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Found 41 results

  1. World leaders gathered today in Paris for COP21, a UN summit aimed at reaching a new international climate deal that can avert the worst effects of global warming. French President François Hollande opened the 21st annual Conference of Parties (COP21) summit by stating that the “future of the planet, the future of life” was at stake. “The challenge of an international meeting has never been so great,” Hollande said. Delegates and leaders from 195 countries – along with members from scientific groups, the private sector, indigenous leaders, environmental activists and labour groups – will attend the important UN climate change conference that will take place between November 30 and December 11. Although, the heads of state will only be present during the beginning of the summit. During these crucial days the delegates will work towards a new international climate change agreement that can replace the Kyoto protocol, which is the world’s only legally binding climate change agreement. The Kyoto protocol initially only covered rich and developed countries who are required to cut emissions by 2020 when the treaty expires. The protocol now covers only a handful of countries, including Australia and the member states of the European Union. The United States signed but never ratified the Kyoto protocol. It’s therefore crucial that a new global climate treaty, and one which includes all nations such as China which is currently the world’s biggest polluter, is reached and agreed on in Paris. The delegates will try to reach a deal that will limit global warming to safe levels, i.e. the 2-degrees Celsius target that world leaders have endorsed. In order to keep global temperatures below 2-degrees Celsius, substantial cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are needed. If no action is taken and no agreement is reached at the Paris summit, the UN has said that the world will be on track for a +3 degrees increase in global temperatures. Scientists are warning that we are already halfway to that critical point as the world has already warmed 1 degree Celsius compared to pre–Industrial Revolution temperatures. But the truth is that the 2-degrees target is not really a safe level and scientists and environmental groups – as well as several heads of state – are calling for emission reductions that will stop global temperatures to increase beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius. Countries most at risk from climate change, such as several island states and poorer developing countries, want to see a more ambitious climate agreement. But the likelihood that the rich and developed nations will agree to such reductions are highly unlikely. This question, about developed nations obligations and their historic responsibility, along with the question of economic assistance to developing nations will surely – and yet again – cause a rift between the delegates at the climate summit. Speaking at the opening ceremony today in Paris, President Barack Obama said that the US recognised its responsibility to help limit global warming. “As the leader of the world's largest economy and the second largest emitter […] the United States of America not only recognizes our role in creating this problem, we embrace our responsibility to do something about it,” Obama said. Similar speeches from world leaders could be heard during the 2009 climate change conference in Copenhagen – and that summit ended in a failure. But things are different this time around. More nations are now feeling the effects of global warming, the science on climate is clear and on point, and renewable energy technologies are improving while their costs are drastically decreasing. And this time around, the world’s two biggest greenhouse gas emitters, China and the US, are both supportive of a new climate deal. But there are still several worrying obstacles ahead. While China may be more positive of a climate change agreement this time around, the commitment from India, the world’s third biggest emitter, remains uncertain. The US and EU also has different stances on how much of the new climate agreement should be legally binding – Obama and the US government are pushing for less as a legally binding treaty would be difficult to pass in the US Senate. So far, more than 170 nations – representing 97 percent of the world’s total emissions – have submitted climate pledges to the UN ahead of the climate summit in Paris. But those pledges are currently too weak and will, according to analyses, result in a 2.7 to 3.3-degrees Celsius increase in global temperatures. Despite all of this the hopes and expectations are high on the Paris climate summit to make substantial progress in the fight against climate change. And hopefully it won’t end in a whimper this time, as it did in Copenhagen back in 2009.
  2. From the vantage point of a few days out, the Paris climate summit looks set for success - at least by the metrics we've learned to use for these types of meetings. The main target for COP21, which is set to open on November 30, is to garner solid commitments aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and setting a strict bar to keep global warming from passing the 2°C mark. At first glance, this sounds a lot like the goals of previous climate meetings that ended up going nowhere. The 2009 Copenhagen meeting of 115 world leaders, for instance, was at first seen as a big opportunity to reverse climate change. Even before it ended though, the summit was widely panned as a failure. Most of its major goals for reducing CO2 emissions had to be dropped before a final communiqué could even be signed. But Paris could be different. For the first time, leaders from the advanced capitalist countries and those of the emerging economies seem to be on the same page when it comes to the urgency of slowing climate change. Governments are declaring - in advance - their commitment to legally-binding targets and timelines for emissions reduction. That's a real advance compared to previous climate talks where there were only vague recognitions of climate change and pledges to do more. If governments stick to their commitments and follow through with real reductions, then Paris will be worth marking down as progress. Reasons for optimism So why are things shaping up so differently for COP21? A number of major political and economic developments portend a significant shift from what happened at Copenhagen. After several years of wavering, President Obama forcefully rejected the Keystone XL pipeline in early November. By shutting down the plan to build a 1,700 mile pipeline to pump Canadian tar sands oil from Alberta down to Texas Gulf coast refineries, Obama helped set the stage for the discussions that will take place at COP21. On the day of his decision, Obama declared, "If we're going to prevent large parts of this earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we're going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground." He continued, "America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action on climate change...approving that project would have undercut that global leadership, and that is the biggest risk we face: not acting." Secretary of State John Kerry's comments at the time made it even clearer that the Administration had the upcoming Paris summit on its mind when making the decision. "The United States cannot ask other nations to make tough choices to address climate change if we are unwilling to make them ourselves," he said. "Denying the Keystone XL pipeline is one of those tough choices." The symbolic importance of Keystone should not be underestimated. Stopping the pipeline was the biggest victory that the environmental movement has achieved in the U.S. in many years. It was proof that organized action could have an impact on policy debates. But even more than that, it has sent the most powerful signal possible to other governments that America takes climate change seriously and is prepared to act. By pulling the plug on a pipeline that would have carried some of the world's dirtiest oil to market, Obama demonstrated that the U.S. is willing to be a serious partner in international efforts to tackle global warming. Presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have both praised the President's decision. Political developments in Canada have also contributed to a changed atmosphere for the Paris talks. The new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, was sworn in just days before Obama announced his decision. Though ostensibly a supporter of the Keystone pipeline, Trudeau was publicly against his predecessor Stephen Harper's aggressive lobbying on behalf of the TransCanada Corporation that planned to build it. Trudeau put up no real resistance to Obama's decision. After Harper's loss, the changing of the guard in Canada has been swift. Trudeau moved the environment portfolio out of the Ministry of Natural Resources, which under Harper had prioritized tar sands exploration. Instead, he created a new Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change. The new foreign minister, Stephane Dion, previously led the Liberal Party on a "Green Shift" platform in 2008 and recently declared that climate change is the "worst threat we are facing this century." The scuttling of Keystone has also gone a long way, especially among developing countries, to begin reversing the image of the U.S. as one who preaches but does not practice. It was preceded by the historic U.S.-China clean energy agreement last year, in which both countries agreed to move toward more renewables. The fact that the world's two biggest polluters have already hammered out an understanding before they arrive in Paris bodes well for a positive outcome. China has long argued that the U.S. had its industrialization heyday and yet continues to produce more emissions per capita than any other nation. The new trend of cooperation between Obama and President Xi signals that the U.S. may be recognizing Chinese criticisms. Taking on the role of leader among developing economies, China has set a target of 20percent clean energy by 2030 and announced a few weeks back that it was implementing a national cap and trade carbon market beginning in 2017. In Britain, meanwhile, the Conservative government of David Cameron has declared its intention to shut down its last coal-fired power plants by 2025. The country which pioneered the fossil-fueled Industrial Revolution of early capitalism is now on board with the changing international climate discussion. The divisions in big oil Where is the credit due for the major turnarounds on the climate issue by these leading governments? Recognition first of all goes out to the environmental and labor movements who have come together to push for stronger climate policies, as well as to the activists and governments of poor and developing countries who are already feeling the effects of climate change. It is also necessary, however, to look at how divisions among the major energy companies are producing cracks in the coalition opposed to climate action. At a gathering of the world's top oil executives - the OPEC International Energy Seminar - in Vienna earlier this summer, major divisions over how to respond to COP21 and the growing commitment to environmental action were revealed. While world oil prices are down over the last several months, no one believes that oil and coal will not continue to be major parts of the world's energy mix. This means that although the market outlook for producers of the dirtiest oil, like TransCanada, may be dimming, all the companies agreed that they will of course continue to invest heavily in their respective sectors. Where the façade of unity begins to break down, however, is on the issue of long-term prospects. The major European oil companies - Royal Dutch Shell, BP, Total, Eni, BG Group, and Statoil - released a joint statement at the meeting calling for the development of a global carbon pricing system. The CEO of Shell, Ben van Beurden, told the meeting that the global energy system is experiencing "a transition from the traditional model based on oil and coal to a progressively cleaner, less carbon-intensive model." With an eye toward long-term profitability and market opportunity, these companies are already beginning to think about a post-fossil fuel future. The head of Exxon Mobil, Rex Tillerson, took a completely opposite stance. In a strongly-worded warning to his fellow executives, Tillerson said that carbon pricing would destroy economic growth. He declared, "It is very important for governments that make those choices to live with the economic consequences." The imperatives of the short-term thinking inherent to the obsession with quarterly reports and shareholder returns seem to be motivating Exxon Mobil's perspective. The model of a carbon pricing market being debated by these oil executives is a complicated one that has all kinds of shortcomings of its own, not least of which is its in-built inequalities for developing and developed economies. This is not the most important thing to take note of at the OPEC Executives conference though. The most important thing to pay attention to is the fact that big oil is divided and this leaves an opening for progressives to pressure their governments. It has been said that powerful enemies can be vanquished, but only by the most "thorough, careful, attentive, skillful, and obligatory use" of any, even the smallest, of rifts among that enemy. These divisions among big oil are ones that need further attention and study. Stumbling blocks remain While there is reason to be optimistic about the Paris summit, it will not be smooth sailing. The recent terrorist attacks in the French capital have greatly altered the terrain in which the talks will take place. The recent downing of a Russian military plane by Turkish forces further threatens to overshadow the environmental focus that governments had earlier put so much of their efforts into. The heavy focus on security also means that the atmosphere surrounding the conference will probably be very different than anticipated. The dynamics of debate outside of the meeting hall look to be radically changed as French President Francois Hollande has banned demonstrations and public protests by environmental groups. How this will affect the wide range of civil society parallel conferences and events that were planned to take place alongside COP21 is uncertain. It could mean that only the voices of governments and the most well-funded green groups will be heard. That is why it's all the more important to have progressive news coverage and analysis from on the ground in Paris. Back here in the U.S., meanwhile, Republicans in the Senate are doing all they can to sabotage the Paris talks before they even begin. On November 24, they passed two resolutions aimed at blocking EPA regulations that would impose stricter emissions targets on power plants. The President will certainly veto the resolutions, but the main political goal is to undermine Obama at the Paris talks. The Republican plan is to make it look like Obama will be unable to carry through his pledges. West Virginia GOP Senator Shelly Moore Capito admitted as much when she said foreign diplomats "will take away a message from this vote...the general support for the direction he's going is weak at best." Many of the major oil companies, like Exxon Mobil and TransCanada, will also certainly be on the job the morning after the summit concludes to try to water down and derail any commitments that threaten their profits and investment plans. Lobbyists in Washington, Ottawa, and many other capitals will be hard at work to put a check on the drive to halt climate change. COP21 has the potential to be big. Just like the lobbyists of big oil will be doing though, progressive activists and the climate justice movement will have to roll up their sleeves and get down to work if they want to make the pledges of Paris a reality.
  3. As President Obama visits Arctic Alaska, the first president to do so, he is speaking about the many impacts that climate change is already causing there, from rising seas to melting permafrost collapsing homes. Because the arctic is heating faster than the rest of the planet, climate change is a bigger issue for Alaska, for residents of towns close to the water, for tribes dependent on traditional fishing for their livelihood, for rapidly melting glaciers. As part of his trip, Obama gave an opening address to the GLACIER Conference in Anchorage, Alaska. He stated that the U.S. recognizes its role in creating the problem and responsibility to take part in solving it. He noted that no nation is moving fast enough, and condemned leaders who gamble by taking no action on the dire future due to climate change are "not fit to lead." Obama faces severe criticism during the trip from environmental groups who accuse him of hypocrisy, since at the same time he is calling for action to address climate change, his administration has just given final permission to Shell Oil to drill in the Arctic. During his trip, native groups and allies rallied to demand no drilling in the Arctic. Shell's plans have been confronted by many activists, the kayaktivists in Seattle to bridge danglers in Portland, both trying to stop Shell ships and rigs from being able to leave port to go to the Arctic. Groups are mounting petition campaigns and public relations efforts to organize opposition to Shell's plans (sign one petition here.) The record of the Obama administration on environmental issues, while mixed, stands in contrast to the previous, George W. Bush administration. Obama's positive steps include major support for developing renewable energy in the stimulus bill, efforts by the EPA to regulate new and existing power plant carbon emissions, increased mileage standards for cars and trucks, the agreement with China on projected reductions in emissions, and many more. Negative actions include support for major increases in fracking, in offshore oil drilling, and refusing to kill the Keystone XL pipeline (which has also not been approved). The administration faces opposition from the right, in Congress and elsewhere, for the plan of the EPA to regulate carbon emissions as pollution harmful to human health. Republicans in Congress continue efforts to defund the EPA, to force approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, to undercut any climate agreements, to deny the basic science of climate change, and more. Obama's current tour is part of the run-up to UN-sponsored climate negotiations to take place in December in Paris. The agreement signed between the US and China on carbon reductions has increased expectations that this conference will have more concrete results than many previous UN conferences on climate. In addition to these government-to-government negotiations, there is a growing movement to divest from fossil fuel corporations, which just had a big victory in California. A growing factor on the world stage is the efforts of Pope Francis and other important religious leaders to add a moral dimension to how the issue is framed, and to bring their not inconsiderable political capital to bear on the negotiations. Each particular battle is but one part of the longer struggle to transform our energy economy, our economy as a whole, how things are produced, packaged, and distributed. The direction of these struggles is ultimately to challenge the system, but in the meantime, we need all the allies, temporary or partial though they are, to make changes right now. These current battles lay the basis for future, more basic victories. Obama has moved U.S. policy into the column of those tackling climate change, though in an uneven and partial way. But winning smaller victories now is key to winning more later.
  4. After Shell proved, through blunders and its infamous reputation, that it is not fit to drill in the Arctic, Aug. 17 brought news that the Obama administration had granted them approval to do just that. The troubling development came just days after President Obama announced he would visit Alaska to discuss the impact of climate change on the region. Now, as the oil corporation further destroys the already-disrupted Arctic sea ice, the problem of global warming can only grow worse. The move is especially bewildering for many, as the president has declared Alaska to be "the frontlines of our fight against climate change." For a place of such importance, it hardly seems like an opportune time for the administration to greenlight a venture that will wreak environmental havoc, but that is what has come to pass. Even so, the approval has not gone unnoticed by activists. Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Marissa Knodel said, "When Obama visits the Arctic this month, he must face the communities he is sacrificing to Shell's profits." Greenpeace executive director Annie Leonard added, "The president cannot have it both ways. Announcing a tour of Alaska to highlight climate change days before giving Shell the final approval to drill is deeply hypocritical." In an official report, however, Greenpeace seemed to suggest that the brunt of the blame does not lie with Obama, but rather, with the greed-driven company that seeks to ravage the Arctic. They noted that the president "has used his executive power to show climate leadership before. Earlier this year, he vetoed the Keystone XL pipeline in response to a nationwide public outcry, demanding the U.S. no longer champion policies and projects that accelerate climate change. "The world is watching Shell right now. [They have] a history of ineffective equipment. In 2012, one of Shell's Arctic rigs ran aground and became stuck in Dutch Harbor. The technology does not exist to effectively clean up an oil spill in the icy and unpredictable waters. This is a disaster waiting to happen." The imbalanced and contradictory approach the Obama administration seems to be taking in regard to environmental matters is confusing. That has grown more so with today's news that the EPA, which was responsible for the recent mishap resulting in a large mine waste spill, has proposed new regulations aimed at cutting methane emissions by 40 to 45 percent (from 2012 levels) over the next ten years. The rules would apply to new or modified sources of oil and natural gas and require energy companies to find and fix leaks and take careful steps to limit emissions. And yet, experts seem to point out that this is not quite cause for celebration. Up in the Arctic, when Shell starts breaking up ice in its exploration for oil, more methane will be released into the atmosphere - enough, perhaps, to render the curbing of emissions from other manmade activities a moot point. Merritt Turetsky, a biology professor at the University of Guelph, Ontario, remarked, "Permafrost carbon feedback is one of the important and likely consequences of climate change, and it is certain to trigger additional warming. Even if we ceased all human emissions, ice would continue to thaw and release carbon into the atmosphere." Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said, "Granting Shell the permit to drill in the Arctic was the wrong decision, and the fight is far from over. The people will continue to call on President Obama to protect the Arctic and our environment." And the opposition to Shell's drilling is composed of more than just environmental activists. Hillary Clinton released a statement on the matter in the form of a tweet, saying, "The Arctic is a unique treasure. Given what we know, it's not worth the risk of drilling." Brune added, "She's exactly right. Everything we know about dangerous oil drilling in the Arctic indicates it imperils a national treasure and is guaranteed to make our climate crisis worse. Allowing Shell to use unproven technology in the Arctic is a recipe for disaster and toxic to any climate action legacy."
  5. The United Kingdom will have a general election tomorrow. One party that has seen a huge influx of new members lately is the Green Party. The Greens have high hopes to make substantial progress towards the UK's parliament - or at least help push for more climate action and sustainable policies - during this election. But to be able to gain more support and political power the Greens will have to attract more people than their average young, well-educated and - let's be honest - hippie voter. In this video the Guardian follows a few campaign workers from the Green Party as they try to reach out to working-class and ethnic minority voters in areas where the political interest is low, and where the few people who participate in elections predominantly tend to vote for the more established parties - or even the fascist UKIP. Watch the video: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2passo_the-greens-a-voice-for-the-voiceless-or-a-middle-class-sect-video_news Will the Greens be able to become a voice for the voiceless or will they, as the Guardian puts it, remain a middle-class sect?  
  6. When Francois Hollande was elected President of France in 2012, he pledged that he would reduce the nuclear energy contribution to the country's electricity mix from 75% to 50% by 2025. But this pledge might no longer be a reality. Energy Minister, Ms Segolene Royal, said last month that it was no longer a high priority to do so. She said that she was not in favour of quitting nuclear power and added that France needs to continue investing in it, particularly in fourth-generation reactors which will consume less nuclear fuel and recycle nuclear waste. Last year, the lower house of the French parliament voted on a bill that would cap nuclear production at current levels. But earlier this month the senate, in which the conservative opposition has a majority and which has the power to amend but not block laws, scrapped the cap and removed any reference to 2025. Royal refused to confirm whether the government would stick with the 2025 deadline, one of President Francois Hollande's key election promises, and enter the new amendments to the text. All eyes are on France as it prepares to host the crucial COP 21 summit at the end of this year, a summit which many believe to be the last chance to salvage a global deal on combating climate change. Due to the large share of nuclear energy in France’s electricity mix, its CO2 emissions are among the lowest in Europe. But France is also standing by its goals on renewable energy generation, which by 2030 should account for 40% of its energy mix. Ms Royal says it’s more important to focus on reaching this goal than to reduce nuclear capacity. It is possible that France could expect higher electricity demand in 2030 than today. As a part of its green initiative, and as an attempt to combat the big problem of air pollution, France plans a lucrative electric car scheme. Such a scheme, if successful, could dramatically increase electricity usage. Therefore it does not looks as if France is gearing up to quit nuclear, something Royal herself has been quite clear about. France is also a key player in nuclear research into a new generation of sodium-cooled nuclear reactors. These latest announcements put France on an entirely different nuclear path from neighbouring Germany, which wants to free its entire energy sector from nuclear by 2022.
  7. US President Barack Obama has signed an executive order to cut the federal government’s carbon pollution emissions by 40 percent by 2025. The new plan is expected to result in a reduction of 21 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions – which is equal to taking 4.2 million cars of the road for a year. Alongside of this, the share of renewable energy used by the federal government will increase to 25 percent. The plan is also expected to save taxpayers up to $18 billion in reduced energy costs. “Today’s action builds off of the strong progress the federal government has made over the past six years,” the White House writes in a statement. “Already, federal agencies have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent since the President took office, and increased the share of electricity consumed from renewable sources from 3 percent to 9 percent in 2013.” Other measures included in the plan consist of a reduction in energy use in federal buildings by 2.5 percent a year, a reduction in water intensity by 2 percent over the next decade, and a 30 percent reduction of per-mil greenhouse gas emissions from the federal vehicle fleet by 2015 – while at the same time increasing the use of zero-emission and plug-in hybrid vehicles. The reduction plan will be based on emission levels from 2008 and will only involve the US federal government. Although the federal government only contribute modestly to the US’s total greenhouse gas emissions, many see this as a move that’ll hopefully spur other sectors of the country into action, and especially the federal government’s supply chain. The Department of Defense currently has the largest carbon emissions of the US federal government. So far the department has reduced its emissions by 10 percent and is now aiming to install another 3 gigawatts of renewable energy on military buildings by 2025 — enough to power 750,000 homes. “Earthjustice applauds President Obama for issuing an Executive Order today that aims to make a significant cut in carbon pollution—the pollution responsible for climate change—from the government sector,” said Abigail Dillen, Earthjustice’s vice president of litigation for Climate & Energy. “The President recognizes that the federal government can lead the way in expanding our use of clean, renewable energy, a key step on the path to end our nation’s unnecessary dependence on fossil fuels that harm our health and the environment.” The US government hopes that this new sustainability plan will strengthen the country’s “leadership on the international stage”, while “ensuring that we can tackle the global threat of climate change and leave behind a safer, more prosperous world.” But for that, we’ll need to see much tougher climate ambitions from the US – something which today unfortunately seems highly unlikely.
  8. France has issued a new eco-friendly law which requires rooftops on all new buildings in commercial zones to be partially covered by plants or solar panels. The new law, which was approved at the end of last week by the French parliament, was much more limited in its scope than what French environmental activists had campaigned for. They had called for a law which required all new rooftops in France to be fitted with green roofs. But the socialist government managed to convince the activists to accept this limited law which only requires new roofs in commercial zones to be partially covered in plants. The law also gives house owners the choice of either installing a green roof or solar panels for electricity generation instead. But even if this is a trimmed-down version, the law will have positive effects for the French urban landscape. Green roofs are living roofs which are covered with grass, shrubs, flowers or other plants that gives birds a place to nest in the urban environment. These green roofs will also retain rainwater, helping reduce problems with stormwater runoff. Another benefit is that much less energy is required to heat or cool buildings which has a green roof installed. The law might also help France catch up to other major European countries – such as Germany, Spain and Italy – which has a much larger share of solar energy. Photovoltaic capacity just amount to over five gigawatts, or about one percent of the total energy consumption, in France. And this while Germany has nearly 40 gigawatts installed.
  9. Under the Dome, the self-funded documentary by former television news anchor Chai Jing about China’s battles with smog, has been an internet phenomenon. Within three days of its release on Febuary 28, it had racked up more than 150 million views and garnered 280 million posts on Sina Weibo, a Chinese equivalent of Twitter. Then the Chinese government removed it from the web, stung by the criticism the film prompted, leaving those who had hailed it as a landmark moment in Chinese environmentalism wondering if the documentary’s influence would end up being curtailed. Seemingly inspired by Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, Chai Jing presents some shocking facts to her audience in a TED Talk-style format. She documents the health implications of smog, such as its possible relationship with lung cancer, and attributes China’s smog pollution to factors including the consumption of low-grade coal and oil, the expansion of energy-intensive industries like steel, and the lack of enforcement of environmental regulations. Former celebrity TV anchor Chai Jing, as seen in the photo, quit her job after her baby daughter was born with a lung tumor, and after a year of rigorous investigation, launched a 1 hour 40 minute documentary about China’s smog. A wake-up call? Under the Dome invites comparison with Silent Spring, Rachel Carson’s 1962 exposé of the effects of pesticides, and some commentators have predicted that the documentary will galvanise China in much the same way that Carson’s book changed America. There are indeed striking similarities between the two. Both focus on environmental issues of huge concern to their respective societies; both were made by women with national reputations for their previous work; and both spurred unprecedented national discussions. Even China’s newly appointed environment minister Chen Jining said he was reminded of Silent Spring when watching Under the Dome – although that was before the government abruptly changed its mind about the documentary. For all their similarities, there are still many hurdles facing the documentary that Carson’s book did not experience. The social context China is undergoing significant social change, with a growing middle class who are more concerned with quality of life than basic needs, and who are willing to raise their voice over issues that affect their health. This is a similar context to the postwar America in which Silent Spring was published. Yet today’s world is also more globalised than in 1962, a fact that could have two opposite effects on China’s environmental movement. On one hand, the potential solutions to global issues such as climate change, and local issues such as air pollution, may feed into each other. As my colleague and I have argued, concern over China’s energy security has become a key driver of its renewable energy industry. But on the other hand, globalisation has made people more mobile, both within and between countries. Migration has become an option for some Chinese to escape the smog, which might reduce their motivation to engage in the local environmental movement. Differing political climates In many ways, the reception given to Under the Dome is broadly similar to that received by Silent Spring. Both were challenged by economic interests, such as the chemical industry in the case of pesticides, and fossil fuel firms in the case of smog. Both were also criticised for a perceived lack of “balance” or author expertise, and were even accused of being political conspiracies. Both were also praised by the scientific community. Silent Spring’s legacy was honoured by the American Chemical Society in 2012, while a Chinese professor blogged about Under the Dome: … [compared with Chai Jing] we experts in the field of environmental protection and scientists on the smog research should feel ashamed for our incompetence to communicate with the public and our lack of courage to expose the problem. But perhaps the most important difference is in how the two respective governments reacted, especially given that both the book and the documentary broadly chimed with what authorities were trying to do at the time. Silent Spring was published when the then US president John F. Kennedy was implementing his New Frontier program, and Under the Dome has arrived while the Chinese leadership is commmitting to an “energy revolution”. Several key ideas advocated in Under the Dome to fight smog are aligned with the government’s agenda, such as reducing the share of fossil fuels in the country’s energy supply, and increasing the share of renewable energy sources. This may partly explain why the documentary was first released on the website of People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, and why the resulting media and online criticisms of the government’s handling of the smog issue were initially tolerated despite such comments usually being closely monitored and censored by the state. However, after a week of explosive discussion in the public sphere, the documentary was taken down from all Chinese websites. While the smog issue was a topic of frequent discussion during the annual session of the National People’s Congress, held in this same week, Chai Jing and her documentary were rarely mentioned by any representatives or government officials. Contrast that with the policy response triggered by Silent Spring, including the appointment of the President’s Science Advisory Committee, hearings on the issue in the Senate, and the establishment of the US Environmental Protection Agency. The Chinese government seems to fear that grassroots movements may undermine its legitimacy in ruling the country. It has implemented a range of policies to transform China’s energy system, but the effectiveness of those policies are yet to be seen. The legacy of Silent Spring is beyond question. Whether Under the Dome gets the chance to have a similarly lasting impact is far from clear.
  10. The first UN negotiating session preparing for a climate deal this fall just wrapped up in Geneva. The draft is the next step in a long process of negotiation and bargaining on the way to a treaty to finally replace the expired Kyoto Accords. The negotiations were given a boost last fall by A U.S.-China deal on limiting carbon pollution. This set the stage for more serious negotiations involving all parties, with many issues still outstanding. For the first time, the treaty is expected to include targets for both developed and developing countries. Historically, the developed countries have emitted the most carbon pollution, and so have contributed the most to the build-up of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This cumulative build-up is the cause of the global warming the world is already experiencing. However, currently, several developing countries are emitting the most carbon pollution, led by China and India. The Kyoto Accords included only the developed countries, and they expired in 2012. For several years before that expiration, and ever since, efforts to create a binding climate treaty have floundered. The U.S.-China deal raised hopes of finding new ways to include all countries in the process, and marked a major step in China's negotiating posture, and also marked a major step in the US posture, calling for major steps by both countries to limit carbon pollution. This UN process also takes place against rising demonstrations calling for climate action, most importantly the People's Climate March in NYC in September, 400,000 strong. Solidarity actions that weekend around the world added another 200,000 to the count. Many other kinds of ongoing organizing are taking place, building a multi-faceted movement. Last weekend, 350.org and many other groups staged Global Divestment Days, calling on universities, pension funds, and public funds to be divested from fossil fuel companies. Norway became the first country to pledge divestment from its wealth fund, dumping billions in investments in fossil fuel companies, though it still has billions more to go. Republicans and some Democrats in Congress have pushed through a bill trying to force Obama to okay the Keystone pipeline project, a bill he had promised to veto. Other battles are being waged over EPA rules for new and existing power plants. In addition to the growing climate action movement, these negotiations take place against the backdrop of increasingly dire predictions about the results of climate change. 2014 was the hottest year on record. NASA scientists predict that large parts of the U.S. will experience multi-decades-long massive droughts later this century. The UN negotiations are scheduled to wrap up at a major conference in Paris in November and December of 2015. While a major international treaty would be an important step forward in the fight against catastrophic climate change, the treaty will certainly not be enough by itself. Enough carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases have accumulated in the atmosphere to guarantee increasing impacts, on top of the ones already seen: increased forest fires, rising sea levels, more extreme weather events, extreme flooding and droughts, changes in weather patterns impacting agriculture, wildlife, and disease zones, glacial and ice sheet melting, and increased species extinction, to mention some.
  11. Syriza's Alexis Tsipras

    Is Syriza the first Green government in Europe?
  12. The sound system was playing Bella Ciao. Flags of parties from across the left and the continent wiggled as their bearers danced and sang along. Ouzo flowed and fireworks flared. We could have been outside a G8 summit in the early noughties. Only the explosives weren’t directed at police lines, but in the air. The crowd chanting at the politician wasn’t protesting. It was cheering. An international movement which has become very good at licking its wounds was pretty quick to learn to celebrate. In fact, with perhaps 10% of the people at the rally in front of the Athens academy coming from outside Greece, this was very much a party for the European left – in the beer, loud music, and dancing sense of the word. But also, of course, in the political sense. So I should be clear. When I say that Syriza’s victory is in a sense the first Green government in Europe, it’s obviously not just Greens. Because Syriza is effectively a merger between most of the left wing parties in Greece, most left parties in Europe can reasonably see it as their sister. It has already been seen for a couple of years now as the archetypal party of the European left. A Green Government? Having said that, there is a remarkable extent to which Syriza is in practice a Green government. First, the Greek Green Party is a part of the Syriza coalition – they got one MP elected, who was promptly promoted to deputy environment minister. Secondly, as Kostas Lukeris, a member of the Greek Green Party’s ruling council put it to me over souvlaki on Syntagma square on the day of the vote “they adopted all of our platform”. Look through the policy commitments of Tsipras’ government and the manifestoes of the Green parties in the UK, and you’ll find little to separate them. Some of these similarities are unsurprising, and could be found within the platform of most contemporary parties of the left – rejecting austerity, opposition to privatisation. Both have campaigned for a crack down on tax dodging. Both are generally against corporate domination of politics and the corruption that comes with it. Some of the similarities are on issues which haven’t always united those on the left but which tend to today. Twenty years ago, there were active socialist traditions which saw feminism, anti-racism, LGBTIQ rights and environmentalism as “bourgeois deviationalism” – as distractions from class struggle. Many within these traditions were in practice homophobes, sexists and smokestack industrialists who saw environmentalism as standing in the way of their five year plans. Look to George Galloway’s comments on Julian Assange, and it’s clear that these sorts of people are still around. But they are not Syriza – whose colours are green and purple as well as red, indicating that they are proud feminists and environmentalists as well as socialists. Photo: Alexis Tsipras, newly-elected Prime Minister of Greece and party leader of Syriza. I could go even further: they support decriminalisation of drugs, cutting military expenditure and the introduction of direct democracy in some areas. They have already scrapped two of the tiers of school exams. These are not policies universally supported across the left. But they are to be found in Green manifestoes across Europe. Then there are a few issues on which the original Syriza coalition needed to be pushed. When the Greek Greens discussed merging into the broader party, they first published a list of twenty one demands – policies Syriza would have to adopt in order to get this support – the things they didn’t already agree on. The list includes independence from fossil fuels within 20 years, addressing desertification by supporting forests, protection of fisheries; participatory processes in public services, equal treatment of the islands in what they see as an over-centralised state. Syriza accepted every one of the policies. None of this was easy for Greens – who ended up shedding their more liberal wing to the Potami list (“the hipster party”, as my Green friend called it) and a couple of egos to another left alignment before they joined the Syriza list. But ultimately, it’s looking like the party can celebrate a significant victory in part as a product of its pains. The Left Has Changed None of this feels at all surprising, for two reasons. Firstly, the left across Europe, probably across the world, has changed significantly in the past twenty years. It’s no longer acceptable to ignore the interlocking struggles against different forms of oppression. Since 9/11 and the Iraq war, it’s been impossible to avoid accepting anti-imperialist arguments. Since the financial crash, you can’t really be progressive and ignore macro-economics and the struggle against neoliberalism. As the climate has changed, few reject the basics premises of environmentalism any more. In other words, where the reference points for the left were once where various groupings stood on particular bits of the history of the Soviet Union, a new generation has emerged where the relevant questions are very different. The cracks of the past have started to heal in the heat of history. In these contexts, it’s not surprising that we’ve seen a bit of a realignment, with much of the socialist left moving into a space once occupied more uniquely by (some in) the Greens, and some of Europe’s Greens (including those in the UK) getting better at articulating explicitly anti-neoliberal economic arguments. In a sense, Syriza is a product of those forces. Secondly, it’s worth understanding Syriza’s own specific history. The party is a coalition, but its biggest section, the one from which Alexis Tsipras came, was called Synaspismós tīs Aristerás tōn Kinīmátōn kai tīs Oikologías. Or, in English “Coalition of Left, of Movements, and Ecology”. Its roots were in Eurocommunism – the Gramscian corner of communism which was critical of the Soviet Union. In England, its sister organisation “Democratic Left” went through various permiatations and ended up as the campaign group “Unlock Democracy”. Democratic Left Scotland still exists, and provides a useful non-partisan forum to discuss politics under the slogans “there’s more to politics than parties” and “radical, feminist, green”. Their colours are, like Syriza, still red, green and purple. Its membership includes the Scottish Green Party co-convener, Maggie Chapman and many other prominent people in the party (and, less significantly, me). Eurocommunists were in many ways like the old New Left – accepting of broader struggles ‘beyond the class struggle’. Likewise, they tended to have a more discursive rather than dogmatic approach to social change, keen to bring together coalitions and to constantly step back and reappraise what they ought to be doing, rather than following any one handbook. On a night out with a senior figure in Syriza’s youth wing, they jokingly emphasised this point when being indecisive about which pub to go to. An International Movement If all of this sounds a little like Green Parties, that’s, essentially, because it is. Look at the lineage of Greens across Europe, and you’ll repeatedly find it criss-crossing with a mixture of the New Left and Euro-communists. The Dutch GreenLeft Party, for example, was formed from a merger between its Euro-communists and others, and prominent English Green member Bea Campbell was once one of Britain’s best known Euro-communist activist. Let me put it another way: each country has its own history, context and traditions. But many of the people who have ended up in the Green Party in the UK come very much from the same political tradition as those who are now running Greece: a mixture of the anti-capitalist but anti-Soviet left of the 70s and 80s, the anti-globalisation then anti-Iraq War movement of the 90s and noughties and the anti-austerity movement of the twenty teens. This heritage isn’t unique to Greens by any means, it’s a history on which much of the European left can draw. But Greens have as much right to lay claim to it as does anyone else. Driving to a polling station in Athens’ working class docks area with the national campaign co-ordinator of the Greek Green Party, he told me that he had been surprised how keen Syriza had been to include Greens in their coalition – they had never had an MP, and didn’t bring with them a huge swaith of votes. But then, he said, he realised the cause of their enthusiasm. They needed European partners. Adding the European Greens to their list of sister parties brings a big block of support across the continent. And perhaps most importantly, there are lessons to be learnt. As they dance to the music of time, most of the left in Greece has found itself aligned – at least for now. While the instruments across Europe may be different, the drums are thumping the same beats. In the UK, by far the biggest of Syriza’s sister parties is the Greens. And, with Plaid Cymru backing a Green vote in England, perhaps some of the spirit of collaboration could, like all the best tunes, be infectious?
  13. Last week left a bittersweet taste in the mouths of environmentalists. On Jan. 25 the Obama administration proposed new protections for large portions of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), which, if approved, would be a huge win. Two days later, however, the administration released its new five-year offshore drilling plan, which opened up more of the Atlantic coast and the Arctic Ocean to dirty fossil fuel development - and potential disaster. The new protections for the refuge, at least, would mark a historical achievement. According to the U.S. Department of Interior, which is recommending the protections, the measures could become one of the largest conservation efforts "since Congress passed the visionary Wilderness Act over 50 years ago." The Department's recommendation is that millions more acres of the refuge, including the Coastal Plain, be declared "wilderness." What that means is it will enjoy the highest level of protection possible for public lands. Mining, drilling, road development, and the construction of permanent structures - all of these things will be prohibited, effectively preserving the area and its ecosystem. The issue, however, is that only Congress has the power to make a "wilderness" designation, and given the fact that the Senate just approved the Keystone XL pipeline on Jan. 29, sending it to President Obama's desk for a likely veto, the likelihood of their cooperation on this matter is doubtful. The President, however, challenged Congress to move on the issue. "I'm going to be calling on Congress to take it a step further," he said from Air Force One during a trip to India. "Designating ANWR as a 'wilderness' so that we can make sure that this amazing wonder is preserved for future generations." "Designating vast areas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness reflects the significance this landscape holds for America and its wildlife," said Interior secretary Sally Jewell. "Just like Yosemite or the Grand Canyon, the ANWR is one of our nation's crown jewels, and we have an obligation to preserve this spectacular place for generations to come." Republicans seized the chance to attack the development, with Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, saying he and others will "defeat their lawless attempt to designate ANWR as a wilderness, as well as their ultimate goal of making Alaska one big national park." He claimed it was an example of Obama "thumbing his nose at the citizens and [putting] Alaska and America's energy security in serious jeopardy." But the pro-corporate need not have worried; on Jan. 27, the Obama administration catered to them with the release of its proposed 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program. The draft plan includes 14 potential lease sales, 10 of which are in the Gulf of Mexico, which is still nursing wounds left by the remnants of the infamous 2010 BP Oil Spill. Three areas off the coast of Alaska (the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas and the Cook Inlet) would also be sold for oil exploration, after Shell's numerous efforts to infiltrate the area in the face of impassioned opposition from environmental groups. The final area to be sold would include parts of the Atlantic including coastal parts of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. This plan is "risky wherever we do it," said Bob Deans, spokesperson for the National Resources Defense Council. "Oil travels a long way. It doesn't respect boundaries." In a press release issued by the council, executive director Peter Lehner added, "This takes us in exactly the wrong direction. It will expose the Eastern Seaboard, much of the Atlantic, and most of the Arctic to the hazards of offshore drilling. It ignores the lessons of the disastrous BP blowout, the growing dangers of climate change, and the promise of a clean energy future." This plan "would put our beaches, wetlands, and all they support at grave and needless risk, imperil coastal communities and economies, and anchor our future to the diry fossil fuels of the past." So the glimmer of hope offered by the proposal for ANWR protections was rather tempered, most activists feel, by the dark news that came two days afterward. For many, this surely feels like a classic case of 'two steps forward and three steps back.' Noting that the plan puts the Alaskan areas in particular at serious risk, Tim Donaghy, a senior research specialist with Greenpeace USA, concluded, "Alaska native communities depend on the ocean for their livelihood, not to mention the whales, walruses, seals, birds, and fish that make up one of the few remaining pristine ecosystems on the planet. Crude oil is something that simply can't be put back in the bottle once it has been spilled. The only way to win is not to drill."
  14. Members of the UK Parliament group, the Environmental Audit Committee, have in a report released last Monday called for a moratorium on the controversial shale gas extraction technology; fracking. This comes in the same week that Lancashire City Council in the North of England, was meant to have decided upon whether to grant fracking company Cuadrilla permission for two shale gas wells. On Wednesday the council said that they would need to defer the decision for eight weeks in response to legal advice. Half of the Environmental Audit Committee’s 16 members called for a moratorium on fracking in the report, which had been ordered following an inquiry on the environmental risk of the activity. The Committee consists of seven Conservative MPs, six Labour MPs, two Liberal Democrat MPs and one Green MP. In related news, on Monday, a cross party group of ten MPs also proposed a fracking moratorium motion in Parliament. One of the MPs, Labour’s Yasmin Qureshi, said: "The public have serious concerns about fracking that need to be listened to. In Lancashire where the council is set to decide on whether to allow fracking imminently, two thirds of the public are opposed. The Government should follow the example of New York and bring in a moratorium so that the risks of fracking can be properly assessed." That motion failed overwhelmingly when a majority of MP’s voted against it, including a large group of Labour MPs. However Labour did manage to insert amendments into the Government’s Infrastructure Bill that would tighten fracking regulation, which were subsequently accepted. Last week, Labour said that if they win May’s general election they will impose stricter regulations on the fracking industry, including banning fracking activities near water aquifers. Supporters of the growing anti fracking movement will say that the case for banning fracking is getting stronger, highlighting decisions like the one by New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo decision to ban fracking in the New York state in the US. Environmental group Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Donna Hume stated: ‘’The call for a UK moratorium by senior cross party MPs is a further blow to an industry still reeling from the recent ban on fracking in New York State due to health risks. The truth is people do not want a high-impact fossil fuel industry that would leave a legacy of pollution and disruption and would lock the world into further climate change.’’ But the UK government remains adamant that a fracking revolution should take place in this country, having unveiled a series of tax breaks for the fracking industry and saying it would be foolish not to relish the golden opportunity that a shale gas revolution would bring. Meanwhile Cuadrilla have asked for today’s Lancashire City Council decision to be deferred. Cuadrilla was responding to the news that planning officials were encouraging the council to deny the permit for the two wells and made amendments to their application. It was due to these amendments that the Council was asked to defer for eight weeks for legal reasons, angering anti fracking campaigners. The Council said they regretted the decision but said they were left with no choice due to the legal advice being presented to them.
  15. A purportedly pro-environment campaign to keep out immigrants has been defeated in Switzerland. The campaign was initiated by Ecologie et population — usually abbreviated as Ecopop — which describes itself as “the only environmental organization in Switzerland, which focuses on population growth.” In 2012 it gathered enough signatures to force a binding national referendum on a two-part proposal: to limit annual immigration to 0.2% of the country’s total population, and to devote 10% of Swiss foreign aid to population reduction programs in Third World countries. In an interview with the BBC, a spokesman for Ecopop explained that both proposals aimed at the same goal: “For Switzerland the key source of the fast growth of population is immigration, hence we have to limit that. If however you look at poor countries the source of the population growth is clearly fertility.” The Green Party, which called for a no vote, accused Ecopop of scapegoating immigrants for problems they didn’t cause and promoting neo-colonial policies towards poor countries: “It is not our role to say you are having too many children, when in fact we are causing 80% of the environmental pollution.” In the referendum vote, held November 30, voters rejected the Ecopop proposal by a decisive 3-to-1 margin. That’s an important victory, but the fight is far from over. The right-wing Swiss Peoples Party (SVP), which has more seats in the federal assembly than any other party, also favors strict limits on immigration, and is not averse to using environmental arguments to promote them. For an idea of where this might lead, look across the border in France, where this week the virulently anti-immigrant National Front launched a movement called New Ecology to campaign for “patriotic” environmental policies including opposition to a global climate agreement and support for France’s nuclear industry. Campaigns such as Ecopop’s strengthen such groups by lending green cover to their racist policies.
  16. A new global agreement on climate change has been reached this past weekend at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Lima, Peru. The agreement, dubbed the Lima deal, is the first important step towards a climate change deal in Paris next year. But critics say the Lima deal is a weakened agreement that will do nothing to stop catastrophic climate change. The conference (COP20) is the 20th yearly conference on global warming and was hosted by one of the countries worst affected by climate change. Delegates from around 200 countries managed, after more than 30 hours of extended talk, to reach an agreement on a draft text that will form the basis for a global agreement on how to combat global warming by next year. Many hoped that such a global climate agreement would be reached at COP15 back in 2009 when Copenhagen hosted the conference. Hopefully such a global climate agreement will instead be reached in December next year in Paris – six long years later. The Lima deal lays out how each nation will present their own plans for curbing global warming, preferably during the first half of next year. The deal commits all countries – both developed and developing countries – to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The draft text says that all countries have “common but differentiated responsibilities” to prevent global warming. This means that the Lima deal marks the first time all nations have agreed to cut carbon emissions – both rich and poor countries, North and South. The draft says that wealthy and developed countries would assist poorer developing countries to fight global warming by offering climate aid and investing in clean energy technology. Countries already threatened by global warming – such as small island states – have been promised financial aid in a “loss and damage” programme. “As a text it's not perfect but it includes the positions of the parties,” said Pulgar-Vidal, conference chairperson. “I think for the first time ever the world can contemplate a global deal applicable to all and Lima has helped that process,” the UK’s energy and climate change secretary, Ed Davey, said in response to the agreement. Critics warn that Lima agreement fails humanity and the earth, and that it will result in a weak climate deal in Paris. “We were deeply concerned that these talks would fail to deliver a fair and ambitious outcome as we watched events here in Lima this week,” said Jagoda Munic, chairperson of Friends of the Earth International. “Our concerns have proven to be tragically accurate. This text is desperately lacking in ambition, leadership, justice and solidarity for the people worst hit by the climate crisis.” “The only thing these talks have achieved is to reduce the chances of a fair and effective agreement to tackle climate change in Paris next year,” said Asad Rehman, Friends of the Earth’s International Climate Campaigner. “We have the ingenuity and resources to build the low carbon future we so urgently need – but we still lack the political will.” Rehman also notes how poorer nations once again was “bullied” by richer nations to accept a climate deal that further weakens climate justice. For example: several rich nations, such as USA and China, both whom are currently the world’s top polluters, opposed plans for a review process that would compare and assess climate pledges and emission reduction targets. And the agreed draft text in the Lima deal only says that climate pledges will be reviewed one month ahead of COP21 in Paris next year. Also, the draft only say that nations “may” (and not “shall”) include measureable information showing how they intend to meet their emissions targets. “With the world speeding towards catastrophic climate change, wealthy industrialised nations who have contributed most to our polluted atmosphere must take the lead in tackling this threat,” Rehman said in a statement.
  17. The latest in a long series of UN-sponsored talks is convening in Lima, Peru, for two weeks of negotiations. The goal is to lay the basis for a climate treaty deal in Paris in November 2015. The last international agreement, the Kyoto Accords, expired in 2012; all subsequent efforts to replace it have failed thus far. The recent bilateral agreement between the Obama administration and the Chinese government set targets for limiting and then reducing greenhouse gas emissions. For the first time, China agreed to set a peak for its greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 and to reduce them in the decades following. China's reluctance to set such targets in the past has been a key stumbling block to reaching an international agreement, more significant since China became the world's largest emitter of carbon pollution in the last few years. This bilateral agreement has given new impetus to the likelihood of using the UN process to reach a new and more far-reaching agreement. Similarly, the foot-dragging of U.S. negotiators has been another key roadblock to an international agreement. New steps taken by the Obama administration include the agreement with China, which sets a target of serious reductions by 2025 for the U.S.; new EPA rules for new and existing power plants limiting their carbon pollution; continued commitment to renewable energy which started with the 2009 stimulus bill; and heightened attention in Obama's 2013 Inaugural and State of the Union speeches. While the bilateral agreement by itself is not enough, it does lay the basis for both the US and China to play a more positive role in international negotiations. This gathering takes place against the backdrop of continuing increases in temperature worldwide. There is a developing three-part alliance bringing pressure to reach an international agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The three parts of this de facto alliance are: - First, the massive environmental movement demanding action on climate change, highlighted by the 400,000 strong September People's Climate March in New York City, alongside support marches around the world of many more tens of thousands of protesters, totaling over 600,000. - Second, the continuing signs from the natural world that climate change is real, is affected by human activity, and is already causing destruction and economic losses. - And third, the growing realization by policymakers and some economic heavyweights that action must be taken. These three forces have combined to create an atmosphere of excitement in the international negotiations, a welcome shift from the failures of previous gatherings in Bali, Cancun, and Copenhagen. There are significant issues and problems facing the negotiations, including many related to India. Moreover, given the rapidly developing problems from climate change, including some unexpected ones, the danger of approaching tipping points, and the sometimes apocalyptic uncertainties of climate change, it is highly unlikely that even the most aggressive agreement possible will adequately address the need for a worldwide shift to renewable energy, and will not touch the need for a fundamental restructuring of the capitalist world economy.
  18. The Keystone XL pipeline is down, but not out

    After receiving a total of 59 votes in the Senate - 45 Republican, 14 Democratic - a bill that would approve Keystone XL came one vote shy of its needed support on Nov. 19, putting a stopper on the troubling project for now. The victory settled the nerves of environmentalists and spared President Obama the task of vetoing the legislation, as he was likely to have done. Though the GOP has vowed to renew the fight to push the project through, those who value the safety of nature and people, including indigenous groups throughout the U.S., can now celebrate a moment of triumph. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., staked her hopes of winning a fourth Senate term on the Keystone measure, engaging in frantic last-minute lobbying, especially trying to acquire the needed votes from her fellow Democrats - the majority of whom, alongside Obama, wholly oppose the bill. "I'm going to fight for the people of my state until the day that I leave," Landrieu claimed. Her efforts were seen by many as unwise, especially as her state - a long-embattled victim of Big Oil in its own right - had nothing to gain from the project's approval, as the pipeline would not go through Louisiana, and would thus create no jobs there. This is a particularly important point, as it rendered her statement rather hollow. For the Republican Party's part, they will gain an additional eight or more Senate seats in 2015, and are expected to seize that opportunity next year to try and ram the legislation through once more. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who will become Senate Majority Leader in January, said, "I look forward to the new Republican majority taking up and passing the Keystone 'jobs bill' early in the New Year." The GOP's language surrounding the bill, which emphasizes job creation and support for working families, is alarmingly misleading, as several labor unions pointed out yesterday. This is because it will not generate the job numbers that Republicans suggest, and moreover, will pose a risk to the environment that most Democrats, and the President, agree is not worth taking. Nevertheless, the GOP will likely try again in January or February, and might even try and integrate the measure into a broader bill that Obama would find harder to veto. Landrieu asked, "What is everybody upset about?" from the Senate floor on Nov. 18, adding, "We already have 2.6 million miles of pipe in America." But environmental activists and those affected by the oil industry have been answering that question since the project's inception back in 2008. "If she wants this pipeline so badly, it can go through her front yard and not any one of ours," said Karthik Ganapathy, communications manager for environmental advocacy group 350 Action. "For somebody that had the Gulf oil spill and the devastation it brought to her state, she should understand how important it is that we don't have these types of environmental disasters," added Art Tanderup, a Nebraska farmer and member of the Cowboy Indian Alliance, a group uniting workers and Native Americans against the pipeline. Environmental groups are excited about this temporary victory, but it is tempered by an ongoing sense of uncertainty. Still, many believe the President will make the right decision, despite Republican efforts to fight him tooth and nail on this issue. "Since day one, the decision on the Keystone XL pipeline has belonged to President Obama," said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune. "And he has repeatedly said he will reject this pipeline if it contributes to the climate crisis. As there is no doubt that it does, we remain confident that is precisely what he'll do."
  19. It has become the defining environmental battle in the US. And on Friday the Republicans fresh from the midterm elections victory voted on a bill directing the Obama Administration to direct the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project. It was comfortably passed. Today the bill will be voted on in the Senate and if approved it will land on Obama’s table where he would be expected to veto it. In the last week Obama has made the strongest signals yet that he is against the pipeline when he questioned how many jobs it would actually create and if Americans would actually see any benefit of the extra oil. Advocates of the pipeline claim that it will create growth and thousands of jobs while making US more energy independent, while the opposition, such as former NASA scientist James Hansen and founder of 350.org Bill McKibben claims it will be game over for the climate if the pipeline were to be built. Opponents also say that it actually won’t create a lot of jobs, only 35 permanent jobs and Americans would not benefit from it as the oil it is transporting will be shipped to China and other Asian markets from Texas refineries. Below video released by the Sierra Club explains why they insist the pipeline is such a bad idea. The Senate vote will also show how much Democratic support Obama has for his environmental policies. The Democrats still control the Senate and will do so until January when it will be Republican controlled. If all Democrats vote against the bill, it will be defeated easily but it is expected to be a lot closer meaning some Democrats will support the bill. One such Democrat is Mary Landrieu, who as a Keystone XL supporter, is expected to vote for the bill. Landrieu is currently locked in an election battle as her Louisiana seat was too close to call at the midterms election and will face a runoff election against Republican Bill Cassidy on the 6th December who sponsored the pro Keystone XL bill. On Monday protesters gathered outside Landrieu’s house in protest against her stance on the pipeline: While Obama has said he would use his veto power should the Senate approve the bill, it is clearly a risk that environmentalists does not want to take. Furthermore it could showcase cracks in the Democratic party. We will post the result of the Senate vote here when available.
  20. During President Obama's visit to China, both countries announced a new climate change agreement that effectively takes away one of the right wing's major arguments against action to curb global warming. For the first time, China has agreed to set a limit on the amount of greenhouse gases it will emit by 2030, increasing its reliance on renewable energy. This is significant for two reasons-one, China is now the largest emitter of carbon dioxide emissions in the world, and two, the US government and conservatives have used China's previous unwillingness to set such limits as an excuse to avoid any and all binding targets on U.S. emissions. The U.S., as part of this agreement, sets ambitious goals for reductions in carbon pollution by 2025. The bilateral agreement is also significant because it comes in advance of UN sponsored climate talks in Paris in the fall of 2015, aimed at forging a binding international treaty on climate change. Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, notes both the historic nature of the agreement and also its limitations, in his commentary on Huffington Post. He points out that this agreement comes barely more than a month after the giant People's Climate March in New York City on Sept. 21. This massive outpouring set the pace for the upcoming struggles over environmental issues. He also notes that this agreement by itself is no reason to slow down or stop the mass struggle for more aggressive climate action. And have no doubt that there will bee sharp struggles. Mitch McConnell, the likely new Senate majority leader in 2015, has already announced that he opposes the new deal; that he will oppose the efforts of the EPA to regulate new and existing power plant carbon pollution and that he places a high priority on Congress passing legislation to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. Some Democrats propose a vote to approve the Keystone pipeline during the lame duck session to boost the chances of Mary Landrieu winning re-election to the Senate from Louisiana. The battles over climate change and other environmental issues will play a larger role in electoral and legislative struggles, and we can already see glimpses of splits in the ruling class. A new study confirms that the opposition by conservatives is not some kind of general rejection of science, it is a reaction against the steps needed to find solutions. That reinforces the points made author Naomi Klein in her new book, "This Changes Everything" that right-wing politicians recognize climate change as being a challenge to the capitalist system. The new agreement will only escalate the intensity of right-wing opposition to any and all steps to tackle climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, and all forms of carbon pollution. But it offers renewed hope for a serious international agreement to replace the expired Kyoto Accords.
  21. Wildfires have been blazing on all summer, and the latest of them is occurring in Oregon, near the Columbia River Gorge. Owners of 140 homes have already evacuated, and despite the efforts of 400 firefighters, the flames have continued to spread over five square miles. Meanwhile in northern Idaho, another brushfire has burned across 64 square miles and destroyed five structures. But efforts to combat the blazes may be fruitless, because the money to fight them is running out. Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, said Aug. 5 that the U.S. Forest Service's annual budget for fighting wildfires is rapidly dwindling; in fact, it may run out by the end of the month. The fires, on the other hand, will keep burning. He suggested they were in the midst of a catch-22, as when the Forest Service's funding runs dry, it will need to dip into other projects designed to help prevent future wildfires, in order to put out the ones currently blazing. Specifically, about $400-500 million will be taken away from such projects, putting the future in jeopardy in terms of further disasters. Vilsack, who is lobbying for an extra $615 million for the Forest Service to fight wildfires this year and next, remarked, "When we begin to run out of money, we have to dip into the very programs that will reduce the risk of these wildfires over [a longer period of] time." And those accounts aren't the only ones that suffer; in the past, they have also had to draw from other programs not related to wildfires. Such a transfer occurred in 2012, when the funding for road repairs in Arkansas' Ouachita National Forest was instead used to contend with fires throughout the U.S. The fire in Idaho, called the Big Cougar Fire, is only 15 percent contained, and 200 more structures in its path risk becoming damaged or destroyed unless firefighters can contain it further. Resources are being used while there's still funding for them, and include four helicopters, four fire engines, and three dozers. Isolated thunderstorms are expected, but those are unpredictable; rain could help quell the flames, but lightning could spark an entirely new blaze. One of the reasons the Forest Service and the Department of Agriculture are so hot and bothered over the depletion of yearly wildfire money is due to the likelihood that there will be many more fires. In the past, a depletion of funding by the end of August might have been manageable, but global warming has changed that. Wildfires are now likely to occur much later in the year than August. "The really amazing thing is that we don't just see an increase in one or two regions," said Philip Dennison, a geographer at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. "We're seeing it almost everywhere - in the mountain regions, in the Southwest... That tells us that something bigger is going on, and that thing appears to be climate change." This increases the risk for firefighters as well - even more reason why sufficient funding is necessary. Robert Bonnie, undersecretary for natural resources with the Department of Agriculture, explained, "Fire behavior is more extreme now. We're seeing larger fires. We're seeing fires where we have more houses and people. That makes them more dangerous and more difficult to fight." The money isn't there because the Republican controlled Congress isn't doing anything to put it there, according to a report by U.S. News. A bill to overhaul the way wildfire fighting is funded was introduced by Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho - and then promptly abandoned by him. Simpson gave no explanation why. Vicki Minor, executive director of the Wildland Firefighter Foundation, a nonprofit group that helps families of firefighters killed in the line of duty, said, "Because of these fires, we lose our watersheds, we lose our hunting ranges, we lose our homes. These fire seasons are not going away, and for them to not fund wildfires... I'm just disgusted with them."
  22. Will Germany really ban fracking?

    The German government says it will soon move to ban fracking in the country until 2021, which would make it the latest nation (after France and Bulgaria) to eliminate the destructive natural gas drilling process. In a press briefing, Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel and Environmental Minister Barbara Hendricks noted that legislation will be drawn up and approved in the final half of the year. "There won't be fracking of shale gas or coal gas for economic reasons in the foreseeable future," confirmed Hendricks. However, one can read in between the lines and see that there is still room for exploitation by natural gas corporations. Case in point: there are a number of "special circumstances" which would allow fracking to circumvent the legislation. An example is that the law's language states that "unconventional" fracking cannot take place more than 3,000 meters below the surface - but "conventional" fracking can. While this will still effectively prevent fracking from, in most cases, contaminating groundwater, it will not prevent it from triggering small earthquakes. Political parties including the Green Party have reacted with strong criticism; the chairman of the Greens' parliamentary group, Oliver Krischer, went as far as to call it a "fracking-enabling law," recognizing the distinction between this potentially deceptive proposal and an actual fracking ban - "a regulation that does not allow fracking in Germany and without loopholes that are as big as a barn door." Hubertus Zdebel of the Left party agreed, noting, "Fracking must be banned in Germany without any exceptions. To say that there is a fracking ban in the paper is window dressing. They want to enforce a regulation which mostly allows fracking under the guise of an alleged ban." Citing estimates obtained from the Federal Institute of Geosciences and Natural Resources, he added, "The planned restrictions will still allow the exploitation of half of all unconventional natural gas deposits in Germany." He also said there are other potential risks associated with allowing deep fracking, including uncontrolled methane gas emissions. Francisco Szekely, writer for EnergyBiz, remarked that the legislation is likely a play to quell environmentalists' fears while also reducing Germany's dependency upon Russia for gas imports. He said, however, "This decision is not a sustainable solution. The temporary relief of geopolitics should not be achieved at the long-term cost of environmental degradation. To put our economy and our world on a path to sustainability, governments and companies need to focus on doing real good for society and not just doing less harm, as seems to be the case" with this fracking issue. "With evidence of climate change becoming clearer than ever," he added, Germany should be "thinking carefully before allowing fracking in their territory. Moreover, whatever short-term promise fracking offers is also taking our sense of urgency away from transitioning to more renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar power." So in short, one might conclude, Germany's "fracking ban" may be little more than a smoke-and-mirror tactic. Said Szekely: "To quote Albert Einstein, 'We cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.'"
  23. Earlier this month, the parliament in Finland passed a new climate change act that obliges the country to reduce its emissions with 80 percent by 2050. Ville Niinisto, the Minister of the Environment, said that the new climate change legislation "is an attempt to establish Finland as a leader in low-carbon society." Besides the emission reduction targets the new climate change act also contains measures to improve climate policies and responsibilities for various state authorities, as well as a planning and monitoring system. The new climate change act mainly targets the public sector and does not impose any new obligations on businesses or other operators in Finland. Instead, the new climate laws will act as a tool for the Finnish Government and Parliament to make sure that the public sector and state authorities in the country reach their emission reduction targets. “Climate change and the efforts to mitigate it will change the world and human activities substantially in the coming decades,” Niinisto said. “The Climate Change Act will improve the operations of the public sector in terms of smart societal planning, so that Finland will still remain competitive while we work to reduce climate emissions.” The climate change act includes both medium-term and long-term plans to make sure that Finland actually reaches their reduction targets by 2050. The long-term plan will contain various options for reaching the 80 percent reduction target and will have to be approved by the Parliament at least once every ten years. The medium-term plan concerns reduction measures against emissions outside the emissions trading scheme – such as traffic, housing and agriculture. These reduction measures will need to be approved once per election term. In a recent poll, surveying the public’s opinions about the new climate laws, nearly 80 percent of the respondents said that they approved the new act. So public support for the new climate laws seems to be strong, but criticism from industry representatives remains. But Niinisto rejects fears that the new climate laws could hamper the Finnish industry and bring about additional costs for businesses. “In fact, this is an opportunity for Finnish industries,” Niinisto argued. “It’s a breakthrough that so many sectors seek to address these issues. We will commit to the emissions cuts cost-effectively in order to ensure that the economy thrives and the well-being of citizens increases,” Niinisto assured. “We will avoid unreasonable costs.”
  24. Americans are willing to bear the costs of combating climate change, and most are more likely to support a candidate seeking to address the issue in these midterm elections. By an almost two-to-one margin, 62 percent to 33 percent, Americans say they would pay more for energy if it would mean a reduction in pollution from carbon emissions, according to the Bloomberg National Poll. While Republicans were split, with 46 percent willing to pay more and 49 percent opposed to it, 82 percent of Democrats and 60 percent of independents say they’d accept higher bills. These great news point three facts: - Not all Republicans are against climate change, the most wonderful news I've ever heard. - Democrats may win midterm elections due to the opinion of Americans. - Something might really change in America from the environmental point, climate change isn't anymore that Democrat legend, it's now a real danger that must be defeated.
  25. In what could become a defining moment in environmental history, President Obama unveiled a plan on June 2 to cut carbon emissions by nearly a third within 15 years. It is the centerpiece of a larger climate action plan, and could prove to be one of the most important initiatives ever to fight climate change. "Right now," said Obama, "there are no national limits to the amount of carbon pollution that existing plants can pump into the air we breathe - none. We limit the amount of toxic chemicals like mercury, sulfur, and arsenic that power plants put in our air and water. But they can dump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the air. It's not smart, it's not safe, and it doesn't make sense." The plan is already facing a wave of hostility from Republicans, who believe it will kill jobs. Obama dismissed this criticism, noting, "Special interests and their allies in Congress will claim that these guidelines will kill jobs and crush the economy. But let's face it, that's what they always say. They warned that doing something about the smog choking our cities, and acid rain poisoning our lakes, would kill business. It didn't. Our air got cleaner, acid rain was cut dramatically, and our economy kept growing." In fact, if this carbon reduction goal is met, it could produce "net climate and health benefits totaling $48-82 billion," according to the EPA. EPA administrator Gina McCarthy said the new rules would be critical in moving the rest of Obama's climate action plan forward. "The EPA is delivering on a vital piece of the plan by proposing a clean power plan that will cut harmful carbon pollution from plants. This is not just about disappearing polar bears and melting ice caps. This is about protecting our health, our homes, our local economies, and our jobs." Pollution reduction targets will vary based on what is best for each state; for example, the Rust Belt relies heavily on coal-fired plants, but some states, like Iowa, now generate over 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources. Plans will thus be adjusted accordingly. Some activists believe the state-by-state setup could be problematic, particularly in those that heavily lean on coal. Indiana, for instance, gets 80 percent of its electricity from coal. Republican Gov. Mike Pence vowed to fight the plan, remarking, "Indiana will oppose these regulations using every means available." Obama's counselor John Podesta addressed the concerns, stating, "While I am sure there will be holdouts amongst the states, most utilities will also want to work with their regulators to ensure successful implementation." He acknowledged that Republicans will "find various ways to try and stop us from using the authority we have under the Clean Air Act. All I would say is that those have zero percent chance of working, and we're committed to moving forward." Greenpeace applauded the ruling, remarking, "The plan shows that President Obama is serious about pushing the power sector away from coal and toward renewable energy, and that commitment couldn't come any sooner. Global warming is already affecting the lives of Americans in every single corner of our country, and things will get dramatically worse if we don't switch from coal, gas, and oil to renewables like wind and solar." In a separate statement, Greenpeace Climate and Energy Campaign director Gabe Wisniewski warned that the opposition would come not just from right-wing politicians, but industries and lobbyists like the American Legislative Exchange Council. While that pushback is to be expected, he added, it makes little sense, as "the most successful and innovative businesses in the country are sprinting to adopt renewable energy." "The President promised he would act to tackle the climate crisis and protect the health of our children and grandchildren, and he is keeping his word," said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. "These aren't just the first-ever protections to clean up carbon pollution from power plants, they also represent the largest single step any president has ever taken to fight climate disruption." EcoWatch founder and CEO Stefanie Spear said June 2 was "a really historic day for our country. These guidelines will help foster clean energy and efficiency while cleaning up the nation's air. We really need to show how renewables do work. We can power our country from wind, from solar, from other renewable sources, and energy efficiency has a vital role in all of this." Sheryl Carter, co-director of the National Resources Defense Council's energy program, added, "Energy efficiency is the cheapest, fastest, and cleanest way to cut carbon emissions, and it benefits local communities enormously by putting people to work and lowering bills. We are already seeing clear examples of efficiency in action, with huge job and money-savings benefits based on real-world experience by states. This analysis shows that carbon standards that use efficiency as a key strategy will expand these benefits to a much bigger scale. We need to do this now." This article was originally published in People's World by Blake Deppe.