Some environmental groups are planning disruptive protests for the upcoming climate talks in Copenhagen, taking cues from the anti-globalization movement:
"We feel that right now in Copenhagen there is a real opportunity for things to come together a little bit like they did 10 years ago at the World Trade Organization protest in Seattle," Müller told SPIEGEL ONLINE....
To that end, Climate Justice Action and other groups are planning a number of activities to drive home their message. On Dec. 11, one group plans to take "direct action to confront corporations taking part" in the summit in an action called "Don't Buy the Lie." A number of groups are planning a worldwide protest for Dec. 12. And on Dec. 13th, another group hopes to blockade the Copenhagen harbor in protest against the way goods are produced, transported and consumed.
Reminiscent of Seattle
Perhaps most significant, however, Müller and his group plan to storm the conference on Dec. 16 and "disrupt the sessions and use the space to talk about our agenda," as the Climate Justice Action Web site describes it. The hope is that official delegations participating in the summit will join the protest, called "Reclaim Power."
The actions are reminiscent of similar tactics used during the WTO protest in Seattle, when protestors were successfully able to prevent delegates from reaching the convention center where meetings were being held. A riot quickly ensued, ultimately resulting in 600 arrests and numerous injuries -- and in a new model for anti-globalization protests that has been repeated numerous times since then. Indeed, some see climate change as being a new focus for the kind of demonstrations that have grown out of the anti-globalization movement.Despite Müller's protestations that he wishes to avoid violence, the Danish authorities are assuming the worst -- and outfitting the police with far-reaching new powers. In October, the Danish Ministry of Justice proposed a new law that would increase the penalties for police obstruction and vandalism. The law, branded by some activists as the "hoodlum" law, would increase the penalty for obstructing police to 40 days in jail. Currently, only a fine is called for. Police would also be able to detain potentially dangerous protesters for up to 12 hours instead of the current six. Penalties for vandalism would also increase by 50 percent.
This seems like a very poor model to follow. First of all, the green movement doesn't need a "coming out party." It's basic arguments are publicly understood in a way that the anti-WTO protesters' issues weren't.
Second, Seattle-style tactics make sense if you're trying to prevent leaders from getting anything done, such as signing new free-trade agreements. But when it comes to carbon emissions, most environmentalists want leaders to reach an agreement. Demonstrations are certainly warranted, but turning Copenhagen into the kind of tear gas-filled battlefield that typically forms outside of trade talks these days is not exactly conducive to politial progress.
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A new study from the University of Haifa finds that animals on either side of the Israel-Jordanian border exhibit different characteristics and behaviors:
The first study inspected the reptile population and revealed that the number of reptiles is similar on both sides, but the variety of species in the sandy areas of Jordan is significantly higher than the variety found in the sands of Israel. A second study revealed that Israeli gerbils are more cautious than their Jordanian friends, while a third study showed that the funnel-digging ant lion population in Israel is unmistakably larger than in Jordan.
According to the researchers, the differences between Israel and Jordan are primarily in the higher level of agriculture and the higher number of agricultural farms in Israel as opposed to Jordan's agriculture that is primarily based on nomadic shepherding and traditional farming. The agricultural fields on the Israeli side of the border not only create a gulf between habitats and thereby cause an increase in the number of species in the region, but they also hail one of the most problematic of intruders in the world: the red fox. On the Jordanian side, the red fox is far less common, so that Jordanian gerbils can allow themselves to be more carefree.
This follows an amazing Wall Street Journal story from two weeks ago describing how red deer still refuse to cross the German-Czech border, 20 years after an electric fence was taken down. The U.S.-Mexico border fence is also proving disruptive to migration patterns several species.
Arbitrary political constructions though they may be, national borders are becoming natural ones as well.
Some of the world's remaining communist countries (plus former Soviet Russia) are preparing to control the weather. Indeed, China, Russia, Venezuela, and Cuba are preparing ways to control precipitation -- hearkening back to something the X-Men guys thought up during the Cold War (see: Storm).
Last a summer, Chinese government officials worried that it might rain on their parade, literally, during the Olympics. They fired rockets filled with dry ice and silver iodide into the clouds, to make them cough up any raindrops before Beijing. The process might have backfired, causing two fierce snowstorms. But Moscow's mayor seems undeterred by the weather -- he is using the same technology to deflect snowfall from his city, having military planes spray iodide clouds.
Venezuela isn't as concerned with deflecting precipitation. Chavez is trying to increase rainfall on parched areas of his country. And rather than simply ordering the cloud seeding to take place, he is going to do it himself, going airborne with a group of Cuban scientists.
"I'm going in a plane. Any cloud that crosses me, I'll zap it so that it rains," Chavez said.
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For the past two years, 192 countries have participated in talks on the pressing issue of climate change, which will culminate in the Copenhagen summit next month. So far, more than 40 heads of state have agreed to attend, to act as negotiators and more importantly to demonstrate a firm commitment to ambitious targets. The growing list includes Angela Merkel, Gordon Brown, Nicolas Sarkozy, and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
But the RSVPs seem lost in the mail for the leaders of the countries considered to be the lynchpins of the deal -- China, the United States, and India. Hu Jintao, Barack Obama, and Manmohan Singh haven't committed yet -- and they should. This summer, Obama indicated he would not attend because Congress has not yet passed climate change legislation. He's since waffled a bit, saying he would if his appearance would close the deal. It's weak tea, and those calling for him to attend include Al Gore and Brazil's da Silva, who used his weekly radio address to implore Obama and Hu to make the trip.
It is less likely that Hu or Singh will attend. Their developing countries have been good negotiators, but reticent to commit to ambitious targets. (China recently called for keeping the Kyoto protocol instead.) If Obama commits, though, they would be a lot more willing -- and that should be reason for the U.S. leader to consider heading across the pond.
In other climate news, the International Energy Agency released its full World Energy Outlook yesterday. One choice doomsday passage:
For every year that passes, the window for action on emissions over a given period becomes narrower -- and the costs of transforming the energy sector increase. We calculate that each year of delay before moving onto the emissions path consistent with a 2°C temperature increase would add approximately $500 billion to the global incremental investment cost...A delay of just a few years would probably render that goal completely out of reach.
The headline on this story reads: "Obama will go to Copenhagen to clinch deal."
That's a touch misleading.
What the headline on this story should really read is: "Obama will go to Copenhagen if and only if his appearance is necessary in order to clinch a deal."
On one hand, this is good news. Even if the United States can't be a strong party in climate change negotiations, it is of vital importance that Obama act as a strong diplomat and negotiator on this issue. The whole world is at stake.
On the other hand, isn't this a bit rich? The U.S. slow-walk on this issue is part of the reason the Copenhagen negotiations have been so fraught. If a comprehensive agreement falters in December, the United States will be in no small part to blame. But its leader might parachute in at the last moment to save the day? Sigh.
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Moscow will blast clouds from the sky this winter to save money on snow removal, a city official said Wednesday, but the plan threatens to anger the surrounding region, which would have to cope with the extra powder. ....
Luzhkov is a long-time proponent of fighting clouds by spraying liquid nitrogen, silver, or cement particles into the cloud mass, which forces precipitation to fall before it can reach the capital and spoil holidays like Victory Day and City Day.
Last month, Luzhkov proposed expanding the technology to fight the snow drifts that snarl traffic every winter.
“What if we force this snow to fall beyond Moscow? The Moscow region will have more water, bigger harvests, while we will have less snow,” he said at an award ceremony for Moscow’s best-kept yard. He said that using the Air Force to prevent massive snowfall would be three times cheaper than using the regular system of trucks and snow-melting stations.
City hall estimates that the project will save the city $10.2 million in snow removal. Needless to say, officials in the surrouding region are less than thrilled with the plan. Locals have also criticized Luzhkov's previous cloud prevention schemes, noting that they make "the cucumbers turn yellow."
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Today, the International Energy Agency said that global carbon emissions shrank 3 percent in 2009, due to the Great Recession. The Guardian reports that for only the fourth time in the past 50 years, the world emitted less of the greenhouse gas than it had done the year before, because of declining industrial production.
Which means, alas, that the world will likely be back to increasing emissions soon. Indeed, the IEA report notes that to avoid climate change and all the catastrophes it promises, countries don't have to shrink their economies, but do have to "[build] more than 350 new nuclear plants and 350,000 wind turbines in the next 20 years. [It] also estimates that by 2020, three-fifths of cars will need to use alternatives to the traditional internal combustion engine."
The IEA report reminded me of a fascinating study out of the London School of Economics, released last month. It found that promoting contraceptive use could be a lynchpin to combating climate change: fewer babies means fewer carbon-emitters, and fewer carbon-emitters means less climate change.
That, in turn, reminds me of this. Oh dear.
After a slate of big speeches yesterday at the U.N. climate summit in New York, the jury is still divided on how significant the new carbon mitigation steps announced by China, India, Japan, and other countries are. (There's even a range of opinions on this site. But there seems to be a growing consensus on one thing: the US is increasingly seen as falling behind, isolated.
Funny that, in China, they saw this coming. This summer in Beijing, I spoke with one of the leading private-sector Chinese energy analysts, someone present at the last big round of climate negotiations held in Bonn. In between meetings, he and some of his colleagues had joked about something they called the "Chinese conspiracy." The gist was, as he put it, to view future climate talks as "an opportunity" and "to keep America off the table at Copenhagen."
He was kidding, of course, and even were he serious, he wouldn't have been speaking for the government. But as it happens, something like that scenario may be unfolding.
In the final weeks before Copenhagen, several countries, including China, are rushing to claim the mantle of leadership, to define what "success" means, and to offer their own proposals. At a press conference this morning in Washington, the director general of climate change for Mexico's ministry of the environment was talking about his country's proposal for the architecture of a redistributive "green fund," which would collect money from the world's economic leaders and then steer money toward green-friendly development in poorer countries. Next up, rumors are swirling of a coalition of Latin American countries preparing to offer their own pre-Copenhagen proposals.
It seems telling that President Obama ended his first major address on climate change not with a stirring call to action, but by urging pragmatism and compromise:
But the journey is long. The journey is hard. And we don't have much time left to make it. It is a journey that will require each of us to persevere through setback, and fight for every inch of progress, even when it comes in fits and starts. So let us begin. For if we are flexible and pragmatic; if we can resolve to work tirelessly in common effort, then we will achieve our common purpose: a world that is safer, cleaner, and healthier than the one we found; and a future that is worthy of our children. Thank you.
It sounds a bit like Obama is premptively defending a climate bill that will probably turn out to be less aggressive than the other delegates in Copenhagen might like and like Bill Clinton, is looking to assure environmentalists that any bill is better than none if it moves the ball forward.
Officials flicked on the switch at two of Germany's most important new solar energy sites on Thursday. In the eastern state of Brandenburg, the world's second-largest solar energy project went online. And halfway across the country, in North Rhine-Westphalia, a smaller scale but perhaps equally important facility launched -- Germany's first solar-thermal power plant.
MICHAEL GOTTSCHALK/AFP/Getty Images
A new proposal in Australia plans to slaughter thousands of camels that are wrecking havoc in the outback.
First introduced to the country in the 1840s to help explorers traverse the harsh deserts, feral camels now number more than one million, with a population that doubles in size every nine years. The herds roam unchecked through much of central and western Australia, destroying sacred indigenous sites and fragile ecosystems alike. Traveling in large, intimidating packs, they compete with livestock for food, trample vegetation and ravage residents' homes in search of food and water.
Last month the federal government set aside $15.6 million dollars for a "camel reduction program" that needs to drastically reduce the population down to at least a third of its present size to avoid "catastrophic damage". So far the most practical strategy seems to be a cull, with sharpshooters in helicopters firing on large groups -- an "actually quite humane" plan, according to some. This is good news for certain farmers, who are looking to expand the market for camel meat, reportedly an excellent source of low cholesterol protein. Alternative suggestions, including exporting the camels or instituting a mass sterilization policy, are thought of as unfeasible given the animals' enormous size and aggressiveness.
Unsurprisingly, animal welfare activists are deeply disturbed by the proposals, but criticism for the government is also coming from an unexpected outlet: the foreign media. American broadcaster CNBC referred to the plans as "camelcide" and dubbed Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd a "serial killer." Similarly, hosts of a program on China's Central TV are calling the government out for its "massacre...of innocent lives."
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India's annual monsoons often lead to flooding. So why is the country now afraid it's going to run out of water?
A combination of water-intensive agriculture, population growth, and -- to a lesser extent -- a drought are to blame for the shortfall, the BBC reports:
Dr Raj Gupta, a scientist working for the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), said that the current drought would lead to more groundwater extraction.
"Farmers receive no rains so they are pumping a lot more water than the government expected, so the water table will fall further," he said.
"The farmers have to irrigate, and that's why they're pumping more water, mining more water. The situation has to stop today or tomorrow."
If the trend continues, we could potentially be looking at the first international security crisis due to climate change.
Devastating hurricanes have left the state-run company that produces the country's supply, without the raw materials necessary to keep up with demand. In addition to which, President Raul Castro recently announced a 20 percent cut in imports, meaning a lot less goods on state-run store shelves. Cuban officials are saying they may not have sufficient TP supplies until the end of the year.
Worldwide, toilet paper is a booming business, especially in the United States where consumers use up to 50 million pounds of TP a year. It seems American bottoms have a "soft-tissue" fetish, one that's not only costly, but harmful to the environment. In order to get the fluffiest tissue, suppliers take from the world's rainforests. Earlier this year Greenpeace released a toilet-paper guide listing the more planet-friendly products.
One penny-saving option for Cuba would be to use recycled lavatory paper, a much cheaper alternative on the whole. Indeed, many countries are already using the eco-friendly alternative, even if it is a little ... rough.
For Cuba, this could be an opportunity to take that initiative one seriously brave step further to becoming a leader to an "greener" planet: Go cloth.
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Wherever in the world you may be, your focus should now be on cleaning up natural water resources rather than building gurdwaras (temples).
Earlier this month, the leaders of the G8 attracted strong criticism with what many perceived as a failed attempt to make progress fighting climate change. The lack of action, though, is not stopping the tiny Pacific island nation of Tuvalu; the world's fourth-smallest country now pledges it will become entirely carbon-neutral by 2020.
Public Utilities Minister Kausea Natano said his nation of 12,000 people wanted to set an example to others.
Tuvalu is made up of a string of atolls with the highest point only 4.5m (15 ft) above sea level, making it extremely vulnerable to flooding.
The government hopes to use wind and solar power to generate electricity, instead of imported diesel.
"We look forward to the day when our nation offers an example to all - powered entirely by natural resources such as the sun and the wind," Kausea Natano said.
Many Pacific atolls like Tuvalu are worried that rising sea levels in the future could flood entire islands. But Tuvalu is not the first to make such a pledge -- in fact, it is only the 11th to make the pledge, joining countries like Iceland, New Zealand, and even Portugal (which has 10.6 million people, or approximately 1060 times as large a population as Tuvalu's).
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Australia's National Parks and Wildlife Service, troubled by recent fox attacks on little penguins, have taken protecting the endangered species to the next level:
Fox attacks on endangered penguins have led Australia's wildlife authorities to post snipers at night to protect the birds.
A colony of about 120 little penguins (Eudyptula minor), also known as fairy penguins, at Quarantine beach in Sydney has recently lost about nine of its number to attacks. On Sunday night, the two snipers took their first watch but were unable to shoot the animals responsible[...]
Meanwhile, the snipers are there to stay. "We've had no luck so far finding what has done this so we'll keep on trying," the parks service said. "We'll be there for as long as necessary."
No word yet on whether the Parks Service will be deploying a special cat sniper squad.
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In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated that global warming would decrease global GDP by up to 5 percent. As Waxman-Markey was being debated on the Hill, Jim Manzi over The American Scene questioned the necessity for action on global warming, noting that 5 percent was a small amount to be worried over. Nate Silver at 538.com decided to take up that challenge, seeing how many countries could be removed before reaching 5 percent of global GDP. The result is a startingly large number:
Let's see how much of the world we can destroy before getting to 5% of global GDP. The figures I'll use are IMF estimates of 2008 GDP, for all countries bit Zimbabwe where the IMF did not publish a 2008 estimate and I use 2007 instead.
Zimbabwe, indeed, is the first country on the chopping block, whose 11.7 million greedy bastards consume a whole 0.0196 percent of the world's output -- a global low of just $55 per person. After that, we get to destroy Burundi, The Congo (the larger of the two Congos -- the one that used to be called Zaire), Liberia, Guinea-Bissau, Eretrea, Malawai ... do you really me to go through the whole list? You do? ... Malwai, Ethopia, Sierra Leone, Niger, Afghanistan (big problem solved there), Togo, Guinea, Uganda, Madagascar, the Central African Republic, Nepal, Myanmar, Rwanda, Mozambique, Timor-Leste, the Gambia -- we've only used 0.27 percent of GDP to this point, by the way -- Bangladesh (which has 162 million people), Tanzania, Burkina Faso, Mali, Lesotho, Ghana, Haiti, Tajikistan, Comoros, Cambodia, Laos, Benin, Kenya, Chad, The Soloman Islands and Kyrgyzistan. Next up is India, which, while growing, still consumes only 2 percent of world GDP. Then Nicaragua, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Mauritania, Pakistan (another problem solved), Senegal, São Tomé and Príncipe, Côte d'Ivoire, Zambia, Yemen, Cameroon, Djibouti, Papua New Guinea, Kiribati, Nigeria (another pretty big country -- we've now got only about 1.4 points of GDP left), Guyana, the Sudan, Bolivia (our first foray into South America), Moldova, Honduras, the Philippines, Sra Lanka, Mongolia, Bhutan and Egypt.
At this point, we've used up 4.4 points of GDP. Indonesia is next on the list of lowest per-capita GDPs. But unfortunately we can't quite fit them into the budget so we'll spare them, opting instead for Vanauatu, Tonga, Paragua, Morocco, Syria, Swaziland, Samoa, Guatemala, Georgia (the country -- not the place where they have Chik-Fil-A), the other Congo, and Iraq. Skipping China, we then get to Armenia, Jordan, Cape Verde, the Maldives -- and another big bunch of skips follows here since we're very low on budget -- Fiji and finally Namibia[...]
So, we'll have to settle for just these 81 countries, which collectively have a mere 2,865,623,000 people, or about 43 percent of the world's population.
Just to cement the contrast, using those same IMF stats, the average American makes almost 183 times as much as Democratic Republic of Congo resident.
Graphic from 538
Climate change conference The Manchester Report has revealed a surprising suggestion not only to curb, but also to reverse carbon dioxide accumulation in the atmosphere: Add lime to seawater.
Oceans play a crucial role in slowing down the process of global warming, currently by absorbing about half of the CO2 released into the air by human activity every year. Doing so, however, dramatically increases marine acidity and threatens ecosystems.
Advocates of the Cquestrate project insist that the added lime produced from heating limestone will not only boost the amount of CO2 absorbed, but will also reduce the water's acidity. If the technique were employed on a large enough scale, proponents argue that it would be possible to return global carbon dioxide levels to their pre-Industrial Revolution amounts. The project's founder Tim Kruger said:
It is essential that we reduce our emissions, but that may not be enough. We need a plan B to actually reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.
As Democrats in Washington scramble to find enough votes for their cap-and-trade bill, China may be making some gestures towards dealing with climate change and pollution. One step is preventing last month's acquisition of Hummer by a Chinese company:
A Chinese firm's bid to buy the gas-guzzling Hummer car brand will be blocked on environmental grounds, according to Chinese state radio.
Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery emerged as the surprise buyer for the brand earlier this year.
But China National Radio said Hummer is at odds with the country's planning agency's attempts to decrease pollution from Chinese manufacturers.
The acquisition from General Motors would need Chinese regulatory approval.
The value of the bid was not disclosed at the time, but analysts say that GM would have made about $100m (£61m) from the sale.
National Development and Reform Commission will also block Sichuan Tengzhong from buying Hummer because the Chinese construction equipment maker lacks expertise in car production, state radio added.
Another interesting fact from the article: Hummer is known as "Han Ma," or "Bold Horse" in China.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
During the ongoing political crisis in Iran, another less noticed "revolution" has been going on in Peru with relatively little international attention, but potentially with lasting consequences for both the country and its role in the global economy.
Over the past two weeks, indigenous protesters have successfully forced the Peruvian protesters have successfully forced the government to reverse planned land reforms that would have opened their traditional land to investment and exploration by international energy companies.
The demonstrations against the reform turned violent earlier this month in a confrontation that left 50 dead, including 23 police officers. Peru's prime minister offered to resign over the controversy after the government caved to the Indians demands. The leader of the protest movement has fled into exile in Nicaragua after being charged with inciting the violence.
President Alan Garcia has come under fire for his insensitivity to the violence and for comparing the protesters to "garden watchdogs" protecting their food. Garcia had framed the new development as both an economic opportunity for the region, a way of clamping down on illegal logging, and a way to combat drug trafficking by increasing government presence.
Granted, the news has been dominated by Iran this month for good reason, but protests leading to the killing of 23 police officers, the reversal of a major government decisions affecting multinational corporations, and the resignation of a head of government, seems like a pretty big deal. I think it's safe to say that if this had happened in Asia or the Middle East it would have been front page news in the United States.
Consider how intertwined it is with U.S. foreign policy, it's always surprising how little discussion Latin American affairs (unless Hugo or Fidel are talking) merits in the United States. Peru's largely ignored situation is a perect example. Since when are race, money, violence, and drugs not interesting topics?
The New York Times reports:
Two years after [Australian] Prime Minister Kevin Rudd drew worldwide applause for reversing Australia’s longstanding refusal to ratify the Kyoto protocol on global warming, the government’s ambitious plan to change the way Australians use energy is facing major obstacles, raising the prospect of an early election with climate change as the central issue.
Two key points to note here: first, new elections could give the liberal Labor party a serious leg up on the climate change issue and increase the chances for the passage of future green legislation. But if Rudd wants to hold elections and gain that edge before the world meets to talk about climate change in December, that means losing today's battle to win the war.
Second, and more importantly, is this plan as "ambitious" as Australian officials are making it out to be? It proposes a cut in carbon emissions by "at least" five percent of 2000 levels by 2020. Granted, Australia is responsible for only two percent of the world's carbon output, but if it wants to be seen as a leader on climate change (as Rudd allegedly wants), it'll have to do better than that.
Move over Roquefort. The newest niche transatlantic trade dispute involves Canadian seal products, which the EU has banned because of Canada's commercial hunting practices. Inuit hunters are exempt from the ban, but fear that it will inevitably affect their livelihoods.
While touring Inuit Communities in Northern Canda, Governor General Michaelle Jean -- Queen Elizabeth's representative in the Canadian government -- butchered and ate raw seal heart in solidarity with the hunters:
Ms Jean used a traditional Inuit knife to help gut the animal then ate a slice of raw heart.
It came weeks after the EU voted to ban Canadian seal products, but Ms Jean did not say if her actions were in response to the EU proposals....
Asked later if her actions were a message to the EU, she said: "Take from it what you will."
An EU spokesperson called Jean's actions "too bizarre to acknowledge," which the Inuit, who I presume have been eating seal heats for quite some time, would probably take umbrage at. And this from the continent where its a major media scandal when companies paint fake black hooves on ham legs.
Update: Video from the CBC if you really want it:
ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP/Getty Images
Sometimes it seems like we just can't win. We finally find a power source that doesn't release fossil fuels, can't be made into a weapon of mass destruction, doesn't pose a risk of flooding and doesn't contain poison gas, and guess what? It tortures goats to death!
Late-night noise from spinning wind turbines on an outlying island of Taiwan may have killed 400 goats over the past three years by depriving them of sleep, an agricultural inspection official said on Thursday.
After the eight turbines were installed in the notoriously windy Penghu archipelago in the Taiwan Strait, a neighbouring farmer reported that his goats had started dying, Council of Agriculture inspection official Lu Ming-tseng said.
For the record, Lord Nicholas Stern thinks his famous handiwork, the 2006 Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, was a bit off. Or rather, its projections were underestimates.
Three years ago Stern's report galvanized international attention with its main findings: that addressing climate change sooner would cost far less waiting until later. But in a speech last Thursday in Oxford, UK, he noted that economics is a dismally flawed science - forecasting tools aren't yet up to the task of modeling scenarios involving the scale and uncertainty of climate change. "Looking back," he said, "I think we actually under-did the story."
Stern is known in Britain alternately as Mr. Climate Change and Lord Climate Change. It's always struck me that the man responsible for putting climate change squarely into mainstream international debate was not a scientist, a politician, an advocate, a poet, a celebrity, or a writer, but an economist. (Until recently, Stern served as economics advisor under both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and before that at the World Bank.) While most economists have lately fallen out of public favor, Stern seems an exception.
These days he's trying hard not to be a doom and gloom guy. Rather than envisioning future catastrophes, he's focusing now on how to build the political alliances necessary to find workable ways forward. His speech coincides with the release of his new book: A Blueprint for a Safer Planet.
Aside from stressing that the crucial question now is how to get developing nations(read: China) on board in Copenhagen - any deal must be "efficient and equitable," he noted - Stern's main point was that predicting and accepting doomsday could well be a self-fulfilling prophecy: "Collective pessimism about our inability to act will deliver an inability to act."
So what will holding global C02 levels to a livable level cost -- and who will pay? On the first question, Stern estimates about $2 trillion. On the second,well, that remains the big unknown.
Jens Nørgaard Larsen/AFP/Getty Images
An interesting editorial in The Guardian by a member of Britain's Royal Society, the country's national academy of science, announced -- with a bit of modesty bordering on self-skepticism -- plans to look into "geoengineering" schemes to combat climate change:
The Royal Society has set up a study group on geoengineering climate. Without the answers there will be no way to take sensible decisions on this issue, based on evidence and facts rather than beliefs and suppositions (either for or against the idea). It may well be that our study will conclude that such schemes are not feasible, or too costly, have serious side-effects, or are too difficult to control. But it may not; and it is likely that we will need a lot more information before we can really decide."
After this rather remarkable bit of don't-get-your-hopes-too-high-ism, John Shepherd, the author, gets around to defining just what geoengineering means:
Geoengineering schemes for moderating climate change come in two main flavours. First there are those that aim to increase the amount of sunlight that is reflected away from the Earth (currently about 30%) by a few percent more. Second there are some that aim to increase the rate at which CO2 is removed from the atmosphere, by enhancing the natural sinks for CO2, and maybe even by deliberately scrubbing it out of the air.
In other words, the Royal Society will be studying the possibility of reflecting sunlight away from the earth on a massive scale, and looking at new ways to sink CO2 into the ocean, or scrub clean the atmosphere. Pretty Jules Verne-seeming stuff, as Shepherd acknowledges:
If world leaders are unable to agree on effective action to deal with climate change ... we may in future be glad that someone took these ideas seriously. Seriously enough to separate the real science from the science fiction, anyway."
What's remarkable is that the Royal Society, founded in 1660, represents nothing if not the nation's crusty scientific establishment. And while the author presents these schemes with much hesitation and ado, it does seem an indicator of just how much more urgent, and desperate, the discussion over climate change is beginning to seem in the U.K.
Potential Twitter version: Bushies, asleep at switch, drunk on oil, missed boat."
Meanwhile, guess who's taken up the emerald green mantle?
It might be startling to realize that China is far outpacing the U.S. on green-energy investment."
He is picking up on a recent report by the Washington-based think tank, Center for American Progress: "We Must Seize the Energy Opportunity or Slip Further Behind."
Osnos is, I think, one of the finest correspondents writing from China today. But here I beg to differ. Or at least urge a bit of a reframing.
But let's put this in perspective: First, as a general point, China has had ambitious green goals for several years, especially on energy efficiency, but implementation still lags behind reality. Before we cheer, or worry, too much about Beijing's presumed green-technology progress, let's see what actually gets built. Large earmarks for infrastructure, green or otherwise, are particularly susceptible to local corruption. (The shiniest government office buildings in Lanzhou, capital of Gansu province, were built out of something called the"poverty reduction fund.") Alas, lately we've seen a relaxing of green construction standards in China for the sake of putting economic stimulus money to work quickly. In sum: Setting budgets and targets is easy; follow-through is harder.
Second, on the particular matter of green-energy investment, pretty please stop putting so much faith in the framing of the Center for American Progress. I like CAP. They do good work. But they also have a long-standing habit of beating up on U.S. policy by pointing out that even China is doing more. I'm not against beating up on the U.S., or against giving kudos to China when due. But I am wary of how this formula can lead to exaggerated estimations of what China is in fact doing. (A few years back, CAP put out similar statements when Beijing announced lofty, and as yet unmet, energy efficiency targets.)
Lastly, and most importantly, I think that highlighting the competition angle could ultimately be counter-productive, as fun as it is to envision a U.S. vs China jolly green smackdown. Stressing a rivalry could ultimately lead -- not necessarily in Osnos’s hands, but in looser, more politically-minded interpretations -- to the impression that the race for green energy is somehow a zero-sum game. That any progress made by China (again, let’s be careful to avoid exaggeration here) is somehow threatening to the U.S. Like if the Soviets got to the moon first; oh no. It’s us or them; only one racer breaks the ribbon; get off our green lunar pathway!
Some might argue that Americans do best when their competitive instincts are aroused. But I tend to agree with Charles McElwee, an environmental lawyer in Shanghai whom Osnos cites and whose insights I've long found valuable: Fanning the flames of us-vrs-them-ism -- in the context of global issue that isn't so much a race to win as to survive -- could backfire. It could undercut political support on Capitol Hill for cooperative efforts, technology sharing, and perhaps even climate-treaty negotiations.
For too long, on climate matters, the U.S. and China have been stuck in a dusty stalemate, with both sides refusing to budge first -- especially with regards to seriously considering carbon caps -- while they eye each other as threats, and competitors. Somehow this Gunsmoke scenario needs to end.
Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images
State-owned Venezuelan oil company Citgo finalized a deal yesterday to donate an island it owns in the Delaware river back to the state of New Jersey. Citgo built refineries on Petty Island decades ago but the facilities are no longer in use and the island has become a sanctuary for eagles and waterfowl. New Jersey plans to create a nature sanctuary on the island.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez trumpted the deal at last weekend's Summit of the Americas. According the Newark Star Ledger the involvement of Chavez spooked New Jersey governor Jon Corzine who decided not to attend the handover ceremony:
A ranking Corzine administration official, however, said the governor's office feared Chavez was planning to issue a video statement complimenting Corzine, which would prove potentially sticky for the Democrat during his re-election bid this year. The official said the concern was that Republicans would use a Chavez statement to paint Corzine as a "socialist."
You know things have gotten bad when the former CEO of Goldman Sachs is afraid of being called a socialist.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai doesn't have the best record of passing laws to protect the people in his country, but that's not to say that he's doing nothing. Radio Free Europe/Radio Libery reports that Karzai just signed a degree to, among other things, bans the use of hand grenades for fishing:
In the decree, Karzai appeals to the public to help protect wildlife and the environment. He also called on high-ranking provincial officials to strictly apply the orders and penalize violators.I have no idea how common this practice is, but it certainly does sound like something that shouldn't be allowed.
FP previously wrote about "Long Range Acoustic Devices" in our 2008 "stories you missed" list when we reported that U.S. companies were selling them in China.
Now it seems the LRAD -- a non-lethal weapon capable of causing nausea, panic and ear damage -- is possibly being employed by Japanese whaling ships to deter interfering environmentalists from the controversial Sea Shepherd Conservation Society:
In Japan, the government’s Fisheries Agency admitted that water sprays and “beeping warning tones” had been used against the environmentalists. A spokesman for the Institute of Cetacean Research, a government funded organisation which campaigns in the whaling cause, did not deny that the LRAD had been put to use. “All legal means available will be used to ensure these pirates do not board Japanese ships or threaten the lives of the crews or the safety of the vessels," Glenn Inwood said.
If the Japanese are in fact using the LRAD, the degree that spokesmen will go to in order to avoid calling it a weapon is becoming absurd. "Beeping warning tones" definitely trumps "directed-sounds communications system."
Photo: Department of Defense
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