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.

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.

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.

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.

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”