Global Civil Society(ies) begins to find its Collective Voice on Climate Change

In this week’s seminar, we had a rather spirited debate on which sector of society–the state, the market, or civil society–is most crucial to restructuring our world in a way that is conducive to protecting the global climate from irreparable damage. I think that most of us agreed that market-based solutions, such as cap-and-trade schemes, are not a panacea. At best, they do nothing and, at worst, they contribute to increasing GHG emissions, increase international injustice (rich countries are able to move pollution from the North to the South), and undermine the sustainable livelihoods of indigenous peoples.

What about the prospects for domestic/international state (i.e., government) regulation and civil society activism? It’s obvious that both will be needed. While governments have taken small steps over the last couple of decades, much more has to be done. The world’s greatest polluters–the USA and China–in particular, have to be much more pro-active.

Civil society groups, on the other hand, have begun to increase their pressure on political and economic leaders. Evidence of this was last Sunday’s climate march, which took place in over 2500 cities in more than 160 countries. Here’s a nice recap of that day’s action from the event’s organizers:

NDP MP Asks Canadian Parliament Why no PM Harper at UN Climate Summit

The UN Climate Summit of 2014 was held in New York earlier this week. More than 125 world leaders were present, including US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron. Amongst the most noteworthy no-shows were the leaders of some of the world’s largest GHG-emitting countries, such as China, India, Russia, and Germany. Joining his colleagues on the no-show was our own Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. The Canadian government did send a delegate from the ministerial level, however. This did not satisfy the official opposition–The New Democratic Party, as MP Megan Leslie used question period to ask the Conservative government to justify Harper’s non-appearance in New York on Tuesday. Here’s the clip (Leslie’s first offering is in French, so if you don’t follow, the English transcript is provided on youtube:

 

 

Naomi Klein Interviewed about her new climate politics book

Naomi Klein, who has written extensively about global political issues was recently interviewed on Democracy Now about her new book This Changes Everything: Capitalism versus the Climate. This is one of those books whose content is easily identifiable from the title. In essence, Klein posits that capitalism, at least in its current form as championed by right-wing think tanks world-wide (but especially in the United States of America), is inherently at odds with protecting the climate. This is a sentiment articulated by some of you during our session earlier this week. There can’t simply be tinkering at the margins. The protection of the global environment requires a radical re-thinking of the relationships amongst, civil society, the market, and the state. [Incidentally, Klein’s book promotion tour will hit Vancouver on October 26th (at UBC).]

Here’s part of the transcript from the interview, which you can view below:

NAOMI KLEIN…So the argument I’m making is really quite a hopeful one. I think if we do respond to climate change with the decisiveness that the scientist[s] are telling us we do, if we respond in line with science, we have a chance to remake our economy, the global economy, for the better…

AMY GOODMANNaomi Klein, in your book, This Changes Everything, you… talk about a number of these [right-wing think tanks] groups. You open with them in a chapter called “The Right is Right.”

NAOMI KLEIN: OK, well, let’s be clear: They are not right about the science. They’re wrong about the science. But I think what the right understands, and it’s important to understand, that the climate change denier movement in the United States is entirely a product of the right-wing think tank infrastructure…The Heartland Institute, which people mostly only know in terms of the fact that it hosts these annual conferences of climate change skeptics or deniers, it’s important to know that the Heartland Institute is first and foremost a free market think tank. It’s not a scientific organization. It is—just like the other ones I listed, it exists to push the ideology, the familiar ideology, of deregulation, privatization, cuts to government spending, and sort of triumphant free market, you know, backed with enormous corporate funding, because that’s a very, very profitable ideology.

And when I interviewed the head of the Heartland Institute, Joe Bast, for this project, he was quite open that it wasn’t that he found a problem with the science first. He said, when he looked at the science and listened to what scientists were saying about how much we need to cut our emissions, he realized that climate change could be—if it were true, it would justify huge amounts of government regulation, which he politically opposes. And so, he said, “So then we looked at the science, and we found these problems,” right? So the issue is, they understand that if the science is true, their whole ideological project falls apart, because, as I said, you can’t respond to a crisis this big, that involves transforming the foundation of our economy—our economy was built on fossil fuels, it is still fueled by fossil fuels. The idea in this—we hear this from a lot of liberal environmental groups, that we can change completely painlessly—just change your light bulbs, or just a gentle market mechanism, tax and relax, no problem. This is what they understand well, that in fact it requires transformative change. That change is abhorrent to them…

…So when I say “the right is right,” I think that they have a better grasp on the political implications of the science, of what it means to how we need to change our economy and what the role of the public sphere is and the role of collective action is, better than some of those sort of big, slick, centrist green groups that are constantly trying to sell climate action as something entirely reconcilable with a booming capitalist economy. And we’re always hearing about green growth and how it’s great for business. You know, yeah, you can—there will be markets in green energy and so on, but other businesses are going to have to contract in ways that requires that strong intervention.

Patio Heaters versus Food

I was sitting on a restaurant during the evening this past weekend and coincidentally happened to be reading Chapter 2 of Hayley Stevenson’s Institutionalizing Unsustainability, when I looked up to notice the patio heaters had been turned on. This was done to make the patrons’ dining experience more comfortable and satisfying. It wasn’t necessary, since we could have simply been wearing a light jacket and things would have been quite comfortable. I looked up to the heaters just as I read the following lines:

This suggests that climate change is indeed an inherently political problem, [y]et a technical representation of the climate change problem has been institutionalized. Viewed through a technical lens, the specific sources of emissions and the social and political objectives they serve are treated as irrelevant, and the unsustainable nature of many emission-intensive activities [such as heaters on restaurant patios in September on British Columbia’s Pacific Coast] is rendered invisible. As Parikh and Parikh (1991, 43) have pointed out, we could prevent the annual emission of 1,000 tons of GHGs either by taking 800 cars off the road in the United States, or by asking 12,000 Bangladeshis to stop eating rice. These figures belie the assumption that GHG emissions are purely material phenomena that can be satisfactorily mitigated through technocratic processes divorced from social and ethical considerations.

The patio heaters below were in use for about 6 hours each that evening, and I counted 20 in total. Does anybody know how many bowls of rice could have been cooked instead with that energy?

patio_heater

Domestic Emissions Targets for Greenhouse Gases and China

This week, we begin to address the politics of climate change. In the chapter from the Stevenson text, the author addresses the rise of two international norms that are related to mitigating the impact of global warming: 1) common but differentiated responsibilities (CBRD) and, 2) mitigation in the form of domestic emissions’ targets.

Stevenson argues that international negotiations regarding mitigation have slowly transitioned from a focus on domestic to global emissions’ targets. Correspondingly, the institutional framework for implementing these goals has moved from regulatory (domestic governments) to market-oriented.  China and the United States have been the main promoters (and would also be the main beneficiaries of ) the market-oriented approach to GHG mitigation. We’ll discuss why during this week’s seminar, but in short, high level emitters can use carbon trading schemes to offload their emissions to low-emitting countries, resulting in no drop in emissions of GHGs globally.

In an interesting story on China’s setting up of a domestic carbon market, which is set to begin trading in 2016, we find something interesting. First, here’s a description of the proposed Chines carbon market:

China plans to roll out its national market for carbon permit trading in 2016, an official said Sunday, adding that the government is close to finalising rules for what will be the world’s biggest emissions trading scheme.

The world’s biggest-emitting nation, accounting for nearly 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, plans to use the market to slow its rapid growth in climate-changing emissions.

What caught my eye, however, was the next line:

China has pledged to reduce the amount of carbon it emits per unit of GDP to 40-45 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.

In an informal (convenience sample) survey of some friends and acquaintances, it is obvious that the impression (almost unanimously shared) of the reader was that China would be cutting its GHG emissions dramatically by 2020. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

The key words in the excerpt quoted above are “per unit of GDP.” Because China’s GDP is expected to at least double by 2020 (based on the base year 2005), China could conceivably meet their target of a 40-45-per cent cut in emissions per unit of GDP even with as much as a doubling of actual (absolute) GHG emissions!

There’s always Vancouver–if you can not make it to Climate March in NYC

Here is something of an update to a previous post on the planned climate march of 21 September in NYC, meant to coincide with the UN Climate Summit. If you are either unable or unwilling to go to New York, but also wanted to take part in this civil society manifestation, there is a local march planned for that day. Here is more information (note: this should not be meant as an endorsement/non-endorsement of the event or the organizers):

We are at the crossroads of the future. Vancouver stands as either the terminus or the gateway of a potential flood of oil, coal and LNG headed out to contribute substantial, irreparable damage to the world’s earth, air and water. We are uniquely situated to act in defense of our planet by helping to stem that flood. Now is the historic time! We have waited all our lives for this moment, to discover that we are the ones we have been waiting for.

Facebook page
We are staging an event in Vancouver to mark our solidarity with the largest environmental protest in history, at the UN Climate Conference in New York on September 21st. This event page is to keep everybody informed as we get closer to the date. If you have ideas and want to help plan, there is also a Facebook group. We also need volunteers! If you’d like to help, we need drivers, sign and banner makers, posterers, tent assemblers, crowd marshals … contact aalarigakis@shaw.ca.

Here is the trailer for a movie, Disruption, that has been produced to coincide with the Climate March.

 

International Climate Treaties–What are they good for?

Here’s a topical story from the BBC website about a new report by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), which alerts readers to a record level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere in oceans (see the charts below). What interested me more than the story itself, however, was an interesting exchange in the comments section. Here’s the exchange:

780.

767.AndyC555 -” Whatever happened to that hole in the ozone layer that environmentalists told us was going to kill us all with radiation from space back in the 1980s and 90s?”

It was closed, thanks to the Montreal Protocol 1987 and international co-operation. CFCs were banned

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/05/100505-science-environment-ozone-hole-25-years/

Posted without further comment.

 

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Climate March on NYC Planned for September 21

What organizers are calling the “largest climate march in history” is set to descend upon New York City in less than two weeks’ time (September 21). The event is meant to coincide with a key UN Climate Summit, which UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has organized to not only give global leaders in business, politics, and civil society a chance to discuss this important topic, but also to build momentum in advance of the crucial 2015 Paris 21st COP to the UNFCCC. (Don’t worry, by the end of the semester you’ll know exactly what these acronyms mean.) Amongst the projected crowd of tens-of-thousands of protesters will be the current leader (and Member of Parliament) of the Green Party of Canada, Elizabeth May. “Taking it to the streets” in the hopes of hastening socio-political change is something with which May agrees, if her Twitter account is any indication:

Here is part of the Green Party of Canada press release announcing the climate march and encouraging other Canadians to join May in New York City:

On September 21, tens of thousands of concerned citizens from around the world will gather in New York City for the People’s Climate March. They will be marching to show the world leaders assembled there for the 2014 UN Climate Summit that our planet cannot wait for more negotiations – we need climate action now.

At the Climate Summit, Canada will stand out as having the worst climate policy record in the industrialized world.

From their dismantling of environmental regulations to their rush to expand Canada’s pipeline capacity, no government on earth has worked harder than the Harper Conservatives to speed up catastrophic climate change.

Maybe someday we can get the Honourable Member for Saanich–Gulf Islands to tell us what she really thinks about the Harper government’s climate policies.

Is Canadian government climate policy really the industrialized world’s worst? Worse than the USA and/or China? Will you also be increasing your carbon footprint to join the march in New York City?

 

 

Global Warming ‘Hiatus’ Expected to end by 2030

For this week’s seminar, we read and discussed (amongst other things) a general (i.e., non-academic) article–in The Guardian newspaper-regarding the recent so-called hiatus in global warming. (Here’s another look at the same issue from The Economist.) The issue arises from recent global surface temperature data. To wit:

BETWEEN 1998 and 2013, the Earth’s surface temperature rose at a rate of 0.04°C a decade, far slower than the 0.18°C increase in the 1990s. Meanwhile, emissions of carbon dioxide (which would be expected to push temperatures up) rose uninterruptedly. This pause in warming has raised doubts in the public mind about climate change. A few sceptics say flatly that global warming has stopped. Others argue that scientists’ understanding of the climate is so flawed that their judgments about it cannot be accepted with any confidence. (From The Economist)

As the article quoted above goes on to note, there are many compelling scientific accounts for why global surface temperatures have not risen as quickly as in the past, though the author argues that they, in combination, explain too much. To understand what that means, please read the article yourself.

We viewed a video by climate scientist Matt England, in which he explained one plausible reason for this ‘hiatus’–the changing trade winds in the Pacific Ocean.

After having viewed Professor England’s explanation–more heat than normal was being trapped in deeper layers of the western Pacific Ocean–some students wondered when that extra trapped heat might once again rise to the surface. Not being a climate scientist, I did not know the answer. I now know, however, that some scientists predict this to occur by about 2030.

The Atlantic Ocean has masked global warming this century by soaking up vast amounts of heat from the atmosphere in a shift likely to reverse from around 2030 and spur fast temperature rises, scientists said.

The theory is the latest explanation for a slowdown in the pace of warming at the Earth’s surface since about 1998 that has puzzled experts because it conflicts with rising greenhouse gas emissions, especially from emerging economies led by China.

But, if you read the linked article carefully, you’ll notice that these study and explanation cited has nothing to do with the Pacific Ocean. Indeed, the study is by a group of scientists based at the University of Washington:

“We’re pointing to the Atlantic as the driver of the hiatus,” Ka-Kit Tung, of the University of Washington in Seattle and a co-author of Thursday’s study in the journal Science, told Reuters

The study said an Atlantic current carrying water north from the tropics sped up this century and sucked more warm surface waters down to 1,500 metres (5,000 feet), part of a natural shift for the ocean that typically lasts about three decades.

It said a return to a warmer period, releasing more heat stored in the ocean, was likely to start around 2030. When it does, “another episode of accelerated global warming should ensue”, the authors wrote.

So, what do we take from these two different studies. Is the article in The Economist correct that the current warming hiatus is ‘over-explained’? Is this just another example of scientists blindly whacking away at a pinata, hoping to hit upon an explanation? Or, is this another episode of how science is done in the real world. Theory and data combine to make predictions, which may be more or less true. When anomalies occur (that is, predictions are not quite accurate), scientists go about finding new data, and developing new theories to improve upon existing theories and knowledge. Or, is this just a loosely-linked cabal of money-seeking scientists trying to make off like bandits with our tax (i.e., research) money and blithely destroying our freedom while they’re at it?