To slow climate change and protect the world's vulnerable poor from the effects of global warming, the West is going to have to give developing nations a hand. And that hand will need to come in the form of cold, hard cash.
Unfortunately, not a lot of that is on offer right now. That fact will take center stage during international climate talks in Poland over the next two weeks.
The U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change's next Conference of the Parties, commonly known as a COP, begins Monday in Warsaw. Officials representing nearly 200 countries will bicker and beg as they try to move forward in the quest for a new agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol. That deal was struck way back in 1997. The U.S. never ratified it, Canada ultimately walked away from it, and the agreement expired last year. It's been sticky-taped together through amendments to extend its life until a new agreement can be reached.
During COP talks in Durban, South Africa, in 2011, delegates struck a deal to strike a deal: They agreed to finalize an agreement by 2015 to replace the Kyoto Protocol. The new agreement would cap warming at 2 degrees Celsius (3.7 Fahrenheit) and begin to take force in 2020 -- and that's under a best-case scenario. Which is also a horrible-case scenario, given that the world's annual greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise every year.
The issue of equity is always one of the biggest sticking points in U.N. climate talks. How much should rich countries sacrifice and how much should developing countries sacrifice as they try to curb emissions together? It was during the talks in Durban that a solution to this conundrum was concocted: Rich countries would provide $100 billion a year by 2020 to help developing countries reduce emissions and adapt to the warming world.
Residents of the Gardens, a predominantly African American and Latino neighborhood in Mount Holly, N.J., brought the case against the township's governing officials. Those officials made plans in 2003 to demolish the entire Gardens neighborhood, saying it was too blighted to remain, so that they could build new, expensive housing in its place. They planned this “to save the people from that neighborhood,” as one unnamed former township official told Adam Serwer in his in-depth report on the case for MSNBC. (For a fuller profile of the neighborhood and the dispute, I highly recommend reading his story.)
But while this protracted legal battle started out as a group of residents fighting to save their homes, it has become a referendum on a pivotal legal standard under civil rights law. That legal standard, called “disparate impact,” allows a minority group to sue if it can prove that the effects of plans or policies will result in racial discrimination -- without having to prove that planners or policymakers intentionally set out to discriminate.
We told you on Monday about an open letter penned by James Hansen and three other prominent climate scientists calling on the world to ramp up development and deployment of "safer" nuclear power. The scientists argue that renewable energy isn't enough to spare the world from the wrath of global warming, and that the power of the atom needs to be better tapped to help get us off fossil fuels.
The issue of nuclear power bitterly divides environmentalists, so plenty of people were not pleased to hear Hansen, a darling of climate-activism circles, leading a call for more nuke power. Many of the environmentalists and scientists who have written rebuttals in recent days have focused on safety concerns and the flailing economics of nuclear power. Here are excerpts from a few of those rebuttals.
It was a textbook example of a corporation looking to buy an election result. After spending $1 million in a failed attempt to stifle local energy freedom in 2011, Xcel Energy poured over $500,000 of ratepayer money into a ballot measure to hamstring Boulder, Colo.'s exploration of a locally owned alternative to the largely fossil-fueled monopoly utility.
On Tuesday, people power buried Xcel. By a margin of 2-to-1, Boulder voters resoundingly rejected Question 310. As Stephen Fenberg of New Era Colorado said late that night, “Go home, Xcel. Your money is no good here.”
At stake was one community’s multi-year effort to power itself in a fashion that is more friendly to the local economy, to the climate, and to local oversight. It had previously culminated in a tough ballot fight in November 2011, when Xcel used ratepayer money to outspend locals 10-to-1 and still lost, as Boulder citizens narrowly granted the city permission to explore a clean-power-focused, city-owned utility.
Since then, the city and its citizen allies have turned traditional thinking on its head, envisioning a city-owned electric utility that maximizes local benefit rather than shareholder returns, that generates power in town rather than importing it, and that maximizes renewable energy instead of clinging to fossil fuels. They have rigorously studied other city-run utilities (29 others in Colorado alone) to learn best practices for running a local electric system. They have shown that switching to a locally owned utility could nearly triple renewable energy, halve greenhouse gas emissions, and compete on price with their current two-faced corporate overlords.
The opening scene in 12 Years a Slave shows the main character, Solomon Northup, an African American born free but fraudulently sold into slavery, standing with other enslaved black men amidst sugar cane stalks rivaling their height. It’s the 1840s, Deep South Louisiana, and the men have no more value than the sugar around them. A white slave driver demonstrates how they should swing their machetes to shear the cane stalks and roots with precision, so as not to render the crop unfit for processing.
“Don’t be scared of ’em,” the driver implores.
The enslaved men could use the blades as instruments of liberation, especially given that they clearly outnumber their drivers. But throughout the movie you watch in horror as their masters swing whips, boards, and even bottles at them with the same overarm fury demonstrated in the cane stalking, breaking any defiant spirit in the process.
12 Years a Slave, which opens in theaters nationwide on Friday, is the cinematic rendition of Northup’s memoir of the same name, first published in 1853. His story of how he was kidnapped and separated from his wife and children in Saratoga, N.Y., and tossed into the vortex of Southern chattel slavery was an awakening account of the atrocities of slavery during a time when many believed Southern slaves were unbothered by their condition.
It’s a classic American tale of white supremacy, evinced by the slave owners’ frequent fondling and flogging of innocent black laborers, and by the way slave owners pillage almost every sign of life they encounter on the Southern landscape. “The existence of Slavery in its most cruel form among them, has a tendency to brutalize the humane and finer feelings of their nature,” Northup wrote of the slave owners under whom he suffered.
CNBC host Joe Kernen marked the one-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy by questioning the wisdom of investing to protect utility customers from extreme weather. In an October 24 interview with Steve Holliday, the CEO of utility company National Grid, Kernen cited Bjorn Lomborg’s recent global warming denial op-ed in the Washington Post, “Don’t Blame Climate Change for Extreme Weather.”
Kernen’s repeated dismissal of global warming and attacks on climate scientists and activists as the “eco-taliban” have spurred a 45,000-signature petition drive organized by climate accountability group Forecast the Facts.
Reading from Lomborg’s op-ed, Kernen rebuked Holliday for investing in resilience to damages from extreme weather, which have been rapidly rising. In particular, both extreme precipitation and sea level are increasing in the Northeast, both due to fossil-fueled global warming. Holliday's National Grid is a British-based utility company with customers in the U.S. Northeast. Kernen claimed that his dismissal of the well-known connection between global warming and extreme weather was backed by prominent climate scientist Gavin Schmidt, of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
I contacted Dr. Schmidt about Kernen’s use of his words, which he called a “red herring.”
“My statement in no way implies that no extremes are changing,” Dr. Schmidt retorted, “and certainly not that electricity companies shouldn’t invest in increased resilience, which, as Holliday rightly notes, is prudent regardless.”
How did Kernen's confabulation come to pass? It's a classic example of the climate-denial machine's manipulation of the journalistic infrastructure. About a month ago, E&E News interviewed Dr. Schmidt about a paper that found that increases in weather extremes are concentrated in North America and Europe:
The study noted that the greatest recent year-to-year changes have occurred in much of North America and Europe, something confirmed by a separate study last year. The result, according to several scientists, is a misperception across the West that the weather extremes occurring there are occurring everywhere. . . . “General statements about extremes are almost nowhere to be found in the literature but seem to abound in the popular media,” Schmidt said. “It’s this popular perception that global warming means all extremes have to increase all the time, even though if anyone thinks about that for 10 seconds they realize that’s nonsense.”
Bjorn Lomborg then misleadingly contrasted Dr. Schmidt’s quotation with comments from President Obama, in his Washington Post op-ed approved by editor Fred Hiatt:
President Obama has explicitly linked a warming climate to “more extreme droughts, floods, wildfires and hurricanes.” The White House warned this summer of “increasingly frequent and severe extreme weather events that come with climate change.” Yet this is not supported by science. “General statements about extremes are almost nowhere to be found in the literature but seem to abound in the popular media,” climate scientist Gavin Schmidt of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies said last month. “It’s this popular perception that global warming means all extremes have to increase all the time, even though if anyone thinks about that for 10 seconds they realize that’s nonsense.”
Kernen then used Lomborg’s article to argue that climate change has no influence on extreme weather:
I’m looking at a Washington Post piece, Steve. It’s the Washington Post. “Don’t blame climate change for extreme weather.” It goes on to say that in popular — um — well, you see that is in the popular media, but the science does not support it at all. . . . Gavin Schmidt of NASA Goddard Institute: “General statements about extremes are almost nowhere to be found in actual scientific literature but abound in popular media. It’s a popular perception that global warming means that all extremes have increased although anyone who thinks about that for ten seconds realizes is nonsense.”
Kernen’s comments ironically appeared with the chyron “SUPERSTORM SANDY: LESSONS LEARNED.”
Some 3,000 years ago, farmers in eastern China domesticated the soybean. In 1765, the first soybeans arrived in North America, but they did not soon catch on as a crop. For 150 years or so the soybean languished as a curiosity in gardens. Then in the late 1920s, a market for soybean oil began to develop, moving the soybean from the garden to the field. During the 1930s, soybean production in the United States climbed from 400,000 tons to over 2 million tons. And as growth in the demand for the oil gained momentum, soybean production jumped to over 8 …
Aside from Walmart itself, there is no louder and more enthusiastic cheerleader for the retail giant's sustainability campaign than Environmental Defense Fund. A quick perusal of the news over the last few weeks finds EDF issuing a press release about Walmart's green leadership, praising its environmental boldness in a Fortune interview, backing its solar claims in a Fast Company article, and headlining a live chat about Walmart hosted by The Guardian.
EDF, one of the nation's largest and best-known environmental organizations, is Walmart's right-hand man in the green game. It turns out, unlike most Walmart jobs, that's a pretty lucrative gig to have.
Since 2005, EDF has received $66 million from the Walton Family Foundation. The Waltons are the children and grandchildren of Walmart founder Sam Walton. The crucial thing to know about the family -- in addition to their mind-boggling wealth, estimated at $145 billion — is that they control Walmart. They not only have several seats on the company's board, including the chair. They own over half of Walmart's stock.
So, the Waltons both run Walmart and finance EDF. Their donations to EDF started in 2004, shortly before Walmart launched its sustainability campaign. For the Waltons, the donations are a bargain, giving Walmart's environmental announcements an instant veneer of green credibility.
Enviros appear to have won two key contests on Tuesday -- a high-profile governor's race in Virginia and a low-profile county council race in rural Washington -- and they did it by outspending their fossil-fuel opponents. Billionaire green activist Tom Steyer can claim much of the credit.
Through his NextGen Climate Action PAC, Steyer poured more than $2 million into electing Democrat Terry McAuliffe as governor of Virginia -- or, more to the point, defeating Republican climate denier Ken Cuccinelli. The Virginia League of Conservation Voters and the national League of Conservation Voters pitched in almost $2 million too, and the Sierra Club contributed nearly half a million. All in all, environmentalists donated more to the McAuliffe effort than any other interest group save for the Democratic Governors Association, reports The Huffington Post.
Virginia's lax campaign-finance rules worked to the benefit of Democrats and greens this time around, according to Politico:
Opponents of Washington state's initiative to label genetically engineered food effectively crushed the measure under a giant pile of money.
As of this writing (with 1 million ballots counted of about 1.3 million total votes cast), Washington's measure 522, which would have required prominent labels for foods containing genetically engineered ingredients, was losing by 9 percentage points, which amounted to nearly 50,000 votes, out of about a million votes cast.
Opponents of the initiative outspent supporters by about 3 to 1. Results are here.