27 June 2010

Things Sometimes Aren't What They Seem — A Sketchy Allegory for the IPCC

© 2007 Mike McDowell

Remember Batty? Our little winged friend who comes every summer? And the experiences we've had with him? Well, it turns out that Batty is indeed winged — but he's no bat. We found out the other night that he's a common nighthawk! (And I don't mean "common" in a derogatory sense, it's simply his name: Chordeiles minor.)

Well, when we got home that night at twilight I watched for Batty, and sure enough, I could see why I had mistaken him for a bat one night last summer ... sort of. In fact, in some parts of America, the nighthawk is called a bullbat! (So I'm not the only one who's been fooled.) In I came, rather dejected, and did some research online, which confirmed that Batty isn't what he seemed.

That otherworldly sonic boom is the sound of wind moving through the wingtips of the male as he performs his courtship aerobatics and dives. This also explains why we suddenly, one night, don't hear him anymore — the love affair is consummated, the babies are born (in camouflaged eggs on the ground ... no nest), and the family is off on its annual migration to South America.

When I finally learned that Batty is not a bat at all, I had to grieve the loss of an animal friend I never had. Strange feeling. (Though we've made a new friend, and that's cool.)

So now, I am going to stretch to make a point.

Because of a few booboos (of little if any consequence in the whole scheme of things) in their 2007 Fourth Assessment Report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is now under review by the InterAcademy Council, an Amsterdam-based group representing scientific academies and organizations around the world. This review is an evaluation of the procedures and processes by which the IPCC prepares its assessments of climate change.

"In particular the IAC Committee of experts is asked to recommend measures and actions to strengthen the IPCC’s processes and procedures so as to be better able to respond to future challenges and ensure the ongoing quality of its reports." (from the Overview)

Here's the thing. Once you start reading about the IPCC, digging deeper, checking out their technical reports, etc., you discover that the IPCC isn't what it seems. It's not just a bunch of climate-related scientists coming together to synthesize their research. That "governmental" in the Intergovernmental part of their name means that their final reports are determined by policy wonks who don't let through one single word they (or their masters) don't like. Not only that, but an eye witness at the first IPCC meeting back in 1990 says the scientists censored themselves because the news was so bad, so frightening, they thought the policy wonks would just decide it was too late to do anything about the changing climate. (If you want/need the reference, let me know ... our son got married yesterday (a delightful wedding!) and I'm too tired to find the book right now.)

So, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning IPCC is a nighthawk, not the bat we thought it was. (I told you I was stretching the metaphor.) The InterAcademy Council review is seeking public input until July 1st. Why not write and suggest that the Panel should be allowed to communicate to the public what it wants to communicate — cowardly, co-opted governments be damned!

June 1st, 2014 update: Batty arrived tonight! His winging about above our house is such a welcome sound. Welcome home, Batty.

20 June 2010

The Compassionates — and What We're Up Against

"Our side" doesn't have a name, does it? Joseph Romm calls us climate science realists. That doesn't resonate in my heart, though. But since the easiest way to get across what we're doing is to use the term "the precautionary principle" (yup, you just have to know the very basic physics that more CO2 = more heat in the atmosphere, and ask yourself if we want to take chances like that with our children's future), then maybe we should call ourselves The Compassionates. It certainly stands us apart. 

Even though we "Compassionates" spend much of our time, money and energy working to help protect life on this planet and safeguard the future, we just don't have the arsenal of strategies that the other side gets to use. 

A wonderful young activist friend of ours said it recently. "It's not fair. Everything we say, we have to back up with all the latest scientific research. We always have to be so careful and scrupulous and up-to-date in what we say. But the other side gets to distort the truth, cherry pick and tell outright lies — and they always get away with it. How can we ever win?"

I just don't get why there even are two sides to this. Why wouldn't ALL human beings want to ensure a climate-safe and healthy future for their children? Why can't ALL human beings look around and see what's happening? Why do ANY human beings choose money over life?

I just don't get it. It's so discouraging. 

Not only that, but have you noticed that they seem to have a cheat sheet? It's like there's some secret club and they all have to spout the same BS to be part of the club. Even in a raggy local newspaper, the "denialists" and skeptics, contrarians and delayers (and all the others who have an obvious hate on for their grandchildren) rant on and on, using the same old tired stuff that a quick online trip to RealClimate.org would explain, refute or rectify. But everyone seems too blinkin' lazy to go beyond their cheat sheet, to do their own thinking or research synthesis. So they trot out years-old lies, misrepresented "facts" and malicious created misconceptions. They quote research from only a dozen or so notoriously slanted scientists (if they quote research at all). And then quite often they'll throw in a little defamation or ad hominem attack (while accusing us of doing that after we've made sure we didn't do that). 

Like I said, I just don't get it. It's so discouraging. But I do know one thing. Global warming and climate change? Caused by these guys. Without all their delay tactics, we'd be well on our way to that safer, cleaner, healthier, more equitable and more peaceful world of perpetual energy some of us can picture.

13 June 2010

Let's Not Manifest(o) the Wrong Thing!

I honestly don't know what to do when the people who are supposed to be on "our side" (those who care about the planet and the children) don't keep up with the science and the people's movement — or perhaps don't want to go out on a limb, even if it's a limb that could safeguard the future. 

A manifesto is "a public declaration of principles and intentions, often political in nature." Just as we must be careful what we wish for, for we might get it, so we must be careful what we put into a manifesto. What if it manifests?

Someone over at OneClimate.net has written "Manifesto: The Case for 1.5º Celsius," in response to the developed nations "targeting" a global average temperature increase of 2.0ºC. 

But 1.5ºC is simply too high! We must call for an absolute limit of 1.0ºC and no higher.

This manifesto says in part: "Acts of inhumanity come about as a result of bad decisions made by a small number of political leaders, carried out by their employees and followers, and accepted without challenge by millions of people at large...."

With all due respect to the writer, how can political leaders be blamed for today's climate change acts of inhumanity when so many environmental NGOs insist on insisting on a limit (target???) of 1.5 degrees C, instead of the potentially lifesaving 1.0 degrees agreed to at the World People's Conference in Cochabamba? If "the people" refuse to back "the people's call" for a limit of 1.0 degrees, then why would governments back it? I'll say it again: 1.5 is too high. Look at the carbon feedbacks already kicking in at 0.7!

To quote from the piece above: "I would prefer to say, ‘Let’s stop the rise at no more than 1°C.’ But I fear that it may be too late to aim for 1° now."

NO, NO, NO. First, we must NOT "aim" for *any more* global heating. We cannot use that word! What we want is to go back down to where we started, not accept a warmed world (where carbon feedbacks are already starting). We must use the word "limit." 

Second, morally and ethically, and on behalf of all the children of all species, we must NEVER use "it may be too late" as an excuse to not demand the right thing. 

And if it's all about strategy, well then, let's remember that "the people" have no voice in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations. Only governments have a voice and a seat at the table — and if we can get the G-77 (actually about 130 countries now) to see that a 1.0 degree limit could save those who are the most climate change vulnerable (Bangladesh and other coastal nations, small island states, glacier-dependent countries, drought- and flood-prone regions, especially in Africa), then they will want to back Bolivia's position (1 degree limit, 300 ppm limit (no, NOT 350), zero carbon emissions, etc.), which supports the People's Agreement, which speaks for all the people, including future generations.

The only thing that will frighten developed nations into doing the right thing (heading toward zero-carbon energy technology at war-time speed, investing in non-commercially viable technology that sucks CO2 out of the atmosphere, and sharing those technologies with developing nations) is NUMBERS (as in, millions if not billions of people turning on them). And that means that "all the people" have to get together and ask, not for what we think we can get, but for what we need to get in order to safeguard our children's future.

07 June 2010

Taking Care of Ourselves

I believe it was the Bhagavad Gita that said, "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear."

Well, given the tone of my post last week (and no, I didn't spend the week in bed with the covers pulled over my head), it's no wonder the Universe sent this article my way: Restoring Mental Vitality in an Endangered World: Reflections on the Benefits of Walking.

It's a journal article by Professor Raymond De Young in the Environmental Psychology Lab at the School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, published in the March 2010 issue of Ecopsychology [DOI: 10.1089/eco.2009.0043]. 
"Given the reality of a climate-disrupted planet and a decline in resource abundance, it is crucial that we maintain our abil- ity to cope. The urgency of getting started with the transition to sustainable living might have us think that taking time for mental restoration is self-indulgent. In fact, the opposite is true."
"Self-indulgent." Perhaps that is what's been going on in my mind and heart. Perhaps I've been conflicted, knowing I needed a break but feeling guilty for it. So while mind and heart were duking it out, my body took over and just crashed instead.
"This transition is crucial and overdue, but hard. The process requires that we think and act in clever, clearheaded, and new ways. Yet such thought and action can wear us out mentally. Burned out people cannot help heal the planet. Thus, we need to know specifically what mental capacity is wearing out, how it wears out, and the conditions under which it can be restored. This article explores these issues and: 
1. Suggests that coping with the environmental challenges we face demands a number of distinct mental and behavioral abilities. 
2. Suggests that these abilities each draw upon a mental resource defined as the capacity to direct attention. 
3. Explains what directed attention is, how it differs from another form of attention, how it fatigues, and the environments that help to restore it. 
4. Provides a prescription for maintaining this vital mental capacity. 
By following the prescription offered, we can restore and better manage our mental vitality. In a restored state we will have a greater ability both to pursue behaviors that heal nature and to learn to live well, within limits, on this one planet."

As you can tell from the title of the article, Prof. De Young's main prescription is walking. In natural areas. 
"[T]he simple activity of walking in natural settings, particularly walking mindfully, may be all that is needed for restoration." 
It sounds so, well, easy! But I have to admit, when I walk every morning along my favourite trail, I am happier (heart and spirit) and fitter (body), and I feel much more resilient mentally (mind).

It turns out that self-compassion is not the same as self-indulgence. We must take care of ourselves if we are to take care of the future.