First, the Bad News

Optimism, they all tell us, is a precondition of effective political action. And they are no doubt quite correct. Despair, after all, hardly motivates sustained political engagement. Drinking, more like it.

Optimism, unfortunately, is a problem, for enviros in particular but in fact for anyone determined to look, hard and critically, at the truth of our predicament. Few of us are able to consistently follow Antonio Gramsci’s advice, to combine “pessimism of the intellect” with “optimism of the will.” Most of the time, it seems more like a choice between one and the other. Or, even worse, a choice between paralyzing pessimism and idiot, right-wing confidence.

We, for our part, still believe that realism (the real thing, not the ersatz neo-con variety) is the best ground for an honest optimism, and in that spirit we’d like to start off this issue of Climate Equity Observer with an effort to look reality in the eye. Continue reading “First, the Bad News”

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”

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!

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. Continue reading “Landmark Study from Old Europe!”

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.”

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.

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.

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.