave aside these two little “details,” and this isn’t a bad scoreboard.
- December 2nd, 2009
- The Copenhagen diagnosis
If you’ve been hearing that the science has gotten worse since the IPCC’s last assessment report, but lacked for a single report that pulled the details together, you’re in luck. The Copenhagen diagnosis, subtitled “Updating the World on the Latest Climate Science” is written by an all-star team of top researchers, and it’s just what the doctor ordered.
- December 1st, 2009
- Solving the climate dilemma: The budget approach
This recent report, from an esteemed German research shop with the acronym WBGU, is, despite its dry title, an important milestone on our collective path to the Big Climate Reckoning. Though you should be warned that Mark Hertsgaard, in Grist, reviewed it under the title A scary new climate study will have you saying Oh, shit!
Rather than rehashing Hertzgaard’s nice introduction to this report and its principle author, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, let me simply add that, in essence, Solving the climate dilemma puts forward a version of the “carbon budget” analysis explored in another important paper, Greenhouse-gas emission targets for limiting global warming to 2C, published in April in Nature by Malte Meinshausen and friends. See our discussion of that paper here.
What’s important in this new study is that, in it, an influential group of top-tier scientists sets out to draw explicit political conclusions — about the shape of the necessary global climate accord — that are consistent with the implications of the budget approach, as they see them. More particularly, they set out to advocate a budget-sharing system that, they believe, is fair enough to serve as the basis of a global emergency mobilization. View Full Text »
- October 20th, 2009
- From Greenhouse Development Rights to Glenn Beck
This blog post is called Maurice Strong, Agenda 21 and more from Lord Moncton. It’s on a site called Soldier of Liberty and it pretty much speaks for itself.
How long does it take for this sort of thing to get really boring
- October 20th, 2009
- The Economics of Emergency (i.e., 350)
This utterly fantastic new report — The Economics of 350: The Benets and Costs of Climate Stabilization — is quite impossible to praise too highly.
The only criticism we have is that it is a mitigation-side only analysis that doesn’t take the costs of adaptation (insofar as adaptation is even possible) into account. Oh, and that it has little to say about the all-important questions that rotate around the costs that are here so nicely analyzed — e.g., who pays them, and how But this isn’t a real criticism, just a note about the tight focus of this report.
The two lead authors — Frank Ackerman and Elizabeth A. Stanton — are affiliated with the “E3” network, Economics for Equity and the Environment, and are among the best environmental economists in the business. Their co-authors are similarly illustrious, and their ambitions are high. An impressive team all around, and three of them wrote their own introduction to the report on Grist. Read it here.
The goal of the report is to turn an clear eye to the core economic problem of the climate crisis, and it does so in a manner that is both illuminating and incisive. Two 350 scenarios are discussed, one of which, James Hansen’s, seeks a return to 350 ppm CO2 by 2100, and requires “negative emissions” to pull off the feat. The other, the reference trajectory used by the Ackerman group, is less ambitious, and takes until 2200 to do the deed. Like so:
- October 13th, 2009
- UN calls for global Marshall Plan, cites GDRs prominantly in the process
The 2009 edition of the UN’s World Economic and Social Survey — it’s subtitle is “Promoting Development, Saving the Planet” — is an important document, for a number of reasons. For one thing, it fundamentally and comprehensively takes a development approach to solving the global climate crisis. In particular, according to its authors at DESA, the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs, it:
sees little benefit in ad hoc incremental actions, spelling out instead the potential of a big investment push to deliver on both reducing greenhouse gas emissions and helping communities to cope with climate change, and calling for more truly integrated policy responses to development and climate challenges. It does not shy away from describing the enormity of the adjustments that will have to be undertaken by countries at all levels of development if progress is to be made; or from insisting that the advanced countries will have to deliver resources and leadership on a much larger scale than has been the case to date.
- October 2nd, 2009
- Van Jones endorses Greenhouse Development Rights, is fired
Van Jones, a high-profile victim of US Administration timidity, may not longer be Barack Obama’s green jobs guru, but he’s still ours. In this context, we note that his bestselling book, The Green Collar Economy, endorses Greenhouse Development Rights (see page 164) in glowing terms. Why, because GDRs…
recognizes that the desperately poor around the world have a right to develop themselves economically, even if they add slightly to carbon emissions. In other words, they have a right to bring themselves up to a dignified level of consumption. Meanwhile, it is the rich who must now bring their emissions and consumption down to a dignified level.
- September 29th, 2009
- “Planetary Boundaries” loom
In a new approach to synthetic environmental science, a prestigious research team fronted by the Stockholm Resilience Centre‘s Johan Rockstrm has just published a fascinating paper on “planetary boundaries,” in Nature, under the title of A safe operating space for humanity.
Planetary boundaries are “values for control variables that are either at a safe distance from thresholds for processes with evidence of threshold behavior or at dangerous levels for processes without evidence of thresholds.”
To meet the challenge of maintaining the Holocene state, we propose a framework based on planetary boundaries. These boundaries define the safe operating space for humanity with respect to the Earth system and are associated with the planets bio-physical subsystems or processes. Although Earths complex systems sometimes respond smoothly to changing pressures, it seems that this will prove to be the exception rather than the rule. Many subsystems of Earth react in a nonlinear, often abrupt, way, and are particularly sensitive around threshold levels of certain key variables. If these thresholds are crossed, then important subsystems, such as a monsoon system, could shift into a new state, often with deleterious or potentially even disastrous consequences for humans.
This paper is short, and definitely a “must read.” The nine “boundaries,” by the way, are climate change; rate of biodiversity loss (terrestrial and marine); interference with the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles; stratospheric ozone depletion; ocean acidification; global freshwater use; change in land use; chemical pollution; and atmospheric aerosol loading. The three areas in which we are already over the line are, unsurprisingly, climate change, rate of biodiversity loss, and interference with the nitrogen cycle.
- September 29th, 2009
- Obama to propose eliminating fossil fuel subsidies?
The rumor (at the moment, it’s September 17th) is that next week at the G20 meeting, President Obama is going to propose an international agreement to end fossil-fuel subsidies. This would be brilliant, if it was done properly, and would go a long way towards rectifying the wealthy world’s typical unwillingness to consider “alternative” approaches to climate finance.
And there is, indeed, hope that it will be done properly. The New York Times reports that Michael Froman, the White House’s deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs, said in a Sept. 3 letter that:
The move away from subsidies should be managed to protect those most vulnerable to price increases… The G-20 should commit to take the lead in eliminating non-needs based fossil fuel and electricity subsidies and to provide technical assistance to non-G-20 countries taking steps to reduce fossil fuel and electricity subsidies.
- September 16th, 2009
- Adaptation costs have been radically underestimated
This shouldn’t be news. We should have known this all along.
Actually, many of us did. Particularly those of us who do not steer our stars by the pragmatism of the moment. And those of us in the more vulnerable parts of the world.
The small island states come particularly to mind, as does Africa, the unlucky continent where the full impacts of climate-induced desertification will be felt first. In such places as these, the various estimates of “adaptation costs” (as if all impacts could be “adapted” to at any price) have long been regarded with skepticism, if not contempt.
This includes the UNFCCC’s own official 2007 estimates, embedded in the UNFCCC Secretariat’s INVESTMENT AND FINANCIAL FLOWS TO ADDRESS CLIMATE (2007, see table IX-65. And see as well its 2008 update), which though it long contained the highest authoritative adaptation cost estimates (rising to $49 to $171 billion per year in 2030) still turned out to be low-balling the problem. View Full Text »
- August 26th, 2009
- The Bill
This little film …
… isn’t perfect, but damn is it good.
Four minutes and 22 seconds, in German with English subtitles, but watch it anyway.
Kudos to Germanwatch , and if anyone wants to pay for an English version, don’t hesitate to call.
- July 27th, 2009
- 300,000 deaths per year, and that’s just for starters
A recent report from Kofi Annan’s Global Humanitarian Forum tells us that climate change is already responsible for 300,000 deaths a year. And if we go beyond simple death to count the number of people that are already impacted, the number swells to 300 million. The report, Human Impact Report: Climate Change The Anatomy of a Silent Crisis, projects that increasingly severe heatwaves, floods, storms and forest fires will be responsible for as many as 500,000 deaths a year by 2030, making it the greatest humanitarian challenge that the world now faces. Which, frankly, is saying something! View Full Text »
- July 27th, 2009
- The Remaining Emissions Budget
On April 30th, Nature finally published something \we’ve wanted to see for a long, long time – a peer-reviewed paper that integrates the latest science towards the very pragmatic goal of defining a entirely citable, global emergency emissions reduction trajectory. The paper is called Greenhouse-gas emission targets for limiting global warming to 2C (download it here) and it’s written by a team led by Malte Meinshausen, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, which has in recent years been the source for much of best scientific work on precautionary emissions trajectories. Also on the author’s list is William Hare (better known in as Bill Hare, particularly within the climate movement) – both Bill and Malte have long been key members of the Greenpeace International climate team.
What Meinshausen et. al. have done is define a comprehensive probabilistic framework which calculates the total amount of CO2 that can be emitted between 2000 and 2050, relative to any given chance of meeting, but not overshooting, a particular temperature target. If you’re interested in high chance of meeting a safe target – or at least the most widely supported of plausibly manageable targets – which would hold the global average temperature increase to 2C above pre-industrial levels target, that budget is extremely small. More precisely, the 2C target corresponds to total 2000-50 emissions of about 1000 Gigatons of CO2, a number to be compared to the approximately 300 Gt that were emitted between 2000 and the end of 2008. (At which point the annual emissions rate was about 36 Gt CO2 per year). View Full Text »
- July 13th, 2009
- Annex 1 targets are NOT on track
According to a report by the a-list team at Climate Analytics that was just published in Nature Reports, we’re not even close to being on track for success in Copenhagen. Which is to say that an aggregated analysis of Annex 1 commitments (which “would be in the range of 814 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 if current commitments were followed through”) and non-Annex 1 “deviations from baseline (which are assumed to be 4% by 2020) yields the conclusion that we are in trouble deep, with virtually “no chance of limiting warming to 2 C (or 1.5 C) above pre-industrial temperatures.” View Full Text »
- June 15th, 2009
- Oxfam — Hang Together or Separately
Oxfam has long been a supporter of the Greenhouse Development Rights project, but this is something new! Hang Together or Separately is a major report from Oxfam International in which the Responsibility and Capacity Index is leveraged in a new and creative manner. (And see here for 30 minute press conference (at the Bonn talks in June) where the report was released.)
The focus of the proposal here is a Global Mitigation and Finance Mechanism designed to operationalize a “double duty” in which the rich countries, on the one hand, reduce their combined emissions by at least 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, and, on the other, provide $150 billion per year — “at the very least” — to incentivize large-scale emissions reductions in developing countries and finance adaptation. View Full Text »
- June 11th, 2009
- The “historical responsibility” issue blows wide open
Half way through the Copenhagen year, there came the Technical briefing by the Chair of the AWG-LCA on historical responsibility as a guide to future action to address climate change. Not a snappy title, but a big event, and the UN secretariat captured it on video, and if you’re any kind of climate equity scholar (or activist), it’s well worth watching, and not just because Martin Khor, now of the South Center, does such a fine job with the difficult job of explaining “negative emissions.” Other highlights include Henry Shue, and Bolivia’s Angelica Navarro, and China’s Teng Fei, and India’s Prodipto Ghosh, all giving their views on this suddenly visible, enduringly critical issue.
We’re not claiming that historical responsibility is the be-all and end-all equity principle, or that it can alone bear the weight of the fair-shares effort sharing system that we need. But it’s one side of the coin (the other is capacity) and this was, in a sense, its official coming out. Also note: For an excellent textual summary of the event, see the Third World Network’s Developing countries call for historical responsibility as basis for Copenhagen Outcome, by Matthew Stilwell & Lim Li Lin.
Also note: The real action took place a few days after the briefing, during a tense procession in which these same countries, among a total of 37, lent their names to formal call — expressed as a proposed amendment to the Kyoto Protocol — for the industrialized countries to reduce their combined emissions by over 40% by 2020.
- June 8th, 2009
- Fairness in global climate finance
This fine and important report, by Andrew Pendleton and Simon Retallack of the British Institute for Public Policy Research, was funded by the Heinrich Boell Foundation in Germany. It is unusually useful, particularly in its concise and focused approach to the key question of … well … fairness in global climate finance. It comes highly recommended, and not just because it speaks so very well of the GDRs approach. Rather, it goes beyond the basic GDRs analysis to explore a number of possible approaches to using the Responsibility and Capacity index. In practice!
- April 3rd, 2009
- The Growth Rate of CO2 Emissions has Tripled
Just in case you were starting to relax (or sink back exhausted into your chair) heres a little wake up call, from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (US). Seems that the recent rate of increase of CO2 emissions from fossil-fuel burning and industrial processes has been accelerating their global growth rate recently increasing from 1.1 to 3.0 percent a year. Why Because some the worlds poor (think China) are getting richer, but that we havent managed to break the link between economic growth and emissions. As the PNAS editors say, the results have implications for global equity.
- January 19th, 2009
- Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?
You may have already heard tell of this, a rather astonishing scientific paper by Jim Hansen and his team, but chances are that you haven’t read it, or even skimmed it. So consider this to be another chance, one you shouldn’t pass up. This, after all, is a paper that says that we need a “phase-out over the next 20-25 years of coal use that does not capture CO2,” and if there has been more easily understandable call for an emergency energy transition, we haven’t heard it. View Full Text »
- December 16th, 2008
- No More Kindergarten Approach to Climate
Sunita Narain, of New Delhi’s Center for Science and the Environment, has long been a leader in the battle for global climate justice. Which makes it all the better to have her weigh in with this rather sharp editorial. If you’re tired of recent fashion of blaming China and India for the crisis (both countries have far less historical responsibility and far lower per-capita incomes than, say, ours) you might want to take a look at this short, bracing call to return to basics.
- October 10th, 2008
- A Green New Deal: Joined-up policies to solve the triple crunch of the credit crisis, climate change and high oil prices
Now here’s something interesting! An actual use of the term ” Green New Deal,” which has been knocking around for years now, and in the title of a report written by group of veteran British climate and social justice campaigners that ought to know what they’re talking about.
The precise definition of the “triple crunch” here is a bit too topical for our tastes (we’re not sure that the credit crisis deserve equal billing with climate change) but this is a pretty small point. The main claim here is that “These three overlapping events threaten to develop into a perfect storm, the like of which has not been seen since the Great Depression,” and it’s well worth considering, particularly since it may be right. And because, if it is, the stakes will be extremely high. View Full Text »
- July 21st, 2008
- Climate Code Red: The case for emergency action
We raved about Climate Code Red when it first came out as a report, and we’re not going to stop now that it’s a book. And the fact that the book is hard to get in the US doesn’t make much difference. Get a friend in Australia to send it to you! Or go to the book site and try your best. Here’s what we said about the original report:
David Spratt and Philip Sutton, the two Australian climate analysts behind this report, insist that we’ve already crossed the line, and that the problem now is to engineer an emergency global mobilization and to “cool the earth” as quickly as humanly possible. Their argument, alas, is not a rhetorical one that will be easy to deny. In fact, it’s for the most part quite measured. It’s certainly strongly rooted in the science (much of which has come out since the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report) and almost entirely free of gratuitous political spin. View Full Text »
- July 15th, 2008
- The G5 Statement
If youre a regular visitor to this site, you know that our focus is a fair global climate regime. Indeed, we believe that, before theres any real chance of stabilizing the climate, there will have to be a fair burden sharing deal, one that the developing countries can really support. In the absence of such a deal, developing country negotiators can all to justifiably conclude that they have more to lose than to gain from any really serious engagement with a global regime that, after all, must significantly curtail access to the energy sources and technologies that historically enabled growth in the industrialized world. View Full Text »
- July 14th, 2008
- Mike Davis: Welcome to the Next Epoch
If you don’t know Mike Davis’ work, start with an Amazon search. He’s the author of some of the most interesting books of the last few decades, including, most recently, Planet of Slums and In Praise of Barbarians. Or just click though to this fine little essay, published on Tomdispatch, which appears to be called Living on the Ice Shelf.
Yes, you’re too busy to read. But you’re not too busy to read this.
- June 26th, 2008
- Oxfam: Rich Must Pay the Bulk of Climate Bill
Oxfam has just taken a big step, and it wasnt easy, and they deserve heaps of kudos for it. It has called for a mandatory adaptation funding regime (were talking global here) thats on the right scale, or at least the right order of magnitude, one in which national obligations to pay (to help poor and vulnerable communities adapt to the now ineveitable impacts of climate change) are determined by historical responsibility for the impacts of climate change, and by ability to pay. View Full Text »
- June 4th, 2008
- The Greening of the South
Here’s something interesting — a well-informed and honest article from a significant British magazine (Prospect) that looks hard at the core political challenges of global climate stabilization and then draws some actual conclusions. And it’s written by Simon Retallack, who knows his way around both the climate policy debate and the climate movement.
Retallack, now head of Climate Change at the UK’s Institute for Public Policy Research, did not come blithely to the Greenhouse Development Rights perspective, which he here recommends. He’s way too much of a realist for that. But Retallack, as it happens, is an honest realist, one who rejects most of the goods currently being sold under that label as being long, long past their use-by dates. View Full Text »
- February 28th, 2008
- The Debt of Nations
The notion of “ecological debt” has been tossed around for a long time, but until the publication of The Depth of Nations and the distribution of ecological impacts from human activities, which, we hasten to note, was published in the Proceedings of the American National Academy of Sciences (here) has such a convincing attempt been made to quantify it.
For interesting reviews, see here and here. And note well the bottom line: “At least to some extent, the rich nations have developed at the expense of the poor and, in effect, there is a debt to the poor.” Thus spoke coauthor Richard B. Norgaard, an ecological economist and UC Berkeley professor of energy and resources. “That, perhaps, is one reason that they are poor. You don’t see it until you do the kind of accounting that we do here.” View Full Text »
- February 5th, 2008
- Military vs. Climate Security
Want a bit more on money How about this: “For every dollar allocated for stabilizing the climate,” says Miriam Pemberton, the author of a new report from Washington’s Institute for Policy Studies, comparing the US military and climate-protection budgets, “the government will spend $88 on achieving security by military force.” And the United States spends 50 times as much arming the world as it does helping other countries address global warming.”
There’s more detail, of course, much more. For example, technology transfer, which surfaced as such a key issue at the recent Bali talks. Here, as it happens, “The U.S. government budgeted $20 to develop new weapons systems for every dollar it requested to develop new technologies to stabilize the climate.”
Not that this is likely to come as much a surprise. The surprise would be if the next US administration makes much of a change in these dismal, even suicidal ratios.
- January 8th, 2008
- Jared Diamond steps to the edge
Diamond, of course, is the author of Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail of Succeed, a book that illustrated, in excruciating detail, the myriad varieties of blindness that human societies have over the years chosen over what we might call environmental realism. Elites, in particular, have a long track record of willful, and ultimately suicidal self regard, and it’s the attention that Diamond paid to this fact that made his book such a milestone.
This little op-ed unfortunately sets that key point aside. The divisions mentioned here are only divisions between rich nations and poor, as if the divisions between rich and poor within nations were not equally decisive. Still, it was good to see Diamond’s bald claim that …
The average rates at which people consume resources like oil and metals, and produce wastes like plastics and greenhouse gases, are about 32 times higher in North America, Western Europe, Japan and Australia than they are in the developing world.”
… in the august pages of the New York Times. It was a fitting welcome to the new year. And it was, of course, a warning.
- January 2nd, 2008
- Stop Climate Chaos Manifesto
We’ve got a lot going on here in the US, but somehow we don’t quite have anything like the Stop Climate Chaos coalition. If you don’t believe it, take a look at the SCC policy platform, which you can find here. Not only has this huge coalition — which includes development and ecumenical groups as well as self-identified greens — committed itself to fighting to keep total warming below the 2C line (total surface warming, since pre-industrial times), it also draws conclusions. Like that, for example, if we’re to hold the 2C line, global emissions must peak within 10 years. And that
“Given that the industrialized countries bear historical responsibility for climate change and that the rest of the world lacks access to the resources needed to build low carbon economies, it is essential that the former begin now to provide the necessary financial and technical resources to help rapidly industrialising countries commence mitigation strategies.” View Full Text »
- January 1st, 2008
- Remember This: 350 Parts Per Million
Bill McKibben can be counted on to explain critical truths in simple ways, and in this case he had some help from his editors at the Washington Post, and from James Hansen, who took advantage of last year’s meeting of the American Geophysical Union to argue that we’re already over a key Earth-system tipping point.
There’s a lot of analysis behind this (check our Hansen’s web page if you want to see how much) but McKibben, a seasoned journalist, get’s just the right quote: “The evidence indicates we’ve aimed too high — that the safe upper limit for atmospheric CO2 is no more than 350 ppm.” And, of course, the current level of 383 ppm is well past 350. Does this mean that we’re doomed McKibben’s answer is “not quite,” and it’s the right one. But there’s no more time to waste. View Full Text »
- December 28th, 2007
- Hiding Behind the Poor
Greenpeace India just released this brief, fantastic report at the climate COP in Bali (December 2007). It deserves huge kudos, and a great deal of attention, for it shows that India — in claiming that its emissions are too low to demand mitigation — is actually relying on misleading average emission data. Which is to say that India’s elites are “hiding behind” their own poor. The authors show this in just the right way, by doing their homework. They break India’s population down into what, for lack of a better term, we might call “emission classes,” and — surprise — it turns out that there are about ten million people within India who have emissions above, and sometimes far above, the sustainable global average.
Highly recommended and, we hope, a sign of the times.
- November 12th, 2007
- Startling new analysis from Lehman Brothers
Well, it seems that surprises are still possible! Not long ago, Climate Progress, Joe Romm’s excellent blog, contained a pointer to a new report by Lehman Brothers — the investment bank — with the unpromising title of “The Business of Climate Change II.” But promising it was! And among much else, it contained the following startling words:
“The United States, the European Union, Japan, and Russia are estimated to have accounted jointly for nearly 70% of the build-up of fossil-fuel CO2 between 1850 and 2004. Developed countries are also, directly or indirectly, responsible for much of the destruction of the world’s carbon sinks, most notably its forests. By contrast, India and China are estimated as having contributed less than 10% of the total. Developing countries are already making the point that the ‘social’ cost of carbon — and therefore the total abatement cost — is as high as it is because of past emissions. Hence, they argue, the developed countries should be paying for the amount by which the ‘social’ cost of carbon is higher than it would have been but for their actions … View Full Text »
- September 21st, 2007
- Two Degrees, Once Chance
Have you been wanting one good pamphlet that says it all Well, keep waiting, because there isn’t one. But there is, now, one pamphlet that contains a clear, precise, compelling overview of the impacts that we’re likely to suffer if the temperature is allowed to rise above 2C degrees. “Two Degrees, Once Chance” was, by the way, written by a group of British development organizations, and it has its priorities clear: the impacts will strike hardest on the weakest and most vulnerable. The world must act with urgency.
- July 12th, 2007
- We Can Do This with Renewables!
And, once again, we have to repeat the basic point that we can decarbonize the global economy with renewables and efficiency. God knows it would be good if we could let this alone for a while, but with the nuclear lobby’s recent rise from the couch it seems like we’re going to have to go another round on this. So thanks to the World Wildlife Fund for another fine romp through the fundamentals. The report, by the way, is called Climate Solutions: WWF’s Vision for 2050. That’s a date that seems to be on everyone’s mind these days.
- May 15th, 2007
- Human Tide: The Real Migration Crisis
We all know, at this point — by which I mean that we should all know — that climate change is going to set off a vast new wave of migration. Development groups are even debating, grimly and quietly, how to think about a future in which their job includes evacuating people people, lots of people, from lands that can no longer support them. And it’s not just climate. Many of today’s forced immigrants are the victims of “develpopment” itself. Not up to speed on the issue Start here.
- May 15th, 2007
- Waxman’s Safe Climate Act
Well whaddaya know There’s life in Congress, or at least in California. This, at least, is the conclusion we draw from Rep. Henry Waxman’s Safe Climate Act. Of course it doesn’t have a snowball’s chance, at least not yet. But this’ll change if the scientists, as seems likely, continue their barrage of bad news. Note that the Safe Climate Act:
* Actually defines a meaningful emissions reduction trajectory! “Beginning in 2011, it cuts emissions by roughly 2% per year, reaching 1990 emissions levels by 2020. After 2020, it cuts emissions by roughly 5% per year. By 2050, emissions will be 80% lower than in 1990.”
* Emphasizes the auctioning of permits, rather than their give-away to existing emitters, and establishes a “Climate Reinvestment Fund” by which the proceeds from the auctions could be used to maximize “the public benefit and promoting economic growth, including supporting technology research and development, compensating consumers for any energy cost increases, providing transition assistance for affected workers and regions, and protecting against harm from climate change, such as safeguarding water supplies, protecting against hurricanes, and mitigating harm to fish and wildlife habitat.”
Not perfect, but a hell of a lot better than some of the other trail balloons now floating out of Washington.
- March 20th, 2007
- Avoiding Catastrophe
This is interesting, and not just because it cites our work. The Climate Equity Project, a reality based supporter of the cap and share approach, did this survey of recent science, new data, and emissions scenarios designed to avoid catastrophic climate change for Friends of the Earth Australia in late 2006, and it’s still very much worth reading. Think of it as a sort of Reader’s Digest to the bad news. After all, who’s got the time to keep up
Late breaking news: Jim Hansen’s team has a relevant new report that could well have gone into Avoiding Catastrophe. It sports the snappy title of Dangerous human-made interference with climate: a GISS modelE study, and it argues (surprise!) that the ticking of the clock is getting pretty loud. Particularly interesting on positive feedbacks.
Hansen hasn’t given up yet, but he gets blunter every year. So should we.
- January 15th, 2007
- The Protocol that came in from the Cold
The Montreal conference was a big deal not because it marked a turn in the climate war (we’re still losing) but because it may, if we we are very lucky, make a turn possible. The Bush people came to throw gravel in the gears, but they were unsuccesful, and perhaps even humilitated. (Can you be humiliated if you don’t notice) Even more importantly, the future is now, finally, on the official negotiating agenda.
For the details, see this review essay, written by the climate team at the Wuppertal Insitute. It’s the single best summary of COPMOP1 and its significance that we’ve seen. They leave out the rubber ducks though.
- December 5th, 2006
- A Stern Talking To
This, of course, is a link to the the Stern Review, the UK government report on climate change economics that, we may all devoutly hope, marks the end of the pretense that sober economic analysis justifies further delay before launching serious attempts at mitigation. It also marks a low point — if such is possible — in the careers of the barking dogs we know as “climate skeptics.” Particularly notable was the “industry spokeman” who dismissed the report — by a former World Bank Chief Economist and Senior Vice-President! — as “fun with numbers.”
Bark they may, but the caravan has moved on.
- October 30th, 2006
- Living Planet 2006
Regular readers of this site will be excused if they think it’s all climate, all the time. And, in truth, we really do think that climate plays a special, decisive role in the environmental crisis. But as this latest from the Global Footprint Network makes gruesomely clear, the larger story is also moving on to its inevitble denouement. Particularly notable in 2006’s report is the attention to national disaggregation — humanity is no longer being treated as a single monolithic group. So that a visit to this report will reward you with maps like this one, which you won’t find at your local Rand McNally.
(larger version of this map target here)
- October 24th, 2006
- McKibben’s Warning
You gotta give it to Bill McKibben: he has political instincts! So if you missed this little piece, here’s your second chance. It’ll give you nice snapshots to both the Waxman and Jeffords bills (the ones we need to support for all we’re worth) and it wraps these pointers in the simple honest truth. Now that national climate legislation is inevitable, “the temptation will be to simply pass something, most likely the “feeble” McCain-Lieberman bill. In fact:
“If the Democrats manage to pick up one or both houses of Congress in November’s election, there will be a real chance to actually pass a law. That’s an opportunity. And that’s also an enormous danger, because if we lock into the wrong plan now, it may be years before we revisit the issue again. And years are what we don’t have.”
- September 21st, 2006
- Gore’s Big Speech
One wag called this speech the “lost reel” of An Inconvenient Truth. Whatever you want to call it, you have to admit that Gore’s invocation of the “Nuclear Freeze” movement, and his call for a carbon emissions freeze, were pleasing to the ear. But the real news, at least as far as we’re concerned, was in Gore’s Big Rhetorical Climax, where he stepped out of the climate sandbox and made the connections:
“In rising to meet this challenge, we too will find self-renewal and transcendence and a new capacity for vision to see other crises in our time that cry out for solutions: 20 million HIV/AIDS orphans in Africa alone, civil wars fought by children, genocides and famines, the rape and pillage of our oceans and forests, an extinction crisis that threatens the web of life, and tens of millions of our fellow humans dying every year from easily preventable diseases. And, by rising to meet the climate crisis, we will find the vision and moral authority to see them not as political problems but as moral imperatives.”
That’s the hope all right.
- September 18th, 2006
- Trouble in Europe
As everyone who has been following the European Emissions Trading System no doubt already knows, there’s trouble brewing. The problem is that, rather than auction off the permits, or allocate them on the basis of some rational set of equity principles, the folks in Brussels have engineered a “dysfunctional” system in which emissions permits go to the powerful, on the basis of past emissions or, uh, power.
The result, as all climate newhounds know, is a glut of allocations (hot air) and a drop in the price of carbon in Europe from the already low level of 30 Euros a ton to even lower, deep discount, bad-joke levels. Which you can read about in this admirably brief and direct report from a think tank called Open Europe.
None of this would be so bad if it was just a sign of birthing pains. But rumors indicate that the EU is not rising to the occasion, and that the next round of allocations won’t be much smaller. Cross your fingers, and hope that “European Leadership” has a bit of wind left in its sails
- July 6th, 2006
- China and “Our Oil”
Have you noticed the new fashion for China Bashing If you haven’t, be assured that the drums are beating. The underlying story here is, as always, complex, though it sure seems to have a lot of do with US dreams of a new cold war, and even of Containing China. Or, if you indulge in the coarser varieties of business journalism, it’s the story of China (and India) taking “our oil.”
In this context, check out the Energy Information Administration’s reference projections for future oil consumption. Click here for the PDF or, if you have Excel installed, here. The numbers are pretty amusing. For one thing they show total global oil consumption rising from 78.2 million barrels a day in 2002 to 119.2 million barrels a day in 2025, which, by the way, is not going to happen. But they also show that increased US consumption in that brief period will be 7.6 million barrels a day, while China’s will be 9.
Think about that in per-capita terms and you’ll get the joke.
- April 18th, 2006
- Justice and Honesty in New Orleans
New Orleans still has more to teach us, and this little piece by Melissa Harris Lacewell, author of Barbershops, Bibles, and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought is a good place to look for another lesson. Faced with a haphazard (if not willfully incompetent) reconstruction that’s leaving the city’s poor black community in even more precarious straits than it suffered before the storm, Lacewell calls for a “restoration” that really is designed to make the victims whole.
There will be more hurricanes, more relocations, more — let’s face it — climate refugees. It’s time, as the “adaptation” debate heats up, to think more viscerally. And a bit of effort spent mining these same veins is just what’s needed.
- February 20th, 2006
- On the Commons
The Tomales Bay Institute, organized a few years ago to promote and reinvigorate the theory and culture of the commons, seems like it’s picking up some traction. There’s a lot of activity on the site, and we can recommend two postings in particular as starting points: View Full Text »
- January 3rd, 2006
- News Flash: Poor More Likely to Die from Climate Impacts
Careful new calculations indicate that global warming contributes to 150,000 deaths and five million illnesses every year, and that this rate could double by 2030. Why Because we’ll see increased infectious disease outbreaks, respiratory illnesses, flooding, and other calamities. And here’s the real news, straight from the Washington Post: “Most Victims are Poor.” Even more shocking,” “Those most vulnerable to climate change are not the ones responsible for causing it.”
- November 17th, 2005
- Worst Case Scenarios
The future, of course, is unwritten. It may even turn out to be both just and liveable — if we’re both smart and lucky. On the other hand, it’s getting easier to imaine worst case scenarios — not to mentin nonlinearities and “threshold events” — which is exactly what hard-eyed Mike Davis does in Has the Age of Chaos Begun And if you want another, check out The Heat Death of American Dreams.
- October 8th, 2005
- The Great Game
The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research is Germany was already known for original thinking before it released Keep Cool: Gambling with the Climate, a board game that may, only a few decades hence, seem less comic than prescient. In the Risk-like world of Keep Cool, it’s even possible for, say, the developing countries to drive the climate over the edge, hoping all the while for the rich world to pay enough to make that destruction unnecessary. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it
- February 4th, 2005
- Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change: The Book
Now that the tide seems to be turning, at least a wee bit, it’s a good time to recall the bad old days – like, say, two years ago – when most folks in the US “climate community” were still discretely minimizing the urgency of the situation. That, of course, was before Jim Hansen started telling us we less that ten years to bring global emissions to a peak. And before Al Gore brought the rhetoric of “planetary emergency” into common usage. And it was, less famously, before “Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change,” better known as “the Exeter Conference,” provided the occasion by which the scientific community, by whatever mysterious process that scientists use when deciding these sorts of things, finally decided to set aside its traditional reserve and start speaking frankly.
If you think there’s a whiff of panic in the air, you’re right. If you want to know the details, this is the place for you.
- February 1st, 2005
- WWF’s New 2C Study
If you’ve spent any time at all on this site, you know that we’re partisans of the “Two Degree Limit” school, and that we argue that an average planetary warming of greater than 2C would threaten us with global, not merely local, climate catastrophe. In this new study, WWF (also members of 2C school) go onto the bad news, reviewing a number of recent modeling studies that indicate that we’ll hit 2C between 2026 and 2060, and that when we do the Arctic will warm three times as much. The consequence will be hard to exaggerate, and the lesson clear — 2C is too much.
- January 15th, 2005
- Speaking of Trade War
In this report, a few of our German friends come right out and think the unthinkable. Indeed, in Implementing the Kyoto Protocol Without the United States: The Strategic Role of Energy Tax Adjustments at the Border, Frank Biermann and Rainer Brohm of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research go so far as to argue that, if the U.S. remains indefinitely outside a future greenhouse regime (assuming we ever get one) even existing world trade law would permit the European Union to enact “well designed” and “comprehensive” border adjustments against its exports.
Want some freedom fries with that
- January 13th, 2005
- How Rich are You Anyway?
As it becomes obvious that there will be no rapid decarbonization (not, at least, on the scale needed to avoid a global climate catastrophe) unless “the rich” pay the costs of that rapidity, the question of who is rich, and how rich, is taking on a strange new importance. Which is why we like this little calculator. The data behind it, by the way, is taken from the work of Branko Milanovic, whose new book Words Apart: Measuring International and Global Inequality sets the gold standard, when it comes to, well, measuring international and global inequality.
- January 9th, 2005
- Am I Meaningfully Participating Yet?
The Chinese government is preparing to impose minimum fuel economy standards on their burgeoning auto fleet, standards far more stringent than those in the US. To be clear, the new standards aren’t intended to address China’s rapidly rising carbon emissions, but rather to force foreign automakers to introduce the latest hybrid engines and other technology into China, fast, in hopes of easing the nation’s swiftly rising dependence on oil imports. Which, actually, makes excellent sense. And the situation is not without its humorous sidelights. Here’s one: the New York Times article, China Set to Act on Fuel Economy; Tougher Standards Than in US, reports that “two executives at Volkswagen, the largest foreign automaker in China” .. told the Times that “They had no choice but to agree.”
Those damn Market-Leninists!
- November 18th, 2003
- Landmark Study from Old Europe!
The German Scientific Advisory Council on Global Environmental Change (WBGU) has just released Climate Protection Strategies for the 21st Century: Kyoto and Beyond, and it’s a milestone. For one thing, it calls for a 2C “guardrail” to prevent dangerous climate change. For another, it promotes an idea which has long and unjustly been marginalized by calling for “Contraction and Convergence” to be the basis of the post-Kyoto regime.
This is a big step forward for a major quasi-governmental think tank, even a European one, but it remains to be seen how much traction these ideas will win. Even if the E.U. were to adopt the WBGU’s proposal for convergence to equal per capita rights in 2050, the South’s response would remain uncertain. View Full Text »
- November 15th, 2003
- After Cancun
You know that the international trade talks are in trouble. What you may not know is that Cancun saw the emergence of a newly coherent Southern negotiating bloc – the “Group of 21” – and that it may (cross your fingers) portend good news spreading even as far as the climate talks. Ok, maybe that’s a stretch, but here’s an interesting analysis by Focus on the Global South’s Walden Bello, who by the way just won the Right Livelihood Award. In it, Bello discusses “the possibility that the Group of 21 can serve as the engine of South-South cooperation that goes beyond trade to coordination of policies on investment, capital flows, industrial policy, social policy, environmental policy.”
- October 15th, 2003
- The Perfect Firestorm
Mike Davis isn’t the only writer to say “global warming” while commenting on the California fires, but his Perfect Firestorm is probably the only essay to link the outsized economic damages to “stupid development,” or to note that “Republicans tend to disproportionately concentrate themselves in the wrong altitudes and ecologies.” Read this one; it’s short and anything but sweet.
- October 15th, 2003
- Strange Augusts Yet to Come
Perhaps you’ve read Mike Davis’s Late Victorian Holocausts. More likely you’ve looked at the cover photos, grimaced, and turned away. But do take a look at Our Summer Vacation: 20,000 dead wherein Davis ties this past August’s wave of European heat death to the more routine suffering of the poor and the forgotten, and then shares his personal greenhouse nightmare: a positive feedback caused by the now almost inevitable melting of the Arctic ice cap.
Speaking of August, 2003’s was the Northern hemisphere hottest on record, and according to the Earth Policy Institute’s Janet Larson, whose detailed numbers nice supplement Davis’s, it actually accounted for 35,000 deaths.
- September 28th, 2003
- More Death and Suffering: This Just In!
Speaking of greenhouse body counts, the estimate of 160,000 deaths a year has been in the news lately, thanks to a new report from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The majority of these deaths occur in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America, where people are more vulnerable to malnutrition, malaria, and diarrhea as hotter temperatures settle in and floods and droughts become more common.
This figure demands to be put in perspective. Here’s one place to start: the World Health Organization estimates that indoor air pollution causes 1.6 million deaths per year. That’s an even power of ten greater than the greenhouse body count, and this time the situation is crystal clear: the killer here is poverty, pure and simple.
- September 15th, 2003
- Argentina and Chile Endorse Per Capita
In the small but significant step department, the Presidents of Argentina and Chile have come out for a per capita climate accord. It’s not China, but it’s welcome news in any case!
Think of it: only 30 years from Pinochet to Per capita!
- August 15th, 2003
- Climate System (and Scientific View of the Climate System) Shifts Rapidly
Physics Today has just run an unusually salient history of science article, The Discovery of Rapid Climate Change, which among much else focuses on how rapidly the research community’s perception of the risks of rapid climate change is changing. Got that And note that a longer article, focusing on rapid one-way climate shifts, is available here.
- August 15th, 2003
- The London Guardian Draws Conclusions
If the WMO press release is too understated for your taste, try the articles that George Monbiot and John Vidal have been publishing in the Guardian recently. Particularly notable are:
* Monbiot’s Shadow of Extinction which presents evidence that the great Permian extinction may have been caused by a mere 6C degrees of climate change. (July 1st)
* Vidal’s Global Warming may be Speeding Up, which evocatively argues that this summer’s global drought/heatwave could indicate that the warming has already begun to accelerate. (Aug 6th)
* Monbiot’s With Eyes Wide Shut, which reviews some of the more terrifying of the recent science, and suggests that we are, perhaps, living in a dream. (Aug 12th) All three of these articles cite a recent workshop where top atmospheric scientists, including Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen and Bert Bolin, former chairman of the IPCC, concluded that the masking effect that aerosols are having on the warming could be far greater than previously thought, and that, therefore, the IPCC’s estimate of the “high end” danger could turn out to be far too low. For more on this, see First, the Bad News in the current issue of Climate Equity Observer.
- August 12th, 2003
- The Big Wrap Up
This Strategic Assessment of the Kyoto-Marrakech System was jointly prepared by an impressive list of European climate policy researchers, gathered together under the “Climate Strategies” umbrella. You’ll definitely want to start with the (mercifully short) synthesis report and then, to drill deeper, download the underlying “modules” (why not just call them papers) from the British Centre for Energy Policy and Technology. All, curiously, except Benito Muller’s “Module 4” on Framing Future Commitments, which isn’t downloadable. Instead you get it (a free PDF) by emailing www.oxfordenergy.org (at [email protected]), and we, actually, recommend that you do. Take a special look at page 68, where Benito lays down his notion of the “twin taboos” (one Northern; one Southern) that underlie the current impasse, and at the appended comments (starting on page 123) by Anju Sharma of India’s Centre for Science and the Environment.
- July 15th, 2003
- The Truth about McCain Lieberman
The Myth, of course, is that any serious effort to control emissions is bound to bankrupt us. The reality, as shown, once again, by two authoritative studies of the McCain Lieberman proposal, is far different.
The better known of the two is the Emissions Trading to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the United States: The McCain-Lieberman Proposal, better known as “The MIT study, which showed that the per-household “welfare loss” would typically be a mere $50 to $175 in 2010, rising to about $100 to $350 per household in 2020. And this, please note, was the original McCain Lieberman proposal, before it was watered down to win more vote.
Still, that would be enough to hurt the poor, so we felt better when the Tellus Institute released its Analysis of the Climate Stewardship Act. Tellus’ analysis, while entirely consistent with the MIT study, also assumed targeted policies designed to promote efficiency and renewables, and concluded that, in fact, net savings to consumers accrue from 2013, and would reach $48 billion annually in 2020.
Keep these studies in mind the next time you hear some blowhard from the Competitive Enterprise Institute sound off about the so-called economic realities.
- July 15th, 2003
- Can we defuse the Global Warming Time Bomb?
In this fascinating, accessible presentation, James Hansen, one of our most respected climate scientists, argues that we’re much closer to “dangerous anthropogenic interference” than the IPCC’s work would suggest: “The dominant issue in global warming, in my opinion, is sea level change and the question of how fast ice sheets can disintegrate. A large portion of the world’s people live within a few meters of sea level, with trillions of dollars of infrastructure. The need to preserve global coast lines, I suggest, sets a low ceiling on the level of global warming that would constitute DAI.” The funny thing is the Hansen is still an optimist. Or, rather, he thinks we still have time. Just. This one is a must read.
- June 15th, 2003
- World Meteorological Organization Warning
In the midst of the summer heat wave, the UN World Meteorological Organization issued an unusual press release that clearly ascribed recent extreme weather events to climate change. WMO cited record temperatures of over 40 degrees C in the South of France, a record number of tornadoes in the US, and pre-monsoon heat waves in India that were up to five degrees higher than average.
- June 15th, 2003
- The New Apollo Project
There’ve been lots of efforts to form a “blue green” labor-environment coalition in the US, but none ever looked as promising as The Apollo Alliance, which just might have legs. Apollo’s focus is on creating jobs and energy independence, two goals that would benefit tremendously from an effective drive for renewables. And Apollo’s time, clearly, is right.
To be sure, there’s almost no attention given, in the Apollo frame, to either global warming or international justice, but that’s because Apollo is shooting for the moon, not the stars. And hey, it’s a first step. For more info, check out Apollo’s media center. Amanda Griscom’s Declaration of Energy Independence, originally from Grist Magazine, is a nice place to start.
- June 3rd, 2003
- Emissions Inequality Rising
Only fifteen percent of the population lives in the high-income countries, but they use 50 percent of the world’s energy and emit 50 percent of its anthropogenic CO2. These grim figures are not unfamiliar, but they are now corroborated by a UNFCCC analysis based on the increasingly sophisticated “national communications” required by the climate treaty. (June 2003)
The UNFCCC analysis, Rich countries see higher greenhouse gas emissions, lays out the news pretty clearly: the rich world, which stabilized its greenhouse gas emissions during the 1990s, will likely see these emissions rise again by the end of the current decade. Indeed, the combined emissions of Europe, Japan, the US and other highly industrialized countries could grow by 17% between 2000 to 2010, despite domestic measures currently in place to limit them.
- June 3rd, 2003
- Reality Check in China
The US DOE Energy Information Agency recently published a rollup of 1990 to 1999 carbon emissions for most countries. As you can easily see from the tables collected on the Carbon Dioxide Emissions page, the bottom-line realities are pretty clear.
Take a look, for example, at the table named World Carbon Dioxide Emissions from the Consumption and Flaring of Fossil Fuels . It shows that China decreased its CO2 emissions by about 17 per cent from 1997 to 1999 and is now back at its 1992 emission level. It also shows that since 1990 the U.S. increased its fossil fuel related carbon emissions by 12 percent, Canada by 18 percent, Norway by 27 percent, Japan by 14 percent… You get the idea.
Go to the coal table and you’ll see the main reason why China’s emissions have dropped – it has radically reduced its subsidies for, and thus its consumption of, coal.
Quick, someone tell Washington. And while you’re at it, tell them that they have a good opportunity here to one-up the Chinese. We could not only we could not only phase out fossil fuel subsidies, we could take care of the workers who will be hurt when we do so.
- January 9th, 2001
- John Holdren: Per-Capita by 2015 or 2020
John Holdren is a pretty important guy. He’s a professor of Environmental Policy at Harvard, where he directs the Program on Science, Technology and Public Policy at the Kennedy School of Government, and that’s just for starters. He’s also a member of the President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (or at least he was under Clinton, we haven’t checked) and he chaired its panel on Energy R&D Strategy for the Climate Change Challenge.
All of which makes it significant that Holdren publicly advocates a phased transition to a climate regime based on per-capita carbon emissions allocations …
- January 9th, 2001