Posted by: JohnnyRook | November 29, 2008

Take Action on Climaticide Now, Public Tells Governments and Business

From the Climate Confidence Monitor 2008 (PDF): Three things that people want from their governments:

1. Greater leadership Worldwide, 48% of people believe governments should be playing a leading role in tackling climate change, but only 25% think they are doing so.

2. Direct action People want their governments to focus on ‘big issue’ direct actions such as increasing investment in renewable energy, halting deforestation, conserving water resources and protecting ecosystems.

3. A simple ‘fair sharing’ of global emission reductions The vast majority of people (78%) want their countries to take on at least their ‘fair share’ of emissions reductions, in proportion to their current share of global emissions.

INDIVIDUALS

A new study from HSBC Climate Partnership, a joint project of the international bank and climate NGOs such as the Climate Group, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Earthwatch Institute, and WWF, shows that people polled in 12 countries around the world (full report here) PDF want their governments and business leaders to do more to fight Climaticide.

From the Guardian:

The results of the group’s climate confidence monitor are based on an internet questionnaire presented to to 1,000 people each in 12 countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Malaysia, Mexico, UK and the US. The survey was conducted between mid-September and early October 2008.This is particularly encouraging news given that poll respondents were interview during the months of September and October when news headlines were dominated by stories of the financial crisis.

Despite the looming prospect of a deep global recession, 43% of the 12,000 respondents of the survey chose climate change ahead of the global economy when asked about their current concerns. Worldwide, 77% of respondents wanted to see their governments cutting carbon by their fair share or more, in order to allow developing countries to grow their economies.

In summary, despite a global recession people want their governments to do more to stop Climaticide. That is indeed good news, but…

According to the BBC:

However, the numbers saying they would alter their lifestyles to reduce climate change had fallen in the year between the previous survey, in 2007, and this one. [From 60% to 50%–JR]

This still left sizable majorities in most of the developing countries polled – Brazil, India, Malaysia and Mexico – saying they were willing to make changes.

So, irony of ironies, despite the recession, people in developing countries are more willing to change their lifestyles to combat global warming than people in developed countries.

It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it. –Upton Sinclair

Maybe Sinclair should have added, “particularly in rich countries”.

Let me see, do we have a problem here? People want their governments to do more (including 72% of Americans) to stop global warming, but fewer of them, particularly in developed countries, want it to affect their lifestyle. Now how do they think that is going to happen, pray tell?

In a recent post, Fixing the Climate: “On the Scale of WWII but Longer”, I quoted Thomas Friedman’s on Americans’ unrealistic expectations of how we will stop Climaticide. I think it’s worth repeating here:

You’ll pardon me, though, if I’ve become a bit cynical about all of this. I have read or heard so many people saying,” We’re having a green revolution.” Of course, there is certainly a lot of green buzz out there. But whenever I hear that “we’re having a green revolution” line I can’t resist firing back: “Really? Really? A green revolution? Have you ever seen a revolution where no one got hurt? That’s the green revolution that we’re having.” In the green revolution we’re having, everyone’s a winner, nobody has to give up anything, and the adjective that most often modifies “green revolution” is “easy.” That’s not a revolution. That’s a party We’re actually having a green party. And, I have to say, it’s a lot of fun. I get invited to all the parties. But in America, at least, it is mostly a costume party. It’s all about looking green–and everyone’s a winner. There are no losers. The American farmers are winners. They’re green. They get to grow ethanol and garner huge government subsidies for doing so, even though it makes no real sense as a CO2-reduction strategy. Exxon-Mobil says it’s getting green and General Motors does too.

Coal companies are going green by renaming themselves “energy” companies and stressing how sequestration of CO2, something none of them has even done will give us “clean coal.” (pp. 205-206)

Let’s be completely honest here, it’s good news that people want their governments to do more and let’s hope that this sentiment translates into pressure on governments to walk their talk, which they’re increasingly failing to do, (more about that below) but there is no way that governments can stop global warming without us changing our lifestyles. It simply is impossible.

James Howard Kunstler has written an excellent essay on this topic over at AlterNet. Here’s an excerpt, but you really read the entire piece.

To be specific about this new economy, we’re going to have to make things again, and raise things out of the earth, locally, and trade these things for money of some kind that we earn through our own productive activities. Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is optional. The only other option is to go through a violent sociopolitical convulsion. We ought to know from prior examples in world history that this is not a desirable experience. So, to avoid that, we really have to put our shoulders to the wheel and get to work on things that matter, and do it at a scale that is consistent with what the world really has to offer right now, especially in terms of available energy.

CORPORATIONS

Of course, it’s not just your average American or European who doesn’t want to change his lifestyle that’s holding up action on Climaticide. For decades now corporations such as Exxon and Peabody Dirty Coal Energy have been waging an expensive propaganda war first to deny the reality of global warming, then when that became impossible, to delay action as long as possible. Recently, with the high price of oil and the financial meltdown they have stepped up their efforts. As A. Siegel has pointed out (by the way this is another article that needs to be read in it’s entirety):

For much of this year, the US Chamber of Commerce has been engaged in a public campaign related to energy issues. Early in the year, the Chamber aligned themselves with the National Association of Manufacturing in battling against any meaningful action on global warming, including running ads against action strongly reminiscent of the infamous Harry and Louise anti-health care advertising. In mid-2008, the Chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy, under the direction of General James Jones, USMC (retired) began to take a more prominent role in energy discussions. (Yes, by the way, the Jim Jones being rumored for a senior position in the Obama Administration (National Security Advisor?), an earlier rumored potential Obama Vice-Presidential selection, and a McCain supporter/advisor.)[very concerning–JR]

Although, ostensibly, the Institute for 21’s Century Energy exists to engage in a discussion of energy policy, it is quite clearly at this point simply another industry front group fighting to keep the government from taking the necessary action against Climaticide, because, as we always know, it’s easier to keep doing things as they have always done them than change and give up profits (that is until a hurricane takes out New York or Los Angeles and all those corporate headquarters).

As I have pointed out elsewhere (see: The Big Lie: Exxon’s Interests are the Same as Yours) large corporations want to sucker you into thinking that your well-being depends on their well being, despite the fact that there is ample evidence to contradict such a position. The point that our, the citizens’, interests are different from those of multinational corporation is so patently obvious that even staid scientific journals like Nature feel obliged to run editorials on the subject.

Let’s summarize so far. People around the world want more government action to stop Climaticide except that in the developed world there is a pie-in-the-sky hope that it can happen without our having to change in any way how we live. Meanwhile corporations pour millions into greenwashing ads and lobbying efforts such as those of the aforementioned Institute for 21’s Century Energy.

GOVERNMENTS

But what about governments? According to the HSBC Climate Partnership poll, people around the world want their governments to do more to stop climate change. So, How are they doing? Not so well either it turns out.

In the US the Bush administration is doing everything in its power to undermine as many environmental regulations as it can before leaving office (nothing surprising there). Meanwhile the Europeans, who up until recently had held the moral high ground on the issue of Climaticide are fighting amongst themselves as the economic downtown creates an every nation for itself attitude.

An article in TerraDaily reports:

Battered by the economic headwinds and unable to hammer out a plan to fight global warming, Europe has ruined its ambition to lead the world at upcoming international climate talks in Poznan, Poland.

The European Union has fixed an ambitious triple objective for itself to achieve by 2020, the so-called 20-20-20 goals; a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels, bringing renewable energy
use up to 20 percent of the total, and an overall cut of 20 percent in energy use.

So far so good, however while all 27 EU member states are happy to embrace the broad, overall goals, the devil is in the eco-detail, with countries keen to protect their own industries.

The polluter-pays principle is proving a tough pill to swallow, especially if the rest of the world is not being hit by the same restrictions.

Eyes are turning increasingly towards the US and emerging giants China and India to match the European objectives.[emphasis–JR]

The European plan imposes a doubly whammy on its industry; to cut down on polluting emissions and to buy allowances for the CO2 they do produce.

“We’ll have to show all our dexterity and ingenuity to find compromise solutions without jeopardising the plan’s main planks,” said EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas.

The EU’s biggest industrial power Germany, which is entering an election period, is the most difficult country to get on board, according to negotiators.

(It should be noted in further support of the notion that the laws of physics, chemistry and biology trump the laws of governments that the WWF has just released a new report in which it argues that whatever confronting Climaticide costs, it will be less than the cost of not confronting it. This report’s conclusions are in line with those reached by Nicholas Stern in 2006 when he concluded that not acting to halt global warming could cost the global economy nearly 5 trillion dollars. Meanwhile, Greenpeace estimates that coal use alone costs the world 360 billion euros in damage to human health and the environment. (And of course the longer we wait, the bigger the price tag gets).

Down Under the Australian government is feeling the pressure to restructure climate agreements in ways that they feel will do them less harm economically (everybody’s scared that someone else is going to get an advantage on them).

From The Australian:

Canberra is pushing to change the rules for international climate change talks in Copenhagen next year to prevent rich developed countries, such as Singapore and South Korea, being required to do less because the Kyoto Protocol classifies them as developing.

Australia argues that the next global climate change deal should require binding economy-wide targets of developed countries, with unspecified binding “action” required of developing nations. But, in its submission to the UN ahead of next month’s meeting in Poznan, Poland, to prepare for the Copenhagen talks, the Australian Government says the Kyoto delineation of developed and developing is unfair.

To which Nobuo Tanaka, head of the International Energy Agency responded:

… countries such as Australia should not delay greenhouse measures due to the global financial crisis.

“It is not the case that the global financial crisis should delay measures to mitigate climate change because the cost will only get higher in the future,” Mr Tanaka said.

He warned oil prices could soar after the financial crisis and urged governments to spend some of their fiscal stimulus on renewable energy and energy efficiency projects.

And lest I be accused of being too Eurocentric here is a story of government stupidity and corporate greed out of Argentina that bears on this discussion:

The decision by the administration of Cristina Fernández to veto a law to protect Argentina’s glaciers — important reserves of freshwater — has caused deep concern among scientists and environmentalists who participated in writing the legislation.

“We worked closely with the legislators to get this law passed,” said a disappointed Ricardo Villalba, geoscientist and director of the Argentine government’s institute for snow and glacier research, IANIGLA.

“It’s difficult to understand what happened. The scientific community doesn’t want to slow economic development, but rather preserve freshwater sources in a region where the provinces rely on those reserves for consumption and irrigation,” Villalba, a member of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), told Tierramérica.

The law would have affected projects like the Pascua Lama mine, which Canadian mining giant Barrick Gold is pursuing in the Andes in a border area between the western Argentine province of San Juan and the Chilean region of Atacama, to mine gold, silver and copper over the next 20 years.

Barrick’s investment in the project would be about 2.4 billion dollars, according to the latest estimates, and the mine would produce annually some 615,000 ounces of gold and 30 million ounces of silver, plus 5,000 tonnes of copper concentrate through leaching with cyanide to separate the metal from the ore.

The mining project has already been approved by both Chile and Argentina, despite the harm it would cause area glaciers and despite the strong resistance from residents on both sides of the border, who have been campaigning for years against mining and in favour of preserving the freshwater reserves.

BARACK OBAMA AND THE IMPORTANCE OF UNITED STATES LEADERSHIP

The page where the Argentina glacier story is reported has a sidebar with a picture of Barack Obama and the question Obama: A New Era? Let us hope so, because without US leadership we will fail to meet the challenge posed by Climaticide. Only Obama has the position and ability to convince and inspire the American people to accept the collective sacrifice that the conjunction of economic and climate crisis make necessary. And only an Obama administration committed to serious, science-based action on global warming will be able to rally the Europeans to overcome their infighting, which is a prerequisite to getting the Chinese and Indians on board.

Interestingly, the people who have done the least to create the current crisis, the people who are most willing to change their lifestyle, the residents of developing countries, are also the most optimistic(PDF) that the problem can be solved.

On Monday, The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Poznań, Poland will begin . The Conference’s task is to do preparatory work for next year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen where the next stage of the Kyoto Protocol is to be worked out. Unfortunately, the Bush administration is still in power so the United States will fail to exercise the leadership that it needs to. This makes it that just that much more important for Obama to start to spend some (maybe a lot) of his political capital on confronting Climaticide starting immediately on January 20, 2009.

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