A Northern Call for Southern Leadership

The events of the last few years – 9/11 and the US invasion of Iraq come immediately to mind – should prod us all to admit that our situation is deadly grim. And nothing on the climate front offers evidence to the contrary. Forget the state of the Kyoto protocol. The emerging recognition that the Earth’s climate sensitivity is likely to be quite high will generate a special breath of dread, at least in those few of us who follow such matters.

Much can be said about this. For example: it’s simply not going to be possible for the developing countries to indefinitely avoid greenhouse gas emission limitations. It’s certainly not going to be possible for them to do so while, at the same time, honestly speaking for either the good of their own peoples or the good of humanity. Yes, the US is pursuing a duplicitous and sometimes evil strategy. Yes, the Europeans are conflicted, often hypocritical, and, as they demonstrated at COP8, prone to clumsiness. But narrow conceptions of “national interests,” as they are called in the realist tradition, are also a problem in the developing world. Thus, its statesmen and ministers have thus far satisfied themselves with refusal (even of a long-overdue analysis of “the adequacy of commitments”) and with merely abstract appeals to equity. Continue reading “A Northern Call for Southern Leadership”

PetroPolitics Global Warming Backgrounder

It would be good to be past todays well-financed skepticism about global warming, good if we all already understood that, in a world rife with potentially catastrophic threatsfrom nuclear war to genetic erosionglobal warming is one of the most serious. Alas we are not. Alarmingly the skeptics (better called denialists) continue to derail the all-important political discussion of global warming by pretending that its still an unproven theory.

This backgrounder, however, will ignore them.

It will also avoid any real introduction of the science of global warming. Such introductions take time, and they are already readily available. See for example the excellent graphic overview of global warming (but not its politics) which the UN Environment Program maintains at www.grida.no/climate/vital/. Continue reading “PetroPolitics Global Warming Backgrounder”

Richard Heinberg’s “The Party’s Over, Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies”

by Richard Heinberg. (Gabriola Island, BC, Canada: New Society Publishers, 2003.)

The beer keg has run dry, only a few dispirited hors d’ouevres languish on the tray…The Party’s Over. In this important new book, Richard Heinberg argues that the end of the biggest party of all, the fossil fuel gala, is in sight. Basing his argument on the work of geophysicist M. King Hubbert, who accurately predicted that U.S. crude-oil production would peak between 1966 and 1972 (the actual peak year was 1970), Heinberg draws on a contemporary “roster of Cassandras” in petroleum research to suggest that global fossil-fuel liquid extraction rates could peak as early as 2006, depending on how quickly the world economy grows. In the process he effectively debunks the rosy visions of well paid cornucopians like Bjrn Lomborg, whose 2001 book The Skeptical Environmentalist was greeted enthusiastically by the business community and journals like The Economist. He also argues, and quite convincingly, that Iraq War II was, finally, about oil: the Bush administration, according to Heinberg, knew about the predicted peak through its access to oil-insider information like that provided by Petroconsultants, and acted to secure one of the largest oil reserves on the planet so that no one else would get there first. Continue reading “Richard Heinberg’s “The Party’s Over, Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies””

A CEO Interview: Michael Grubb

Michael Grubb is one of our best known international climate policy analysts. Currently at the Royal Institute for International Affairs and at University College, London, Grubb has written on all aspects of the climate problem, focusing especially on issues of equity, emissions trading, and European leadership.

This interview was conducted on December 30 2002 (we were still in the shadow of COP8) by Paul Baer and Tom Athanasiou of EcoEquity. It’s been a while, we know, but we’ve been busy, and there was that war… And, actually, Michael’s comments are only more interesting for the delay. Continue reading “A CEO Interview: Michael Grubb”

The Science of Drawing the Line

(For a much longer version of this analysis, and all the accompanying political and strategic discussion, see our recent book, Dead Heat: Global Justice and Global Warming. See Dead Heat post, or browse to the Seven Stories Press Dead Heat page, where you can actually buy a copy.)

Our goal here is hardly comprehensive. We suffer no illusion that we can summarize climate science as a whole. But we do think that can distill out the part of the science that bears most immediately on the core problem of drawing the line.

Should the climate negotiations try to cap CO2 pollution in the atmosphere at 550 parts per million (ppm), 450 ppm, or some other (hopefully lower) figure Or should we take an entirely different approach and try to cap temperature change itself, rather than CO2 pollution And what must we know about the kinds of impacts and instabilities that can be expected at any given level Continue reading “The Science of Drawing the Line”

Calling All Realists

The abortive “Earth Summit” in Johannesburg is already fading from our overtaxed memories. Indeed, as we write this, the conference of the week is COP8, the Eighth Conference of Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. And it may be a whole lot more important than Jo’burg, if only as a marker, a way to date another death of innocence. For COP8 comes only days after Al Qaeda, in its latest blast of apocalyptic warfare, destroyed a pair of Balinese discos, and with them hundreds of lives. We should not forget, those of us who follow the game of global environmental policy, that Johannesburg’s final preparatory conference was also in Bali, and only a few short miles away.

COP8 comes on a calendar no activist would have chosen. It’s not so much that the climate talks are in limbo, but that their progress-just now we’re waiting for Kyoto to enter into force, and looking forward to debating the globalization of the climate regime-seems abstract and even unreal against the background of an ever more gruesome world. The brutal post-boom economy, Al Qaeda’s mad utopianism, an imminent US invasion of Iraq: together they announce a new and bloody chapter in the history of our strange civilization, and set a geopolitical context in which semi-rational negotiations like those at the COPs can only seem odd, brave, acts of faith.

As if the climate talks could someday really matter. Continue reading “Calling All Realists”

A Tale of Two Cities

Authors Note:

This analysis of the linked destinies of the climate equity and global justice movements was written in August and then put aside to settle. After September 11, we decided to defer its publication, and since then our assessment has inevitably been overtaken by events. This, however, is true of most everything thats been written about Bonn. And as these movements strike us as more important than ever, weve decided to go ahead and publish this, our analysis of the Bonn Compromise. Some rewriting was done, but not much. In the next issue of Climate Equity Observer, well give our views on how September 11 has changed the terrain of global environmental politics. Meanwhile, we hope you find this analysis to be both interesting and provocative. Continue reading “A Tale of Two Cities”

A War of Coalitions

As we write this, four months has passed since September 11, and since the pundits began chanting that “everything has changed.” It’s not a long time, but then again, history is moving quickly these days, and its long enough for us to say that there’s little evidence for this nearly universal claim.

We are not, to be sure, impartial observers. Nor are we blind. A great deal has changed, a great deal is different. But much of the difference, it seems to us, lies on an axis of disillusionment: much that was unacknowledged is now too obvious to ignore. Further, it’s clear that, from the perspective of justice and sustainability, we’re in much the same hole as we were before.

So perhaps everything has changed. The question now, as Gregory Bateson used to say, is if the difference makes a difference. And the answer to that question is simply that it’s too early to know. Still, we think a close look at how recent events have changed global coalitional politics can shed useful light on the challenges of the future. So here goes. Continue reading “A War of Coalitions”

Blowback

Drag up Kyoto these days and you risk the charge of being anti-American. It’s as if we have entered a new, Orwellian world where our personal reliability as comrades in the struggle is measured by the degree to which we invoke the past to explain the present. Suggesting there is a historical context for the recent atrocities is by implication to make excuses for them. Anyone who is with us doesn’t do that. Anyone who does, is against us.

John le Carr, A War We Cannot Win

The line between understanding and excusal is thin, and easy to transgress. This is a problem for us all, but a special problem for those of us who have managed to claim, in any way at all, the honors of activism. We must speak, and from time to time we must speak clearly of the big picture. And even in America, people, many of them anyway, are prepared to listen. This is, as they say, a “teachable moment.” Continue reading “Blowback”

After Marrakech

In the previous edition of CEO (written after Bonn but published after September 11), we argued that despite all the weakening that the Kyoto Protocol had suffered, the Bonn Compromise had made it ratifiable, and had to be counted as a major victory. We argued that with Kyoto’s ratification carbon would actually be priced, that new principles for the protection of the global commons would be established, and that the structures necessary to eventually strengthen the climate regime would be put into place. And we added a few elements of hope: that as the reality of climate change becomes more sensible and the climate protection coalition stronger, it would become possible to step past Kyoto to the global, equity-based treaty that might actually work.

At COP7 in Marrakech, the Kyoto Protocol was weakened even further – it is, now, the Marrakech Dilution of the Bonn Compromise to the Kyoto Protocol. Nevertheless, and despite the often-dispiriting nature of Kyoto’s loopholes, we believe that the essential situation remains unchanged. Particularly in today’s grim international context, the ratification of even this weakened first-generation climate treaty must be counted as a major victory for democratic, multilateral environmental governance. And this remains true despite September 11, despite the arrival of the US-led “anti-terror coalition,” and despite the newly uncertain fate of the Bonn coalition. Continue reading “After Marrakech”