The world's 1,700 mountain caribou can chomp their lichens in peace -- Forest Ethics and a coalition of Canadian environmental groups announced an agreement with the British Columbia government to protect more than 5 million acres of their home habitat in British Columbia's forests. The victory came after a five-year campaign targeting corporations and the regional government that either logged mountain caribou habitat or used paper from the mountainous, old growth forests favored by the caribou, which are not only the southernmost population of caribou but also the only remaining caribou population in the world in mountainous terrain. This isn't just good news for the mountain caribou and the forests, but also predators like mountain lions and wolves who eat the caribou -- the B.C. government had been focused on shooting those animals as a way to protect the caribou; now, they're going to seriously curtail these culls. The campaign had won a major boost when Limited Brands, which publishes the Victoria's Secret catalog, announced it would no longer buy paper derived from mountain caribou forests. The victory came after environmental activists dressed as Victoria's Secret angels showed up outside stores with chainsaws in hand denouncing "Victoria's Dirty Secret" -- that the company was driving the destruction of pristine forests around the world.
A little tenderness Cartoon: Bob Englehart; Hartford Courant. I'm excited that Environmental Defense is now saying publicly, in response to criticism from Matt Stoller and me, that it "has not endorsed" the Lieberman-Warner bill and that it "will work to strengthen the bill, particularly to achieve the deeper long-term emissions reductions scientists tell us we need to avoid a climate catastrophe." That's great, but I must note it's a sentiment that was distinctly lacking from the statement ED put out in response to the bill, which mainly offered a passionate defense, or the fund-raising letter it sent out to activists (thanks Roger Smith for posting this). True, it did include one line that said, "This bill is a good start in that direction [of 80 percent emissions deductions], and we will continue to work in that direction." But the clear implication was that they would push for those commitments through some future legislative mechanism. In contrast, almost every other major environmental group gave the bill qualified praise, but also clearly stated that the bill should be improved to get the maximum possible greenhouse-gas reductions (I do wish Environmental Defense had acknowledged this difference a little more explicitly in its post rather than just doing selective quoting -- let's try to be fair here!). That's the right strategy, and I'm psyched that Environmental Defense is now on board.
Over at OpenLeft.com, the always devastating Matt Stoller writes that "the green civil wars need to begin." He's urging other environmental groups to go after Environmental Defense for offering a ringing endorsement of the latest Warner-Lieberman climate bill. Environmental Defense is justifying a large corporate giveaway under the rubric of environmentalism, and the rest of the green community is letting ED get away with it. In terms of the policy, Environmental Defense is alone here. The green groups are remarkably polite to each other, as most of them started in the 1970s convinced that protecting the environment was a value system. At the time, it might have been. Today, the question is how to manage a commons, and these groups just don't agree with each other. There is no movement around the environment anymore, there are progressives, corporatists, and deniers, all fighting over a large multi-trillion dollar rapidly shrinking commons. The lack of robust internal debate among green groups means that ED's Fred Krupp can nonetheless speak for "the environmental movement," scoop up his corporate money, and throw everyone else to the curb. Having worked in the environmental movement, I've got to say that there is loads of "robust internal debate" and I know from my environmental friends that there has been very spirited debate on this exact issue within the green groups. But on the larger point, Matt is spot-on. Environmental Defense is once again destroying the unity of the environmental movement by endorsing this bill now despite some major weaknesses. In contrast, other environmental groups like Sierra Club are working hard to improve the bill -- and are reserving judgment until the final details are hammered out.
Yesterday, Grist published my investigation of why the environmental movement has been relatively slow and cautious in fighting the U.S.-Mexico border wall, one of the greatest manmade disasters to ever strike the Western landscape and Western wildlife. Of course, these articles have to be readable, so I wasn't able to delve into all the details of the politics of the border wall. But I wanted to share with Gristmill readers the part of the investigation that didn't make it into the article -- about how stopping the border wall could represent a major opportunity for environmental groups to build alliances and members in a region of the country that, despite strong pro-environment sentiment, hasn't traditionally been thought of as the environmental movement's heartland. Enjoy (and I'd love your thoughts in the comments section).
The Bush administration, Costa Rica, Conservation International, and The Nature Conservancy will today announce a "debt-for-nature" swap that could herald something bigger in the future. The United States will write off $12.6 million in debt owed it by Costa Rica. In exchange, Costa Rica will protect some of the most valuable rainforest wildlife habitat in the world. Photo: obooble This follows the Bush administration's support for an even bigger swap with Guatemala. Of course, the sums involved and the area conserved are relatively puny compared to the global forest destruction caused by the Bush administration, especially through its support for tropically grown biofuels that require deforestation to be grown. But the Bush administration has always had two sides to its tropical forest policy. Although it's happy to help Cargill, ADM, and other agrigiants despoil the last remaining tropical forests, it's also expressed quiet backing for carbon ranching -- allowing polluters to get global warming credit for protecting forests instead of cleaning up pollution at their own facilities. They like it because saving carbon through protecting forests is generally a lot cheaper than cleaning up industrial pollution, and we should like it because that means we can keep a lot more carbon out of the atmosphere a lot quicker -- and save the forests, their wildlife, and their indigenous people at the same time. Of course, the Bush administration's quiet backing of this concept is completely worthless right now until the Bush administration backs strict, mandatory limits on greenhouse-gas pollution. Until they do, polluters will have no incentive to actually go ahead and protect those forests (or clean up their own pollution). But that support -- and today's forest conservation actions -- signals that forest conservation may provide some common ground between Democrats and the White House on stopping the climate crisis.
The bobcat turned, looked at me, and jumped into the mesquite brush. It was the first day of a three-day visit to South Texas, and I was exploring the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge along the Rio Grande River. Seeing the bobcat was a treat for me — but the kind of treat that could become increasingly rare if the Bush administration and Congress go ahead with plans to build between 370 and 700 miles of double-layered concrete wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The efficacy of this plan to keep out “unwanted” foreigners is dubious at best, and highly controversial. …
Tonight will witness the biggest social event of the D.C. environmental calendar: the Green Corps 15th anniversary bash. All the green glitterati will be there to honor Rep. Ed Markey and John Lewis with awards -- and more importantly, to raise money to support training organizers for the environmental movement. I've been helping out with the event for the last few months and I'm excited about it. It's made me reflect on how much the environmental movement has changed since I graduated from the year-long Green Corps organizing fellowship in 2002 -- and think anew about the relative importance of organizing to other methods of achieving social change. For those who don't know, Green Corps is the field school for environmental organizing. It generally takes 20-35 recent college graduates (out of more than 800 who apply!) and trains them in all the basic skills that go into running and winning an environmental (or really any social change or political) campaign. Then you get sent out somewhere in America to lead an environmental campaign yourself, working under the banner of a local, state, or national environmental group. My first campaign, for instance, was to work with Greenpeace to secure $5 billion in financing from the California government for clean energy financing. It's a lot more responsibility than most people think they'll have right out of college, and when you win, as you often do, it's hard not to embrace organizing for the long run, as most Green Corps organizers do. As a result, they've gone on to do amazing work with everyone from the Sierra Club to Move On and the Gulf Restoration Network. During my Green Corps year from 2001 to 2002, though, organizing was almost all we had. It was difficult for national environmental groups to get big-time media coverage of any environmental issue, much less the climate crisis, which seemed to be going nowhere as long as President Bush was in office. Now, since An Inconvenient Truth hit movie screens, it seems like everything is media: whether you read Women's Wear Daily, watch NBC or Fox, or read your local paper, the planet is hot, hot, hot! That change has had a huge impact, altering the spectrum of what's possible: we no longer have to beg for crumbs or think up cartoonish stunts to get attention (though no one should estimate the power of a cartoonish stunt to get attention). Suddenly, even Republican presidential candidates are forced to address the climate crisis and Democrats in Congress are actually considering fairly ambitious climate legislation. People across the country are making small changes to their own lives that might add up to something. More importantly, politicians at every level are more willing to give pro-environment legislation time on the agenda. Here's why I keep coming back to organizing -- and think the environmental movement needs to continue to focus on building its long-term organizing capacity rather than becoming overly enthralled with a pure media approach:
Yesterday I went through a day-long fast for Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, a day of atonement, and the climax of the Days of Awe. We Jews usually start to get hungry by the afternoon. So it's worthwhile to remember that Ted Glick was likely really hungry in Day 18 of his fast to solve the climate crisis, something probably even more important to God than the condition of our souls. Check out this video from Ted on Day 17:
Gear up your brains and flex those diatribe muscles, carbon offset nerds -- the offset debate is coming to the Capitol, and you're all invited to participate. Institute of Ecosystem Studies Dr. William Schlesinger is going to be speaking at 6:00 pm this Thursday on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., about his recent work on the interaction between forests and climate -- and its implications for how and whether carbon offsets should be allowed. I'm on the board of the American Lands Alliance, the organization sponsoring the event, and we'd like to get some hot questions to fire at Schlesinger -- which is where Gristmill's offset nerd legions come in. If you're an outside-the-Beltway climate nerd, feel free to ask questions in the comments section below. If you're an inside the Beltway climate nerd, you should just come. Schlesinger, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, is one of the top authorities on this topic -- and he's shown a rare willingness, for a scientist, to venture into the policy and political arena. In 2005, for instance, he endorsed a carbon tax, calling it "potentially the most effective means to improve our energy-use efficiency and reduce carbon dioxide emissions." He also serves on the board of TerraPass, a company that provides offsets to people and corporations that pollute. American Lands invited Schlesinger because we're very concerned about the impact a massive expansion in biofuels production could have on wildlands, in national forests and elsewhere. If we're cutting down ancient forests to grow woody biomass tree farms, it will be neither climate nor ecosystem friendly. But we're also intrigued by the possibility of allowing polluters to get carbon credits for protecting intact ancient forests. Conceivably, it could radically alter the financial incentives in national forests and elsewhere so that timber companies and others could make more money by helping restore forests than logging them. But, if not carefully managed, there's also potential for abuse. Such a system is largely dependent on having a robust cap-and-trade or cap-and-auction system in place as well; if we adopt a carbon tax, does that mean that forests and other native ecosystems won't benefit from the massive investments in tackling the climate crisis?