Year 2, Month 12, Day 10: There’ll Be A Lot Of Changes Made, Once We Get Organized

Bla, bla, bla. Same ol’ same ol’. USA Today:

DURBAN, South Africa – An all-encompassing climate deal “may be beyond our reach for now,” the U.N. chief said Tuesday as China and India delivered a setback to European plans to negotiate a new treaty that would bind all parties to their pledges on greenhouse gas emissions.

The European “road map” toward a new accord that would take effect after 2020 is a centerpiece of negotiations among 194 countries at a U.N. climate conference in the South African coastal city of Durban.

It has been presented as a condition for Europe to renew and expand its emissions reduction targets under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which expires next year.

“We must be realistic about expectations for a breakthrough in Durban,” said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as he opened the final ministerial stage of the two-week conference. “The ultimate goal for a comprehensive and binding climate change agreement may be beyond our reach for now.”

Some days I feel like a conscious brain cell in the head of Nicholas Cage’s character in “Leaving Las Vegas.” Sent December 6:

Ban Ki-moon’s grimly accurate assessment of the political environment complements his words on the planetary climate crisis. Our planetary addiction to fossil fuels is building the concentration of greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere to catastrophic levels — and like any other addict, the world’s biggest carbon burners are in various stages of denial about their role in the problem and their responsibilities in the remedy.

American politicians — almost without exception under the financial sway of enormously powerful corporations — are rendered impotent in the face of impending disaster. Even those who privately acknowledge the reality of the crisis are unable to discuss it in public for fear of electoral consequences. The inability of negotiators in Durban to reach meaningful agreement on greenhouse emissions is a symptom of our poisonous financial culture, just as rising levels of atmospheric CO2 are a symptom of our addiction to toxic sources of energy.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 12, Day 8: There’s A Rhinoceros In The Living Room

The Jerusalem Post has a good analysis of the situation:

The main aim of the United Nations Climate Change Conference at Durban, which began on November 28 and finishes on December 9, is to produce an agreement about target emissions levels by developed countries and longer-term targets from developing countries. But, with sudden switches in energy policies, environmental regulations, increasing financial fragility and accidents such as Fukushima, national governments are increasingly aware how policy in these areas impacts on everyone’s lives as well as the economy.

Decision-makers have a great responsibility and a very difficult task to pursue long-term objectives at the same time as short-term solutions, especially when it comes to climate change. The key question is how best to do this and whether this involve only national, regional and city-level policies, or are binding global agreements also necessary?
Governments have become more cautious about signing up to new long-lasting and tightly-defined transnational agreements that might affect their flexibility to respond to changing circumstances. Moreover, a global deal on climate change may be less effective than regional, national and city level initiatives because global treaties are sometimes perceived as insensitive to the different technologies and time scales for emission reduction in varying countries.

But nobody really wants to face up to the deadly impact of the multinationals, do they? Sent December 4:

Climate change is a planetary threat which manifests in unpredictable ways in different regions and localities. As such, it makes sense that efforts to reduce the impact of a runaway greenhouse effect should take different forms depending on the economic and environmental requirements of different areas. Approaches to the problem must operate at multiple levels of scale, from the individual to the global.

It is up to ordinary men and women to maintain pressure on their politicians to bring about the needed policy changes — but an engaged citizenry’s efforts may still be fruitless if their governments are dominated by interests which rank profits above people. Humanity’s struggle against climate change is gravely hindered by the political and economic influence of multinational corporations which are reluctant to relinquish even a scintilla of their revenue stream — even to ensure the long-term survival of their customers. Extinction is bad for business.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 12, Day 7: Poopy-Heads

The Chandigarh Tribune (India) highlights the petulant attitude of the big playas:

December 2: Talks at the climate change conference have predictably bogged down over funding and over the insistence of the first world countries that emerging economies like India and China also commit to legally binding and higher reduction of carbon emission.

Countries like Japan, Canada, Russia and New Zealand have decided to back out of the Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding treaty that requires 37 developed countries to reduce amount of CO2 they released. The European Union has made it clear that it would agree to more carbon reduction only if emerging economies like China and India also undertake some form of binding cuts to bring down their gases that trap heat and make the climate warm.

Government delegates from 194 countries have gathered in Durban to agree to the next steps to combat climate change. The talks have been bogged down by disagreements on the kind of actions that need to be taken by developed and developing nations.

The big guys are all hypocritical bullies. No doubt about it. Sent December 2:

So the United States and its allies demand that developing nations agree to extensive carbon reduction protocols before they’ll start reducing their own? It is amusing to speculate as to what would happen if India or China called their bluff and pre-emptively proposed drastic cuts in greenhouse emissions.

Is anyone gullible enough to believe that the powers pulling America’s political strings would actually agree to anything that might have the slightest negative impact on their quarterly profit margins? Were India to announce its own stringent emissions regime, there can be no doubt that the developed world’s diplomats would (after a few hasty telephone calls) discover that hitherto unrevealed criteria needed to be met before the planet’s biggest polluters would sign even the most toothless and ineffectual carbon treaty.

As the temperatures rise, it is indisputable: multinational corporations are blocking the environmental initiatives upon which our collective survival may well depend.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 12, Day 6: The Onward March Of Folly

The Zimbabwe Independent runs a story on the bad news:

THE World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) warned on Tuesday at the UN climate talks in Durban, South Africa that greenhouse gas levels were rapidly reaching critical levels that could trigger “far reaching and irreversible changes” to the planet, its oceans and its biosphere. In South Africa, meteorologists confirmed the country was witnessing an unprecedented increase in the frequency and intensity of weather “events”, and experiencing warming trends that were above the global average.

On Tuesday morning, the WMO released a provisional statement on the status of the global climate, showing that 2011 has been the 10th warmest year since 1850, when records began. This was despite the strong, cooling influence of the La Niña event that developed in the second half of last year.
The volume of Arctic sea ice in 2011 was also the lowest on record and the area covered by seasonal Arctic sea was the second lowest on record — 35% below the 1979 — 2000 average.

The full report from the UN agency, which assesses global temperatures and provides a snapshot of weather and climate events in 2011, will be released early next year.

Finding a link for sending them a letter took longer than writing the damn letter. Sent December 1:

The temperature is rising everywhere on Earth; likewise, the scientific evidence confirming the reality and the danger of human-caused climate change. And yet, the world’s richest nations are seemingly paralyzed, unable to utilize their economic power to help avert catastrophe. Why? There are many answers, but many of them boil down to a fatal combination of two factors: short-sightedness and greed.

In most of the industrialized world, the profit cycle reigns supreme. Programs or projects that do not offer immediate returns on investment are automatically excluded from the policy-making process of nations whose economies are dominated by multinational corporations. The inability of the United States to address the disaster it has in large part created is a symptom of the control of government by these forces, and until their power and influence is checked, none of the world’s nations will be able to offer genuine solutions to the climate crisis.

Warren Senders

UPDATE: and the LTE bounced back; the Zimbabwe Independent does not appear to want to receive my emails. I searched on a text string from the original article and found another version of it in the Trinidad Guardian, so I’m resending it to them.

Published in Trinidad.

Year 2, Month 12, Day 5: Variations On A Theme

The Albany Times-Union runs the same AP article on Pachauri’s remarks (see yesterday’s letter for a blockquote). So I took yesterday’s piece, filed off all the serial numbers, and passed it along.

Sent November 30 (now I’m five days ahead of the curve!):

Seeking to justify inaction on climate change, self-styled fiscal conservatives are fond of invoking the specter of expense. But as Rajendra Pachauri makes clear, the economic impacts of a runaway greenhouse effect will be far more exorbitant than any costs associated with shifting to an energy economy based on the principles of sustainability.

Genuine financial responsibility implies living within one’s means, and it’s time for the world’s biggest burners of fossil fuels to recognize the hidden costs of the energy they’ve long regarded as inexpensive. Climate chaos’ impacts on infrastructure, public health, and agriculture (to name just three vulnerable sectors of the economy) will be devastating in ways that neither business or government have anticipated — and once we include all these factors in our calculations, coal and oil stand revealed as exorbitantly costly.

Our species cannot afford any more “cheap energy” if we are to survive the coming centuries.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 12, Day 4: Just Wait For The Balance-Transfer Offers!

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution runs an AP article on Rajendra Pachauri’s words about how expensive climate change is certain to be:

DURBAN, South Africa — The U.N.’s top climate scientist cautioned climate negotiators Wednesday that global warming is leading to human dangers and soaring financial costs, but containing carbon emissions will have a host of benefits.

Rajendra Pachauri, head of the Nobel-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, summarized a litany of potential disasters at a U.N. climate conference in the South African city of Durban. Although he gave no explicit deadlines, the implication was that time is running out for greenhouse gas emissions to level off and begin to decline.

If we won’t change our ways to save the planet’s biosphere, maybe we’ll do it to save money. Sent November 30:

Time is running out for the spurious fiscal arguments that have been deployed over and over again to justify inaction on climate change. As extreme weather becomes the norm, there will be huge impacts in every area of the economy. Public health, infrastructure, agriculture, transportation — all will be profoundly affected in ways neither public or private sectors have anticipated.

Such climate-related expenses are direct consequences of our century-long binge of fossil-fuel consumption. But now, the hidden costs of our energy economy are becoming obvious; oil and coal are suddenly very expensive once these factors have been included.

Financial responsibility now requires two things. First, paying off our debt to the environment; we’ve exceeded our credit limit and are now incurring significant penalties. And second, we must build an energy economy that ensures that all citizens of Earth live within their ecological means. Sustainability and fiscal responsibility must be synonymous.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 12, Day 3: You Kids Think Money Grows On Trees?

The Christian Science Monitor has done quite a bit of pretty solid analysis:

As this year’s round of global climate talks begin in Durban, South Africa, negotiators once again try to tackle an elusive goal: Trimming nations’ greenhouse gas emissions enough to meet the target of limiting global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) before the end of the century.

This target is expected to reduce the potentially devastating effects of climate change, but, so far, it appears a long way off.

Last year, negotiators in Cancún, Mexico, agreed to the goal of limiting warming of the Earth’s average surface temperature to 3.6 degrees F above pre-Industrial Revolution levels. Their agreement notes, however, that a ceiling of 2.7 degrees F (1.5 degrees C) might be warranted.

A world 2 degrees warmer is not an ideal scenario. Even if nations are successful, the planet can still expect increasing heat spells, drought, flood damage and certain other severe weather events, along with elevated rates of extinctions and shifts in species’ ranges, including those of disease-spreading insects, and many other potentially problematic changes, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2007 Synthesis Report. Their severity grows along with increasing projected temperature rise, according to the report.

A scold. That’s me. Sent November 29:

With mountains of conclusive evidence attesting to both the reality and the danger of runaway climate change, the failure of the world’s industrialized nations to address the issue in any meaningful way cannot be ascribed to ignorance. Rather, the developed world’s unwillingness to take responsibility for the looming threat of catastrophe is essentially a failure of imagination — a failure to think beyond the shared assumptions of an energy economy based on fossil-fuels, a failure to evaluate human progress by measures other than quarterly profit reports, and a failure of empathy with the people whose lives will be devastated.

We’ve taken out an enormous advance on our Bank of Earth credit card. Like irresponsible youngsters on a spending spree, we conveniently forget that when the bill arrives, all humanity will have to pay it. Genuine fiscal responsibility requires aggressive and immediate action on climate change, rather than penny-wise, pound-foolish intransigence.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 12, Day 2: He’s Dead, Jim.

Forbes Magazine runs an article called “Climate Treaty Would Actually Be Good For Business.” Yup. But business would be bad for a climate treaty, apparently.

Businesses pay an additional price for these disturbances. In June the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) found that even normal weather variation harms the U.S. economy, to the tune of $485 billion annually in 2008 dollars, or as much as 3.4 percent of U.S. gross domestic product. The study was published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

Every so often, I feel compelled to send a missive off to the belly of the beast. The bloated corpse of global capitalism is still capable of doing damage as it runs amok in full headless-chicken mode. Sent November 28:

For decades, the “can-do” attitude of American entrepreneurship was an inspiration to the world. Combining polymathic creativity with a healthy disrespect for established modes of operation, the nation’s inventors transformed first this country, then the planet. It seemed our collective heritage was one that transformed every obstacle into an opportunity for greater achievement; the greater the difficulty, the more likely we were to respond with paradigm-shattering innovation.

Contemporary American business leaders, by contrast, often ignore the troublesome realities of global climate change and the difficult choices which face the world’s people, treating physical laws as subordinate to market forces, and ethics as irrelevant. Their lack of confidence in our country’s R&D and manufacturing is profoundly troubling; their protests that a transformed energy system might be bad for business show contempt for the scientific and moral facts confronting our species. And they forget: an “evolutionary bottleneck” is bad for business, too.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 12, Day 1: Maybe We Could Get A Carbon Patch?

This sounds depressingly familiar. NYT:

WASHINGTON — With intensifying climate disasters and global economic turmoil as the backdrop, delegates from 194 nations gather in Durban, South Africa, this week to try to advance, if only incrementally, the world’s response to dangerous climate change.

To those who have followed the negotiations of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change over their nearly 20-year history, the conflicts and controversies to be taken up in Durban are monotonously familiar — the differing obligations of industrialized and developing nations, the question of who will pay to help poor nations adapt, the urgency of protecting tropical forests, the need to develop and deploy clean energy technology rapidly.

I used the cancer analogy yesterday, and I’m using it again today. Sent November 27:

The United States, one of the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, is acting like a five-pack-a-day man trying to wish away a negative biopsy. Scientists the world over, with increasing urgency, are saying that genuine action on climate change must be taken soon to avoid a metastasizing catastrophe — and America’s politicians are equivocating, because…well, because they’re scared.

Like someone who’s just come out of the oncologist’s office, they’re scared of change, scared of an uncertain and dangerous future, and scared of what it’s all likely to cost. And just as a heavy smoker unequivocally “needs” a cigarette to stay calm while he contemplates his diagnosis, the industrialized carbon-burning nations “need” another hit of carbon energy before they give it up.

We know it’s bad for us, that it’s very expensive, that it has drastic long-term health consequences. And we swear to quit, soon. Maybe next year. We promise!

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 11, Day 29: Puttin’ On The Hair-Shirt

The UK Guardian runs an optimistic take on Durban (NOT):

The will to act on climate change is out of political energy, running on empty. The problem is (relatively) distant, complex and intractable. The solution is costly, immediate, and the gains uncertain. It is the kind of slow-burn crisis that democratic politicians only tackle under sustained popular pressure and right now western voters have other things on their minds. Here, the government that promised to be the greenest ever is allowing emission-cutting policies to appear an indulgent hangover from a more prosperous age. Starting on Monday, when the 17th climate change conference opens in Durban, Africa has the opportunity to remind the rest of us why inaction is not an option.

Writing letters to the UK press always makes me want to use fancy words and allusions. To the best of my recollection, Saint Augustine has never before manifested in one of my climate letters. Sent November 25:

The yawning chasm between scientific reality and political exigency is swallowing up any hope for a meaningful agreement from the upcoming Durban climate conference.

Ultimately, the world’s nations are negotiating not with one another, but with a party whose inflexibility and intransigence would be the envy of any tinpot dictator. The laws of physics and chemistry are unmoved by arguments of economic survival, of market imperatives, of global justice — and their demands are simple: stop putting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Immediately. And all of us (nearly seven billion humans along with the rest of Earthly life) are the hostages.

The industrialized world’s leaders aspire to climatic chastity and carbon continence, but (like Saint Augustine) not yet. Their hope is that at some unspecified future date, some unspecified future politicians will do the right thing, an outcome depressingly less likely than the ravages of a runaway greenhouse effect.

Warren Senders