Tom Athanasiou

Tom Athanasiou is a long-time left green, a former software engineer, a technology critic and, most recently, a climate justice activist. He is the author of Divided Planet: The Ecology of Rich and Poor and the co-author of Dead Heat: Global Justice and Global Warming. In 2000, with Paul Baer, he founded EcoEquity, an activist think tank focused on the development and promotion of fair and potentially viable approaches to emergency climate stabilization. This work has taken shape as the Greenhouse Development Rights Framework. Tom is now the director of EcoEquity.

From “peak oil” to “unburnable carbon”

Recall one version of the peaker story – peak oil as a repository of hope.  This is the take in which, despairing of other avenues to rapid, large-scale changes, we look to peak oil to at least save us from the more extreme forms of climate disaster.  The idea is that, as we burn our way through the peak, fossil fuels will get more expensive and this will tip the competitive balance to low-carbon energy sources.  So that despite the obvious reality of the day – let’s just say “governance failure” for the moment, and leave it at that – …

A ton of carbon, an imported widget, and thou

It’s been a long time coming, but a team led by Glen Peters, of the Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo, has finally published a comprehensive “consumption-side” analysis of global greenhouse-gas emission, one that takes international trade fully into account.   Estimates of “outsourced emissions” or “embodied carbon” have been knocking around for a while now, but this one is different.  This time the study – Growth in emission transfers via international trade from 1990 to 2008 — is comprehensive, and this time the publisher is the Proceedings of the US National Academy of Sciences, and that’s …

One year after Copenhagen, and counting

The first thing to say about the climate negotiations – meeting soon in sunny Mexico – is that they’re teetering at the edge of what, back in the day, we used to call a “legitimation crisis.”  On every side, folks are eager to suggest that the negotiations have become a waste of time.  It’s gotten to the point that people are apologizing for going to Cancun, as if it were bad for their image to be seen at the climate talks. Which, actually, is an odd turn of events.  Because if ever a moment was critical, it’s this one, midway …

You want Loopholes with that?

Meanwhile, back at the global negotiations

The bad news is that the climate/energy push just crashed and burned in the Senate. The good news is that, in the wake of that crash, the U.S. climate community is having a Big Think, one of the best in years. The last time we had such an exchange was back after what, for lack of a better term, I will call the Copenhagen Disappointment. Which raises an interesting question -- do we only debate, openly and seriously, after we lose?

The National Academies study, from a global point of view

A few days ago, I got mail from a colleague at Climate Action Network International, a communications guy, asking for a comment on the US National Academy of Science’s recent climate reports, or rather on the US emissions budget that is recommended / affirmed in these reports.   It turned out to be quite an interesting request.  First, though, I gotta say these reports only strengthen the scientific case.  For example, the IPCC’s 2007 Forth Assessment Report says that sea levels could rise by between 0.6 and 1.9 feet by 2100, but recent studies have suggested that this is far too …

Comparing U.S. and Chinese climate

Getting China wrong

It’s been a long time since Copenhagen. A few weeks after it ended, chatting to a friend about some stupid comments I’d overhead during that long last night, he said that “everyone gets a pass for anything they said during the first week.”  The first week after Copenhagen is what he meant — a time of exhaustion and near despair in international climate circles.  I bring this up because some of the stupid things that were said during that first week are still with us. There were plenty of them, of course, but this post doesn’t pretend to be comprehensive. …

Compromise or COP out?

Rough initial thoughts on the Copenhagen Accord

Copenhagen was obviously a failure — at least if you judge it by “the numbers,” the formal emission targets and financial commitments that are needed to support a fair and effective emergency global climate mobilization. If you judge it, that is, by what is necessary. The more pressing question, though, is whether Copenhagen was a failure when judged against, not what is necessary, but rather what was possible. This is a much more difficult question, and it has far more to do with judgment than with calculation. And, here, very little is obvious. At the moment, I’m willing only to …

Desmond Tutu (with a little help from the scientific community) explains Africa's position

There’s been so much bad journalism written from Copenhagen that it boggles the mind. The problem has been particularlly acute with respect to the developing world’s refusal to quietly accept the wealthy world’s many and various moves to evade its obligations. In fact, the Africans have good reasons for their uncompromising positioning.  To see why, read the public letter that Desmond Tutu just released.  It is below in its entirety.  It was sent to all heads of state and Christian leader Your excellency I write urgently to you after meeting last night with the Chainperson of the G77 at his …

Desmond Tutu (with a little help from the scientific community) explains Africa's position

There’s been so much bad journalism written from Copenhagen that it boggles the mind. The problem has been particularly acute with respect to the developing world’s refusal to quietly accept the wealthy world’s many and various moves to evade its obligations. In fact, the Africans have good reasons for their uncompromising positioning.  You can see why in this, a public letter that Desmond Tutu just sent to all heads of state and Christian leaders.  Here it is in its entirety: Your Excellency I write urgently to you after meeting last night with the Charperson of the G77 at his request.  …