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U.S. Lethargy at Copenhagen Might Be Best for Climate

Emily Badger, Miller-McCune
The U.S. Senate’s balkiness at passing a weak-kneed symbolic climate plan leaves an open door to a genuine and meaningful American bill.

Al Gore ominously predicted in September that “the road to Copenhagen goes through the U.S. Senate.” It was his not-so-subtle way of suggesting that the global community couldn’t do much during climate negotiations in Denmark if the U.S. didn’t first pass legislation at home.

The Copenhagen summit is set to begin in one week, and President Obama just announced on Wednesday that he plans to attend. But as is widely expected — by even Obama himself — no dramatic announcements, breakthroughs or photo ops are on tap. So should we — and the world — blame the Senate, the upper chamber of Congress with notoriously finicky procedural hurdles?

The easy answer, and one shared by many disappointed environmentalists, is yes. Here’s another:

“We should thank the Senate,” said Robert Stavins, director of the Harvard Project on International Climate Agreements. “We should thank this administration for the fact that international action, when it happens, is going to be meaningful, not symbolic. I feel that very strongly, having spent huge amounts of time studying and working in international climate change, that there’s one kind of agreement that could be achieved in Copenhagen, and that would be the Kyoto protocol on steroids.”…
(30 Nov 2009)

Global warming is happening now

Eric French, revistaamauta
Weather is becoming extreme. By extreme, we mean heat is suffocating when it’s hot, rain turns into floods, forests and crops into deserts. Disease is spreading, life essentials like food and water are becoming scarce and human life itself is in the edge of extinction.

We are trying to find a way to survive: to guarantee a succession of our insignificant but (sometimes) wonderful human acts, to continue our potential of creation despite our tendency to destroy. Yet because this destructive selfishness has trumped collective action, we are dooming our chances in favor of the unsustainable capitalist system. Survival, like everything else in our society, is for sale for those who are able to afford it. And so, we are just delaying what would be inevitable if we don’t offer different solutions. The rich live in comfort, for now, while the rest are already dealing with the problems of global warming.

“These issues like climate change that seem abstract to many people are affecting people like me today,” said Jihan Gearon, a Diné (Navajo) and African American from Arizona who works as a Native Energy Organizer for the Indigenous Environmental Network.

As part of the New Voices on Climate Change tour, organized by the Global Justice Ecology Project, Gearon talked to a group of concerned Providence citizens on how environmental destruction and climate change is affecting low-income communities of color in the United States by showing the current impact within Native American reservations such as her own…
(21 Nov 2009)

Climate and Capitalism

Rupert Read, Climate and Capitalism
It is day six of the ’scandal’ over the hacked emails from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia’s School of Environmental Sciences, in which a thousand or so private email messages between climate scientists were hacked into and made public. According to the ostriches hoping that Copenhagen will fail, these emails demonstrate that climate-science is in serious trouble. Nothing could be further from the truth.

If you need a full backgrounder on the ‘scandal’, see the University of East Anglia’s statement, which includes a direct rebuttal of the single seemingly most-damaging e-mail, which read:

I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.

See also the Guardian’s initial coverage, and Carbon Fixated’s post on Newtongate for a brilliant historical parallel and parody of James Delingpole’s hysteria in the Telegraph.

The University of East Anglia is where I work and teach. The ‘scandal’ here has I think been gotten out of all proportion in some of the media, old and new. I have now read a good number of the ‘worst’ of the hacked emails. I also know a couple of the protagonists personally, and for human-interest value the hacked emails certainly do offer some tidbits. But when the dust settles, I predict that the climate-deniers will be left holding onto hardly anything here.

…Some good that may come out of this is:
1. For more people to realise that scientists are simply human, and that science is not holy writ, but to realise too that these facts and the poor behaviour at times of some scientists doesn’t in itself cast any doubt over the central findings of their research. To doubt the greenhouse effect or to doubt major anthropogenic climate change is about as sensible as doubting anthropogenic lung cancer (The two cases are actually quite similar – both involve pollution of a finite air-system; and both have seen long-lasting and well-funded campaigns of denial. The smoking companies got away with denying anthropogenic lung cancer for a whole generation, before they were finally smoked out.)

2. There are quite a lot of calls now for the full data-sets which the best British climate scientists base their work and their predictions on to be made fully public. That would I think be welcome, and the UEA climate-scientists should step up efforts to realise this aspiration – it would among other things dispose of the climate-sceptics’ silly accusations of there being a conspiracy here, of something big being hidden.

3. There do seem to be a few instances in the hacked emails – if these particular ones are genuine – of clearly unethical and possibly unlawful behaviour. If this hacking episode means that there is less of that in future, then that will of course be a very positive result. That is presumably why the UEA administration have now initiated an independent review, “which will address the issue of data security, an assessment of how we responded to a deluge of Freedom of Information requests, and any other relevant issues which the independent reviewer advises should be addressed”…
(28 Nov 2009)

The Manufactured Doubt industry and the hacked email controversy

Dr. Jeff Masters, wunderground blog
In 1954, the tobacco industry realized it had a serious problem. Thirteen scientific studies had been published over the preceding five years linking smoking to lung cancer. With the public growing increasingly alarmed about the health effects of smoking, the tobacco industry had to move quickly to protect profits and stem the tide of increasingly worrisome scientific news. Big Tobacco turned to one the world’s five largest public relations firms, Hill and Knowlton, to help out. Hill and Knowlton designed a brilliant Public Relations (PR) campaign to convince the public that smoking is not dangerous. They encouraged the tobacco industry to set up their own research organization, the Council for Tobacco Research (CTR), which would produce science favorable to the industry, emphasize doubt in all the science linking smoking to lung cancer, and question all independent research unfavorable to the tobacco industry. The CTR did a masterful job at this for decades, significantly delaying and reducing regulation of tobacco products. George Washington University epidemiologist David Michaels, who is President Obama’s nominee to head the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), wrote a meticulously researched 2008 book called, Doubt is Their Product: How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health. In the book, he wrote: “the industry understood that the public is in no position to distinguish good science from bad. Create doubt, uncertainty, and confusion. Throw mud at the anti-smoking research under the assumption that some of it is bound to stick. And buy time, lots of it, in the bargain”. The title of Michaels’ book comes from a 1969 memo from a tobacco company executive: “Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the minds of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy”. Hill and Knowlton, on behalf of the tobacco industry, had founded the “Manufactured Doubt” industry.

The Manufactured Doubt industry grows up
As the success of Hill and Knowlton’s brilliant Manufactured Doubt campaign became apparent, other industries manufacturing dangerous products hired the firm to design similar PR campaigns. In 1967, Hill and Knowlton helped asbestos industry giant Johns-Manville set up the Asbestos Information Association (AIA). The official-sounding AIA produced “sound science” that questioned the link between asbestos and lung diseases (asbestos currently kills 90,000 people per year, according to the World Health Organization). Manufacturers of lead, vinyl chloride, beryllium, and dioxin products also hired Hill and Knowlton to devise product defense strategies to combat the numerous scientific studies showing that their products were harmful to human health.

By the 1980s, the Manufactured Doubt industry gradually began to be dominated by more specialized “product defense” firms and free enterprise “think tanks”. Michaels wrote in Doubt is Their Product about the specialized “product defense” firms: “Having cut their teeth manufacturing uncertainty for Big Tobacco, scientists at ChemRisk, the Weinberg Group, Exponent, Inc., and other consulting firms now battle the regulatory agencies on behalf of the manufacturers of benzene, beryllium, chromium, MTBE, perchlorates, phthalates, and virtually every other toxic chemical in the news today….Public health interests are beside the point. This is science for hire, period, and it is extremely lucrative”.

Joining the specialized “product defense” firms were the so-called “think tanks”. These front groups received funding from manufacturers of dangerous products and produced “sound science” in support of their funders’ products, in the name of free enterprise and free markets. Think tanks such as the George C. Marshall Institute, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Heartland Institute, and Dr. Fred Singer’s SEPP (Science and Environmental Policy Project) have all been active for decades in the Manufactured Doubt business, generating misleading science and false controversy to protect the profits of their clients who manufacture dangerous products…
(25 Nov 2009)

Disagreeable truth about the coming Copenhagen charade

Peter Hartcher, Sydney Morning Herald
We are about to see an advanced case of ”agreementism” between world leaders at the Copenhagen climate change meeting. It is a painful and embarrassing disorder with familiar results.

Every case begins the same way. Leaders gather in summits. They confer. They reach earnest consensus that they need to solve a common problem. They commission studies and agree to meet again. Next time, they tell reporters, they will make real decisions.

This looks terrifically statesmanlike and carries lots of photo opportunities. But then they realise it will be unpopular and difficult to implement necessary reforms. Troubled, the weaker among the leaders gaze into their quivering souls and choose self-preservation over problem-solving. At this instant, the fire of activism departs.

But their huffing and puffing self-promotion has built a peak of expectation. They can’t just walk away and admit failure. The conditions are now ripe – the next time the leaders gather, agreementism sets in…
(24 Nov 2009)

Is global warming unstoppable?

Press Release, The University of Utah News Center
In a provocative new study, a University of Utah scientist argues that rising carbon dioxide emissions – the major cause of global warming – cannot be stabilized unless the world’s economy collapses or society builds the equivalent of one new nuclear power plant each day.

“It looks unlikely that there will be any substantial near-term departure from recently observed acceleration in carbon dioxide emission rates,” says the new paper by Tim Garrett, an associate professor of atmospheric sciences.

Garrett’s study was panned by some economists and rejected by several journals before acceptance by Climatic Change, a journal edited by renowned Stanford University climate scientist Stephen Schneider. The study will be published online this week.

The study – which is based on the concept that physics can be used to characterize the evolution of civilization – indicates:

Energy conservation or efficiency doesn’t really save energy, but instead spurs economic growth and accelerated energy consumption.

Throughout history, a simple physical “constant” – an unchanging mathematical value – links global energy use to the world’s accumulated economic productivity, adjusted for inflation. So it isn’t necessary to consider population growth and standard of living in predicting society’s future energy consumption and resulting carbon dioxide emissions.

“Stabilization of carbon dioxide emissions at current rates will require approximately 300 gigawatts of new non-carbon-dioxide-emitting power production capacity annually – approximately one new nuclear power plant (or equivalent) per day,” Garrett says. “Physically, there are no other options without killing the economy”…

The Urgent Threat To World Peace Is … Canada

George Monbiot,
When you think of Canada, which qualities come to mind? The world’s peace-keeper, the friendly nation, a liberal counterweight to the harsher pieties of its southern neighbour, decent, civilised, fair, well-governed? Think again. This country’s government is now behaving with all the sophistication of a chimpanzee’s tea party. So amazingly destructive has Canada become, and so insistent have my Canadian friends been that I weigh into this fight, that I’ve broken my self-imposed ban on flying and come to Toronto.

So here I am, watching the astonishing spectacle of a beautiful, cultured nation turning itself into a corrupt petrostate. Canada is slipping down the development ladder, retreating from a complex, diverse economy towards dependence on a single primary resource, which happens to be the dirtiest commodity known to man. The price of this transition is the brutalisation of the country, and a government campaign against multilateralism as savage as any waged by George Bush.

Until now I believed that the nation which has done most to sabotage a new climate change agreement was the United States. I was wrong. The real villain is Canada. Unless we can stop it, the harm done by Canada in December 2009 will outweigh a century of good works.

In 2006 the new Canadian government announced that it was abandoning its targets to cut greenhouse gases under the Kyoto Protocol. No other country that had ratified the treaty has done this. Canada was meant to have cut emissions by 6% between 1990 and 2012. Instead they have already risen by 26%(1).

It’s now clear that Canada will refuse to be sanctioned for abandoning its legal obligations. The Kyoto Protocol can be enforced only through goodwill: countries must agree to accept punitive future obligations if they miss their current targets. But the future cut Canada has volunteered is smaller than that of any other rich nation(2). Never mind special measures; it won’t accept even an equal share. The Canadian government is testing the international process to destruction and finding that it breaks all too easily. By demonstrating that climate sanctions aren’t worth the paper they’re written on, it threatens to render any treaty struck at Copenhagen void…
(1 Dec 2009)