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Gordon Brown and the carbon cop-out

John Vidal , The Guardian
With green issues a hot political topic, environmentalists were hoping Gordon Brown’s budget would tackle climate change head on. It was certainly on the agenda, but John Vidal looks at the reality behind the rhetoric
For just a few hours last Wednesday, the broad British environmental movement toyed with the idea that Gordon Brown was transforming himself into Gordon Green. After nine years of saying the environment was important, and then doing little, the supremely confident chancellor appeared to be throwing around green money, green ideas and green initiatives.

“I want the UK’s homes and businesses to be the most energy efficient in the world,” he said – and it looked as if he meant it. Micro-power was to get £50m seed money, there were to be tax reforms, drivers of gas-guzzling 4x4s were to be penalised and smaller cars rewarded, 250,000 homes were to be better insulated, biofuels and energy saving encouraged.

…But even as environment groups, local authorities and a newly-committed businesses sector held their breath, it dawned that they had all mostly fallen for the oldest trick of the political game. The consensus slowly emerged that the chancellor had stroked them, told them they were important, handed out a few bones, but left them in the end with little.
(29 March 2006)
Related from Green Car Congress: UK Cuts its Carbon Dioxide Climate Change Target for 2010; Transportation a Stubborn Problem.

Global warming: be very afraid
Interview with Elizabeth Kolbert

Mark Anderson, Wired
…when Elizabeth Kolbert, a staff writer for The New Yorker, surveyed the world’s leading climate scientists, she discovered an alarming unanimity to their message: The world needs to wake up, and fast.

Author of a three-part New Yorker series on climate change last year, Kolbert has collected her work in one slim volume. Published this month, Field Notes From a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change is already being compared favorably to landmark environmental tome Silent Spring.

…Wired News: Many people seem to think that climate change is an issue involving a few scientists, not society as a whole. But your book makes it clear that climate change is more than just a science story.

Elizabeth Kolbert: I really tried to impress upon people … how we cannot wait. Even now, as global warming is starting to be made manifest in the world, we have determined the climate now for the next half-century. We will not see the full effects of what we have done for decades. (NASA climate scientist) James Hansen said, if we continue on this path, then by the end of this century, we will have committed ourselves to a world that is so warm as to be practically a different planet.

…WN: You talk about David Rind’s work — predicting rampant drought conditions afflicting much of the continental United States within 50 years if greenhouse gas emissions continue at business-as-usual levels.

Kolbert: (In the book) he says that, “I wouldn’t be surprised if by 2100 most things are destroyed.” But he’s certainly a very cool guy, not a hysterical person. He’s a scientist, and he’s just looking at the evidence.

WN: On the other hand, sometimes societal change can happen very quickly. Hit a social tipping point, and suddenly everything’s different. And that could be a very good thing.

Kolbert: I think you do see out there in the world … an increasing awareness. We here in the Northeast just barely had a winter. I think that anyone who has lived through the past winters certainly has been given pause. So we’re starting to see the argument that “there’s nothing going on” dissipating.

Then you get to the second question, and that’s what are we going to do about it? If you want to be really brutally honest, this is not a problem that can be solved. The warming that we’ve seen so far is estimated to be only half of what (the CO2 already in the atmosphere will cause). It’s a problem that you can only say, “In order to prevent this from becoming absolutely catastrophic, perhaps we can do this.” But that (is) going to take a monumental effort.
(29 March 2006)

The New Hot Zones
Books, films and a slick ad campaign make global warming the topic du jour.

Jerry Adler, Newsweek
In the din and clamor of issues competing for public attention, there’s an inner circle of causes that virtually define good citizenship. Who would argue that a mind isn’t a terrible thing to waste? The quasi-official gatekeeper to this pantheon is the Ad Council, which deploys more than $1 billion in donated media time and space each year for a few dozen carefully vetted, slickly produced messages. Last week a new issue got the Ad Council’s blessing, a potential catastrophe that could make college dropouts the least of our worries: global warming.

The council’s two new TV spots were released on the same day as the première of a lavishly produced documentary, “The Great Warming,” and in the same month as two major books on the subject: “The Weather Makers” by Australian biologist Tim Flannery and “Field Notes From a Catastrophe” by journalist Elizabeth Kolbert. May will also see the release of “An Inconvenient Truth,” a film and book about Al Gore’s one-man crusade against warming
(3 April 2006)
Unfortunately, later in the article reporter Adler falls prey to that great failure of US media coverage of climate change — the delusion that there is still a “debate.” Rather than seeking to get to the truth about the issue, he dutifully covers both “sides” — never mind that on one side is the scientific consensus. See next article for more.

Was confusion over global warming a con job?

Geoff Morrell, ABC
Some Claim Disinformation Campaign Attempted to Create the Impression Scientists Were Broadly Divided
American attitudes about global warming are shifting, according to a new poll by ABC News, Time magazine and Stanford University – but it has taken years for the public perception of the problem to catch up with the warnings.

That lack of concern may have been just what big oil wanted.

It’s not as if the information hasn’t been out there: A new ad by the Environmental Defense Fund warns time is running out to combat climate change, adding, “Our future is up to you.”

But Virginia’s top climatologist doesn’t buy it.

“The American people have just been bludgeoned with climate disaster stories for God knows how long,” said the climatologist, Pat Michaels, “and they’re just, they’ve got disaster fatigue.” Michaels is one of a handful of skeptics still downplaying the danger. But they are a tiny minority. The vast majority of scientists has determined global warming to be a real threat. So why has it taken so long to convince Americans?

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ross Gelbspan blames a 15-year misinformation campaign by the oil and coal industries.

“The point of this campaign was not necessarily to persuade the public that global warming isn’t happening,” Gelbspan said. “It was to persuade the public that there is this state of confusion.”

…The industry’s influence even extends into the White House – where up until a few months ago a former oil industry lobbyist, Phil Cooney, chief of staff at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, was one of the president’s top environmental advisers, editing scientific reports to make global warming seem less threatening.
(26 March 2006)

Slum Like It Not
In the world’s slums, the worst of poverty and environmental degradation collide

Mike Davis, Grist
…All the classical principles of urban planning, including the preservation of open space and the separation of noxious land uses from residences, are stood on their heads in poor cities. Almost every large Third World city with some industrial base has a Dantean district shrouded in pollution and located next to pipelines, chemical plants, and refineries: Mexico City’s Iztapalapa, São Paulo’s Cubatão, Rio’s Belford Roxo, Jakarta’s Cibubur, Tunis’s southern fringe, southwestern Alexandria, and so on. The world usually pays attention to such fatal admixtures of poverty and toxic industry only when they explode with mass casualties, as happened at Bhopal, India, in 1984, when an accident at a Union Carbide chemical plant killed 20,000 people.

Urban theorists have long recognized that the environmental efficiency and public affluence of cities require the preservation of ecosystems, open spaces, and natural services: cities need them to recycle urban waste products into usable inputs for farming, gardening, and energy production. And along with intact wetlands and agriculture, sustainable urbanism presupposes a basic level of safety — of meteorological, hydrological, and geological stability, and protection against disasters like floods or fire. None of those conditions can hold in most Third World cities. Suffering under a series of crushing pressures, most recently a quarter-century-old regime of Draconian international economic policies, cities are systematically polluting, urbanizing, and destroying their crucial environmental support systems.

Wealthy cities in vulnerable sites such as Los Angeles or Tokyo can reduce geological or meteorological risk through massive engineering projects. And national flood insurance programs, together with fire and earthquake insurance, can guarantee residential repair and rebuilding in the event of extensive damage. In the Third World, by contrast, slums that lack potable water and latrines are unlikely to be defended by expensive public works or covered by disaster insurance.

Researchers writing in the journal Cities point out that foreign debt makes such infrastructure investment ever more unlikely.

Mike Davis is a MacArthur Fellow and the author of Late Victorian Holocausts and Ecology of Fear. He lives in San Diego and teaches at the University of California, Irvine. This article is adapted from his latest book, Planet of Slums.
(29 March 2006)