Year 2, Month 12, Day 26: The Times They Are a’Changing

The Jerusalem Post heralds the coming of the New World Order:

The outcome of the latest round of climate change negotiations in Durban was as good as any dared hope for. A second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, together with agreement from all countries to begin negotiations on a new legally binding instrument, or an agreement with “legal force,” is a major step forward. However, Durban will be remembered for much more than that; as the place where the tectonic plates of international relations fundamentally shifted.

The group of countries that drove the outcome in South Africa was a new coalition involving the EU and the BASIC countries – Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa.

The emergence of this alliance of countries is significant for two reasons. First, these countries share a vision about the future and are committed to a path of low carbon, sustainable development. They recognize that this is the only pro-growth, pro-development strategy.

Second, this grouping signals a dissolving of the traditional divide between rich and poor countries. For too long international negotiations have been hampered by an overriding solidarity between developing countries and a culture of blame. Durban saw a new maturity with the major developing countries partnering with progressive, developed countries and beginning to take responsibility for the future direction of the global economy.

This shift of the tectonic plates is based on enlightened self-interest. On the one hand, there is no long-term scenario under which a fossil fuels-based economy is either sustainable or desirable for the human race as a whole. Reliance on fossil fuels, with supply risks in terms of political stability in oil producing regions, dwindling supplies and volatile prices together with an unstable climate caused by increasing emissions of greenhouse gases, present serious risks to a growing economy.

This gave me the opportunity for another more-in-sorrow-than-anger version of my “Corporations-are-teh-suck-and-America-is-doomed” screed. Sent December 22:

When an enormous amount of work must be done in an extraordinarily short span of time, it’s essential that everyone involved recognize the necessity of the task. Alas for the American exceptionalists, the USA’s energy and environmental policy is now essentially crafted for the benefit of the multinational corporations whose influence is felt throughout the country’s government — and these economic leviathans have no conception whatsoever of the greater good.

The “American Century” is well and truly over, a fact exemplified by the USA’s paralysis in the face of climate change. Fully half of my country’s lawmakers choose to deny scientific reality when it fails to match their ideological preconceptions. The emergence of the EU/BASIC coalition from the Durban talks is most welcome. If the United States cannot lead in the fight against climate catastrophe, then at the very least it should refrain from hindering the nations which can.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 12, Day 25: Vayu, Dude!

Sri Lanka’s Energy Minister writes a long op-ed in the Sri Lanka Daily News, titled “Taking On The Energy Crunch”:

I observed two emerging trends in Durban. The first is that North America getting increasingly marginalized by Europe and the other is China and India, embroiled each other in many issues, coming forward with new proposals. The Chinese presence in Bali, Poznan or even Copenhagen was hardly noticed. However, the presence of China is now getting increasingly noticed, especially due to its possession of the most cost effective renewable energy technology (solar and wind) and more importantly, its sound financial position, required for implementation of its plans.

When China proposed emission cuts to be made effective from 2020, the developed countries, excluding European Union, raised objections to it. However, they finally settled down for a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol and accordingly, go in for mandatory agreements in 2015. By that time I hope China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Indonesia would be able to lead climate discussions with the progressive support from the European countries.

Since Asia is now moving and shaping the new world, it is high time it leads the sustainable development and green growth, whilst imposing green sanctions against the USA and Canada. This double dip global economic crisis may end up creating a new sustainable future if we were to fulfill our historical responsibility.

I’d love to visit Sri Lanka before it slides beneath the waves. Sent December 21:

It is obvious by now that the governments of the industrialized world have been so subverted and co-opted by corporate influence that they are unable to formulate and implement any genuinely responsible energy and environmental policies. The current dysfunction of America’s political system is a vivid example of what happens when the lust for profit trumps the well-being of the people.

While the world’s climatologists have long since come to a consensus about both the human causes and the genuine dangers of climate change, fully fifty percent of US politicians are unable to acknowledge scientific reality. While as an American citizen I am disappointed by my own country’s paralysis in the face of a grave existential threat, as a human being, I am delighted by Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka’s suggestion that Asia take the lead in developing meaningful strategies for addressing the climate crisis. There is no time to spare.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 12, Day 21: One Good Letter Deserves Another

The Malaysia Star runs an opinion piece by Guenter Gruber, the German Ambassador:

Changes in the climate destroy the basis on which human life subsists; drought, for instance, leads to shortages in food and water. Rising sea levels are already threatening the territories of small island states and vast stretches of coastland.

Weather patterns are changing. In Thailand, we have just seen severe flooding. Last year, the south of Malaysia was unusually dry. Now, 40% more rainfall than usual is expected.

Climate change is the definitive challenge of the 21st century. However, the international community has to admit that it has not, as things stand, stepped up to this challenge.

Global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions went up again in 2010, global temperatures are already 0.8°C higher than before industrialisation, and sea levels rose twice as fast between 1993 and 2003 as they did in the preceding decade; icebergs and glaciers are melting at record speeds.

It’s a generic piece, and it gets a generic letter. Sent December 17:

There is no doubt: the climate crisis is not only the gravest threat our species has yet faced, but one which our existing political and economic systems cannot address competently. Just look at the parlous state of American politics, in which oil industry influence permeates the system to such an extent that one of the country’s two dominant political parties is reaping electoral rewards for a complete denial of scientific reality. Similarly, Canada ignores the danger posed to its own Arctic territories by pulling out of the Kyoto treaty and fostering climate-change denial in its own government.

Ultimately, of course, the laws of physics and chemistry will win; they always do, since they are unaffected by public opinion. The responsibility for preventing a runaway greenhouse effect necessarily rests with the world’s industrialized nations, for they are the ones whose CO2 emissions have pushed the planet to the brink of catastrophe.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 12, Day 17: Sparkly!

Eugene Robinson tries to make it shiny in the Washington Post:

I’m inclined to believe that the apparent result of the climate change summit in Durban, South Africa, might turn out to be a very big deal. Someday. Maybe.

After the meeting ended Sunday, initial reaction ranged from “Historic Breakthrough: The Planet Is Saved” to “Tragic Failure: The Planet Is Doomed.”

My conclusion is that for now, at least, the conceptual advance made in Durban is as good as it gets.

This advance is, potentially, huge: For the first time, officials of the nations that are the biggest carbon emitters — China, the United States and India — have agreed to negotiate legally binding restrictions.

The thing is, when there’s stuff like this showing up in the news, there’s no wiggle room left for the world’s nations to eventually maybe someday get around to kinda sorta consider possibly doing something.

Sent December 13:

Our nation’s ongoing disconnect between political and factual reality is perfectly exemplified in Eugene Robinson’s attempts at an optimistic assessment of the Durban agreement. Yes, it’s nice that many nations have signed a new treaty, but the bad news has, so to speak, circled the globe before the good news has even gotten out of bed.

In the empirically verifiable world of scientifically confirmed facts, the window for avoiding catastrophic climate change is closing far more rapidly than any experts were predicting. In the non-linear world of American governance, though, kicking the can down the road is a perfectly adequate substitute for action — because politics, the “art of the possible,” makes action impossible. Remember the recent story of rural firemen watching a house burn to the ground because the homeowner hadn’t previously paid a $75 fee? Will commitment-averse politicians ensure that we all likewise become spectators at our own immolation?

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 12, Day 16: It’s 20-20, All Right.

The L.A. Times:

REPORTING FROM WASHINGTON — Negotiators at a climate change meeting in South Africa struck an 11th-hour deal to avoid the collapse of international negotiations over global warming, averting the worst fears of environmental advocates but doing little to immediately advance the cause of limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

The agreement in effect would postpone new concerted global action on climate change for at least eight years. However, given the political realities, particularly in the United States and China, the accord probably offered the best chance to move the process forward, analysts said.

The mood at the United Nations gathering in Durban was somber as the talks ended just before dawn Sunday, participants said, largely because many questions remained unanswered and the risk of a catastrophic increase in global average temperature had not been reduced.

Under the deal, nations committed themselves to talks aimed at reaching a legally binding agreement by 2015 that would limit emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases that contribute to global warming. The limits would not go into effect until 2020 at the earliest.

Decrying the oppositional nature of these two cultures is an easy way out, but I don’t mind. Sent December 12:

Political and scientific realities are entirely different. Politics, the “art of the possible,” deems the recent agreement from the Durban climate conference to be a triumph — the result of tremendously difficult and complex negotiations, one that offers participating nations, and the world, a best way forward. Scientists, on the other hand, concern themselves with measurable facts and their implications — and the details of the general scientific consensus on climate change suggest that Durban’s “best way forward” is virtually certain to be too little, too late.

It’s time for a reality-based politics to emerge in our nation and the world. The fact that Republican presidential candidates can gratuitously dismiss scientific expertise should be a red flag: ideologies that must reject facts in order to survive cannot be successful in the long run — for in the long run, the laws of physics and chemistry will win. They always do.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 12, Day 15: Okay, Okay. I Promise I’ll Call The Doctor. Next Week, Though. Not Now. I’m Too Busy.

Good news! The patient has consented to think about going into treatment, maybe, perhaps, in a few years. USA Today:

DURBAN, South Africa (AP) – A U.N. climate conference reached a hard-fought agreement Sunday on a complex and far-reaching program meant to set a new course for the global fight against climate change for the coming decades.

The 194-party conference agreed to start negotiations on a new accord that would put all countries under the same legal regime enforcing commitments to control greenhouse gases. It would take effect by 2020 at the latest.

The deal also set up the bodies that will collect, govern and distribute tens of billions of dollars a year for poor countries. Other documents in the package lay out rules for monitoring and verifying emissions reductions, protecting forests, transferring clean technologies to developing countries and scores of technical issues.

Currently, only industrial countries have legally binding emissions targets under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. Those commitments expire next year, but they will be extended for another five years under the accord adopted Sunday — a key demand by developing countries seeking to preserve the only existing treaty regulating carbon emissions.

Recycling the “hindsight is always 20-20″ line. Sent December 11:

Yes, it’s good news that the world’s nations have agreed to a deal on greenhouse gas emissions. But the outcome of the Durban Conference is hardly cause for exuberance. Scientific evidence of the threat posed by global climate change is mounting faster than the glaciers are melting, and the overwhelming consensus is that humanity — not just America, China and India, but all of us, everywhere — has less than five years to act decisively before environmental tipping points are passed, propelling us into a far less friendly future.

The Durban agreement will come into effect at the beginning of the next decade — several years too late. Climatologists have been telling us for decades about the dangers of a runaway greenhouse effect; we cannot say we weren’t warned. If we fail to act dramatically and quickly, the old cliche, “hindsight is always 2020″ will acquire a new and grimmer meaning.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 12, Day 14: Maybe It’s Because I’m A Cow

The Grey Lady analyzes why things don’t work:

DURBAN, South Africa — For 17 years, officials from nearly 200 countries have gathered under the auspices of the United Nations to try to deal with one of the most vexing questions of our era — how to slow the heating of the planet.

Every year they leave a trail of disillusion and discontent, particularly among the poorest nations and those most vulnerable to rising seas and spreading deserts. Every year they fail to significantly advance their own stated goal of keeping the average global temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius, or about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, above preindustrial levels.

There is no denying the dedication and stamina of the environment ministers and climate diplomats who conduct these talks. But maybe the task is too tall. The issues on the table are far broader than atmospheric carbon levels or forestry practices or how to devise a fund to compensate those most affected by global warming.

{snip}

Effectively addressing climate change will require over the coming decades a fundamental remaking of energy production, transportation and agriculture around the world — the sinews of modern life. It is simply too big a job for the men and women who have gathered for these talks under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the 1992 treaty that began this grinding process.

There was a Gary Larson cartoon showing a jazz band in a club. Standing on the bandstand is a figure holding a saxophone, saying something like, “look fellas, it’s just not working. Maybe it’s the tempo, or maybe it’s the changes, or maybe it’s because I’m a cow.” Sent December 10:

While the task of reining in global greenhouse emissions is indeed an enormously daunting one, the alternative is inaction, which (although excellent for the oil industry’s profit margins) is unacceptable for the majority of the world’s people. The failure to achieve any substantive agreement at Durban is hardly surprising, given the degree to which American government has been so thoroughly co-opted by corporate interests.

Meaningful action on climate must be polycentric, operating on scales of size from individuals to nations; it must also be polytemporal, reflecting both long- and short-term thinking. We all have individual parts to play — but in the global arena, our wholly-owned government can no longer be presumed to have our interests at heart. The petroleum industry’s disproportionate influence on our political system has made America’s intransigence a worldwide embarrassment. In the machinery of climate negotiations, oil is not a lubricant, but a hindrance to progress.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 12, Day 13: First Off, I Didn’t Borrow It. Second, It Was Broken When You Gave It To Me. And Third, I Fixed It Before I Brought It Back.

New York’s Murdoch outlet runs a fairly even-handed report on the Durban Debacle:

World climate talks are on the brink of failure as several of the largest polluters — including the United States — could block attempts to save the only treaty on governing global warming.

The 194-nation UN climate conference in Durban, South Africa, is scheduled to end later Friday after two weeks of tense negotiations.

Under the proposed deal, the European Union would extend its pledge to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

In exchange, other countries would have to promise to negotiate another deal that would include legally binding obligations for every nation — not just for the wealthy, industrialized countries who initially approved the Kyoto Protocol.

The European Union has also maintained it will not renew its pledge, which expires next year, without agreement to begin work to compel all countries to curb their emissions, including the U.S., China and India.

The comments, as usual on Murdoch-owned outlets, are a great outpouring of stupid. Sent December 9:

The scientific evidence confirming the rapid warming of Earth’s atmosphere is growing faster than the glaciers are shrinking. In consequence, the paranoids who once theorized that global temperature measurements were part of a giant liberal conspiracy have retreated; their new position is that while the planet is indeed getting hotter, humans aren’t responsible.

Once the nay-sayers absorb the massive amounts of evidence for human causes of climate change, they’ll assert that climate chaos can only be solved by “the power of the free market,” presumably including tax cuts for the wealthiest 1%.

Let’s review: first they claimed it wasn’t happening; now they claim humans didn’t cause it. The denialists were wrong then, they’re wrong now, and they’ll be wrong in the future. So why are they still determining American environmental and energy policy? The US should lead the world in coping with climate change, not stand in the way of progress.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 12, Day 12: Oh, To Be Twenty-One Again

I have a new hero, Ms. Abigail Borah. The Washington Post:

Todd D. Stern, the Obama administration’s special envoy for climate change, was put on the defensive by a narrative developing here that the United States opposed any further action to address global climate disruption until after 2020, when the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, a primary United Nations climate agreement, and voluntary programs negotiated more recently will have run their course.

He firmly denied that the United States was dragging its feet and, somewhat ambiguously, endorsed a proposal from the European Union to quickly start negotiating a new international climate change treaty.

Mr. Stern’s statement to delegates from more than 190 nations at the annual climate conference was disrupted by a 21-year-old Middlebury College junior, Abigail Borah, who told the assembly that she would speak for the United States because Mr. Stern had forfeited the right to do so.

“I am speaking on behalf of the United States of America because my negotiators cannot,” said Ms. Borah, who is attending the conference as a representative of the International Youth Climate Movement. “The obstructionist Congress has shackled justice and delayed ambition for far too long. I am scared for my future. 2020 is too late to wait. We need an urgent path to a fair, ambitious and legally binding treaty.”

Scores of delegates and observers gave her a sustained ovation. Then the South African authorities threw her out of the conference. “That’s O.K.,” Ms. Borah, who is from Princeton, N.J., said later by telephone. “I think I got my point across.”

Let’s hope so. The “hindsight is always 2020″ line came courtesy of Sven Eberlein. Sent December 8:

If Todd Stern’s assertions about an international agreement on greenhouse emissions are to be believed, our nation’s chief climate negotiator may have had his eyes opened a bit by the opposition he’s encountering at the Durban conference. By now, the scientific evidence cannot be ignored, and the picture isn’t a pretty one: while the epiphenomena of rapidly increasing climate change imperil us all, the United States has abdicated its responsibilities to the international community and abandoned all pretense of world leadership on what is arguably the most crucial issue of our time.

Let us hope Mr. Stern’s vision has been cleared by his encounter with far-sighted protesters like Ms. Abigail Borah. If we must wait another nine years for an agreement to restrict greenhouse emissions, it will be too late, and the old saw that “hindsight is always 2020″ will have taken on a newer and far more tragic meaning.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 12, Day 11: What Barbara Said

I wish we could clone Barbara Boxer. The LA Times:

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) stepped up Wednesday to deliver an appeal from Capitol Hill for action at the mostly lackluster U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, which wraps up this week in Durban, South Africa. Her speech was delivered to an almost-empty Senate TV/radio gallery, which is indicative of the low priority given ongoing greenhouse gas treaty negotiations by the federal government and the media.

Audience shortfall be damned, Boxer soldiered on, registering her support for urgent action in Durban and beyond, and attacking climate deniers who have slowed progress toward reform. She and 15 other senators sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton looking for a “strong and ambitious outcome” in Durban.

“Although I am not there with you in person, it in no way lessens my commitment to the work that you are doing in Durban and the importance of your mission to address climate change,” Boxer said. A text of the speech was also provided to the media.

“This massive threat to the environment and human health that is posed by climate change requires us to put aside partisan differences, to find common ground and to demand immediate international action.”

Statesmanship. How weird is that? Sent December 7:

Senator Boxer’s impassioned address on the urgency of the climate crisis is an all-too-rare example of long-term thinking from a member of America’s political class. Most senators and representatives cannot imagine anything beyond the political exigencies of the next election cycle and the concomitant financial requirements of their political campaigns. This has brought us a government obsessed with trivia and symbolism but unable to focus on a genuine existential threat.

For the United States and the rest of the world’s biggest carbon-burners to postpone meaningful emissions reductions yet again, they’ll have to disregard mountains of scientific evidence linking human activity to the greenhouse effect, along with the increasingly accurate predictions and urgent warnings climate specialists have been making for decades. If we are to survive as a nation (indeed, as a species), we have to get our attention deficit under control — and address climate change realistically and vigorously. Now.

Warren Senders