30 September 2009

67 Days - Which Side is Hysterical?

I'm happy to announce that I'm no longer riled by stupid comments about climate change from ignoramuses (I mean, deniers and skeptics) in the Comments sections of different websites and blogs.

These comments are becoming shriller and shriller, meaning that deniers and skeptics are running out of ways to sound right when they know they're simply making the future a thing of the past for the children of all species. (Money and power must be so addictive, eh?)

Here's the one that convinced me their power is waning. It's laughable, it's so hysterical. Or
he's so hysterical.
Like I said: Global Warming = CROCK OF SHIT/HOAX, from fear mongering, money hungry, power crazed liberal freaks, wanting more governmental control over the people. Sounds a little like a socialist take over. Think about it! Why are Scientist [sic, or Freudian slip?] that have opposing views discredited and shunned by the libs so blatantly without even a thought that they might have a valid point?
This fellow needs to realize that we who follow and study the climate change research DO think about what the deniers and skeptics and their fossil-fuelled researchers (without seeming to do any actual research) have to say. We wish what they are saying were true (note the subjunctive there). But it's not. Sadly. And kids in Africa are dying because the skeptics and deniers have wasted so much precious time.

Anyway, the news keeps getting worse and worse. Government leaders must be freaking out in their private chambers, realizing that one day soon, the vast majority of us are going to rise up and demand urgent action, including (oooh, scary) legislation and carbon taxes and an emergency shift to renewable energy technologies. To make the world a better place. Which the deniers and skeptics obviously don't want.

29 September 2009

68 Days - Climate Heroes and Moving Forward

During brunch with a friend yesterday, I told her (a) about Kevin Conrad's magnificent show of heroism at the Bali climate talks in December 2007 (how time flies), and (b) how much I'm sick of politicians using the term "going forward" or "moving forward" — as though if they don't say it, we'll all think they're going backwards?

I watched the videos again today for old time's sake, and not only am I re-impressed with the Papua New Guinea representative's courage to stand up to the main obfuscators, but I also heard that dastardly line again. In one video, you'll hear applause for Mr. Conrad, and in the other, you'll hear applause for the United States of America. In the third, you'll get more background from Mr. Conrad on why he did what he did. 

28 September 2009

69 Days - Dalai Lama Finally Sees the Light

The Dalai Lama has finally seen the light on climate change. In an August report from the Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education, we learn that His Holiness is finally concerned about climate change ... because he has just realized that it is happening in his own backyard.
"Earlier this week the Dalai Lama told the Swiss press that one of his greatest concerns these days is climate change as rapidly melting glaciers in the Himalayas are posing a great threat to Tibet and the many surrounding Asian countries that rely on its rivers.

"Here at the DLC, we're accustomed to hearing His Holiness talking about his concerns about the human condition and its capacity for kindness, but it's not often we hear Him discuss our planet's condition and its capacity for survival. It raises an interesting question: what is the relation, if any, between compassion and climate change?"
Not wanting to be unkind, I would have to ask, What ISN'T the relation between compassion and climate change? And with all due respect, I would want to add, What took you so long?

We've been waiting a long time for this. Think of all the followers of the Dalai Lama around the world who haven't paid much attention to climate change because their spiritual leader wasn't paying it much heed. I am very grateful for this turnaround.

27 September 2009

70 Days - Another Reminder: Be Green, Go Veg, Save the Planet

Today, my husband and favourite climate hero will speak at a seminar called Creating a Healthy Planet with a Plant-Based Diet, which is sponsored by the Supreme Master Ching Hai International Association of Victoria, British Columbia.

If there's one leader on this planet who understands the urgency of the climate change emergency, it's Supreme Master Ching Hai. However she's done it, she knows — deeply, intuitively, scientifically — what's happening, and how we can — each us, by choosing what we put on our plates and in our mouths — influence the mitigation of climate catastrophe.

Supreme Master Television is focusing many of its programs on stopping the methane menace that comes with the animal breeding and slaughter industry. Here's just one of numerous videos on this crisis:

For more information on climate change and vegetarianism, visit Supreme Master Television. And remember, this is something you can do. You can control what food you buy and what food you eat. Moving to a plant-based diet will radically reduce your carbon footprint and the CO2 and especially methane emissions for which you are responsible.

26 September 2009

71 Days - Houston, We're in Overshoot

Yesterday was officially Earth Overshoot Day. Every year about this time, we start eating into our planetary capital. According to the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE), it's "the day when humanity begins using more ecological resources than the Earth can regenerate during the course of the year. It's the day that our collective ecological footprint oversteps its bounds. After Overshoot Day, we are taking on ecological debt by depleting stocks of natural capital and accumulating wastes in the environment, such as CO2 in the atmosphere."

Apparently it was a couple of days later this year due to the "recession," but we've still got one quarter of the year to go where we'll be living beyond our ecological means. From now until the end of the year, our ecological needs will be met by going into "debt" — depleting resources.
"Ecological overshoot is a weighty topic. Confronting such a difficult problem is daunting, but confront it we must! Dealing with overshoot should be the #1 issue for society. We could stop climate change, halt the ongoing loss of habitat and biodiversity, and reverse the trend of deteriorating ecosystems." — CASSE
Most of us don't realize how vital ecosystem services are. Without them, we couldn't survive or thrive. Ecosystem services (or Nature's gifts, as I call them, especially when talking about them with children) are the benefits we get from ecosystems. These include:
  • provisioning services
  • regulating services
  • cultural services
  • supporting services
Here is the list of gifts we receive from the natural world, free to us but worth at least $33 trillion every year (and certainly more as they rarer or more degraded).

  • land protection (storm protection, flood control, drought recovery)
  • biodiversity (genetic resources)
  • nutrient cycling
  • air production
  • stratospheric ozone production
  • climate control
  • freshwater supply and purification
  • making soil
  • erosion control
  • habitat
  • pollination
  • population regulation (think mosquitoes)
  • waste cleansing and recycling
  • food production
  • raw materials
  • culture (aesthetic, artistic, educational, spiritual, and/or scientific values of ecosystems)
  • recreation
Try to picture living on this planet with just one of those services compromised. Going into overshoot means we just don't understand the interconnectedness of all life, and the risks we take by not allowing ecosystem services to replenish and regenerate.

25 September 2009

72 Days - Who's the Real Ecoweenie?

I discovered something interesting the other day by following a link to my website. Apparently, I'm an ecoweenie. And so is Barack Obama. Now, until he says a big, fat no to coal, I don't like that I'm being lumped in with the US president, but I had to laugh that someone would call me an ecoweenie when I'm the one who cares about the future. (Believe me, if I could not care, I wouldn't. Ignorance is bliss, and I'm guessing that denial is, too. But once you understand what we're doing to the future of life on Earth — and feel it deeply, viscerally — you can't go back without denying your own humanity.)

I've decided to turn the tables, and have started using the term "ecoweenie" to describe people who would rather make fun of those who care than care themselves. This particular ecoweenie (or maybe he's just a giant weenie), after cherry picking through this blog, provided his analysis of my "problem":

"My professional diagnosis and prescription: Irony deficient Julie needs either a drink or a smack upside the head."
Isn't that sweet? Someone who gives a flying leap about the children needs a smack upside the head? Why do people waste their time writing this stuff, making the world a worse place, when they could be watching more sports on TV and staying out of our way?

Well, since this is a blog about climate compassion, I would like to send out compassion for this person's children (if he has any), and for all the ecoweenies in the world who don't realize what a difference they could make if they were on the right team, fighting for the right of future generations to have a habitable and hospitable planet.

24 September 2009

73 Days - Working Together to Safeguard the Future: Creating a Global Green Fund

A friend said something the other day that really struck a chord. "Those of us working on climate change are like a bowl of sand, not cemented together."

He was talking about our lack of a unified, global campaign or effort to get things right, to get our carbon emissions to virtually zero as rapidly as humanly possible.

What he said reminded me of a feeling I get sometimes that what we're all doing is throwing sand at a wall and hoping some of it will stick. The analogies are so close, I suspect there's truth in them.

We could dissect the why. One big reason is that our new technologies keep activists inactive, separate and apart. I think I've mentioned before another friend's old line that the powers that be are always "keeping the greenies busy in the bushes." Well, not anymore. Now the greenies are kept busy on their computers, with their "(anti/un) social media. (Look at me blogging and websiting — I'm just as guilty, which means I know of what I speak.)

These new technologies do not unite us on the ground, so we aren't gaining strength from each other and a sense of cohesion and common purpose. Paid environmental and social justice activists (those working for NGOs) who do get together are paid to go to meetings, so they think that by meeting they are doing something. WRONG! (Oh how I wish I could spell the sound of that WRONG buzzer!) Talk is only action when it leads to learning. Talk is not action when it takes the place of action.

Another reason for our lack of a global, unified effort is that nations — and economies (despite the best efforts of globalizers) — have borders, but the atmosphere does not. Since we think of ourselves as belonging to nations, not to the Earth and the biosphere, we really have to struggle to transcend to a global vision of what needs to happen to protect future generations.

So, let me raise Anthony Marr's idea again of a Global Green Fund, into which every country puts 10% of its military budget. This will build up the fund quickly, and then countries won't have to wrangle over who gets how much to develop which renewable technologies when. We can just all work together as a global species.

One other suggestion: let's all, please, set our sights on what the world needs ecologically (zero carbon fast), not on what we think we can get politically, which will still be suicide, though perhaps slightly slower suicide.

23 September 2009

74 Days - Help! An Alien Climate is Invading the Earth!

A couple of days ago was the birthday of H. G. Wells, perhaps best known today for his 1898 science fiction novel The War of the Worlds, which reportedly caused widespread panic when adapted to radio in 1938 by Orson Welles, who performed it in the style of a news broadcast. In honour of those achievements, I thought I would throw out this suggestion.

What if we tried that stunt again? What if we used all the media — social and otherwise — to announce to the world ...

Is it possible that we could get some panic happening then? What about if we turned it into a reality TV show? Survivor Climate Catastrophe, maybe. Or Biggest Loser: Future Generations?

How about a travel documentary called Walk a Mile in Their Flooded Out Shoes? Or a game show called Eat for a Day, perhaps. Wheel of You're-Fortunate-for-Now-But-It-Won't-Last?

Anyway, sometimes in this saddening and maddening world of "care more about your favourite TV show characters than your kids," it's a stress reliever to imagine off-the-wall ideas that might actually get people to pay some attention.

22 September 2009

75 Days - What's Stupid About "The Age of Stupid"

Went to a showing of The Age of Stupid tonight. Not sure what I expected, but I had high hopes. Not only was the movie dispiriting (for an activist) and a huge letdown, but it was stupid.

Forgetting that this is the age of stupid, it uses tactics that will backfire on the majority of the population that needs to see it — because they're too, well, er, um, ah, not altogether with it enough to get the satire.

The movie gets the most important science wrong, quoting the suicidal +2º Celsius target. (Here's why +2ºC is suicidal: Right now we're at 0.8ºC warming ... and several carbon feedbacks are already kicking. Why would we want to aim for more warming than we've already got? Targeting 2ºC as the limit for warming is stupid and suicidal. Our target should be returning to less than 0.8ºC of warming!)

The movie also promotes Contraction and Convergence, which would have been fine if we'd implemented it before getting so far down this path to extinction. C&C is targeting 2065, but if we don't get to zero carbon emissions as rapidly as possible, we're toast — yes, with a generous helping of stupidity spread on top.

I'm sorely disappointed. What a whole lot of marketing, PR and publicity energy wasted. The movie doesn't say anything helpful at all — there was nothing transformative about it. It certainly doesn't attack the evil banks or our grandchildren-eating economy.

However, it does offer the best example ever of how liars flutter their eyelids while lying. If you decide to see this movie, watch for the scene after the county council has turned down a proposal for a wind turbine farm. It's a priceless scene that will be worth the price of admission.

21 September 2009

76 Days - Climate Compassion in High Places

Mount Everest is melting. I haven't heard anything about this in the mainstream media, but there's a small sidebar in an old issue of National Geographic Adventure magazine from May 2005!

British climber and filmmaker Richard Heap chronicled (in a documentary called Meltdown) a 2004 UN expedition to assess damage caused by melting glaciers around Mount Everest. Here's what Heap had to say:
"You can't look at the top of Everest and see it melting. Up there, it seems like the mountain will have snow forever. But the lower slopes are definitely thawing. The glaciers on it have retreated considerably, and in the valley below Everest, the meltwater has formed a lake that didn't exist 50 years ago. Hundreds of these meltwater lakes have formed throughout the Himalaya."
When asked by interviewer Megan Miller how these melting glaciers will affect climbing on Everest, Heap responded:
"The Khumbu Ice Fall is warming up and becoming unstable, which makes it more dangerous than before. But, ultimately, the scientists we worked with were more concerned about the effects of warming on the local Sherpa people. Take Imja Lake, for example. It has a moraine dam with an ice core holding everything together. If that core melts, the 30-million-ton lake will wipe out the Khumbu Valley and its inhabitants. It's a time bomb just waiting to explode."
Watch this short video by mountaineer and filmmaker David Breashears, as he shows his photographic evidence of the shrinking of glaciers in the Tibetan plateau surrounding Mount Everest.

20 September 2009

77 Days - Where Has All the Courage Gone? (How I Have Wimped Out)

No sense harping on climate scientists (see yesterday's post) when I often find myself standing at a moment when some courage (or at least a little boldness) would see me do something for the Earth, the future and the children ... but I don't do it.

My most common example is not having the nerve to ask idling drivers to turn off their parked cars. I usually have to give myself a good talking to and remind myself that I'm breathing in those fumes before I'll get out of my car or venture over and use that little hand gesture (turning the key in the ignition to off). I've never had a problem (except for the one fellow who ignored me, despite the fact that he was idling right by a no-idling sign, underneath the windows at a school), so I don't know why it's still so hard for me to do it. Perhaps because I'm not a confrontational person in other areas of my life.

So, to vindicate the climate scientists somewhat (well, they're not vindicated, so to have some compassion for them), here's an email I wrote yesterday that I just can't bring myself to send. It's in response to the notice of an October 24th Climate Action Day event in a nearby community that read in part (all identifying hints removed):

"What can people here do to cope with climate change, peak oil and other challenges that threaten the resiliency of our rural communities?

"That's the question [our group] will ask a public gathering of community members on October 24 at the local secondary school.

"It's a serious question, but organizers promise that the 'gathering' won't be gloomy. The goal is simply to encourage and celebrate the people and programs that will keep our community a wonderful place to live and visit."

Here's my response:
"Hi So-and-So,

"I am pretty saddened that your community has decided to turn October 24th into a day of celebration when hundreds of thousands of people are dying and millions more are losing their livelihoods, their food security, their water sources, their homes and their entire homelands due to global climate chaos. At least one of your speakers will be stating the truth.

"If you have some insight you could share on why people in North America (or at least on your organizing committee) are so deathly (and I mean that literally) afraid of doom and gloom when the situation, as your after-lunch speaker points out, "could mean the end of humanity," I would appreciate you taking the time to share it.

"We're going to do a gloomy event in our community that day. A day of lament. Of course, no one will come to ours. And the denial will continue. Alas.

"All the best with your event. The emcee and the keynote speaker you have chosen will keep it hopping.

"p.s. I am pressing the Send button with reticence and a heavy heart. I mean no ill will to anyone, but I keep seeing images in my mind's eye (perhaps my mind's eye is too close to my heart) of African children afflicted by climate-change-related drought and famine, and Inuit homes crumbling into the sea, and the president of the Maldives begging for action on the international stage. We are so blessed here in our beautiful little communities. We are experiencing no pain (yet); so why are we so unwilling to even feel some of the pain that others are going through? Think of the gloom of their lives."

Is that a terrible email? Why am I afraid to send it? It has struck me that with allies like this, who needs enemies? So far, we live in the luckiest part of the world, but it's sheer luck! We celebrate this luck every day that we live here, free from climate tyranny and, for the most part, political tyranny. Are we flaunting our luck by celebrating it?

Why — and I ask this sincerely — must we spend this day, which is devoted to climate action, celebrating locally when there is so much to lament globally? Are we callous? Wimpy? Narcissistic? Blinded? Numbed? Or simply unwilling to feel the pain of others?

If you can figure this out, please let me know. This is really bothering me — and worse, it does nothing to forward the cause of getting radical emergency climate action happening. We've spent the last 40 years or more trying to cajole people to embrace a more "sustainable" way of being in the world. Cajoling has failed. It's time for painful truth-telling (and truth-hearing) and some heavy-duty, internationally defined but nationally implemented zero carbon legislation. Which we needed to have in place yesterday.

19 September 2009

78 Days - How the Climate Scientists Wimped Out

I don't want to embarrass the project I just stumbled upon, but I'm going to sneak out a few lines from its abstract:
The ultimate objective of the Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC) is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations at levels that prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Climate change scientists are unable to define what would be an acceptable level and time-frame for stabilizing global concentrations of greenhouse gases. This is because defining acceptable and unacceptable risks of climate change and climate change policies is essentially a political issue.
Does anyone else see the cop-out there on the part of climate scientists?

Again, I don't want to embarrass anyone, but I do want to plead for a reconsideration of this non sequitur. If climate change scientists are unable to figure out what dangerous interference with the climate is — and what unacceptable risks are — how can they expect politicians and "ordinary citizens" to do it?

How about this? Unacceptable risks of climate change are those that kill people, extinguish species, decimate ecosystems, threaten civilization, disappear whole nations ... need I go on?

What is so difficult about that? Dudes, get a heart, get a grip, muster up some courage or ask some social scientists or health care professionals to give you a hand if you need it, but defining dangerous climate change and unacceptable risks is not hard to do.

Just do it!

18 September 2009

79 Days - Why Does It Seem So Simple from Here?

There are lots of rumblings these days that the December climate talks in Copenhagen are not going to yield the needed agreement. Indeed, Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in an interview with Environment & Energy Publishing, seems to have lowered his expectations considerably, outlining what he sees as the four "essentials" for an international agreement in Copenhagen (Yvo de Boer is one of my climate change super-heroes, but I fear his super powers are fading):

1. How much are the industrialized countries willing to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases? [Me: With all due respect, putting "industrialized" and "willing" in the same question is begging for climate catastrophe.]

2. How much are major developing countries such as China and India willing to do to limit the growth of their emissions? [Me: There can be no more growth in GHG emissions!
Those days are gone. We must aim for zero. For the sake of all the children in China and India, too.]

3. How is the help needed by developing countries to engage in reducing their emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change going to be financed? [Me: I've got that one figured out below.]

4. How is that money going to be managed? [Me: Ditto. It's called a Global Green Fund. See below.]

“If Copenhagen can deliver on those four points, I’d be happy,” says Yvo de Boer. [Me: Happiness is not a destination, but a way of travel. Please, Sir, don't give up now.]


Well, Mr. de Boer has been trying heartily to make something of the new international agreement, but he's not asking for enough. Here's how simple it could be:

1. Every nation on Earth must — and is going to — get to zero carbon emissions as rapidly as possible, and certainly within a timeframe of years, not decades (which we don't have). That's it. No questions asked. Abiding by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (which almost 192 nations signed onto, including the USA, and ratified) demands it. Our collective duty is to avoid "dangerous interference with the climate system." We've already failed the millions of human beings already impacted, but that in no way lessens our ethical responsibility.

2. This is not a competition (unless friendly competition will serve to make you work harder and move faster). This is an international — call it universal — cooperative venture on behalf of all future generations, of all species, but especially our own.

3. Oil, coal and natural gas are dead. Grieve their demise if necessary (don't be too sad, those fossil fuels aren't going anywhere — well, unless Kuwait pulls that nasty slant drilling stunt again) and get on with the rapid and radical global transformation to a renewable-energy-based economy.... an economy that is safer, cleaner, healthier, more equitable and more peaceful. Go, go, go!

4. Several developing nations are amongst the largest populations on Earth. Think China, India, Indonesia, Brazil. Now picture how many geniuses, innovators, entrepreneurs and whiz kids live in each of those countries. THAT'S where our funding should go (not to nations, who will squander it pandering to the fossil fuel corporations who haven't read #3 above).

5. With fossil fuels out of the picture (the appropriate carbon tax — one that truly pays for the environmental and social devastation of carbon emissions — should do the trick), the new economy should naturally put its money where it's needed (isn't that what economists are always trying to tell us?). But if that doesn't happen, then all the carbon tax money could go directly into a Global Green Fund to finance the transformation.

Please, Mr. de Boer, don't stop posing the right questions or asking for what we need if, as I know is your goal, we're to leave our grandchildren a future.

17 September 2009

80 Days - Compassion by Numbers

I've been talking with my students' parents about Gardner's 8 Intelligences:
  • Linguistic intelligence ("word smart")
  • Spatial intelligence ("picture smart")
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence ("body smart")
  • Musical intelligence ("music smart")
  • Interpersonal intelligence ("people smart")
  • Intrapersonal intelligence ("self smart")
  • Naturalist intelligence ("nature smart")
  • Logical-mathematical intelligence ("number/reasoning smart")
So, I'm trying to remember that not everyone will learn about the climate change emergency, or be able to picture it, or even be impressed by it, in the same way. I'm sure we all have the capacity for compassion, but our individual learning styles mean that it will come to us and develop in us due to different sorts of experiences and sensory inputs and other perceptions.

I've mentioned before that I don't have a "science mind." I don't even think of myself as having a math mind (though I got 100% in grade 6 math! — thank you, Mr. Welburn).

But for anyone with number/reasoning smarts, these estimated statistics from the
Global Humanitarian Forum have got to make an impression — on your heart.


  • Deaths - over 300,000 per year
  • Severely Affected - over 300 million people
  • Living at Extreme Risk - 500 million people
  • Climate Displaced People - over 20 million
  • Economic Losses - over US 100 billion dollars
  • Deaths - approximately 500,000 per year
  • Severely Affected: approximately 650 million people
  • Climate Displaced People – more than 75 million
  • Economic Losses – over US 300 billion dollars
There's a chance these figures are too conservative. What if these estimations weren't based on Arctic carbon feedbacks ramping up once the summer sea ice in the north disappears, taking with it the Northern Hemisphere's summer air conditioning, upon which our agriculture depends? What if they didn't consider the methane time bomb setting off runaway global warming?
Even if these estimations are overinflated, off by an order of magnitude, the numbers are still scary.

Unless you have no heart.

16 September 2009

81 Days - The Truth about Climate Change: "Climate Scientists Just Want to Be Popular"

I wrote a couple of days back that we can't really trust climate scientists to give us the whole truth about the climate change emergency. James Hansen is a rare example of an outspoken climate scientist digesting all the research and being honest about what it adds up to.
Thought I'd expand on this a bit, since I just found a 2007 article by James Hansen, who laments this unfortunate situation as well.

In Climate Catastrophe (New Scientist, 28 July 2007), Hansen writes:

Why might scientists be reticent to express concerns about something so important? 

I suspect it is because of what I call the 'John Mercer effect'. In 1978, when global warming was beginning to get attention from government agencies, Mercer suggested that global warming could lead to disastrous disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet. Although it was not obvious who was right on the science, I noticed that researchers who suggested that his paper was alarmist were regarded as more authoritative. 

It seems to me that scientists downplaying the dangers of climate change fare better when it comes to getting funding [me: which is the opposite of the view of the deniers]. Drawing attention to the dangers of global warming may or may not have helped increase funding for the relevant scientific areas, but it surely did not help individuals like Mercer who stuck their heads out. 

I can vouch for that from my own experience. After I published a paper in 1981 that described the likely effects of fossil fuel use, the US Department of Energy reversed a decision to fund my group's research, specifically criticising aspects of that paper. I believe there is pressure on scientists to be conservative. [...] 

[I]n a case such as ice sheet instability and sea level rise, excessive caution also holds dangers. 'Scientific reticence' can hinder communication with the public about the dangers of global warming. We may rue reticence if it means no action is taken until it is too late to prevent future disasters. [...] 

Reticence is fine for the IPCC. Individual scientists also can choose to stay within a comfort zone, and not worry that they may say something that proves to be slightly wrong. But perhaps we should consider our legacy from a broader perspective."

Bob Hunter, in 2030: Confronting Thermageddon in Our Lifetime (slightly different title in the USA), quotes Greenpeace's Jeremy Leggett, who attended the first IPCC meetings in 1990 in Berkshire, England. Apparently, what happened at the end of the final session is still happening today.

Leggett and others wanted more emphasis in the first climate threat assessment to be placed on the role of feedbacks, even though these are very hard to quantify and aren't generally included in climate models (note: the most recent IPCC report excluded all carbon feedbacks, and since these are already occurring at "only" +0.78 degrees C of warming (while most governments are "targeting" +2.0 degrees C!), it might be extremely wise to go beyond the IPCC, instead of sticking with them).

"'I [Leggett] urged the scientists to mention specifically what in principle the very worst case might be for a world where emissions were not cut deeply — a runaway, unstoppable greenhouse effect.' The suggestion was dismissed — not because of any scientific consensus, but because of the political judgment of the scientists themselves. A sea-level expert expressed concern that the media would 'sensationalize' any mention of anything like that. The leading U.S. scientist at the meeting was Robert Watson [...] who was still working with NASA. 'I have a problem with this,' he said, according to Leggett. 'We mustn't give policy-makers the impression that there's no point. We don't win that way.' A dubious strategy, at best: not telling the truth because it might be too much to take? There was more than a whiff of scientific elitism at work here. In retrospect, the tactic of keeping the report within the bounds of solvability, of avoiding making it seem too dark or hopeless or pointless, can be seen as probably the most critical blunder in what became a long string of miscalculations by some of the smartest people on the planet. And it only happened when the scientists tried to get political, tried to start anticipating reactions, tried to aim for a certain effect."

Anyone else see what I'm trying to get at here? Climate scientists are only human. They have the potential to become climate heroes, to save the world, but a PhD doesn't necessarily come with a cape and a large dose of courage. Climate scientists, like the rest of us, are going to have to look their children in the eyes and then figure out whether they are doing all they can do to safeguard their children's future.

15 September 2009

82 Days - Mercy Mercy Me (Time for Another Compassion Tune-up)

This song was a big part of the soundtrack of the early days of the environmental movement. This is a brilliant, if somewhat enigmatic, video rendition of a song that always reminds me that there's more I can be doing.

Thank you, Marvin Gaye, for feeling deeply. It's a rare thing.

Oh, mercy mercy me
Oh, things ain't what they used to be
No, no
Where did all the blue skies go?
Poison is the wind that blows
From the north and south and east
Oh, mercy mercy me
Oh, things ain't what they used to be
No, no
Oil wasted on the oceans and upon our seas
Fish full of mercury
Oh, mercy mercy me
Oh, things ain't what they used to be
No, no
Radiation underground and in the sky
Animals and birds who live nearby are dying
Oh, mercy mercy me
Oh, things ain't what they used to be
What about this overcrowded land?
How much more abuse from man can she stand?

14 September 2009

83 Days - Why "80% by 2050" is Specious

We've been trying to figure out why so many environmental groups and NGOs are willing to back specious climate change mitigation proposals such as "80% cuts by 2050." Eighty percent is a long way from the needed 100% cuts, and 2050 is a long way from now.

Specious, by the way, is the right word to use in this situation. It means "superficially plausible, but actually wrong." It can also mean "misleading in appearance, especially misleadingly attractive." Getting down to 20% of 2006's, or even 1990's, emissions — especially giving ourselves such a long deadline — is still suicidal given the lag effects and feedbacks and how long greenhouse gases radiate heat after they've been emitted.

Backing the call for 80% cuts below [insert your favourite baseline year here — it won't matter one iota] levels by 2050 will get us nowhere fast. We must get to virtually zero carbon emissions as quickly as possible. Positive carbon feedbacks, especially in the Arctic and in the oceans, are kicking in too fast to wait for 2050.

As long as we are arguing over numbers, we are not taking decisive action. So arguing about the numbers is exactly what Big Money and Big Oil want us to do. Delay, delay, delay radical legislation that could safeguard the future. In fact, I read somewhere recently (in an ENGO document) "Creative Actions + Targeted Specific Message = Real Change in Policy Discussion." See what that's saying? Be cute, keep saying "350" or "80% by 2020," and we'll get people talking about something new. NOT we'll get all nations to lower their greenhouse gas emissions enough to save the world.

Why have we set the bar so low? Why do we continue to support specious targets? Is it because many environmentalists are naive? Perhps they believe that governments are telling them the truth (governments just want to get re-elected), that climate scientists are telling them the whole truth (scientists just want to be popular). Are they only asking for what they think they can get (which is despicable, cowardly and unethical, in my view)?

No matter what the reason, if enviros and social justice NGOs don't start demanding zero carbon as quickly as possible — no haggling over dates or "even playing fields," every nation just starts getting to zero right away — then we'll be joining the ranks of those making the future a thing of the past.

This trailer for the new movie Earth Days explains it well, but also check out New film 'Earth Days' takes a sometimes devastating look at the history of environmental activism in today's Grist. We who claim to care about the Earth, the future, and the children of all species have got to get our groove back!

13 September 2009

84 Days Left and Our Economic Paradigm Still Doesn't Get It

Headline on the front of the Report on Business in the Globe and Mail (Canada's national newspaper), 11 September 2009:

"Either you grow or you die"

No, wrong, false. When are economists and businesspeople going to get it? We can't keep growing. Continuous growth = obesity or, worse, cancer. Children grow, trees grow, young businesses grow. The rest of us have to turn to development that is sustainable. (Gee, that sounds familiar. 1987? Brundtland Report? 1992? Rio Summit? Hmmm.)

The Western (and increasingly globalized) economic paradigm must change.

Green design guru, Bill McDonough, puts it another way. The question, he suggests, isn't growth-no growth. The question is, What do we want to grow? Sickness, or health? Poverty, or prosperity? We wouldn't tell a tree not to grow, he points out. But trees don't suck up natural resources, destroying them forever in the process. When trees suck up natural resources, they transform them into beauty, oxygen, food (seeds/fruit/nuts), biomass, erosion control ... and then everything gets recycled again.

The other part of the Globe and Mail story that hurts is that it's about growing an auto parts company into an automaking company. Why, in the midst of a global climate change emergency created mainly because of fossil fuel burning in internal combustion engines, do we still live in a society that allows businesses to do suicidal things like this? Where is Roosevelt when we need him? Someone to tell the automakers that they ain't makin' autos anymore. Nope, they're all going to turn their attention — and their facilities — to the manufacture of renewable energy technologies and infrastructure. Now.

Lester Brown, of the Earth Policy Institute and Plan B 3.0 (now 4.0) fame, is an agricultural economist who understands ecology. In the two videos below, he explains that we need a restructuring of the economy and a war-time mobilization to stabilize climate, stabilize population, eradicate poverty and restore damaged ecosystems. In this first video, watch especially from 4:45.

In the second video, listen especially for the story starting at 4:20. It's sheer inspiration!

12 September 2009

85 Days - Knowing It's Going, Not Willing to Say Goodbye

We were out and about yesterday, my husband and I. Lunch with a fellow activist (a true eco-warrior and an inspiration to us both — thanks, Joan!), more tests at the hospital, a bit of shopping (Julie's Rule of Three: If you must drive, make sure you have at least three good reasons, and that doesn't mean soymilk, bread and carrots — grocery shopping only counts as one reason).

It was a quintessential September day ... sunny, warm, a light breeze, just right. Everything and everybody seemed happy, soaking in the last of summer.

And then Peter said it. "Isn't it sad to think that all this is going to disappear because we're not moving fast enough on climate change?"

As I live in a temperate zone, and not near the equator, I am always prone to a tinge of melancholy and nostalgia in autumn. It's probably natural for people who notice the days getting shorter and the leaves changing colour. So try to imagine my angst when he said that. I had never thought of it that way before.

I feel deeply what's happening to the children in Africa due to climate chaos. I can imagine what the Pacific Islanders who must abandon their homelands are feeling. I can picture what the Inuit are going through in a melting Arctic where their traditions are disappearing along with the ice.

But I had never looked around my own home area to try and picture what will happen here. If we continue to allow the burning of carbon-based fuels and the release of other greenhouse gases from other industrial (and industrialized agriculture) processes, practically everywhere on Earth will dry out (some areas will flood out). (According to the IPPC in 2007, areas of the world stricken with severe drying have doubled in the last 30 years.)
The problem is the rate of change. The rate of climate change determines our ability to adapt and survive. And the rate of change in the chemistry of our atmosphere and the oceans right now is unheard of in geological time. We are increasing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations at an unprecedented rate — and living things cannot adapt that quickly.

Indeed, I remember the moment I "got" global warming and climate change. I was watching a recorded lecture given by a professor of ecology at the Harvard School of Public Health. When he explained that some insects will start to hatch earlier or later than usual because of changes in the climate, and their predators probably won't adapt in the same way, I knew what we were dealing with. They don't call it climate disruption for nothing.

So, if you love the idea of a habitable planet for future generations of all species, try this experiment: Go to your favourite place outdoors, a beautiful place that feeds your soul. Look around. Drink it all in. Then say to yourself, "All this is going to disappear."

If your spirit then cries out, "No, damn it! I'm not going to let it go without a fight," then welcome to the world of climate activism. Allowing yourself to know this truth and feel this angst is the first step.

11 September 2009

86 Days - No Time for Empty Gestures

This one's pretty personal, but please bear with me. I'm trying to make sense of something.

Because of complications in my injured leg, I've been to the local hospital 10 times in the last week (and not always in a vehicle I was proud of, because I couldn't drive our little standard car with a broken ankle).

These visits have had me pondering green health care, "building health instead of hospitals" (a slogan I saw somewhere), how sick and injured people can't be expected to focus on the climate change emergency (this blog was about all I could manage all week), and whether it's all worth it. (A little existential angst to go with my life-threatening blood clots.)

So here's what I want to share with you. I'm almost out of my cast, and thought out loud today that it might be nice to get a pedicure when this whole fiasco is over with, as a treat and a sort of celebration. (And to help my left foot look normal again!) I've never had a pedicure or a manicure before.

I then told my husband that I probably wouldn't go through with it because I'd feel guilty about getting a pedicure when there are people in the world who don't have enough food and water. A pedicure seems obscene and decadent in that light.

Well, he pointed out, unless I then give the money that I would have spent on a pedicure to a charity that feeds the poor, it's an empty gesture. My guilt would be useless. And I would still have one foot that looks funny.

So, Oxfam, you'll be getting my cheque in the mail. And maybe my girlfriend and I can spend a fun afternoon soaking our feet in the lake and talking about how we're going to save the world. So ... yeah. I feel better now.

UPDATE: Just wanted to let everyone know that I did send a cheque to Oxfam, an NGO with a heart that understands who is going to bear the brunt of climate disruption: women and children [pdf], especially in disadvantaged regions.