Canada’s Energy Juggernaut Hits a Native Roadblock January 15, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Energy, Environment, First Nations, Idle No More.
Tags: alberta oilsands, canada aboriginal, canada energy, canada environment, canada first nations, canada indian act, emissions, environment, First Nations, harper government, idle no more, indigenous, linda mcquaig, mother earth, pam palmater, roger hollander, Stephen Harper
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Those who believe we can freely trash the environment in our quest to make ourselves richer suffer from a serious delusion — a delusion that doesn’t appear to afflict aboriginal people.
A Vancouver protester highlights the environment on Jan. 11. (Photograph: Ben Nelms / Reuters)
Aboriginals tend to live in harmony with Mother Earth. Their approach has long baffled and irritated Canada’s white establishment, which regards it as a needless impediment to unbridled economic growth.
Nowhere is this irritation more palpable than inside Stephen Harper’s government, with its fierce determination to turn Canada into an “energy superpower,” regardless of the environmental consequences.
So it’s hardly surprising that the Harper government has ended up in a confrontation with Canada’s First Nations.
Certainly the prime minister has shown a ruthlessness in pursuing his goal of energy superpowerdom.
He has gutted long-standing Canadian laws protecting the environment, ramming changes through Parliament last December as part of his controversial omnibus bill. He has thumbed his nose at global efforts to tackle climate change, revoking Canada’s commitment to Kyoto.
And he’s launched a series of witch-hunt audits of environmental groups that dared to challenge the rampant development of Alberta’s oilsands — one of the world’s biggest sources of climate-changing emissions — as well as plans for pipelines through environmentally sensitive areas.
But, while there’s been some resistance from provincial governments, opposition parties, and environmentalists, Ottawa’s energy juggernaut has continued to surge ahead.
At least until now. With the First Nations, Harper may have met his Waterloo.
Among other things, Harper’s attack on Canada’s environmental laws included rewriting parts of the Indian Act, thereby removing safeguards for native land and waters that are protected in the Constitution.
Of course, even with the Constitution on the side of aboriginals, it’s hard to imagine a group consisting of some of the poorest people on the continent taking on the federal government, backed up by corporate Canada, and winning.
After all, the First Nations are divided, and the government has deftly exploited these divisions. Furthermore, many influential media commentators side with the government, helping it portray aboriginals as impractical dreamers unable to understand the dictates of the global economy.
And restless natives have been a permanent political backdrop in Canada, unable to even ensure clean drinking water for themselves, let alone shape the government’s agenda.
But what’s new and potentially game-changing is Idle No More, the youth-based native initiative that, suddenly and unpredictably, has grown into a feisty grassroots movement — one that has shown the potential to attract activists from Occupy Wall Street, the Quebec student movement and even middle-class Canadians starting to wonder if barbecuing weather in mid-January suggests we’re playing too fast and loose with the environment.
Idle No More grew directly out of the resistance to Harper’s energy juggernaut. Pam Palmater, a Mi’kmaq and spokesperson for Idle No More, notes that changes in the omnibus bill make it easier to overcome native resistance to energy projects. For instance, the changes would enable a handful of natives, without support from the band majority, to surrender reserve land to Enbridge, enabling it to build a pipeline.
The Harper government will undoubtedly mobilize resources and cunning against Idle No More.
Whatever happens, it’s hard not to be inspired by this gutsy, earthy band that has asserted itself in the tradition pioneered by native-influenced governments in Ecuador and Bolivia, both of which have passed laws giving Mother Earth legal protections.
Canadians have reason to be ashamed of our treatment of aboriginals — from residential schools to the continuing failure to provide basic necessities like water, housing and education to people whose ancestors were here long before ours arrived.
Ironically, their insistence on their constitutional rights, as Palmater notes, may be the last best hope of Canadians to reverse our own culture’s reckless disregard for the dictates of Mother Earth, who ultimately is more demanding and unforgiving even than the global economy. Rising GDP levels won’t mean much if we’re swamped by rising sea levels.
The very least we can do is to get behind this ragtag group that has, in a few short weeks, shown more wisdom than our “advanced” society has mustered in decades.
Linda McQuaig’s column appears monthly. firstname.lastname@example.org
Linda McQuaig is a columnist for the Toronto Star. She first came to national prominence in 1989 for uncovering the Patti Starr Affair, where a community leader was found to have used charitable funds for the purpose of making illegal donations to lobby the government. McQuaig was awarded the National Newspaper Award for her work on this story. The National Post has called her “Canada’s Michael Moore”. Linda is the author (with Neil Brooks) of Billionaires’ Ball: Gluttony and Hubris in an Age of Epic Inequality, published by Beacon Press.
Irreversible Climate Change Looms Within Five Years November 9, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Energy, Environment.
Tags: cabon dioxide, carbon energy, clean energy, climate change, climate control, climate crisis, climate summit, co2 emissions, coal energy, emissions, energy, environment, fossil fuels, renewable energy, roger hollander
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LONDON – Unless there is a “bold change of policy direction,” the world will lock itself into an insecure, inefficient and high-carbon energy system, the International Energy Agency warned at the launch of its 2011 World Energy Outlook today in London.
Coal-fired power generating station in Shanxi, China. (Photo courtesy Skoda Export) The report says there is still time to act, but despite steps in the right direction the door of opportunity is closing.
The agency’s warning comes at a critical time in international climate change negotiations, as governments prepare for the annual UN climate summit in Durban, South Africa, from November 28.
“If we do not have an international agreement whose effect is put in place by 2017, then the door will be closed forever,” IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol warned today.
“Growth, prosperity and rising population will inevitably push up energy needs over the coming decades. But we cannot continue to rely on insecure and environmentally unsustainable uses of energy,” said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven.
“Governments need to introduce stronger measures to drive investment in efficient and low-carbon technologies,” she said.
“The Fukushima nuclear accident, the turmoil in parts of the Middle East and North Africa and a sharp rebound in energy demand in 2010 which pushed CO2 emissions to a record high, highlight the urgency and the scale of the challenge,” van der Hoeven said.
Some key trends are pointing in worrying directions, the agency told reporters today. CO2 emissions have rebounded to a record high, the energy efficiency of global economy worsened for second straight year and spending on oil imports is near record highs.
In the World Energy Outlook’s central New Policies Scenario, which assumes that recent government commitments are implemented in a cautious manner, primary energy demand increases by one-third between 2010 and 2035, with 90 percent of the growth in non-OECD economies.
In the New Policies Scenario, cumulative carbon dioxide emissions over the next 25 years amount to three-quarters of the total from the past 110 years, leading to a long-term average temperature rise of 3.5 degrees C.
“Were the new policies not implemented, we are on an even more dangerous track, to an increase of six degrees C.
The IEA projects that China will consolidate its position as the world’s largest energy consumer. It consumes nearly 70 percent more energy than the United States by 2035, even though, by then, per capita demand in China is still less than half the level in the United States.
The share of fossil fuels in global primary energy consumption falls from around 81 percent today to 75 percent in 2035.
Renewables increase from 13 percent of the mix today to 18 percent in 2035; the growth in renewables is underpinned by subsidies that rise from $64 billion in 2010 to $250 billion in 2035, support that in some cases cannot be taken for granted in this age of fiscal austerity.
By contrast, subsidies for fossil fuels amounted to $409 billion in 2010.
“As each year passes without clear signals to drive investment in clean energy, the “lock-in” of high-carbon infrastructure is making it harder and more expensive to meet our energy security and climate goals,” said Birol.
The World Energy Outlook also presents a 450 Scenario, which traces an energy path consistent with meeting the globally agreed goal of limiting the temperature rise to two degrees Celsuis above pre-industrial levels.
Four-fifths of the total energy-related CO2 emissions permitted to 2035 in the 450 Scenario are already locked in by existing capital stock, including power stations, buildings and factories, the report finds.
Without further action by 2017, the energy-related infrastructure then in place would generate all the CO2 emissions allowed in the 450 Scenario up to 2035.
“Delaying action is a false economy,” Birol warned, saying that for every $1 of investment in cleaner technology that is avoided in the power sector before 2020, an additional $4.30 would need to be spent after 2020 to compensate for the increased emissions.
The Military Assault on Global Climate September 8, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Energy, Environment, War.
Tags: barry sanders, carbon footprint, climate change, emissions, energy usage, global warming, greenhouse gas, kyoto convention, kyoto protocol, mic, middle east oil, militarism, military industrial complex, military pollution, patricia hynes, roger hollander
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War and the Tragedy of the Commons, Part 7
By every measure, the Pentagon is the largest institutional user of petroleum products and energy … Yet, the Pentagon has a blanket exemption in all international climate agreements … Any talk of climate change which does not include the military is nothing but hot air, according to Sara Flounders.
It’s a loophole [in the Kyoto Convention on Climate Change] big enough to drive a tank through, according to the report ” A Climate of War.”
In 1940, the US military consumed one percent of the country’s total energy usage; by the end of World War II, the military’s share rose to 29 percent.(1) Oil is indispensable for war.
Correspondingly, militarism is the most oil-exhaustive activity on the planet, growing more so with faster, bigger, more fuel-guzzling planes, tanks and naval vessels employed in more intensive air and ground wars. At the outset of the Iraq war in March 2003, the Army estimated it would need more than 40 million gallons of gasoline for three weeks of combat, exceeding the total quantity used by all Allied forces in the four years of World War 1. Among the Army’s armamentarium were 2,000 staunch M-1 Abrams tanks fired up for the war and burning 250 gallons of fuel per hour.(2)
The US Air Force (USAF) is the single largest consumer of jet fuel in the world. Fathom, if you can, the astronomical fuel usage of USAF fighter planes: the F-4 Phantom Fighter burns more than 1,600 gallons of jet fuel per hour and peaks at 14,400 gallons per hour at supersonic speeds. The B-52 Stratocruiser, with eight jet engines, guzzles 500 gallons per minute; ten minutes of flight uses as much fuel as the average driver does in one year of driving! A quarter of the world’s jet fuel feeds the USAF fleet of flying killing machines; in 2006, they consumed as much fuel as US planes did during the Second World War (1941-1945) – an astounding 2.6 billion gallons.(3)
Barry Sanders observes with a load of tragic irony that, while many of us assiduously reduce our carbon footprint through simpler living, eating locally, recycling and reusing, energy conservation, taking public transportation, installing solar panels, and so on, the single largest institutional polluter and contributor to global warming – the US military – is immune to climate change concerns. The military reports no climate change emissions to any national or international body, thanks to US arm-twisting during the 1997 negotiations of the first international accord to limit global warming emissions, the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change. To protect the military from any curbs on their activities, the United States demanded and won exemption from emission limits on “bunker” fuels (dense, heavy fuel oil for naval vessels) and all greenhouse gas emissions from military operations worldwide, including wars. Adding insult to injury, George W. Bush pulled the United States out of the Kyoto Protocol as one of the first acts of his presidency, alleging it would straitjacket the US economy with too costly greenhouse emissions controls. Next, the White House began a neo-Luddite campaign against the science of climate change. In researching “The Green Zone: The Environmental Costs of Militarism,” Sanders found that getting war casualty statistics out of the Department of Defense (DoD) is easier than getting fuel usage data.
Only recently has the momentous issue of military fuel use and its massive, yet concealed role in global climate change come to the foreground, thanks to a handful of perspicacious researchers. Liska and Perrin contend that, in addition to tailpipe emissions, immense “hidden” greenhouse gas pollution stems from our use of gasoline. This impact on climate change should be calculated into the full lifecycle analysis of gasoline. When the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) compares gasoline and biofuels for their respective atmospheric pollution, the greenhouse gas emissions calculated for gasoline should include the military activities related to securing foreign crude oil, from which gasoline is derived. (But they do not, thanks to the Kyoto Accords military exemption.) Oil security comprises both military protection against sabotage to pipelines and tankers and also US-led wars in oil-rich regions to assure long-term access. Nearly 1,000 US military bases trace an arc from the Andes to North Africa across the Middle East to Indonesia, the Philippines and North Korea, sweeping over all major oil resources – all related, in part, to projecting force for the sake of energy security. Further, the “upstream emissions” of greenhouse gases from the manufacture of military equipment, infrastructure, vehicles and munitions used in oil supply protection and oil-driven wars should also be included in the overall environmental impact of using gasoline. Adding these factors into their calculations, the authors conclude that about “20 percent of the conventional DoD budget … is attributable to the objective of oil security.”
A corresponding analysis by researchers at Oil Change International quantifies the greenhouse gas emissions of the Iraq war and the opportunity costs involved in fighting the war, rather than investing in clean technology, during the years 2003-2007. Their key findings are unambiguous about the vast climate pollution of war and the lockstep bipartisan policy of forfeiting future global health for present day militarism.
- The projected full costs of the Iraq war (estimated $3 trillion) would cover “all of the global investments in renewable power generation” needed between now and 2030 to reverse global warming trends.
- Between 2003-2007, the war generated at least 141 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e)(4), more each year of the war than 139 of the world’s countries release annually.(5) Rebuilding Iraqi schools, homes, businesses, bridges, roads and hospitals pulverized by the war, and new security walls and barriers will require millions of tons of cement, one of the largest industrial sources of greenhouse gas emissions.
- In 2006, the US spent more on the war in Iraq than the entire world spent on renewable energy investment.
- By 2008, the Bush administration had spent 97 times more on military than on climate change. As a presidential candidate, President Obama pledged to spend $150 billion over ten years on green energy technology and infrastructure – less than the United States was spending in one year of the Iraq war.
Just how much petroleum the Pentagon consumes is one of the best-kept secrets in government. More likely, observes Barry Sanders, no one in DoD knows precisely. His unremitting effort to ferret out the numbers is one of the most thorough to date. Sanders begins with figures given by the Defense Energy Support Center for annual oil procurement for all branches of the military. He then combines three other non-reported military oil consumption factors: an estimate of “free oil” supplied overseas (of which Kuwait was the largest supplier for the 2003 Iraq war), an estimate of oil used by private military contractors and military-leased vehicles and an estimate of the amount of bunker fuel used by naval vessels. By his calculation, the US military consumes as much as one million barrels of oil per day and contributes 5 percent of current global warming emissions. Keep in mind that the military has 1.4 million active duty people, or .0002 percent of the world’s population, generating 5 percent of climate pollution.
Yet, even this comparison understates the extreme military impact on climate change. Military fuel is more polluting because of the fuel type used for aviation. CO2 emissions from jet fuel are larger – possibly triple – per gallon than those from diesel and oil. Further, aircraft exhaust has unique polluting effects that result in greater warming effect by per unit of fuel used. Radiative effects from jet exhaust, including nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxide, soot and water vapor exacerbate the warming effect of the CO2 exhaust emissions.(6) Perversely, then, the US military consumes fossil fuel beyond compare to any other institutional and per capita consumption in order to preserve strategic access to oil – a lunacy instigated by a series of executive decisions.
Short History of Militarizing Energy
Ten of 11 US recessions since World War 11 have been preceded by oil price spikes … Maintaining low and stable oil prices is a political imperative associated with modern petroleum-based economies.
In 1945 the US military built an air base at Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, the start of securing permanent American access to newly discovered Middle East oil. President Roosevelt had negotiated a quid pro quo with the Saudi family: military protection in exchange for cheap oil for US markets and military. Eisenhower possessed great prescience about the post-World War II rise of a permanent war-based industry dictating national policy and the need for citizen vigilance and engagement to curb the “military-industrial” complex. Yet, he made a fateful decision on energy policy, which set our country and the world on a course from which we must find our way back.
The 1952 blue-ribbon Paley Commission Report proposed that the US build the economy on solar energy sources. The report also offered a strong negative assessment of nuclear energy and called for “aggressive research in the whole field of solar energy” as well as research and development on wind and biomass. In 1953, the new President Eisenhower ignored the report recommendation and inaugurated “Atoms for Peace,” touting nuclear power as the world’s new energy miracle that would be “too cheap to meter.” This decision not only embarked the country (and world) on a fateful course of nuclear power, but it also affixed the centrality of oil, gas and coal within the US economy.
By the late 1970s, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Iranian Revolution threatened US access to oil in the Middle East, leading to President Carter’s 1980 State of the Union warmongering doctrine. The Carter Doctrine holds that any threat to US access to Middle East oil would be resisted “by any means necessary, including military force.” Carter put teeth into his doctrine by creating the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force, whose purpose was combat operations in the Persian Gulf area when necessary. Ronald Reagan ramped up the militarization of oil with the formation of the US Central Command (CENTCOM), whose raison d’etre was to ensure access to oil, diminish Soviet Union influence in the region and control political regimes in the region for our national security interests. With growing reliance on oil from Africa and the Caspian Sea region, the US has since augmented its military capabilities in those regions.
In 2003, Carter’s doctrine of force when necessary was carried out with “shock and awe,” in what was the most intensive and profligate use of fossil fuel the world has ever witnessed. Recall, too, that as Baghdad fell, invading US troops ignored the looting of schools, hospitals and a nuclear power facility as well as the ransacking of national museums and burning of the National Library and Archives holding peerless, irreplaceable documentation of the “cradle of civilization.” The US military did, however, immediately seize and guard the Iraqi Oil Ministry Headquarters and positioned 2,000 soldier to safeguard oilfields.(7) First things first.
Many factors have converged and clarified over time to support the proposition that, at its core, the Iraq war was a war over oil. Eliminating weapons of mass destruction, deposing a tyrannical dictator, rooting out terrorism linked to 9/11, employing gunboat diplomacy to instill democracy and human rights – all were largely foils for oil. Alan Greenspan put it squarely: “I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everybody knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.”(8)
As we near peak oil production, that is, the point of diminishing returns for oil exploration and production and higher oil prices, OPEC countries’ share of global production “will rise from 46 percent in 2007 to 56 percent in 2030.” Iraq has the third-largest reserves of oil; Iraq and Kazakhstan are “two of the top four countries with the largest [petroleum] production increases forecast from 2000 to 2030. The Middle East and Central Asia are, predictably, epicenters of US military operations and wars. A 2006 report on national security and US oil dependency released by the Council on Foreign Relations concluded that the US should maintain “a strong military posture that permits suitably rapid deployment to the [Persian Gulf] region” for at least 20 years. US military professionals concur and are preparing for the prospect of “large-scale armed struggle” over access to energy resources.
Where We Stand
Our national security has been reduced in large part to energy security, which has led us to militarizing our access to oil through establishing a military presence across the oil-bearing regions of the world and instigating armed conflict in Iraq, sustaining it in Afghanistan and provoking it in Libya. The air war in Libya has given the new US Africa Command (AFRICOM) – itself another extension of the Carter Doctrine – some spotlight and muscle. A few commentators have concluded that the NATO war in Libya is a justifiable humanitarian military intervention. The more trenchant judgment, in my view, is that the air war violated the UN Security Council Resolution 1973, the US Constitution and the War Powers Act; and that it sets a precedent and “model for how the United States wields force in other countries where its interests are threatened,” to quote administration officials. The air war in Libya is another setback to non-militarized diplomacy; it marginalized the African Union and it sets a course for more military intervention in Africa when US interests are at stake. Air war a model for future wars? If so, a death knell for the planet. This insatiable militarism is the single greatest institutional contributor to the growing natural disasters intensified by global climate change.
In August 2010, as I was conceiving this series “War and the True Tragedy of the Commons,” wildfires caused by drought and heat wave were consuming huge swaths of Russia and choking Moscow with air pollution. A member of the Russian Academy of Sciences warned that fire-induced winds could carry radioactive particles hundreds of miles from the burning forest around Chernobyl, reaching cities in Russia and even in Eastern Europe. The same risk exists for regions elsewhere contaminated with radioactive waste and jeopardized by uncontrollable wildfires. At the same time as the Russian fires, more than one in ten Pakistanis were uprooted, rendered food dependent and endangered by disease from the worst floods in recorded history, floods which engulfed one-fifth of the country from the northwest region to the south. Pakistan – a highly militarized nuclear power with tense relations with its nuclear neighbor India, whose border area with Afghanistan is a war zone, and within whose boundaries the CIA is conducting a drone war – prioritizes militarism over development. It ranks 15 in global military strength and 141 out of 182 countries in the Human Development Index.
In summer 2011, as I was completing this series, forest fires burned almost 50,000 acres in and around the nuclear weapons production and waste storage facilities at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Among the endangered radioactive materials and waste were as many as 30,000 55-gallon drums of plutonium-contaminated waste stored in fabric tents above ground, awaiting transport to a low-level radiation dumpsite in southern New Mexico. Two months later, Vermont suffered its worst ever floods and flood damage, with no part of the state untouched, from Tropical Storm Irene – considered to be one of the ten costliest disasters in US history.
Coincident with these environmental tragedies intensified by global warming, is the ongoing tradeoff in the US federal budget between militarized defense and genuine human and environmental security. The United States contributes more than 30 percent of global warming gases to the atmosphere, generated by five percent of the world’s population and US militarism. The pieces of the US federal budget pie that fund education, energy, environment, social services, housing and new job creation, taken together, receive less funding than the military/defense budget. Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich has called the military budget a taxpayer-supported jobs program and argues for reprioritizing federal spending on jobs in green energy, education and infrastructure – the real national security.
The United States has the wealth (currently larding the defense budget) and the technical capacity to revolutionize our energy economy and turn it within a few decades into an economy based on efficiency and renewable energy sources, thus removing a critical demand factor of our Goliath military. How costly would it be to eliminate underlying causes of war and injustice, such as poverty and gender inequality, and to restore the natural environment? In his most recent book “Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization,” Lester Brown estimates that eradicating poverty, educating women, providing reproductive resources and restoring forests worldwide would cost one-third of the US 2008 defense budget. The issue is not public monies.
Another ferocious demand factor is the octopus of defense industry companies that have spread their tentacles to nearly all of the states and control the majority of Congressionals. Thus, another vital scarce resource – some mineral in a contested seabed, for example – could replace petroleum and become the next flashpoint for more military build-up and response, unless that military-industrial complex is neutered.
Perhaps the most elusive driving factor of war is the values that underpin the tradition and habit of militarized solutions. War mirrors the culture of a country. US militarism – from its training, tactics and logistics to its reasons for going to war and its weapons of war – is distinctly shaped by core elements of American identity. These determining cultural forces are, according to military historian Victor Davis Hanson: manifest destiny; frontier mentality; rugged individualism and what he calls a “muscular independence”; unfettered market capitalism; the ideal of meritocracy (no matter what one’s class, one can rise to the top in the US military); and a fascination with machines, modernity and mobility. All converge to generate bigger, better and more destructive war technology. He adds that the integration of military into society is smoothed through the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
This cultural competence for high-tech war, with its origins in our past annihilation of Native Americans, may be our society’s nemesis unless we do critical soul searching about our cultural and personal values and actively engage in transforming them. There are a plentitude of cross currents in our society that have profoundly challenged the dominant cultural profile limned by militarist Hanson: the women’s and civil rights movements, the anti-war and peace movements, public intellectuals and progressive media, peace and justice studies, progressive labor and health workers, the coop and Transition Town movements and the handful of progressive politicians, among others. The challenge is how to build voice, social cohesion and public influence for our shared values of a sense of community, connection to nature, concern for the exploited and thirst for equity and justice against the dominant market messages of wealth, social prestige, image, power through dominance and meeting conflict with force.
“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” -Martin Luther King
Resources for Education and Action
Bring the War Dollars Home, a growing movement at the state and city/town level, uses the National Priorities Project data to make the case for ending the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and redirecting defense spending to genuine domestic security. See here and here.
National Priorities Project is a think tank and advocacy group that provides research designed to influence US federal spending priorities. Includes data on costs of wars, local taxes for war and tradeoffs.
Progressive Caucus Budget for 2012, also known as The People’s Budget, is an alternative budget offered by the 81-member Congressional Progressive Caucus that takes steps toward a saner role for government while reducing the deficit more and faster than either Ryan’s “Plan for Prosperity” or Obama’s plan.
Peace and Conflict Studies Programs: Two hundred and fifteen accredited peace and conflict studies graduate programs and grad schools on the leading graduate school web site.
War Tax Resistance: See the web site of War Tax Resistance/War Resisters League
Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) was founded in 1915 during World War I. WILPF works to achieve, through peaceful means, world disarmament, full rights for women, racial and economic justice, an end to all forms of violence.
5. This figure is conservative because there were no reliable numbers on the military consumption of naval bunker fuels for the transport of fuel and troops. Nor was there data on the use or release of intensive greenhouse gas chemicals in war, including halon, an ozone-depleting fire extinguishing chemical banned in the US since 1992 for civilian production and use, but allowed for DoD “critical mission” use.
8. Quoted in Liska and Perrin, p.9.
Tags: alberta, Canada, carbon emissions, civil disobedience, climate change, danny glover, david suzuki, emissions, environment, epa, greenhouse effect, james hansen, keystone, keystone pipeline, keystone xl, Maude Barlow, naomi klein, pipeline, tar sands, tar sands oil, tom goldtooth, wendell berry, wes hackson
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This will be a slightly longer letter than common for the internet age—it’s serious stuff.
The short version is we want you to consider doing something hard: coming to Washington in the hottest and stickiest weeks of the summer and engaging in civil disobedience that will likely get you arrested.
The full version goes like this:
As you know, the planet is steadily warming: 2010 was the warmest year on record, and we’ve seen the resulting chaos in almost every corner of the earth.A coalition of clean energy advocates march from the Canadian Embassy to the White House to condemn a proposed pipeline that would bring tar sands oil, allegedly toxic, from Canada to the United States, in Washington D.C. in July 2010. (Photo: ZUMA Press)
And as you also know, our democracy is increasingly controlled by special interests interested only in their short-term profit.
These two trends collide this summer in Washington, where the State Department and the White House have to decide whether to grant a certificate of ‘national interest’ to some of the biggest fossil fuel players on earth. These corporations want to build the so-called ‘Keystone XL Pipeline’ from Canada’s tar sands to Texas refineries.
To call this project a horror is serious understatement. The tar sands have wrecked huge parts of Alberta, disrupting ways of life in indigenous communities—First Nations communities in Canada, and tribes along the pipeline route in the U.S. have demanded the destruction cease. The pipeline crosses crucial areas like the Oglalla Aquifer where a spill would be disastrous—and though the pipeline companies insist they are using ‘state of the art’ technologies that should leak only once every 7 years, the precursor pipeline and its pumping stations have leaked a dozen times in the past year. These local impacts alone would be cause enough to block such a plan. But the Keystone Pipeline would also be a fifteen hundred mile fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the continent, a way to make it easier and faster to trigger the final overheating of our planet, the one place to which we are all indigenous.
How much carbon lies in the recoverable tar sands of Alberta? A recent calculation from some of our foremost scientists puts the figure at about 200 parts per million. Even with the new pipeline they won’t be able to burn that much overnight—but each development like this makes it easier to get more oil out. As the climatologist Jim Hansen (one of the signatories to this letter) explained, if we have any chance of getting back to a stable climate “the principal requirement is that coal emissions must be phased out by 2030 and unconventional fossil fuels, such as tar sands, must be left in the ground.” In other words, he added, “if the tar sands are thrown into the mix it is essentially game over.” The Keystone pipeline is an essential part of the game. “Unless we get increased market access, like with Keystone XL, we’re going to be stuck,” said Ralph Glass, an economist and vice-president at AJM Petroleum Consultants in Calgary, told a Canadian newspaper last week.
Given all that, you’d suspect that there’s no way the Obama administration would ever permit this pipeline. But in the last few months the president has signed pieces of paper opening much of Alaska to oil drilling, and permitting coal-mining on federal land in Wyoming that will produce as much CO2 as 300 power plants operating at full bore.
And Secretary of State Clinton has already said she’s ‘inclined’ to recommend the pipeline go forward. Partly it’s because of the political commotion over high gas prices, though more tar sands oil would do nothing to change that picture. But it’s also because of intense pressure from industry. TransCanada Pipeline, the company behind Keystone, has hired as its chief lobbyist for the project a man named Paul Elliott, who served as deputy national director of Clinton’s presidential campaign. Meanwhile, the US Chamber of Commerce—a bigger funder of political campaigns than the RNC and DNC combined—has demanded that the administration “move quickly to approve the Keystone XL pipeline,” which is not so surprising—they’ve also told the U.S. EPA that if the planet warms that will be okay because humans can ‘adapt their physiology’ to cope. The Koch Brothers, needless to say, are also backing the plan, and may reap huge profits from it.
So we’re pretty sure that without serious pressure the Keystone Pipeline will get its permit from Washington. A wonderful coalition of environmental groups has built a strong campaign across the continent—from Cree and Dene indigenous leaders to Nebraska farmers, they’ve spoken out strongly against the destruction of their land. We need to join them, and to say even if our own homes won’t be crossed by this pipeline, our joint home—the earth—will be wrecked by the carbon that pours down it.
And we need to say something else, too: it’s time to stop letting corporate power make the most important decisions our planet faces.
We don’t have the money to compete with those corporations, but we do have our bodies, and beginning in mid August many of us will use them. We will, each day through Labor Day, march on the White House, risking arrest with our trespass. We will do it in dignified fashion, demonstrating that in this case we are the conservatives, and that our foes—who would change the composition of the atmosphere are dangerous radicals. Come dressed as if for a business meeting—this is, in fact, serious business. And another sartorial tip—if you wore an Obama button during the 2008 campaign, why not wear it again? We very much still want to believe in the promise of that young Senator who told us that with his election the ‘rise of the oceans would begin to slow and the planet start to heal.’ We don’t understand what combination of bureaucratic obstinacy and insider dealing has derailed those efforts, but we remember his request that his supporters continue on after the election to pressure the government for change. We’ll do what we can.
And one more thing: we don’t want college kids to be the only cannon fodder in this fight. They’ve led the way so far on climate change—10,000 came to DC for the Powershift gathering earlier this spring. They’ve marched this month in West Virginia to protest mountaintop removal; Tim DeChristopher faces sentencing this summer in Utah for his creative protest. Now it’s time for people who’ve spent their lives pouring carbon into the atmosphere (and whose careers won’t be as damaged by an arrest record) to step up too. Most of us signing this letter are veterans of this work, and we think it’s past time for elders to behave like elders. One thing we don’t want is a smash up: if you can’t control your passions, this action is not for you.
This won’t be a one-shot day of action. We plan for it to continue for several weeks, to the date in September when by law the administration can either grant or deny the permit for the pipeline. Not all of us can actually get arrested—half the signatories to this letter live in Canada, and might well find our entry into the U.S. barred. But we will be making plans for sympathy demonstrations outside Canadian consulates in the U.S., and U.S. consulates in Canada—the decision-makers need to know they’re being watched.
Winning this battle won’t save the climate. But losing it will mean the chances of runaway climate change go way up—that we’ll endure an endless future of the floods and droughts we’ve seen this year. And we’re fighting for the political future too—for the premise that we should make decisions based on science and reason, not political connection. You have to start somewhere, and this is where we choose to begin.
If you think you might want to be a part of this action, we need you to sign up here. As plans solidify in the next few weeks we’ll be in touch with you to arrange nonviolence training; our colleagues at a variety of environmental and democracy campaigns will be coordinating the actual arrangements.
We know we’re asking a lot. You should think long and hard on it, and pray if you’re the praying type. But to us, it’s as much privilege as burden to get to join this fight in the most serious possible way. We hope you’ll join us.
p.s.—Please pass this letter on to anyone else you think might be interested. We realize that what we’re asking isn’t easy, and we’re very grateful that you’re willing even to consider it.
When Breaking the Law Is Justified June 10, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Democracy, Environment.
Tags: alberta, antonia zerbisias, Canada, civil disobedience, climate change, clive hamilton, emissions, environment, environment canada, global warming, greenhouse gas, greenpeace, kyoto protocol, oilsands, oilsands mining, roger hollander
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The recent bad news about climate change thundered through the scientific community like those twisters through the U.S.
First, the International Energy Association (IEA) announced global greenhouse gas emissions hit record highs in 2010, threatening to catapult Earth over the 2C rise in temperature that, scientists predict, will lead to cataclysmic changes.
We’re already up one degree, attributed to human causes. That’s enough to cause widespread drought, wildfires, flooding, extreme weather — and shrinkage of the polar ice caps.
Says Nobel Prize-winning meteorologist Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State: “Their eventual melting would lead to more than 20 feet (6 metres) of global sea level rise — by any assessment, a catastrophic outcome.”
The other climate bombshell came when the U.S. government’s Earth Systems Research Laboratory announced that this year world greenhouse gas emissions are climbing even higher than last year.
On a per-capita basis, Canada has much to answer for. Population and economic growth, oil and gas exports and our love of light trucks have been among the key drivers of our rising emissions.
Then there’s Alberta oilsands mining, which, according to Environment Canada, spews more greenhouse gases than all the cars on our roads combined.
Earlier this month, the government quietly tabled its annual report on how Canada is doing in meeting its targets under the Kyoto Protocol and other international obligations. It isn’t, not by a long shot, say critics.
“Unfortunately, far too many are in denial and political action is at a standstill,” observes Kevin Trenberth, Distinguished Senior Scientist at the Boulder, Colo.-based National Center for Atmospheric Research.
“Once the problem is so obvious to everyone, it is far, far too late to do anything about it,” says Trenberth.
That sense of urgency is why a growing number of scientists are advocating non-violent civil disobedience to shake up governments, industry and media.
Although there is some political disagreement, the general scientific consensus is that in order to head off mass extinctions, huge migrations of climate refugees and, yes, global warring, carbon dioxide emissions should be cut back to 350 parts per million from the current 390 or so.
“We need to do (civil disobedience) on a mass scale,” says leading American environmentalist and activist Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature and Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. “And we need to do it in a way that makes one thing clear to all onlookers: in this fight, we are the conservatives. The radicals are the people who want to alter the composition of the atmosphere.”
The idea is spreading.
“Non-violent civil disobedience is justified when there is a history of long-standing harm or violation of people’s fundamental rights, when legal and policy means have failed to reduce the harms and violations, and when there is little time remaining to address the problems,” wrote University of New England professor John Lemons and Penn State’s Donald Brown in April in the online version of Ethics in Science and Environmental Politics.
“Simply put, people do not have the right to harm others who have not given their consent to be harmed, and this is exactly what the U.S.A. and other countries continue to do,” Lemons told the Star.
Environmental activists have long engaged in civil disobedience. Greenpeace, to name one group, has specialized in it.
In 2009, 20 activists were arrested after they scaled Parliament’s West Block and covered it with banners demanding government action on climate change. On June 2, two members were arrested and removed from an “Arctic survival pod” suspended from an oil rig off the coast of Greenland in which they had camped out for four days in an effort to stop a Scottish oil firm from drilling.
Noted Australian climate advocate Clive Hamilton (Affluenza: When Too Much is Never Enough, Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist The Truth About Climate Change) insists that the moral obligation to act now clearly trumps obedience to the law.
“Those who engage in civil disobedience are usually the most law-abiding citizens — those who have most regard for the social interest and the keenest understanding of the democratic process,” he emails from Britain, where he is a visiting professor at Oxford.
Civil disobedience has a proud tradition. It helped bring about civil rights in the U.S. and an end to the Vietnam War. It delayed mass logging in B.C.’s Clayoquot Sound. African-Americans boycotted and defiantly drank out of “whites-only” water fountains, young men burned their draft cards, and thousands blockaded roads to keep pulp and paper companies out of old-growth forests.
The member-supported Council of Canadians has engaged in all sorts of civil disobedience, including sandbagging towns and provincial legislatures to point out how rising sea levels would affect them.
“It’s not an action to be taken lightly,” says Andrea Harden-Donahue, the Council’s energy and climate justice campaigner. “We do believe that all other democratic means should be pursued first and continue to be pursued, even with a civil disobedience strategy.
“But we feel that it is justified to address climate change, especially given that the Harper government has refused to take action, and because of the urgency.”
Most lawmakers — and even most people — don’t seem to think much of the tactic. Witness police actions against non-violent stunts such as teddy bear catapults at global summits, or citizen complaints of tied-up traffic during demonstrations.
How many Canadians say that last year’s peaceful protesters at the Toronto G20 Summit should have just stayed home if they didn’t want to be tackled, cuffed with plastic cables and tossed into cages without charges.
“People from across the political spectrum love to praise civil disobedience — as long as we’re talking about past social movements,” argues U.S. journalist Will Potter, author of Green is the New Red: An Insider’s Account of a Social Movement under Siege. “For instance, on the very same day that members of Congress were breaking ground for a new memorial honouring Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his activism, a bill was passed labelling civil disobedience as ‘terrorism’ if it is done by animal rights and environmental activists.”
“Most people are divorced from the history of social change,” notes Greenpeace Canada’s climate and energy campaigner, Mike Hudema, author of An Action a Day Keeps Global Capitalism Away. “From the eight-hour workday to women’s right to vote to the end of slavery — all of these involved good people willing to break the law.”
One much talked-about recent case of civil disobedience within the scientific community is that of NASA climatologist and Columbia University professor James Hansen, who along with others was charged with obstructing police and impeding traffic in West Virginia while protesting mountaintop coal mining.
Hansen, who calls climate change “the great moral challenge of this century,” has been helping other activists who get into legal trouble, including six Greenpeace members tried in Britain in 2008 for scaling and painting slogans on a coal power station’s smokestack.
With Hansen’s expert testimony, they convinced the court that, despite the expensive havoc they wreaked, even greater damage — climate change — was being prevented.
The acquittals shocked both government and industry. The activists were found not guilty by reason of “lawful excuse” — a judgment that opens the door for more climate justice civil disobedience.
In Canada, we have a similar “defence of necessity.” Conceivably, it could be used here.
More than 3,000 delegates from 183 countries are currently in the midst of the two-week session of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Bonn.
The reports from there have not been encouraging.
The world’s 21 developed nations have not fulfilled their promises or financial pledges to the parts of the world that will most suffer from climate change.
“Now, more than ever, it is critical that all efforts are mobilized toward living up to this commitment,” said UNFCCC executive secretary Christiana Figueres. “We are getting into very risky territory.”
“I don’t think most people realize how little time we have left,” warns Lester Brown, founder of the Washington-based Earth Policy Institute and author of the just-published World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse. “The cliff is not that far away.”
Is Climate Science Disinformation a Crime Against Humanity? November 3, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Uncategorized.
Tags: California, carbon emissions, climage change deniers, climate change, congress, degregulation, donald brown, emissions, energy, energy legislation, environment, environmental deregulation, epa, fossil fuel, global warming, green agenda, greenhouse gas, oil companies, science
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Deeply irresponsible corporate-sponsored programmes of disinformation have potentially harsh effects upon tens of millions of people
by Donald Brown
Although there is an important role for scepticism in science, for almost 30 years some corporations have supported a disinformation campaign about climate change science.
While it may be reasonable to be somewhat sceptical about climate change models, these untruths are not based upon reasonable scepticism but outright falsification and distortions of climate change science.
These claims have included assertions that the science of climate change has been completely “debunked” and that there is no evidence of human causation of recent observed warming. There are numerous lines of evidence that point to human causation even if it is not a completely settled matter. Reasonable scepticism cannot claim that there is no evidence of causation and some other claims frequently being made by the well-financed climate change disinformation campaign, and they amount to an utter distortion of a body of evidence that the world needs to understand to protect itself from huge potential harms.
On 21 October, 2010, John Broder of the New York Times, reported that “the fossil fuel industries have for decades waged a concerted campaign to raise doubts about the science of global warming and to undermine policies devised to address it”.
According the New York Times article, the fossil fuel industry has “created and lavishly financed institutes to produce anti-global warming studies, paid for rallies and websites to question the science, and generated scores of economic analyses that purport to show that policies to reduce emissions of climate-altering gases will have a devastating effect on jobs and the overall economy.”
Disinformation about the state of climate change science is extraordinarily – if not criminally – irresponsible, because the consensus scientific view is based upon strong evidence that climate change:
• Is already being experienced by tens of thousands in the world;
• Will be experienced in the future by millions of people from greenhouse gas emissions that have already been emitted but not yet felt due to lags in the climate system; and,
• Will increase dramatically in the future unless greenhouse gas emissions are dramatically reduced from existing global emissions levels.
Threats from climate change include deaths and danger from droughts, floods, heat, storm-related damages, rising oceans, heat impacts on agriculture, loss of animals that are dependent upon for substance purposes, social disputes caused by diminishing resources, sickness from a variety of diseases, the inability to rely upon traditional sources of food, the inability to use property that people depend upon to conduct their life including houses or sleds in cold places, the destruction of water supplies, and the inability to live where has lived to sustain life. The very existence of some small island nations is threatened by climate change.
As long as there is any chance that climate change could create this type of destruction, even assuming, for the sake of argument, that these dangers are not yet fully proven, disinformation about the state of climate change science is extraordinarily morally reprehensible if it leads to non-action in reducing climate change’s threat. In fact, how to deal with uncertainty in climate change science is an ethical issue, not only a scientific matter, because the consequences of delay could be so severe and the poorest people in the world as some of the most vulnerable.
The corporations that have funded the sowing of doubt on this issue are clearly doing this because they see greenhouse gas emissions reduction strategies as adversely affecting their financial interests.
This might be understood as a new type of crime against humanity. Scepticism in science is not bad, but sceptics must play by the rules of science including publishing their conclusions in peer-reviewed scientific journals and not make claims that are not substantiated by the peer-reviewed literature. The need for responsible scepticism is particularly urgent if misinformation from sceptics could lead to great harm.
We may not have a word for this type of crime yet, but the international community should find a way of classifying extraordinarily irresponsible scientific claims that could lead to mass suffering as some type of crime against humanity.
© 2010 Guardian News and Media Limited
Barack Obama’s Green Agenda Crushed at the Ballot Box
With a slew of new climate change deniers entering Congress, Barack Obama’s environmental ambitions are now dead
by Suzanne Goldenberg
But many new members of Congress are at best sceptical on climate change, and Republican promises to reduce the role of government could spell the end for progressive energy legislation and could herald a new era of environmental deregulation.
In California though, there was celebration at the overwhelming defeat of Proposition 23 by a broad climate change coalition that ranged from the outgoing Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Silicon Valley executives and venture capitalists to environmental groups.
With 95% of precincts reporting, some 61% of Californians voted against a measure brought by Texas oil refiners, Tesoro and Valero, and the oil billionaire Koch brothers that would indefinitely halt a 2006 law mandating ambitious cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.
“We are beating Texas again,” Schwarzenegger told supporters at an election night party.
“Even though they spent millions and millions of dollars, today the people will make up their mind and speak loud and clear that California’s environment is not for sale.”
It was the first time voters had been asked directly for a verdict on a climate and energy plan.
Had the ballot measure passed, it would have scuppered the chances of other states following California’s lead.
But it was an expensive win, with opponents of Proposition 23 spending $31m to assure its defeat. The oil companies put up more than $10.
And the coalition, with their intense focus on Proposition 23, failed to anticipate its evil twin: Proposition 26, which will also hinder action on climate change. The measure, backed by Chevron, requires a two-thirds majority before imposing new taxes or fees. It gathered 54% support, blocking government efforts to get industry to pay for pollution.
In Washington, there was only devastation. 2010 is shaping up to be one of the warmest years on record, but that is unlikely to weigh heavily on the minds of many of the Republican newcomers to Congress.
Obama in interviews on the evening of the elections, admitted there was no change of sweeping climate and energy legislation in the remaining two years of his term. He said he hoped to find compromise on “bite-sized” measures, such as encouraging energy efficiency or the use of wind and solar power.
A cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions was the sleeper issue in the mid-term elections, a galvanising force for Tea Party activists. It saw the defeat of a handful of Democrats from conservative states who voted for last year’s climate change bill – such as Tom Perriello and Richard Boucher, in Virginia.
“I don’t think there’s any question about it, cap-and-trade was the issue in the campaign,” Boucher’s former chief of staff, Andy Wright, told Politico. “If Rick had voted no, he wouldn’t have had a serious contest.”
It also installed a heavy contingent of conservatives hostile to the very notion of global warming in Congress – and solidified the opposition of establishment figures to co-operation with Democrats on energy legislation.
The new speaker of the House, John Boehner, once said: “The idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen that is harmful to our environment is almost comical.” Vicky Hartzler, who took out the 34-year veteran Ike Skelton in Missouri, has called global warming a hoax.
A number of the victorious Tea Party candidates in the Senate, including Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida have said they do not believe in man-made climate change.
Some of the surviving Democrats are just as opposed. Joe Manchin won his Senate seat in West Virginia by, literally, shooting his rifle at Obama’s climate agenda.
In her election night stint as a Fox news commentator, Sarah Palin singled out the Environmental Protection Agency as an example of big and wasteful government. The Republican leadership has signalled they it is opposed to a whole array of EPA regulations, including those on ozone and mercury. The EPA is seen as a fallback route for the Obama administration to deal with the regulation of greenhouse gases after the US senate dropped its climate bill in the summer.
The new crop of Republican leaders in the house are way ahead of Palin, with plans for sweeping investigations of climate science and of Obama administration officials such as Lisa Jackson, who heads the EPA.
As far as the leaders are concerned, the science of climate change is far from settled. “We’re going to want to have a do-over,” Darrell Issa, a favourite to head the house oversight and investigations committee, told a recent interviewer.
© Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
Pinpricks Derail Action on Climate April 6, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Environment.
Tags: Canada, climate change, emissions, energy, environment, gas lobby, greenhouse, greenhouse gas, koch, linda mcquaig, oil lobby, roger hollander, Stephen Harper
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Of course, it’s possible that the incredibly warm, barbecues-in-March weather we’ve recently enjoyed is just a fluke and has nothing whatsoever to do with climate change.
It’s also possible that if your 2-year-old falls into a swimming pool, he might manage to thrash his way to the side without you having to jump in to save him. On the other hand, jumping in might seem like a sensible precaution.
While obvious with the child in the pool, sensible precaution oddly seems to elude us when it comes to climate change. The vast preponderance of scientific evidence – prepared over the past two decades by thousands of scientists around the world under the authority of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – points to potentially catastrophic global warming and the role of humans in contributing to it.
Yet we allow pinpricks in the side of this vast body of science to derail global action.
The latest pinprick was “climategate” – hacked emails allegedly showing that climate researchers at a British university manipulated climate data to bolster the global warming case. That prompted an international flurry of “gotcha” commentaries from high-profile media skeptics.
There was considerably less attention last week after a British parliamentary inquiry into climategate announced it found no evidence of manipulated data and no evidence to challenge the “scientific consensus” that global warming is induced by human activities.
Discredited or not, climategate accomplished what the anonymous hackers apparently intended – to create a fog of uncertainty around the science.
The fog even manages to obscure the role of the immensely powerful oil and gas lobby, which quietly keeps climate skepticism alive by funding a legion of climate-denial front groups.
According to a report last month by Greenpeace, the wealthy, ultra-conservative Koch family, owners of oil conglomerate Koch Industries, has funnelled nearly $50 million since 1997 to groups denying climate change.
The fog generated has, among other things, enabled Stephen Harper – a climate change denier until becoming Prime Minister – to get away with essentially doing nothing on the climate front.
Last month’s federal budget confirmed this trend. According to the Alberta-based Pembina Institute, the U.S. now spends 18 times more per capita on renewable energy than Canada does.
This inaction makes no sense if we simply consider the probabilities. The IPCC estimates that there’s perhaps a 10 per cent chance that temperatures will not rise enough to cause worry.
So that leaves a 90 per cent chance that we should worry. Even if the IPCC were off by a factor of five and the chances of a benign outcome increased from 10 to 50 per cent, does it make sense to do nothing?
We might face a serious conundrum if tackling the problem required us to do something really awful, like exterminating all the world’s bunnies or chopping down all the evergreens.
But reducing greenhouse gas emissions is something we should do anyway, in order to cut pollution and save limited energy resources. If it turns out to be unnecessary, we’ll still be better off.
It would be like jumping into the pool to save your child, discovering he knows how to swim, and then realizing you needed a dip anyway.
On the other hand, the skeptics seems to think you should stay in your deck chair – after all, there’s a 10 per cent chance your child is going to be just fine.
© Copyright Toronto Star 1996-2010
For Obama, No Opportunity Too Big To Blow December 22, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Economic Crisis, Environment.
Tags: auto bailouts, bank bailouts, carbon, climate change, copenhagen, copenhagen failure, Economic Crisis, emissions, fossil fuels, green vision, naomi klein, obama failure, stimulus package
Contrary to countless reports, the debacle in Copenhagen was not everyone’s fault. It did not happen because human beings are incapable of agreeing, or are inherently self-destructive. Nor was it all was China’s fault, or the fault of the hapless UN.
There’s plenty of blame to go around, but there was one country that possessed unique power to change the game. It didn’t use it. If Barack Obama had come to Copenhagen with a transformative and inspiring commitment to getting the U.S. economy off fossil fuels, all the other major emitters would have stepped up. The EU, Japan, China and India had all indicated that they were willing to increase their levels of commitment, but only if the U.S. took the lead. Instead of leading, Obama arrived with embarrassingly low targets and the heavy emitters of the world took their cue from him.
(The “deal” that was ultimately rammed through was nothing more than a grubby pact between the world’s biggest emitters: I’ll pretend that you are doing something about climate change if you pretend that I am too. Deal? Deal.)
I understand all the arguments about not promising what he can’t deliver, about the dysfunction of the U.S. Senate, about the art of the possible. But spare me the lecture about how little power poor Obama has. No President since FDR has been handed as many opportunities to transform the U.S. into something that doesn’t threaten the stability of life on this planet. He has refused to use each and every one of them. Let’s look at the big three.
Blown Opportunity Number 1: The Stimulus Package When Obama came to office he had a free hand and a blank check to design a spending package to stimulate the economy. He could have used that power to fashion what many were calling a “Green New Deal” — to build the best public transit systems and smart grids in the world. Instead, he experimented disastrously with reaching across the aisle to Republicans, low-balling the size of the stimulus and blowing much of it on tax cuts. Sure, he spent some money on weatherization, but public transit was inexplicably short changed while highways that perpetuate car culture won big.
Blown Opportunity Number 2: The Auto Bailouts Speaking of the car culture, when Obama took office he also found himself in charge of two of the big three automakers, and all of the emissions for which they are responsible. A visionary leader committed to the fight against climate chaos would obviously have used that power to dramatically reengineer the failing industry so that its factories could build the infrastructure of the green economy the world desperately needs. Instead Obama saw his role as uninspiring down-sizer in chief, leaving the fundamentals of the industry unchanged.
Blown Opportunity Number 3: The Bank Bailouts Obama, it’s worth remembering, also came to office with the big banks on their knees — it took real effort not to nationalize them. Once again, if Obama had dared to use the power that was handed to him by history, he could have mandated the banks to provide the loans for factories to be retrofitted and new green infrastructure to be built. Instead he declared that the government shouldn’t tell the failed banks how to run their businesses. Green businesses report that it’s harder than ever to get a loan.
Imagine if these three huge economic engines — the banks, the auto companies, the stimulus bill — had been harnessed to a common green vision. If that had happened, demand for a complementary energy bill would have been part of a coherent transformative agenda.
Whether the bill had passed or not, by the time Copenhagen had rolled around, the U.S. would already have been well on its way to dramatically cutting emissions, poised to inspire, rather than disappoint, the rest of the world.
There are very few U.S. Presidents who have squandered as many once-in-a-generation opportunities as Barack Obama. More than anyone else, the Copenhagen failure belongs to him.
Research support for Naomi Klein’s reporting from Copenhagen was provided by the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.
© 2009 The Nation
Naomi Klein is an award-winning journalist and syndicated columnist and the author of the international and New York Times bestseller The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, now out in paperback. Her earlier books include the international best-seller, No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies; and the collection Fences and Windows: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate (2002). To read all her latest writing visit www.naomiklein.org
Tags: activism, carbon offsets, civil disobedience, climate change, coal, copenhagen, crude oil, disaster capitalism, emissions, environment, food sovereignty, global warming, klimaforum09, naomi klein, revolution, roger hollander, seattle, via campesina
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If Seattle was the coming out party, this should be the coming of age party, Klein told the Klimaforum09 last night
The Copenhagen deal may turn into the worst kind of disaster capitalism, Naomi Klein said last night. In her speech to Klimaforum09, the “people’s summit” she told the thousand or so campaigners and activists that this was a chance to carry on building the new convergence, the movement of movements that began “all those years ago in Seattle, fighting against the privatisation of life itself”. Here was an opportunity to “continue the conversation that was so rudely interrupted by 9/11″.
“Down the road at the Bella Centre [where delegates are meeting] there is the worst case of disaster capitalism that we have ever witnessed. We know that what is being proposed in the Bella Centre doesn’t even come close to the deal that is needed. We know the paltry emissions cuts that Obama has proposed; they’re insulting. We’re the ones who created this crisis… on the basic historical principle of polluters pays, we should pay.”Around the city, opening events were kicking off a fortnight of negotiations, debate and protest. In the morning Rajendra Pachauri, the chair of the IPCC, and Lars Løkke Rasmussen, the prime minister of Denmark, opened the conference with a plea for action.
Later, in the centre of town special UN envoy Gro Harlem Brundtland and climate change UN chief Yvo de Boer declared the heavily branded Hopenhagen open, as a globe bearing a large Siemens logos was illuminated. The popular Danish band Nephew kicked off (to bigger cheers than Brundtland or de Boer).
And in the evening Klein joined with Henry Saragih, the general convenor of the Via Campesina movement, and international Friends of the Earth chair Nnimmo Bassey, to declare Klimaforum09 the “real event in Copenhagen”.
Saragih called for food sovereignty – greater power for small farmers – and said that changes to agricultural practices could reduce carbon emissions by up to 50%.
Bassey said that crude oil only appeared cheap because we do not pay the true price, and told the audience; “Leave the oil in the soil, leave the coal in the hole, leave the tarsand in the land”. And Klein finished up:
We have to be the lie detectors here. Let’s not restrict ourselves to polite marches and formulaic panel discussions. If Seattle was the coming out party, this should be the coming of age party. And, as a friend of mine called John Jordan says, I hope that we have grown up to be even more disobedient. Why are thousands of us burning fossil fuels to get here? Because we have to build a global mass movement that will not allow leaders to get away with what they are trying to get away with. Think of it as the mother of all carbon offsets.
Canada’s Dirty Secret July 17, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Environment.
Tags: Al Gore, alberta oil sands, boreal forest, Canada, Canada Conservatives, canada environment, cfcs, clean energy, climate change, emissions, environment, heather mcrobie, roger hollander, Stephen Harper, vancouver olympics, wwf
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Canada’s dirty secret Despite its environmentally friendly reputation, Canada’s efforts on climate change rank last among the G8 nations
by Heather McRobie
Canada has come last on a WWiF scorecard of G8 countries’ efforts against climate change. That news would once have elicited at least a slightly surprised response. For several decades, Canada managed to present itself as the friendly giant of environmental issues. The 1989 Protocol on CFCs, an early turning point in combating the depletion of the ozone layer, was born in Montreal, and American environmental campaigners like Al Gore are always quick to heap praise on their northern neighbour.
But these days, Canada is looking increasingly like the dirty one of G8. The WWF report noted that Canada is one of the few countries on the scorecard whose emissions are still rising, and that Canada’s Conservative government isn’t doing enough to combat climate change.
Maybe some of Canada’s new bad-guy image on environmental issues is just a by-product of America’s new green image. Obama’s presidency was always going to bump the US up a few places on environmental scorecards, almost just out of gratitude that America has at least promised not to so flagrantly and unapologetically deplete the world’s natural resources.
But Obama isn’t why Canada is losing its green reputation. The real reason lies in the vast Alberta oil sands. In 2008, Alberta’s economically recoverable reserves were placed at 173 billion barrels, meaning that only Saudi Arabia outstrips Canada on oil reserves. But unlike Saudi Arabia, in Alberta the oil is literally in the sand. To dig it up and refine it is a process far higher in emissions than the processing of Saudi Arabian oil, and is destroying much of Alberta’s northern Boreal forest along the way.
The response to the report in Canada has been less hand-wringing than one might expect. Some dismiss the finding by pointing out that even other environmental organisations have problems with WWF. Others argue that surveys like the WWF’s are just penalising countries like Canada and Russia for their geographic realities – smaller countries keep their emissions down by importing oil from Canada, then criticise Canada for producing it, and so on.
On top of the recession’s effect on plans for the oil sands, defenders argue that Obama’s cap-and-trade proposals would severely impact Canadian oil production because the proposal will heavily penalise those who ship Canadian oil sand bitumen to the United States, given that refining the raw bitumen is so energy-intensive.
But Canada isn’t being punished for its geographic reality. It is finally being called out for presenting itself as environmentally friendly, while under the Conservative government green issues have been completely sidelined, if not derided. Before becoming prime minister, Stephen Harper implied that the science of climate change was “tentative and contradictory”, called the Kyoto accord a “socialist scheme” and ranted that an “army of Canadians” was needed to defeat it. While he has proposed “made in Canada” solutions to cutting carbon emissions, Harper’s main actions have been to cut programmes that promoted renewable energy like wind power. Even plans for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver risk causing environmental damage to rare forests in the nearby Eagle Ridge Bluffs.
Vancouver is consistently voted one of the world’s most liveable cities, and the Canadian government intends to use the Olympics to showcase Canada’s pleasant, fresh-aired way of life. But the price Canada is paying to maintain its “friendly giant” facade is increasingly being paid for by the environment.
The fact that Obama’s Clean Energy and Security Act will, if passed by Congress, disproportionately hurt oil companies working with Albertan oil sands may feel like American hypocrisy to Canadians who have long watched the US’s profligate environmental destruction go unchecked. But while Harper continues to disappoint on his commitments to the environment, someone has to play the bad cop to Canada.
© 2009 Guardian News and Media Limited