31 March 2010

Me Versus the Pontificators — Sticking Up for Al Gore

We were minding our own business in the back seat of a shuttle bus the other day, yet couldn't help but overhear the very loud and very "Oh, aren't I clever?" pontifications and holding forths of the gentlemen near the front of the vehicle.

It was another example of what's happening in this society, and why there's so little action on climate change. These guys were spouting Rush Limbaughesque sound bites about Al Gore — you know, fearmongering blah blah, what a load of BS blah blah, he's getting rich on the speakers circuit blah blah — though the funny part was, they couldn't even remember his name! I stayed silent until the shuttle driver said, "Yeah, and didn't he even say he invented the internet?" "No," I spoke up from the back of the bus, "that was a misquote."

Then it was a prattle on about how the media can't be trusted anymore. Blah blah.

Well, no, the media can't be trusted because they know that people like these folks don't care about the truth, that they only want to hear what they want to hear. It's insane! It's as though all of society (speaking for my neck of the woods here in North America) has turned into Republicans or Democrats. And I live in Canada — we don't even have Republicans and Democrats! When did we become so polarized? When did we stop putting our children and our community first, and start believing that our beliefs are the most important thing to defend?

Not only that, but people just don't seem to crave the truth or reason or logic anymore. They crave to be seen as clever, not as honest or well researched. They were criticizing Al Gore on climate change while talking about how warm it was in Manitoba (going up to 18ºC / 64ºF — in March). They were complaining that farmers say they don't have enough water in the summer but here's the Red River flooding again. "They can't have it both ways," one of them said.

Some days, I think a cave would suit me better.

Anyway, I am glad to report that as I was getting out of the shuttle bus, I told those gentlemen that if they have any beloved children in their lives, they'd better listen to what Al Gore has to say, cuz he knows what he's talking about.

(And later, I caught myself before I started spewing something clever and pontifical about those gentlemen. ;-)

30 March 2010

When Something Smells Funny, Follow the Money

Sometimes I miss juicy controversies completely! For example, I only had an inkling that there was another paper "out there" about the connection between the livestock industry and global warming and climate change. Didn't know anything about it at all — until I received a message yesterday morning from a new online friend, Don LePan, author of Animals, a book I'm currently reading.

That's when I got some details. Apparently Frank Mitloehner is an academic who presented a paper entitled Clearing the Air: Livestock's Contributions to Climate Change* at a conference of the American Chemical Society "in which he questioned the Food and Agriculture Organization's 2008 estimate that our meat-eating ways are responsible for a higher percentage of the world's carbon emissions (they estimated 18%) than is the entire transportation category (an estimated 15%)."

Don continues:
Apparently the statistics deserve to be questioned; the UN has admitted flaws in the FAO's calculations, and arguments over what the true percentages are will doubtless continue for some time. [My note: The percentage is likely higher, as it appears the FAO paper left the slaughter industry out of the calculations.] The interesting thing about Mitloehner's paper, though, is that he doesn't stop at querying meat-eating's percentage contribution to global warming. He takes a big leap beyond that to broad prescriptions for world agricultural policy: "Producing less meat and milk will only mean more hunger in poor countries....The developed world's efforts should focus not on reducing meat and milk consumption," says Mitloehner, “but rather on increasing efficient meat production in developing countries, where growing populations need more nutritious food.” Far from shutting down the factory farms, in other words, he wants to expand them.

Note that Mitloehner says nothing about dangers to human health from such things as the overuse of antibiotics, nothing about the damage to our water supply from the run-off of excrement from factory farms, and (of course) nothing about the issue of cruelty to animals. Even if we accepted the suggestion that our meat-eating habits in no way contribute to global warming, in other words, there are many, many reasons to oppose factory farming. Instead, Mitloehner endorses a call for "replacing current suboptimal production with advanced production methods — at every step from feed production, through livestock production and processing, to distribution and marketing."
Don then goes on to explain something that the media didn't, quoting The Outlook Series. The paper "is a synthesis of research.... Writing the synthesis was supported by a $26,000 research grant from the Beef Checkoff Program, which funds research and other activities, including promotion and consumer education, through fees on beef producers in the U.S."

Apparently, Mitloehner "has received $5 million in research funding, with 5 percent of the total from agricultural commodities groups, such as beef producers." As Don says, "that 5% may sound small — until one remembers that 5% of $5 million is still a hefty $250,000."

Now, before someone says, "Yeah, but climate scientists get funding, too," let me remind everyone that there is no lobby group out there paying scientists to make sure we keep climate change going, because anyone who understands climate change doesn't want it to keep going. Even the fossil fuel lobby groups — and the scientists they fund — if pressed (I'm sure of it!), would admit they don't want droughts and floods and famines and the end of life on Earth, they just want the fossil-fuelled economy — and their profits — to continue.

One of the points Mitloehner makes is that the FAO paper, Livestock's Long Shadow, adds up "farm to table" emissions for meat, but doesn't add up "well to wheel" emissions for transportation. Point taken. The only problem with this complaint is that it doesn't detract from the fact that the industrial livestock industry accounts for more anthropogenic methane emissions than any other source — leaving our switch to a veg diet as the fastest — and dammit, easiest — way for us to make a dent in greenhouse gas emissions.

You know, this blog is about compassionate climate action. So I encourage compassion for all the people who are going to have to retire early or transition to new careers because they're working in carbon intensive fields. I feel for them. I do. But governments can and should pave the way — maybe some of the $300 per ton carbon tax we'll soon see the need to charge could cover the costs of retraining! And we all need to be dreaming big, envisioning a new golden age of compassion towards all living things, and renewable and perpetual energy that ends all wars over fossil fuels.

p.s. I should also point out that Mitloehner is an associate professor and livestock air quality specialist in the department of animal science at the University of California in Davis. You know, that Upton Sinclair thing: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding."

* The paper's co-authors are UC Davis researchers Maurice Piteskey and Kimberly Stackhouse, and it was published in October 2009 in the peer-reviewed journal Advances in Agronomy.


Okay, I'm sorry, but I can't let this one go without a challenge. When Mitloehner says: "The developed world's efforts should focus not on reducing meat and milk consumption but rather on increasing efficient meat production in developing countries, where growing populations need more nutritious food," he forgets that these growing populations in developing countries could probably fend for themselves just fine without our skewed and lopsided globalized economic system. Plus, imagine trying to tell half a billion vegetarian Hindus in India that they have to increase the efficiency of their meat production! Dude, you just don't get it.

29 March 2010

A Lesson in the Hazards of Making Assumptions!

We presented yesterday at a Green Living seminar, and not only did it seem like not very many showed up, but several left within the first hour. Only a fraction of the number registered actually attended.

It was still a nice crowd, and the people who remained to the end were very committed to learning about the connection between what we eat and the climate change emergency — and going veg/vegan as an important part of the solution. They heard about the health impacts of our addiction to meat, the environmental impacts of the chemical-intensive livestock industry, economic alternatives to livestock farming, and lots of different tips for how to be a healthy veg/vegan. Check these out at Beautiful Earth.org.

But all through the seminar, I found myself wondering why so few people had come, and why such a large handful had left early on. Were they bothered by the "bad news"? Were we saying things they didn't want to hear?

Alas, folks, never make assumptions. It turns out that the host university was charging $18 for an afternoon of parking — and that's why so many people decided not to come, or to leave early. Several of them phoned one of the organizers to let him know!

So, the lesson for me is to "be here now" with the participants who can and do attend! The people who don't come — or who leave early — could have a hundred different reasons.

28 March 2010

Why Aren't We Talking in Big Graphic Terms?

Earth Hour got lots of coverage last night on the news. I think the television media love it because it's so graphic — offering great visual "bites" (akin to sound bites) of lights going out at famous landmarks around the world. I'm sure the execs of big corporations like Earth Hour, too, because they know we'll all be back to normal the next day.

And now we just have to worry about all the energy we use the other 8759 hours of each year!

Why are we still — after 40 to 50 years of knowing what we're doing to the planet — not talking about the grand gestures that could actually have a longlasting positive impact? Why are we still so afraid to say that what we've been creating over the last 50 years (a world economy based on greed and consumerism rather than generosity and community) has to crumble (aka be smashed) and fall like the Berlin Wall (note visual bite)?

And why are we still not saying that we need to build from that rubble (note graphic bite: Phoenix rising from the ashes of the Burning Age) something brand new — the Golden Age of Renewable and Perpetual Energy? No more fuels! Of any kind! No more burning!

It's like that scene from A Christmas Story (the BB gun movie), where the kids leave their friend outside at recess, his tongue frozen to the flagpole (nice visual bite, eh?). "Has anyone seen Flick?" the teacher asks upon noticing his desk empty. All the kids start their usual "Who, me? Nope, I haven't seen him" kind of denial, looking away, whistlin' a nonchalant tune. Nope, nope, I refuse to be involved. (Perhaps the best ever denial scene on film.)

Our denial is billions of times worse — deadly, in fact. "Who, me? Nope, I don't see any problem. Global warming? Are you nuts? We had snow this winter!" Yet still we (I mean we who understand the threat posed by the climate change emergency) don't ask for what we need, or paint great and wondrous images of what our new world could look like.

Try it though. Ask people not to turn out their lights for one hour, but to imagine a world of lights powered by the sun, by the wind, by the energy of the Earth's core. Ask them to picture of world where no one owns "energy" (ah, it's no coincidence that the word "power" has two different but certainly intertwined meanings) — no fossil fuels to fight over, no more wars (if we can get there before the wars over water and food begin). Ask them to see in their mind's eye how much safer, cleaner and healthier this new world will be. How much more peaceful and equitable.

Let's start painting the picture of the transformative changes we need. Until we start dreaming big, asking big, demanding big, we probably aren't going to get the big changes, the complete conversion, that we need.

27 March 2010

A Pep Talk — It's Not How Many...

A short one today. We're heading out to present at a Living the Green Life conference, which will address the climate change emergency, and the quickest solution to it: going veg.

Today, I just want to encourage anyone who has organized an Earth Hour event for tonight, or is organizing something to celebrate Earth Day, which is coming up on April 22.

It's not how many people come out to your event — the important thing is how many people hear about it, see posters or read emails about it, get the idea planted in their hearts and minds.

So please don't get discouraged about turnout if it's low. (Did I ever tell you about the time we held a Hiroshima commemoration event? The only person who came was there to deliver the sushi that we'd ordered from his wife as refreshment. We invited him — well, coaxed him, really — to stay and ever since have been great friends!)

Just know that you've spread the word, and got people thinking and talking about your important issue.

26 March 2010

The Precautionary Principle Cautions Us to Be Cautious

Have you heard of present-day trolls? (Not the kind that used to lurk under fairytale bridges, but certainly similar.) It's the term used for people who, for fun or money perhaps (I don't think anyone knows their motives for sure), show up in the Comments section of practically every blog, anywhere in the world, at all hours of the day and night, that mentions global warming and climate change — to cast aspersions on those who are concerned about the climate change emergency.

You can tell the trolls by the way they spew things like, "Where's your PROOF?" or "What's your evidence?" when the rest of us are trying to discuss solutions (and the evidence is so accessible, it's completely disingenuous that they keep asking us to track it down and present it to them — a time-wasting manoeuvre they like to use that came to light during the Hackergate thing).

So, to the trolls, a cautionary tale about caution. The "precautionary principle" doesn't insist on 100% proof or complete evidence (although the people already impacted by climate chaos must really wonder about the audacity of skeptics and deniers to keep questioning the existence of global warming).

The precautionary principle says that if there's a chance of harm, we'd better slow down or stop — not keep going with something harmful until we know absolutely, totally, utterly, perfectly, entirely, wholly, fully, thoroughly, unreservedly, definitely, certainly, positively, unconditionally, categorically, unquestionably, undoubtedly, completely and 100% that the suspected cause is indeed the cause.

Sober, intelligent and educated people don't play Russian roulette with their children's future. They just don't.

p.s. The trolls haven't found Compassionate Climate Action yet. Not sure if that means my blog is really small potatoes — or that they can't argue with compassion.

Here's a video from the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment (IonE) that explains all the reasons for caution and the precautionary principle. The only thing I disagree with is their call for low-carbon technology. If we don't get off carbon (ie, all fuels, aka The End of the Burning Age) and get to zero-carbon technology, well... let's just say that wouldn't be a cautious approach to avoiding climate catastrophe.

25 March 2010

If You Win the Wrong Game, You're a Loser

My husband has been out on the roof for several days in a row, doing some repairs and spring maintenance. So we've left the window out, and have been enjoying "camping" in our loft at night. With warm comforters on the bed and all that fresh air, we find that we're sleeping better at night and waking up in better moods and higher spirits.

All that to preface a thought that came to me this morning while I was lying in bed listening to the birds sing their greeting to a new day.
If you play at the wrong game and win, that makes you a loser.
Do you think that rich CEOs of big corporations that make their millions by pillaging the planet and exploiting its people listen to the birds sing in the morning?

How are we going to change the game, convince today's "winners" that they're actually losing out? And squandering everyone else's chances at surviving climate change catastrophe?

Does this look like a man who listens to birds sing?

24 March 2010

It's a Numbers Game: Four Years. Go. + 10:10

Sheesh, seems I'm a day late on a lot of things these days. Yesterday was a global social media / online "flash mob" to promote the campaign 4YG: Four Years. Go.

So I'll be my own flash mob of one today!!

What's the premise of the Four Years. Go. campaign? Simple. According to their website, 4YG is a rallying cry with the purpose of waking us up
  • to the harm we are doing to the Earth and ourselves
  • to the opportunity we have to create the best possible future
  • to becoming change agents in redirecting humanity's path from (self) destruction to sustainability
  • to do it now, within 4 years
"There's still time to act, but no time to waste," they say.

A great complement to the FYG campaign is the UK's 10:10 campaign, which asks individuals, families, businesses and organizations to cut their energy use 10% by the end of 2010. Given how easy it is to conserve a little energy (especially in energy hogging industrialized countries), cutting 10% by the end of 2010 would give the FYG idea a great boost.


23 March 2010

Did World Water Day Flow Past You, Too?

Yesterday was World Water Day 2010, and it passed me by with far too little fanfare and engagement.

Under the theme “Clean Water for a Healthy World”, World Water Day 2010 saw a series of initiatives organized around the globe to raise awareness and emphasize the key importance of good water quality in improving human well-being.

The global event was a call for action on pollution prevention, clean-up and restoration of waterways in order to sustain healthy ecosystems and human well-being.

DID YOU KNOW (these facts are courtesy of the United Nations Environment Programme, and were presented yesterday during the global World Water Day celebrations in Nairobi)...
• An investment of US$20 million in low-cost water technologies, such as drip irrigation and treadle pumps, could lift 100 million poor farming families out of extreme poverty.

• Repairing leaky water and sewage networks can also secure not only supplies but reduce pollution and generate employment? In some developing countries, 50-60 per cent of treated water is lost to leaks and globally an average of 35 per cent is lost. By some estimates, saving just half of this amount would supply water to 90 million people without further investment.

• Globally, 2 million tons of inadequately treated sewage and industrial and agricultural waste are poured into the world’s waters every day.

• At least 1.8 million children under five years-old die every year from water-related diseases, or one every 20 seconds.

• More people die as a result of polluted water than are killed by all forms of violence, including wars.

• Over half of the world’s hospital beds are occupied with people suffering from illnesses linked with contaminated water.

• Human health, the planet’s ecosystems, our livelihoods, and our future all depend on clean, safe water – yet every year, the world’s lakes, rivers and deltas take in the equivalent of the entire human population – the weight of 6.8 billion people – in the form of pollution.

• In the last three decades of the 20th century, populations of freshwater species fell 50 per cent on average, a rate two-thirds greater than that of terrestrial and marine species. In recent years, the biodiversity of freshwater ecosystems has been degraded more than any other ecosystem, including tropical rainforests.
• One of the most significant sources of water pollution is lack of adequate sanitation. Worldwide, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimate that 2.6 billion people — 280 million of them children under five — live without improved sanitation, and each year more than 1.5 million children die from diarrhea caused by infectious waterborne diseases. It is a crisis of local challenges with global repercussions.
• Worldwide, it is estimated that industry is responsible for dumping 300-400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge and other waste into waters each year. New contaminants, such as discarded pharmaceuticals, also threaten water quality and human and ecosystem health.
• The planet’s most widespread water-quality problem is nutrient enrichment. Largely caused by nitrogen and phosphorus from agricultural runoff and human and industrial waste, nutrient enrichment results in excessive plant (principally algae) growth and decay that robs the water of oxygen needed for many aquatic organisms to survive.
• It is almost always cheaper to prevent pollution than clean it up — and poor water quality has significant economic costs, from ecosystem and human-health costs and impacts on economic activities to increased water treatment costs and reduced property values. For example, economic losses as a result of health impacts from the lack of water and sanitation in Africa are estimated at US$28.4 billion, or about 5 percent of GDP. And sanitation and drinking water investments have high rates of return: for every US$1 invested, there is a projected US$3-$34 economic development return.
• Freshwater ecosystems sustain a large number of identified species, including a quarter of known vertebrates. Such systems provide more than US $75 billion in goods and ecosystem services for people, but are increasingly threatened by a host of water quality problems.
Yikes! What are we thinking? More importantly, what are we doing about this? Not much, at least not here in The-Land-Where-We-Take-Water-for-Granted. I suspect that here in northern North America (I can't speak for Mexico), we will take our precious fresh water resources for granted until the day before they "betray" us!

The UN report, "Clearing the Waters," calls for worldwide action to:
• increase awareness to change individual behaviour around what we put into our water
• promote policies that improve water quality with education and advocacy
• increase enforcement of the regulations put in place to protect water quality; and
• put investor and consumer pressure on corporations that pollute waterways.

Sounds a lot like what we're trying to achieve in order to mitigate the climate change emergency. Hmmm, maybe we could do all these things together ... after throwing all the fossil fuel and Big Money crooks in jail perhaps?

Meantime, here's a perky video about reducing, reusing and recycling water, from the funloving Surfrider Foundation:

22 March 2010

The 40th Anniversary of Earth Day is Coming Up

This April 22 — one month from today — marks the 40th time that Earth Day (and now Earth Week, and even Earth Month) has been celebrated. How are you going to mark the 40th anniversary of Earth Day?

Borrowing (and adapting) an idea from Earth Day Network in the United States, we're thinking of hosting an Earth Day Conversation, inviting people to bring their questions, concerns and ideas about climate change — and to drop in for a tea and a talk.

Earth Day is a world-wide nonpartisan day of activism on behalf of our planet. It's now held on April 22 each year, and the rumour I've heard is that April 22 was chosen because no other religious or national holidays fall on that day. (Even if that's not true, it's a good myth.) Check out Earth Days: The Seeds of a Revolution for more information about the history of Earth Day.

Almost a year ago, the United Nations General Assembly (GA) adopted a Bolivian resolution by consensus to proclaim April 22 "International Mother Earth Day." In his congratulatory address to the GA, Bolivian president Evo Morales said that 60 years after the Declaration on Human Rights, "Mother Earth is now, finally, having her rights recognized." Here's the news release from that day:

As the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed today International Mother Earth Day, Bolivian President Evo Morales Ayma applauded the Members of the world body who had “taken a historic stand for Mother Earth” by acknowledging humanity’s common interest in the protection of the planet and its environment.

“Sixty years after adopting the [Universal Declaration of Human Rights], Mother Earth is now, finally, having her rights recognized,” said President Morales, immediately following the Assembly’s unanimous adoption of a resolution designating 22 April each year as International Mother Earth Day (A/63/L.69).

Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann thanked Bolivia for having taken the lead in bringing the resolution to the Assembly and added that, by declaring the International Day, Member States recognized their responsibility, as called for in the Rio Declaration, adopted at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), also known as the “Earth Summit”, to promote harmony with nature and the planet to achieve a just balance among economic, social and environmental needs of the present and future generations of humanity.

By the text, the Assembly acknowledged that “the Earth and its ecosystems are our home”, and expressed its conviction that, in order to achieve a just balance among the economic, social and environmental needs of present and future generations, “it is necessary to promote harmony with nature and the Earth”.

The resolution, spearheaded by the Bolivian Government and supported by over 50 Member States, noted that Earth Day is observed each year on 22 April in many countries. The Assembly invites all Member States, the entire United Nations system, regional and subregional bodies and non-governmental organizations “to observe and raise awareness of International Mother Earth day, as appropriate”.

In his address, President Morales appealed to all Members of the United Nations to live up to their responsibility to ensure life on the planet by working for unity, equality, dignity and, above all, humanity, which inherently involved protecting — and restoring — Mother Earth.

Action to that end had never been more vital, as the toll of years of environmental degradation and callous exploitation of the planet’s natural resources and ecosystems could no longer be ignored, he said. The incremental yet increasingly obvious impacts of manmade climate change were putting Mother Earth at even more peril, as in his region alone the snow capped peaks of the Andean mountain range were receding every day; islands were buffeted by ever-more violent storms; and arid areas were becoming even drier.

“We are strangling the planet -– strangling ourselves,” President Morales declared, stressing that, for too many years, the world had been held captive by the seductive notion of capitalism. However, it was now clear that “we don’t own the planet, we belong to it,” he said, calling for the twenty-first century to be dedicated to protecting and supporting Mother Earth and her ecosystems.

Some 60 years after activists had fought so hard to win acknowledgement of human rights worldwide, including social, economic, political and cultural rights, Mother Earth was now having her rights recognized, he continued. Indeed, animals and plants -- all living creatures and beings -- had rights that deserved to be respected and protected. Those that had supported the text in the Assembly would be heralded for their historic action, he said, expressing the hope that, as the twentieth century had been called “the century of human rights”, this new era would be known as the “century of the rights of Mother Earth”.

Continuing, President Morales said that, by proclaiming the International Day, United Nations Member States now had the opportunity to begin laying out a Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth. Such a Charter must enshrine the right to life for all living things; right to regeneration of the planet’s biocapacity; right to a clean life -- for Mother Earth to live free of contamination and pollution; and the right to harmony and balance among and between all things.

In closing remarks, Assembly President d’Escoto said the world body was sending a special message of hope with Mother Earth Day. Even as scientists and biologists sounded the alarm that the world may already be at the “tipping point”, at which the damage wrought on the environment might be irreversible, the United Nations had moved “to put people and the well-being of the planet at the centre of our attention and recognize good stewardship of the planet and our dwindling resources as a shared responsibility”.

“It is only right that we, as sisters and brothers, take care of Mother Earth […] as Mother Earth, after all sustains […] our very humanity,” Mr. d’Escoto said. He urged listening to the voices of indigenous people, who, despite all odds, had sustained their profound links with nature. He urged support for the world’s small farmers and food producers, who, with sustainable farming methods, could provide us with healthy food, while not being driven into poverty by unfair trade policies and the actions of rapacious agro-industries. “Our decision today marks one more symbolic step in changing the dominant mindset that has brought us so close to self-destruction,” he said.

21 March 2010

A Movie to Depress You on a Saturday Night — So Do Something

We watched Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story at the community hall last night. I don't have to tell you what the movie's about, except to say that the subtitle is a tongue-in-cheek play on words.

Moore explains (and I'm never really sure if he knows how astute he is!) why Obama had to get elected in the USA — if he hadn't, there would have been a revolt against the nightmare of capitalism and a revolution in favour of a new economic system.

One of the film's finest moments came at the beginning of the credits when DO SOMETHING was flashed across the screen. I just visited the film's website (Capitalism: A Love Story) and discovered a list of five "somethings" that can be done. Note that the last one deals with the Earth.


1. Declare a moratorium on all home evictions. Not one more family should be thrown out of their home. The banks must adjust their monthly mortgage payments to be in line with what people's homes are now truly worth -- and what they can afford. Also, it must be stated by law: If you lose your job, you cannot be tossed out of your home.

2. Congress must join the civilized world and expand Medicare For All Americans. A single, nonprofit source must run a universal health care system that covers everyone. Medical bills are now the #1 cause of bankruptcies and evictions in this country. Medicare For All will end this misery. You must call AND write your members of Congress and demand nothing less, no compromises allowed. Click here to join the fight!

3. Demand publicly-funded elections and a prohibition on elected officials leaving office and becoming lobbyists. Yes, those very members of Congress who solicit and receive millions of dollars from wealthy interests must vote to remove ALL money from our electoral and legislative process. Tell your members of Congress they must support campaign finance bill H.R.1826.

4. Each of the 50 states must create a state-owned public bank like they have in North Dakota. Then congress MUST reinstate all the strict pre-Reagan regulations on all commercial banks, investment firms, insurance companies -- and all the other industries that have been savaged by deregulation: Airlines, the food industry, pharmaceutical companies -- you name it. If a company's primary motive to exist is to make a profit, then it needs a set of stringent rules to live by -- and the first rule is "Do no harm." The second rule: The question must always be asked -- "Is this for the common good?" (Click here for a preview of the ‘Capitalism: A Love Story’ DVD extra, ‘The Socialist Bank of — North Dakota?’)

5. Save this fragile planet and declare that all the energy resources above and beneath the ground are owned collectively by all of us. Just like they do it in Sarah Palin's socialist Alaska. We only have a few decades of oil left. The public must be the owners and landlords of the natural resources and energy that exists within our borders or we will descend further into corporate anarchy. And when it comes to burning fossil fuels to transport ourselves, we must cease using the internal combustion engine and instruct our auto/transportation companies to rehire our skilled workforce and build mass transit (clean buses, light rail, subways, bullet trains, etc.) and new cars that don't contribute to climate change. (For more on this, here's a proposal I wrote in December.) Demand that General Motors' de facto chairman, Barack Obama, issue a JFK man-on-the-moon-style challenge to turn our country into a nation of trains and buses and subways. For Pete's sake, people, we were the ones who invented (or perfected) these damn things in the first place!! [Visit Moore's Do Something webpage to see his links.]

Now let's imagine a list like this for getting people to help mitigate the global climate change emergency! What five "somethings" would we ask everyone (or even just our elected officials) to do?

20 March 2010

A Movie to Solve Our Progressive Paradox

Today, I simply want to recommend an online movie to you. The Progressive Paradox Film is rather brilliant, and I think we will all benefit from watching it.

It's not on You Tube or anything like that, so I can't embed it here. You have to download it from http://www.thwink.org/sustain/videos/FilmSeries/index.htm, but it's well worth the time and inconvenience.

It will give you a clear path to a solution to unsustainability. (Which reminds me, the only thing I don't like about the movie is that they include "sustainability" in with a list of problems like war, corruption and poverty — hence I think they meant "unsustainability," but that's not what they say.)

Anyway, this movie will make you think and question your role and your activities as an activist.

19 March 2010

Requiem for a Glacier — Bolivia’s Chacaltaya is Gone

We've been learning a lot about Bolivia lately, because of President Evo Morales' leadership at the Copenhagen climate summit and because of their upcoming People's Conference on Climate Change and Mother Earth's Rights (see http://pwccc.wordpress.com/).

That's how we discovered that the Kogi people, who issued a warning to Little Brother 20 years ago about changes happening in the Andes, were right. With no fanfare in the North American media when it happened about a year ago, the world's highest ski resort lost its glacier.

James Painter of BBC News reported on 12 May 2009 that the World Bank had warned that "many of the Andes' tropical glaciers will disappear within 20 years," both threatening the water supplies of almost 80 million people and jeopardizing the future generation of hydroelectricity (a climate change-friendly form of energy). Painter pointed out that "Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru depend on that power for about half their electricity."

The Bolivian people are responsible for 0.03% of greenhouse gas emissions. Isn't it staggeringly unjust that they have to pay such a high price for the climate change mess that we developed countries have created through our industrialization?

Yale Environment 360 also wrote about this sad loss. My heart goes out to the people in La Paz and other Bolivian cities and regions who are losing their main source of drinking water, one that has been around for 18,000 years.

18 March 2010

Countering Denier-ese? Read Hoggan's Climate Cover-Up

I laughed out loud when I read a comment at Real Climate.org the other day. Steve315 said:
Maybe this is a bit rude, and I'd be the first to admit that I don't know a whole lot about the science, but comment #1 looks sorta nutty to me.  
As in, "Just blather something about peak oil and scenarios and things and yada yada yada and maybe someone will believe it." That's sort of the problem, I think. Amateurs like myself have a hard time distinguishing legitimate science and sciency-sounding words and things.
[F]or those looking to confirm their ignorance and their prejudices that the whole thing is rubbish, then they can look at our first comment and say, "Hell yeah! The peak oil and the thing and the whatever! (burp)"
And I think he's exactly right. The Denial Machine is well oiled — and well heeled. They have spent a lot of money to know exactly what sorts of things to say and how to say them in order to confuse insert-percentage-of-people-here insert-percentage-of-time-here. (You know, focus groups and psychologists and stuff like that.)

James Hoggan's Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming is the antidote. It reads like a mystery novel; I couldn't put it down! I have followed the denial machine fairly well (as a non-scientist trying to understand this issue, I've had to also understand the "tricks" — oops, apparently that's a very bad word these days — of the deniers), but Hoggan's research has got to the bottom of many, many things.

Such as why most of the climate scientists are so quiet about the climate change emergency. Turns out that the deniers have a nasty little habit of lawsuits, both threatening them and going through with them.

My husband, who as you know does have a science background and who does understand the issue, spends 8 to 18 hours every day synthesizing the climate change research. So he actually read the 1000 or so hacked emails of Hackergate, and what he discovered is that the deniers have been extremely nasty to the scientists, with threats and attacks on their character and a constant stream of challenges, which, because the scientists are employed by public institutions, they must respond to. In other words, not only have the professional and amateur deniers caused humanity to lose 15 to almost 20 years of valuable response time, but they've also been wasting the valuable time of climate scientists.

Hoggan is a public relations professional, and he has pegged the tactics, strategies and yes, tricks of these paid deniers — and managed to write about them, with co-author Richard Littlemore, in an eloquent fashion.

Here's someone else who shows us the deniers' tactics through parody. Sussex will be desert before the climate deniers accept reality, by Mark Steel, in The Independent (UK), 16 December 2009:    
It must drive you mad being a climatologist. You spend your life measuring carbon emissions, and monitoring glaciers and studying lumps of moss from Siberia, and then you hear someone on a radio phone-in yelling, "How can they say the world's getting hotter? I mean at night, it's colder than what it was in the day, so it's got colder, not hotter. They must think we're mugs."
Then a series of articles will appear in which it's claimed: "A new study by Professor Zbygnewsk of Cracow proves sea levels have gone back down so everything's fine", before it turns out he's a Professor of Latin dancing, and has a history of solvent abuse.
Or there'll be letters in the Daily Telegraph that go "Dear Sir: May I recall the carefree days when one would enjoy the sport of sailing to Greenland to melt icebergs with a blowtorch. Alas, these days I fear this too would be frowned upon by the climate change fascists. One dreads to think what these paragons of political correctness will try to ban next."
Or, rather than waste time fooling about with analysis, the scientists could read the front page of yesterday's Daily Express, that declared "100 reasons why global warming is natural. No proof that human activity is to blame." And there inside were the reasons, as outlined by Jim McConalogue of the "European Foundation". Number one was, "There is no scientific proof." So the retort to all the studies from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, NASA, the Royal Society, all 928 papers on the matter in the journal Science and every major scientific institution, is: "Yeah, but there's no proof."
You'd expect number two to be: "Because it's all, like, made up and stuff." Then number three would be, "Dur, whatever", and number four, "I've already TOLD you in number ONE." Instead there's number 30: "Global warming is the argument of flat-earthers." How is that relevant, I wonder. Maybe number 42 was: "My brother-in-law says it's getting warmer and you don't want to trust him."
I gave up at around 40 so maybe the rest was genius, but more likely it went on: "58. It's claimed global warming is making some species die out, but there's still loads of rabbits."
The issue that's boosted the disbelievers is the discovery of messages, sent to scientists, encouraging them to tweak their statistics in favour of proving climate change. Which was unhelpful and crazy, but doesn't disprove the sackfuls of evidence that climate change is carbon-related, any more than it would disprove the existence of gravity if it was discovered Isaac Newton had shouted: "We want to prove this theory beyond all doubt so chuck the apple as hard as you can."  
But also, the people who insist this incident proves all the evidence is unreliable, are similar to creationists who pick up on flaws in the detail of Darwin's theories, without necessarily applying equal rigour to their theory, that light was created before the Sun, and Eve didn't notice she was naked until she was persuaded to eat an apple by a talking snake. Because many prominent climate change sceptics seem by coincidence to be in the pay of the energy industry.
So the Heartlands Institute received $676,000 from Exxon Oil, to discredit the idea of climate change. Patrick Michaels, often presented as an expert who disputes the link between carbon emissions and climate change, has received over $100,000 from energy companies to put their case.
So when they inform us they've discovered there's no proof of climate change, and the planet's just going through its natural cycle, it's as meaningless as if a spokesman for Fairy Liquid was introduced by Patrick Moore on The Sky at Night, and said: "The orbit of Neptune seems to confirm that a bottle of Fairy Liquid washes up to 40 per cent more dishes than any other brand."
[I think those of us not living in the UK might miss something in that last paragraph.]
They're not all paid by Exxon. The genius with his 100 top global-warming denying tips seems to be doing it for free. But he is a member of Conservative Right, and that's the clue for the other motive of these people. For them, climate change threatens the free market. How can oil companies make their maximum profits if they have to worry about making the planet fizz into oblivion? It can't be true because it mustn't be true.
So no matter how much evidence there is they'll carry on disputing it. Sussex will be desert and Guernsey will disappear, and they'll tell us: "If sea levels are rising the obvious answer is to build roads over them. After all, it's not the roads that are rising is it?"
"It can't be true because it mustn't be true." That says it all, doesn't it? That explains deniers and their denial. "It can't be true because it mustn't be true." It takes a courageous person to accept that something is true when they don't want it to be.

You can purchase Hoggan and Littlemore's book online or at your local bookstore. Encourage your library to get a copy. We should all be reading it. And learning how to interpret — and respond to — Denier-ese.