Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Personal Forest

"Every year on New Years Day I write down my annual electric meter reading, chart the milage of whatever vehicles I used, including buses, trains and airplanes, and also quantify my use of propane gas, firewood, etc. From that I determine how many trees I need to plant in the coming year to offset the climate impact of my lifestyle."

When I was a young boy my parents moved from the Chicago suburbs to a hardwood forested area of Connecticut, which is where I grew up. My back yard was those woods, and I used to have play forts, many different camping or hiding areas, and a succession of tree houses. I liked to overnight on a mattress of pine needles in a small grove of pines, and sometimes even did that in a foot of fresh, powdered snow. My parents also let me climb trees and play on an old rug covering scrap timber I had placed across the lower boughs of a large post oak. Later I built a round pole tipi in that tree and spent many summer nights living there, learning to climb up and down with ropes.

I guess you could say trees are as family to me. They remain a part of my life wherever I go. When I was 17 I learned to work horses on the long line, and later, when I arrived at the Farm in Tennessee, fresh out of grad school, I put those skills to use snaking logs from the forest with a team of Belgian mares. I built a tent home for my bride on a platform of hand hewn oak logs acquired that way. People would sometimes come to the Ecovillage Training Center at The Farm and marvel at the small-diameter round poles used for rafters on the very large living roof spanning our Green Dragon tavern, but I knew when I built that roof that round poles were much stronger than milled lumber. They were like the tree limbs that had supported my tree houses.

Deep Well Injection

In my thirties I was a pubic interest attorney fighting against a chemical company in a town 15 miles from The Farm. The company was manufacturing organophosphate pesticides and herbicides and injecting its waste products, including its bad batches, into a deep well. The State Water Quality labs had tested the green luminescent effluent and said it was the most toxic they’d ever encountered. A single drop dripped into their fish tank killed all the fish within 24 hours.

That deep well went nearly a mile down and pressure fractured bedded limestone — it “fracked” it — to make the rock more receptive to millions of gallons of this witches’ brew. The fracturing also opened pathways into the Knox Aquifer, one of the largest underground rivers in North America, and presumedly went on to contaminate other large, potentially important, fresh water reserves for the Southeastern United States over a very large area. Each test well the company drilled showed that the contamination had already travelled farther away from the site than the company was willing to track. The State did not have the resources to drill million-dollar test wells, so the full extent of the damage may never be known. As well water in the area gradually turned fluorescent green, the company bought out the landowners and sealed their wells.

When our local environmental group sued the company, the company told the judge that there was no reason to protect the aquifer because the Southeast region had plenty of fresh water on or close to the surface. In written briefs, I made two arguments against that: population and climate change. Freshwater resources were valuable, and would only become more so.

This was the early 1980s, and there I was, going into a Tennessee court and trying to make a case for global warming. It forced me to read nearly every study I could get my hands on and to contact experts and beg them to come and testify. I tried to simplify an extremely complex subject so that the average judge or juror could understand it, despite confusing and confounding webs of arcane psuedoscience spun by company lawyers, and exceptions in the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act that you could pump a lake through.

As it turned out, the case never went to trial. The Tennessee Department of Health and Environment contacted me and persuaded me I should help them draft regulations banning deepwell injection and hydro-fracking, which I agreed to do. That was a much less costly route for the local environmental group, letting the State bear the expense of experts to fight off the well-funded and unscrupulous industrial lobby. We had won, although it took a few years before the victory was sealed and the chemical companies packed up and left town. Their toxic waste is still down there, for now.

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action. — M.L. King, Letter from a Birmingham Jail (1963).

In that time I had spent reading and speaking with experts I had scared myself. Global warming was a much bigger deal than I originally thought. We were up only a half-degree over the prior century at that point, but already there were signs the poles were melting, sea levels were rising, and more frequent droughts were coming to mid-continents. In 1988, the Mississippi River had gotten so low that barge traffic had to be suspended. My young congressman, Al Gore Jr., opened hearings on Capitol Hill. Scientists began going public to sound the alarm. Big Oil and Coal began funding campaigns to undermine the smear those scientists and to poison the public debate with bogus studies and conspiracy theories. The Bush Administration’s official policy was climate science censorship. All these signs were ominous.

Carbon Sinks

Fossil fuels have had such a profound change on civilization that it is difficult to imagine giving them up voluntarily. They issued in the industrial revolution and globalized the world with railroads and steamships. They ended a particularly odious practice that had been the traditional method of Empire-building for the previous 5000 years, supplanting the long tradition of human slaves with “energy slaves” and “energy-saving” home appliances. The American Civil War was a last gasp of plantation economics, and it ended with a crushing victory for steely industrialists and their fossil energy, who went on to extend their new empire with the Spanish American War and all the resource wars thereafter. Does the end of coal and oil mean a return to human slavery or can we learn to craft an egalitarian society within a solar budget? Time will tell.

On the other side of the ledger, there are a few promising signs that something can be done to reverse the effects of three centuries of oil and coal addiction. The forests of North America remain a net carbon sink, but when land goes from forest to farm, it generates a huge spike in atmospheric carbon. In Mexico, which is losing more than 5000 km2 of forest every year, logging, fires and soil degradation account for 42% of the country’s estimated annual emissions of carbon. In addition to the carbon lost from trees, soils lose 25-31% of their initial carbon (to a depth of 1 m) when plowed, irrigated and cultivated.

In the US, croplands increased from about 2500 km2 in 1700 to 2,360,000 km2 in 1990 (although nearly all of that occurred before 1920). Pastures expanded from 1000 km2 to 2,300,000 km2 over the same period. The fabled era of the cowboy was between 1850 and 1950, and the pattern was repeated in Canada and Mexico. But then something different happened.

Partly because of the Dust Bowl and the organized responses of the Roosevelt Administration, partly because of the Great Depression, and partly because of an emerging conservation ethic, after 1920 many farmlands were abandoned in the northeast, southeast and north central regions and 100,000 km2 were reforested by nature. Between 1938 and 2002 the US gained 123 million acres of forest from farm abandonment while losing 150 million acres to logging, primarily in the Southeast and Pacific Northwest. This trend, net marginal loss, continues today in the US and Canada, in contrast to Mexico which is rapidly destroying its forests, and not re-growing them anywhere.

TABLE: Carbon budget for Harvard Forest from forest inventory and eddy-covariance flux measurements, 1993-2001. Positive values are sink, negative values are source. From Barford, C.C., et al., Factors controlling long- and short-term sequestration of atmospheric CO2 in a mid-latitude forest. Science, 294:5547;1688-1691 (2001).

TABLE: Comparison of net ecosystem exchange (NEE) for different types and ages of temperate forests. Negative NEE means the forest is a sink for atmospheric CO2. Eighty-one site years of data are from multiple published papers from each of the AmeriFlux network sites, and a network synthesis paper (Law et al., 2002). NEE was averaged by site, then the mean was determined by forest type and age class. SD is standard deviation among sites in the forest type and age class. From The First State of the Carbon Cycle Report (SOCCR): The North American Carbon Budget and Implications for the Global Carbon Cycle. A Report by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program and the Subcommittee on Global Change Research. A. W. King, L. Dilling, et al, eds. (2007), Appendix D, p 174.

The net sink effect of a recovering forest is variable but the average for Eastern deciduous successional forest is 200 grams C per m2 per year, or two metric tons per hectare. This is calculated by considering annual growth and mortality above and below ground, the chemical changes in dead wood, and net changes in soil carbon. (Pacla S., et al., Eddy-covariance measurements now confirm estimates of carbon sinks from forest inventories, in King & Dilling, ibid, 2007).

Sometime around 1985 I began planting trees to offset my personal carbon footprint. Today that forest is about 30 acres (12 ha) and annually plants itself. I wrote a book, Climate in Crisis, pulling together my legal research and laying the climate science out in lay terms that non-scientists, such as myself, could grasp. In 1995, I retired from law to become a permaculture teacher and ecovillage designer. I continued to attend scientific meetings and international negotiations on climate, and I contributed a blog, many magazine articles and books to the discussion. I kept myself current with the latest findings, always exploring pathways that might provide solutions, not just for my personal footprint, but also to the coming climate catastrophe for us all.

Atmospheric Scrub Brushes

We could spend print here discussing geoengineering, replacements for fossil energy, biochar, and shifting to some form of ecological agriculture, but the truth of the matter is, nothing can heal our global chemical imbalance faster than trees.

As I wrote in Climate in Crisis, and later in other books, forests are scrub brushes. They absorb CO2 from the air, transform it to O2 with the magic of photosynthesis, and sequester the C in lignin and cellulose. They also transfer it deep into the ground through their roots and the soil food web.

We, the humans, might be able, under optimal conditions, to get up to sequestering as much as 1 gigaton of carbon (petagram C or PgC) annually by switching to “carbon farming:” holistic management; compost teas; keyline; and organic no-till. Biochar’s full potential is estimated at 4 to 10 PgC per year, if the world were to widely employ biomass-to-energy pyrolysis reactors.
Forests, with all-out reforestation and afforestation, have a potential yield of 80 PgC/yr.

The climate cycle, with 393 ppm C in the air, is currently adding 2 parts per million to the atmosphere annually. That represents an additional retention of 3.2 PgC over what Earth is able to flush back to the land or the oceans. The oceans are acidifying — at a disastrous pace — because of the excess C being flushed, so what needs to happen is that more C needs to be taken from both the oceans and the atmosphere and entombed in the land, which is, in point of fact, where the excess came from in the first place.

Going Beyond Zero

To get back to 350 ppm — Bill McKibben’s goal — we need to lower atmospheric carbon by 42 ppm, or 67.4 PgC. If we wanted to accomplish that goal as quickly as say, 2050 (37 years from now), we would need to average a net C removal rate of 1.82 PgC/yr. So we need to go from plus 3.2 to minus 1.8, on average, over about 40 years. Of course, many, myself included, don’t believe 350 is good enough to pull our fat from the fire. I would prefer we aim for 320 ppm by 2050 if we want to escape the worst Mother Nature is now preparing to dish up.
A 320 goal in 37 years means we need to lower atmospheric carbon by 72 ppm, or 115 PgC; an average a net C removal rate of 3.1 PgC/yr. In other words, we need to flip from adding 3.2 PgC greenhouse gas pollution every year to removing about that amount. We have to go net negative, for at least the next 40 years.

Organic gardening and soil remineralization, as Vandana Shiva, Elaine Ingham, Dan Kittredge and others are so enthusiastic for, will not get us there, although it is a good start and an important wedge, with many other benefits. Biochar could get us there, but the industry is immature, poorly understood by environmentalists, and dependent on financing that may or may not be available in an era of de-growth and economic collapse. To scale up to 3 or 4 PgC/yr is likely to take longer than 40 years.

Tree planting is our best bet. Franklin Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps planted massive shelterbelts to end the Dust Bowl, and the jobs provided helped lift the USA out of the Great Depression. The same could be done in Spain and Greece, not to mention Africa. And, lest we forget, two of the world’s greatest reforestitians, Christopher Columbus and Genghis Khan, demonstrated our species’ ability to rapidly change climate. They showed that we could even jump start a minor Ice Age if we wanted. Talk about air conditioning! Fageddaboutit.

Right now, the planet is still rapidly losing forest. I drew this illustration for my newletter, Natural Rights, in the mid-1980s:

In 1988, borrowing from federal agency reports being suppressed from publication by the first Bush administration, I drew graphics to show what would happen to the Eastern forest in a 5 degree warmer world, and the kind of species migrations that might be expected: 

A more important point, which I raised in Climate in Crisis, was that individual forest patch compositions are less important than the synergies that are lost when those compositions are broken up. It matters what happens between patches, and it is not just about plants, either. We need to consider the pollinators and seed storing animals. They can’t just have food in one season, they need it in all seasons, or they will leave. Some plants and animals are fast migrators (armadillos and spruce) and some are much slower (leafcutter ants and ginkgo). When you force a rapid system change, the network of connections is broken, and it may take some time to find new equilibrium. In the meantime, biodiversity crashes and ecological services are impaired. The web unravels.

GHG Footprints

In the early Nineties I used to quip that before I wrote my book on climate my greenhouse pollution footprint had been in steady decline for 10 years. After I wrote my book it went through the roof. Invitations to speak continue to increase, even now, 23 years later.

Every year on New Years Day I write down my annual electric meter reading, chart the milage of whatever vehicles I used, including buses, trains and airplanes, and also quantify my use of propane gas, firewood, etc. Using a conversion formula from the book, I convert my personal energy slaves into tree-years. From that I determine how many trees I need to plant in the coming year to offset the climate impact of my lifestyle.

Planting trees as a personal offset requires a bit of advance planning, because the calculation depends on how long a tree will grow, how big it will become, and what it will likely give back to the atmosphere at the end of its life. Also, one has to anticipate the changing dynamics ushered in by rapid climate change. This led me to arrange for a long-term contract of some land and to acquire new knowledge on how best to plant and manage a climate-resilient forest.

I now have the benefit of visits to the Pioneer and Alford forests in the Ozarks, which I describe in The Biochar Solution (2010), as well as to wilderness old growth in Scotland, British Columbia, Northern Queensland in Australia, Muir Wood in California, the Darien Peninsula of Colombia, the Mesoamerican highlands and the Amazonian Basin, to name a few. I have studied permaculture, with special reference to the work of Christopher Nesbitt, David Jacke and Eric Toensmeier in designing a methodology for building food-resource forests. But, back in 1985, I had none of that, and so I began on a part of my parents’ farm that was in the process of transitioning from vegetable field production to low brush.

In the second installment of this series, I will describe the planting of my personal forest and how I calculate its carbon sequestration impact.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Bittman, Beyoncé and Cool Memes

"Brands have moved to the top of the Maslow Hierarchy and must now fulfill our self-expressive needs as well as our emotional and spiritual needs. This idea of reframing the climate debate goes to the core of our tribal psychology. We want giraffes and zebras to be here for our great-great-great grandchildren. We all want that. We just haven’t figured out how to get it. "

Mark Bittman, Food columnist for the New York Times and bon vivant travel franchise for public television, has made more than a few enemies for criticizing the choices celebrities make in their food and beverage endorsements. Said Bittman, “[Beyoncé] Knowles is renting her image to a product that may one day be ranked with cigarettes as a killer we were too slow to rein in.”

Others Bittman labels “soda shills” include LeBron James, Madonna, Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, Elton John, Christina Aguilera, David Beckham, Cindy Crawford, Michael Jordan, Bill Cosby and Elvis.

He is right, and when you take a few steps back, he gets even righter.

Beyoncé, her Pepsi commercials annually luring another generation of impressionable youth to the sodium benzoate scaring of their arterial walls and caloric expansion of tender waistlines, recently inked a $50 million deal to rep Pepsi as an official spokesmodel.

Shame on her, said Bittman. Shame on all the snake oil carnies hawking sugar water to tiny tots.

The irony with Beyoncé, whose net worth is somewhere north of $750 million for the miraculous athletic ability to perform vigorous dance moves in impossibly high heels while belting diaphragm distorting vocals, is that she also founded the Let’s Move! charity, endorsed by Michelle Obama, to promote healthy diet and activity to reverse childhood obesity.

Be sure to watch for the new Pepsi logo soon to be appearing on the First Lady’s Let’s Move! t-shirt. The big picture is all about branding.

Says Carolyn Kelley, marketing strategist at Brand Amplitude, LLC, a customer insights and strategy firm and author of the blog,, “What do Deloitte, Mercedes, ABC Family, MTV, Miracle Whip, Ford Fiesta, Herbal Essences, State Farm and the U.S. Army all have in common? Each has recognized the importance of generation-specific marketing targeting Millennials.

“Candy and snack marketers might also want to adapt their strategies to reach this latest generation. These marketing savvy, technologically adept and socially empowered consumers demand more from brands — more value, more personalization and more giving back — than consumers ever have before. The investment might be worth it, because once you earn their loyalty, they can serve as your greatest brand advocates.”
Millennials are the 72 million USAnians under the age of 34 in 2012. Millennials are also, judging by where Coke and Pepsi are spending their advertising rupees and yuan, 793 million Indians and 110 million Chinese (including 5 million Taiwanese).

Because of their wired, multitasked social lives, Millennials tend to snack far more than older generations and the line between meals and snacks is blurring, Kelley says. It is very common for Millennials to regularly snack in the mid-morning, mid-afternoon and late at night. It's the hobbit diet: breakfast, second breakfast, elevensies, luncheon, afternoon tea, dinner and supper. This is an opportunity McDonald’s has seized with menu items such as Snack Wraps and Chicken McBites. Taco Bell leveraged it with its “FourthMeal” campaign.

Millennials, raised on “just-in-time” delivery from Amazon and eBay, tend to be impulse buyers who want what they want, when they want it. Smartphone applications such as GrubHub, OpenTable and Yelp make it easy to quickly find fast food and places to eat any time of day.

Beyoncé’s appeal to Pepsi goes back to Madison Avenue agencies using credibility and attractiveness to persuade. An advertising theory called the Halo Effect suggests that one trait influences the perception of another. The product is a neutral stimulus, the celebrity endorser an unconditioned stimulus. It is Pavlovian. Potential consumers associate feelings about the celebrity as a function of repeated exposure. Nicole Kidman boosted Chanel No. 5 sales by 16 percent. Air Jordan sneakers viralized the notion that you can be “like Mike” and soar through the air to take your impossible shot, if you wear those $200 shoes.

Air Jordans were first released in 1985 and nearly 30 years later, 86.5 percent of all basketball shoes sold with a price over $100 are Nike Jordans. Mike earns $1 billion per year in residuals. That’s a lot to like.

A brand provides a vehicle by which a person can proclaim a particular self-image, but a particular brand’s identity is really its marketer’s vision. Branding is about creating sustainable competitive advantage. The identity is what the marketer aspires the brand to be. Your imagination supplies the glue.

Brand adviser Carol Phillips draws upon polls by ad world legends David Aaker and Jean-Noël Kapferer to detect six identity facets: capabilities, personality, shared values & community, aspirational self image, internal culture & values, and noble purpose. She tells her clients that differentiation ideally should occur in more than one of these. Identity associations seldom come from a product’s feature or functional benefits. They come from tribe. Your subculture determines your choices.

This is, after all, the basis of fashion. We dress and groom to blend in, to become part of our social group. We become what we aspire to be by dressing the part and by accessorizing. We are hard wired as herd animals. Uniforms are how we signal each other.

Early advertisers created fictional identities to make it easier for consumers to relate to their products. Betty Crocker was the Martha Stewart of 1921. General Mills created a kitchen, a portrait, even a signature for its all-American homemaker. The brand was a hit, so we started seeing characters like Sara Lee for coffee cakes, Little Debbie for cupcakes, Aunt Jemima — the embodiment of pancake mixes and syrups — and the Marlboro Man.

Roger Sterling (played by actor John Slattery): 

“Your whole generation, you drink for the wrong reasons. My generation we drink because it's good. Because it feels better than unbuttoning your collar. Because we deserve it. We drink because it's what men do.” 
Mad Men Episode 1.4 (2007)

For Nike, corporate identity is Just Do It!, for Kashi it’s Seven Whole Grains on a Mission, for Pepsi it’s The Choice of a New Generation, for Pampers it’s Happy Baby, for United Airlines it’s Friendly Skies. These are more than words on a page, they are compelling stories that resonate with workers within the company and sustain loyalty from customers.

In his Master’s thesis from Aarhus University in 2009 (“Creating and communicating a brand identity: The case of Somersby”) Tobias Laue Friis argued: “Saatchi and Saatchi have presented a theory on the evolution within the role of brands, which explains that brands in the past only were required to fulfill the functional benefits. As time progressed and the use of branding grew, brands had to move up the Maslow Hierarchy of needs and fulfill the emotional needs. In present time, brands have moved to the top of the hierarchy and must fulfill the self-expressive needs as well as the two prior. The evolution in branding has moved from fulfilling the functional and rational needs to the spiritual and emotional needs.”

Of course, who could be more emotionally needy than tweens and teens? As author Alissa Quart points out in her book, Branded, 150 US school districts in 29 states have Pepsi and Coke contracts. Textbooks regularly mention Oreo cookies, and math problems contain Nike logos. Companies from Disney to McDonald's promote themselves within school walls by holding focus groups about their new flavors, toys, and ad campaigns. Teens who register their objections can be punished, as in the case of the student suspended for wearing a Pepsi shirt to a Coca-Cola sponsorship day at high school.

In 2002, America's distillers spent $350 million to test market “Alcopops;” sweetened, fruity alcohol drinks ostensibly aimed at 21-year-olds but packaged like soda, with cartoonish brand names, like Bo Dean’s Twisted Tea. The distillers are trolling for adolescent adopters; selling fire water to the innocents.

In the TV series, Mad Men, Don Draper (Jon Hamm) says: 

“Advertising is based on one thing: happiness. And do you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It's freedom from fear. It's a billboard on the side of a road that screams with reassurance that whatever you're doing is OK. You are OK.” 
(Episode 1.1, 2007)

Real life ad-man Emeritus David Aaker says:

 “The fact is — customers are not logical and functional benefits rarely provide a basis for sustainable differentiation or a deep customer relationship. Look instead toward emotional and self-expressive benefits. Thus, a customer can feel safe in a Volvo, excited in a BMW, energetic with Coca-Cola around, or warm when receiving a Hallmark card. A person can be cool by buying clothes at Zara, successful by driving a Lexus, creative by using Apple, a nurturing mother by preparing Quaker Oats hot cereal, frugal and unpretentious by shopping at Kmart, or adventurous and active by owning REI camping equipment.”
Attraction may also involve social conscience. Millennials are passionate about making a difference. Some 63 percent of Millennials polled by Aaker and Kapferer say that knowing a company is mindful of its social responsibilities makes them more likely to buy its products or services, and 58 percent are willing to pay more if part of the purchase price helps support a cause they care about. They embrace a cause and a brand if it contributes to the greater good.

Ben & Jerry’s policy of providing one percent of their product, time, and sales revenues to public service reflected shared values within a generation, and that in turn led to a respect-driven relationship that produced product loyalty.

Winning trust means winning market share, and losing it can be a brand disaster. The US brand of Perrier never fully recovered when benzene was detected in bottles. In 1998, Coke experienced a similar glitch with a bad batch in Belgium that made people sick. Brands survive on trust. And, live by celebrity, die by celebrity. Think Tiger Woods and TAG Heuer, OJ Simpson and Hertz, Lance Armstrong and US Postal Service, Lindsay Lohan and Mitt Romney.

According to a survey by Isabelle Schuiling and Jean-Noël Kapferer in the Journal of International Marketing (Vol. 12, No. 4, 2004, pp. 97–112), brands seek to convey particular, endearing attributes (in order of global frequency): high quality; trustworthy; good value; simple; down to earth; friendly; traditional; trendy; healthy; original; reliable; distinct; social; kind; authentic; fun; sensual; and prestigious.

Price point may have something to do with “high quality” or “good value,” but as seen in products as diverse as diamonds, Glock handguns and Red Bull, price advantages can be outweighed by combined appeal to trendiness, fun, reliability and prestige. Ad Guru Philip Kotler says, “Cost is of no importance in setting the price. It only helps you to know whether you should be making the product.”

Kotler also says, “It is no longer enough to satisfy your customers. You must delight them.”

Which brings us, thank you Mark Bittman, to the impasse in climate negotiations. Bill McKibben has lately taken the Bittman tack of calling out climate evildoers, wherever they lurk. His “Do the Math” piece for Rolling Stone shattered the false economics defense that deniers — like the US Chamber of Commerce and the US Congress — had been hiding behind. The Koch’s millions spent to stall climate treaties are comparable to Coke’s millions spent to addict children.

The way most climate advocates’ presently define the problem — using worry words like “climate chaos”, “global weirding” and “superstorms” — and strategies for addressing the problem like “emissions reduction”, “carbon-negative”, “carbon-minus”, “carbon tax”, and “cap-and-trade”, viewed from the standpoint of branding and cognitive attraction, are at best confusing and at worst counterproductive.

The brand-related conceptualization of climate is so unenlightened as to be dysfunctional. What is needed is an entirely new frame, one that clings like a pair of jeans from The Gap. If we want this thing to go viral, we need a stickier meme.

Recently Joe Brewer and Balazs Lazlo Karafiath, founders of the San Francisco based DarwinSF decided to calculate the potential of sticky memes to impact the way the world thinks about climate change. Brewer says:

“A little known fact about cultural change is that it builds up slowly and shifts quickly. This is because culture is a complex adaptive system that exhibits threshold effects and tipping points. The units of culture are a combination of human minds and social structures that shape their relationships with one another.  Human minds converge with social structures to create stable frameworks of meaning — what George Lakoff calls a frame and Richard Dawkins describes as a meme.

“The dynamics of tipping points can be summarized as ‘builds up slow, reorganizes quickly’.  This is the classic case of the small slip that cascaded into a major earthquake.  Pressure builds up in the system and then flows quickly across its entirety.”
Brewer and Karafiath are producing a meme map by gathering bite size mentions of climate change from social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and other sources and correlating those with viral potential. Using techniques from epidemiology, systems theory, and cognitive science, together with statistical analysis and coding, Brewer and Karafiath aim to build a better climate frame. Climate change memes with strong sticking potential are compared and rated. The ratings are passed along to a network of foundations and NGOs. They have put up a Facebook page inviting people to give suggestions of climate change memes. According to Joe Brewer, it is only how people think that constrains our world views. To change how people think is to change the realm of possibility. Please help their Indiegogo campaign by clicking on this sentence:
I have learned this at least by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”  — Henry David Thoreau

How about cool?

What needs to happen to obstructionist states, corporations and powerful individuals bent on blocking climate treaties is they need to be labeled uncool. So, for instance, Canada’s policies on emissions caps, energy efficiency, renewable energy and preventing catastrophic warming are so bad that it ranks 58th out of 61 countries, ahead of only Kazakhstan, Iran and Saudi Arabia, and now it wants to build the Keystone XL pipeline to drain its tar sands and doom the planet to 6-degrees of warming. That’s uncool. Say it. Uncool.

When Microsoft got into a dispute with its utility over electricity charges to its server farm — to avoid a $210,000 penalty charge from the power utility for not needing as much power as it had contracted for the utility to build in order to have on hand — the company ran air conditioners and heaters simultaneously around the clock, forcing the utility to kick in diesel generators to keep up. That’s uncool. Very uncool.

In October, 2012, Cool Planet Energy Systems announced a major breakthrough in the commercialization and affordability of biofuels from non-food, waste-product biomass that can run in any vehicle on the road today. Using a simple, portable mechanical process, Cool Planet will produce high octane gasoline at the cost of $1.50 per gallon, without any need for government subsidies. Moreover, the process generates biochar, not greenhouse gases, which will actually remove carbon from the atmosphere during the course of production and keep it in the soil for 1000 years. That’s cool.

Learning from the example of the Hozu regional coop in Japan, which branded “Cool Slaw” in 2009, Kansas permaculturist David Yarrow is launching a campaign to certify cool foods grown in the US. Yarrow proposes a trade label to identify foods in markets that reverse our carbon footprint and sequester carbon.  This requires a simple, uniform way to define and mark foods by their carbon-sequestering character, and to track them from farm-to-market to assure point-of-sale authenticity.  To use the mark, growers must adopt probiotic methods to increase soil biology, and to assess living biomass in their soils. That’s very cool.

Millennials should scarf that up. The only question is, can cool product producers scale up fast enough to meet demand?

When they do, Jan Lundberg will be ready to move cool cargo by water with his Sail Transport Network. STN plans to launch daily passenger ferry service in San Francisco Bay (Sausalito-Embarcadero, Berkeley - SF Peninsula, Oakland - Peninsula) by high-tech catamaran; to transport organic produce from the Sacramento Delta and other areas around the Bay; to import fair trade coffee, cacao, maté, cigars, and spices from abroad; to export bicycle parts, wine, olive oil, rice, art, and crafts; and to re-inaugurate long distance passenger travel by sail.

For example, the 32 meter brigantine Tres Hombres, just disembarked St. Lucia January 10th, bound for Barbados, Antiqua, Grenada, Dominican Republic, Bermuda, Azores, England, Oostende, Den Helder, and Amsterdam. She is carrying a cargo of rum, honey, massage oil, sea salt and crafts. She will pick up cacao beans from the Dominican Republic to take to Amsterdam to be made into chocolate. All cool.

This idea of reframing the climate debate goes to the core of our tribal psychology. We want to survive, and we want our planet to survive. We want giraffes and zebras to be here for our great-great-great grandchildren. We all want that. We just haven’t figured out how to get it. Maybe Bittman’s critique of Beyoncé points a way forward.

We lack leadership and role models. We lack sticky memes that help us change direction as a global culture. These things won’t come fast enough if we wait for White House task forces, Congressional legislation or international treaty negotiations, and they probably won’t come from the ad budgets of megacorporations, either. But they can happen fast. They can go viral. They can change the way we see the world, almost instantaneously. In fact, that is the way things normally happen.

We all want to be cool. We can act in our own best interests just by being cool, buying cool, doing cool.

Wrecking the climate is uncool. Saving it is cool. What about you, Michael Jordan? Are you cool? Come’on, man. Are you? And what about you, Beyoncé?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Done with Math

"The stark choice is between vasectomies and funerals. The sooner we get on with it, the better."

We complain about the slow progress of the climate talks, but what about the even slower progress on efforts to curb semen emissions?

Consider this: each day the population of humans on the planet expands by more than 200,000. That is one good-sized city, complete with water, food, energy, transportation, communication and sanitation infrastructure. To feed that city may require, if storage and process losses are kept to a minimum, 1 million kilocalories every day — something like a 20-acre stockyard of cattle, a Tyson’s poultry farm the size of a superdome, and a large fleet of Japanese fishing vessels seine-netting dolphins as they scour the dwindling ocean stores for tuna.

And the next day, you have to find somewhere to put another, while still feeding the first.

There are not as many people alive now as have ever lived, but it is close. That is one of the features of an exponential curve; the squares keep doubling. Earth's human population today equals the sum of every population doubling of the past 200,000 years.

Imagine UN negotiators agreeing to an excise fee on babies — or a “birth tax,” if you will. Suppose a prospective parent couple could purchase, for a small, but appreciating, price an indulgence that permitted them to have an extra child over and above the allotted number.

The rules of the exchange might require that privilege be gained at the expense of a fertile would-be-mother somewhere in a poorer, more desperate part of the world, who was willing to sell her quota right for the contract price, less broker fees. The transaction might be recorded on a Chicago Birth Exchange, let us say. It might be further insured, for verification purposes, by surgical removal of the donor’s remaining fertile eggs. Thus the blessed couple would gain another child by picking some “low hanging fruit;” taking some population pressure off poorer countries and shouldering it in a wealthy country, better able to provide.

If we can agree that the “terrestrial parking space” on Earth – the land available for inhabitation — has already been exceeded (a fair assumption given unsustainable depletion rates for most natural resources), we’ll need to set annual birth rations below equilibrium to force a gradual population contraction.

Lets say we want to de-grow global population by 200,000 per day. It would take 70 years just to get back to where we were mid-20th century. Gauging available resources — most importantly a decline in the availability of the high-quality energy that we apply to satisfying food and water demands — we may not have 70 years. We may need to double down and de-grow by, say, 400,000 per day.

We needn’t run all the numbers here, and it would be problematic, but we can just stipulate that a global quota could be set at “X children per fertile female-lifetime,” and that would form the basis for the daily price in contracts negotiated on the Chicago Birth Exchange.

We are a long way from that kind of treaty.

And then, just imagine how it might fare in the US Senate, to say nothing of the Indian Parliament. The alternative, of course, is simply to let nature enforce her own quota, which she usually does by withholding food. Given our other failed negotiation— the Framework Convention on Climate Change — that outcome is in the pipeline. If Peak Oil, GMOs, or the collapsing global economy don’t kill our industrial style of agriculture, killer storms and droughts will.

NYC Homeless Children (before Hurricane Sandy)
Working on the angle of changing agriculture from inefficient, energy-intensive, soil-destroying practices to alternative, organic and permacultural methods that use energy-saving human labor and build nutrient density in both soil and crops, we can only get so far. Studies suggest that going organic could boost global food supply a few percent, at best. Permaculturists and eco-agriculturists could redesign many large-field grain mines to rotate through food forests. They could replace concentrated cattle-feeding operations with free-range animals living sustainably within the confines of those rotations. This can support large populations, but not growing ones, and probably not 7 billion; maybe not even half that.

Sustainable agriculture will not involve genetic engineering. That way of hustling funds from governments, donors and shareholders to fund giant labs packed with biotech grad students is a blown meme – stick a fork in it. No genetically modified organism has ever demonstrated superiority to the natural organism it replaced, or solved any problem for which it was designed without creating more serious ones as a side effect. Period. It is a shuck.

So also is classical economics, that tells us demand creates supply, just wait for it. So is the claim that somehow technology can be substituted for cheap energy. Or that markets are neutral arbiters that will always separate grain from chaff. Stick a fork in all that nonsense.

No, the stark choice is between vasectomies and funerals. The sooner we get on with it, the better.

Wouldn’t it be great if the kids taking to the street in Zuchotti Park, Plaza del Sol, or Doha all had their tubes sewn shut or eggs scraped? What if they wore that fact as a proud badge of personal freedom and planetary citizenship? What would that take? Celebrities? Suppose Chris Hedges, Julia Roberts, Julian Assange, Evo Morales, Naomi Klein, Shakira and Brad Pitt marched out of sterilization clinics sporting little blue ribbons.

Blue for that jewel of a planet that supports us, within limits.

This essay was originally published in Culture Change, December 27, 2012 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Lucia Day 2012

"The North American continent, and much of South America, were cultivated ecologies, kept in near perfect balance for centuries by the subsistence economics and cultural norms of the American indigenous peoples. "

On December 12, 2012, Gaia Trust awarded the Gaia Award 2012, with a prize of 50,000 Danish kroner, to two global peace and sustainability projects, Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) and Gaia Education and their five early organizers. Quoting from the announcement, "Declan Kennedy, Max Lindegger and Albert Bates traveled five continents and created GEN networks in all parts of the world from 1995-2008. They share the prize with the present head of GEN, Kosha Joubert, who just set up an African network, and May East who for 7 years now has been at the head of Gaia Education and facilitated a network in South America. Together they have been important midwifes in giving birth to a new global culture."

Hildur Jackson, at the award ceremony yesterday in Denmark, said, "They get the award on the darkest afternoon, the 12th of Dec 2012, Lucia day. That day the sun starts its return in the northern Hemisphere culminating on the 21st of Dec, the shortest day. The shortest morning is then one week later. We want to acknowledge this major turning of our sun and celebrate the birth of a new culture." What follows are my prepared remarks for that ceremony.

Remarks of Albert Bates
On the occasion of receipt of the Gaia 2012 Award

Thank you for this recognition. I just wish it were more money!

Something Hildur Jackson said in announcing the awards I want to take a moment to speak about. She said,

“Let us think of this as the beginning of a new era—the Gaian Age with the Gaian Calendar, when a new global sustainable culture will be born, a new beginning for humankind. It will be the beginning of a new consciousness, a consciousness of Oneness where we are at one with nature, each other and the cosmos.”

In 19 days I will be 66 years old. I have been hearing talk about the essential oneness of everything since I was a child, going to church every Sunday.

In the early days of the Farm, working out in the hot sun hoeing weeds, we used to say at The Farm, “Work and Body are One; Body and Mind are One; Mind and Buddha are one.”

So I had that in my background and it was an intellectual construct that I accepted. I even had a meditation on occasion where I felt like my mind merged with the universal and it was all One. So you could say that for me it was also a revealed precept.

For the past quarter of my life I have been grappling with the climate issue and I’ve worried about how humans can possibly shift away from tropisms that are deeply embedded in our evolutionary biology, such as our insensitivity to long-term consequences of foolish or vain activities. That search led me deep into the Amazon jungle, to archeological excavations of civilizations going back 8000 years. And in that place I had a new insight about the butterfly effect, because I learned how these ancient peoples, in building their cities, may have added so much carbon to the atmosphere that they created the Maunder Maximum, a period of warming that brought the Moors into Southern Europe.

And centuries later, when they vanished from diseases brought to the New World by the Conquistadors, the amount of carbon drawn out of the atmosphere to create the Amazon Rainforest was so enormous that it may have triggered the Little Ice Age, and given Sweden the means to invade Denmark over frozen ice.

And I was reminded of something I already knew but now came to see as far more profound. That the North American continent, and much of South America, were cultivated ecologies, kept in near perfect balance for centuries by the subsistence economics and cultural norms of the American indigenous peoples.

The forest where I live was once hunted by Cherokee, Creek, Euchee and Osage. They never killed all the deer, only the old ones. If they found three ginseng plants, they would only harvest one. They kept the balance. And the Earth provided them a living. They received an abundance borne of respect.

That was a steady state economy that prevailed over at least half the planet for 50,000 years or more. Each year some fields were burned for the benefit of deer and bison. Each year forests were managed for stand improvement, species diversity and ecological services. The same for the bays, estuaries, lakes and mountains. Millions of people practiced sustainability, ecological restoration, and fundamental ecology, not as some abstract or unique way, but as normal. They were just normal.

Those millions of people achieved a profound balance with the biology of the planet, with Gaia. They created harmonious connection, and it gave them time to pursue deeper self-knowledge, spiritual powers, and a culture of dance, music and poetic discourse. They had no grocery stores but they did not starve. They had no refrigeration, internet or telephones, but they had happy lives, for thousands of years.

It was not always great. Bad stuff happened. But, by and large, they came into balance with Gaia. And Gaia responded, and gave them the Holocene Epoch, a period of profound climate tranquility and productivity. As long as they kept the balance, they could have that.

When Europeans came to the Americas and began to disturb the balance, they were warned by the indigenous elders of terrible consequences, but they ignored these warnings. These warnings have been being given for 500 years and are still being ignored. Offered a choice between heaven and hell, we have chosen hell.

Mother Nature is looking out for our interests, despite all the abuse we give her. Gaia wants to heal the planet. Gaia does that. And Nature will heal us, too, if we let her. She won’t do it if we continue the abusive relationship. We may think we are winning a battle, but Nature is winning. Nature will always win. All we really need to do is to surrender.

Thank you for this moment of sharing, and for all our relations. I love you all.


Monday, December 10, 2012

Through the Doha Gateway

"'There were some winners here — the coal industry won here, the oil industry won here, the fossil fuel industry won here. This wasn’t an environmental or science-driven discussion, this was a trade fair.' — Alden Meyer"

Abdullah bin Hamad Al-Attiyah, Chairman of Qatar's Administrative Control and Transparency Authority and President of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP 18/CMP 8) was visibly ebullient. The Doha Gateway delivered a next step, on time and on budget. See here for a summary of the final text.

It was the first time in several years we can recall the business of the COP being concluded before a Saturday overnight emergency session. With time on their hands, the UN convened a post-conference discussion to raise ambitions, and plan relief concerts for victims of catastrophic weather damage.

Whether US negotiators took the strategy gambit offered them here last week (see The Doha Nuance) or were just swept along with the tide no longer matters. The world’s first international carbon emissions treaty — the Kyoto Protocol — rather than being allowed to expire, as most expected, has been extended and expanded into Kyoto-2. Whether to participate in the carbon-limit regime now becomes an internal debate in the capitals of developing and developed worlds alike, including the US Senate, should the President elect. President Bill Clinton, it must be remembered, never forwarded Kyoto-1 for an up or down vote.

Negotiators have often displayed more ambition than their nations. The US negotiating team in Doha, on the other hand, seemed through the past two weeks to have considerably less ambition than either the public at home or the White House. Called out by Greenpeace Executive Director Kumi Naidoo and Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman,  they retreated into mute silence and simply declined questions. Whether they had a role in Kyoto-2’s adoption (even if by igniting reaction to their consistent opposition) remains shrouded in mystery. Their negotiating position seemed to be, “We like what was done last year in Durban (nothing); we’re sticking with that.”

Kumi Naidoo
Kyoto-2 seemed at the threshold of approval in Copenhagen in December, 2009, we may recall, but newly-minted President Obama dropped in at the last moment to substitute a voluntary pledge program, snatching defeat from the jaws of a potential international victory. Hillary Clinton sealed the deal with a dollar diplomacy pledge of $100 billion per year, which bought off enough opponents of the pledge system to backburner Kyoto until now.

This year, delegates were still looking under sofa cushions for that $100 billion, promised but never delivered, and Kyoto-1 was about to expire, for real, so they ditched the Clinton pledge telethon and put an admission price at the door to a 2-degree warmer world.

The pledge system remains legally in place under the Copenhagen Accord and subsequent COPs, so as a practical matter, Kyoto signatories are being given until 2014 to review their pledges. Those not participating are being detained after school. They have to attend workshops in 2013 to discuss ambition, and tell UN shrinks why they don’t have any. Everyone is anxious to see what lead US negotiator Todd Stern will say. Did the dog eat his homework? Really?

While Kyoto was extended in law, it remains a paper tiger until finance and specific targets are put in place. These negotiations will take until 2015, with implementation thereafter. Germany, China and the UK stood with poor countries and submerging island states and made commitments for Green technology transfer, so development and adaptation can move forward, without fossil fuels or nuclear energy. No excuses there. Korea was given administration of the Green Climate Fund, and Denmark became the first to put real cash into that fund, over the dead body of Canada.

There is nothing in the Doha deal that will keep emissions from going down instead of up. There is nothing to assure that $100 million, never mind $100 billion, will be found for the Climate Fund. There was no solution found for the Hot Air problem, wherein countries who were given low emissions reduction targets at Kyoto in 1997 (Russia and Eastern Europe) but whose emissions imploded as a consequence of economic collapse, were allowed to bank the difference and sell their credits to heavy polluters.

A number of countries in the Doha talks pledged to not buy hot air from Russia, Belarus or Ukraine, and to consider Kyoto-1’s credits now expired. Others were conspicuously silent on the issue.

Extending Kyoto was only a baby step; the reduction target in total is only about 15% of annual global emissions of greenhouse gases. WWF’s Samantha Smith said, “The EU is committed to 20% and they are well on track to do that – they could do that with their eyes closed.” Many countries have more ambitious goals than are likely to emerge from Kyoto-2, even with tweaking, and the real question becomes whether even those more ambitious goals will be enough. The science is not encouraging.

UCS’s Alden Meyer said, “There were some winners here — the coal industry won here, the oil industry won here, the fossil fuel industry won here. This wasn’t an environmental or science-driven discussion, this was a trade fair. This is not the future we need to leave to our children. We know that we need to leave four-fifths of the oil, gas and coal on the planet where it is — underground — that’s the only safe carbon reserve there is.”

Qatari Youth confronting Climate Change
The major NGO players — UCS, Greenpeace, WWF, CAN, tcktcktck, — met to discuss merger and how best to apply their separate strengths into a combined force. Kumi Naidoo said afterwards, “We didn’t get a FAB deal (Fair, Ambitious and legally Binding) in Copenhagen, we got a FLAB deal — full of loopholes and bullshit. And we have the same bull coming out of here in Doha and I think the main message we have to take from Doha is this: yes, we support the multilateral process; yes, we want it to work; but if the people in the world, and especially the young people of the world think that they can invest their futures on a multi-lateral process which is held back by the weak national political will which negotiators bring from their capitals to these negotiations, then they are making a bad tactical error. … We will have to think about the proportionality of our investment, in terms of how much we put here (into the UN process) … and building a robust, broad-based movement. … To young people in particular, I would say, don’t accept that you are leaders of tomorrow, assert that you are leaders of today.”

What is required, in our humble opinion, is a change of narrative. Viewing economic development and climate change prevention as opposites is not a realistic assessment, much less a viable strategy. The economic story demands reframing. Hurricane Sandy’s damage just to New Jersey was greater than the funding sought in Doha for the Green Climate Fund. In our Post Petroleum Survival Guide (2006) we attempted to reframe peak oil and climate change as a joyous switch to better standards of living. This change is what has been postponed with each missed opportunity, and with each postponement the transition becomes more painful and beset with greater risks.

What does Obama and the US Senate have to fear from Kyoto-2, after all? The hot air credits bestowed on former Soviet countries by Kyoto-1 could easily accrue to the US under Kyoto-2. As its own economy collapses, it could wind up selling hot air to India or Brazil.

So now it’s on to COP-19 in Warsaw, in December 2013, and lets win there. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Doha Disappointment

"Mr. President, you have to decide whether negotiators you sent here to Doha advocate for your position. The U.S. position here in Doha betrays people who lost their lives during hurricane Sandy. "

An open letter to Barack Obama on U.S. obstruction to climate treaty

Dear Mr. President,

My Name is Kumi Naidoo, I am the Executive Director of Greenpeace International, I also serve as President of the Global Campaign for Climate Action and serve as Global Ambassador of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty. But, today I write to you as an African, as a person from the developing world and as a parent.

The world needs your leadership now — and for the first time you have immense popular support, with a majority of Americans believing that climate change is a real threat.

In 2009, you received the Nobel Prize for Peace in the run-up to the Copenhagen climate summit. There was a strong expectation that you would lead multilateral efforts to combat global warming. Everyone hoped that you would not make the same mistakes as your predecessor, George W. Bush, who ignored the CIA’s and Pentagon’s warning that climate change is the biggest threat to geopolitical stability, security and peace.

In your victory speech after being re-elected to a second term, you inspired hope once again to people around the world who care about global climate disruption and want to ensure a habitable planet for future generations. You said: “We want our children to live in an America that is not burdened by debt, that is not weakened by inequality, that is not threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.” This hope rose when in a press conference on November 14th 2012 you called for “a conversation across the country…” to see “how we can shape an agenda that garners bipartisan support and helps move this agenda forward… and… be an international leader” on climate change.

A stark contrast exists between what you have said and what your negotiators in Doha are doing. Your negotiators on climate change continue to undermine hope that the U.S. will be an ambitious global citizen on climate. With all due respect, Mr. President, your negotiators’ view does not resonate either with the majority of the people in the world, nor with a growing number of voices of informed public opinion within the U.S. itself.

Although the Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern, and Deputy Special Envoy Jonathan Pershing, say the United States has a “strong and solid” position, they have consistently delivered the opposite. They have continued to block negotiations on developing common rules for accounting for pollution reduction efforts, which are necessary to understanding if global efforts are sufficient. 

Although they have said U.S. climate finance for developing countries will be maintained, they will not commit to increasing it through 2020 despite it being nowhere near the ‘fair share’ of $100 billion that you agreed in Copenhagen. Obviously, the Congress is in a fiscal crisis, but your negotiators have stalled discussions about how to raise climate finance through innovative sources like a very small levy on shipping or global financial transactions. As the Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki Moon said yesterday, developed countries with large historical emissions have a clear responsibility to come up with funding to help poor countries adapt to climate impacts.

Mr. President, a lack of leadership by the U.S. in the climate treaty talks in Doha puts the survival of millions of people on the African continent and the globe at risk. In the past five years, the growth in coal use has caused over two-thirds of the increase in global CO2 emissions, pushing greenhouse gas emissions to a record high. In recent weeks, the World Bank, the CIA and the UNEP have each warned about the consequences of unchecked climate change. Statements by your negotiators that the U.S. is making ‘enormous efforts’ is contradicted by their lack of leadership in calling for enforceable reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gases.

The U.S. position here in Doha betrays people who lost their lives during hurricane Sandy. It betrays people who are facing the effects of intense drought in the U.S. It betrays the aspirations of a growing number of young Americans, some of whom I have met here in Doha, who want the U.S. to recover from eight years of President Bush’s climate denialism that delayed progress in climate negotiations. I feel a responsibility to inform you that this lack of leadership has profoundly disappointed many of the same people who were so energized by your promise of hope and your pledges to rejoin the international community.

Here in Doha, we continue to hear disturbing or unfounded claims by your negotiators. One example is the claim that the U.S. 2020 target of cutting global warming pollution by 17 percent compared to 2005 is based on science, when the world leading climate scientists calls for much higher targets for industrialized countries and a new United Nations Environmental Programme study shows a widening gap between existing commitments and what is required to prevent the worst catastrophic impacts of climate change. Your envoys here overstate U.S. commitments to finance global climate initiatives while the U.S. Export-Import Bank alone is spending five times more on fossil fuel subsidies that will only hasten catastrophic climate change.

Frankly, the tone of your Special Envoy and Deputy Special Envoy also has undermined U.S. credibility. In recent weeks, the World Bank and the CIA have each warned about the consequences of unchecked climate change. In this context, your negotiators claiming that the U.S. is making ‘enormous efforts’ rather than accepting the need for enforceable pollution reductions backed by a consensus of the world’s scientists threatens to sabotage these climate negotiations. Every day with no change of course from your negotiating team, the problem is getting worse.

This year has already seen devastating storms, droughts and floods causing significant loss of life and damage to important infrastructure, including not only in your country, but also in China, India, Africa and Europe. This was yet another warning signal and a test of whether governments will protect their people. In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, and the drought, wildfires and other extreme weather events that have afflicted the American people over the last year, it is time to bring climate politics in line with scientific reality, both nationally and internationally.

Climate change is no longer some distant future threat. At the end of a year that has seen the impacts of climate change devastate homes and families in your country and around the world, it is the perfect time to refute the discredited claims of politicians underwritten by polluters who profit from inaction.

Mr. President, we need you to deliver bold leadership relative to what is actually necessary to reduce the threat of global warming to the U.S. and the world. This must include backing a revolution in energy policy based on clean renewables and energy efficiency in the U.S. and worldwide. It also means ending fossil fuel subsidies and the export of publicly owned coal, rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline, drilling for oil in Arctic waters and making the prevention of climate catastrophes a centrepiece of U.S. foreign policy.

You have to decide whether negotiators you sent here to Doha advocate for your position. If the world is to trust the U.S, it needs to see the bold leadership that ensures that global temperatures do not exceed levels that science has warned will wreak disaster for our planet. This essential goal is only possible with leadership from the U.S. today.

From one father to another, let me close by appealing to you, that what is at stake here is our very children and their children’s future. As someone who was so inspired by your election in 2008 as U.S. President, please allow me to evoke three phrases you used in that campaign in conclusion: “A planet in peril,” “The fierce urgency of now” and “Yes We Can.” I believe strongly, that your message in 2008 was absolutely right and I believe if we recognize the fierce urgency of now, we can address the challenge of a planet in peril and ensure that the spirit of optimism imbued by the words “Yes we can” should now reign supreme.


Kumi Naidoo
Executive Director
Greenpeace International


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Doha Nuance

"Given the volumes of methane leaked in fracking, a carbon tax at the well-head could cancel the pixie dust “North American energy independence” boom/bust debacle overnight. But that is not enough to stave off 4-degrees. "

In an era when public discourse is pushed through the bottleneck of paid advertising minutes and distilled to 15 and 30 second soundbytes or bumpersticker slogans, we’ve lost nuance. When warned by Judge Julius Hoffman to “stick to the facts” during the trial of the Chicago-Seven, Norman Mailer protested, “Facts are nothing without their nuance, sir.”

We guess that, all considered, we are better off with a US President that understands nuance than one that doesn’t. This one we have for the next 4 years has a good science advisory team, and that can’t hurt the understanding of nuance, either. It is perhaps because of nuance that we are a bit more hopeful of progress in Doha than we should be, having reached this giddy condition before, at COPs in Copenhagen, Cancun and Durban, before watching it dissolve in negotiating perfidy.

In 2009 President Obama stepped into the Copenhagen COP at the last moment and substituted a voluntary pledge system for what had been shaping up to be a binding treaty. Global emissions rose 2.6% last year and are now 58% higher than 1990 levels. Pledges are not enough to keep the world on a path to a 2°C limit of climate change. Obama saw an opening in Copenhagen, but did not appreciate the nuance. Pledges are not legal commitments.

Airline Exhaust

Airport Do-The-Math Greeters in Doha
Another example was the COP-18 first week’s flap over air transport rules. On November 27 President Obama signed into law the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act of 2011. The new law authorizes — but does not require — the Secretary of Transportation to prohibit airlines from participating in the European Union's anti-pollution regime. Seen through Republican legislators’ eyes the bill was a triumph of climate denialism — allowing the US to opt out of European progressive democracy.
Europe’s Aviation Directive holds airlines accountable for emissions associated with commercial flights that land at or take off from EU airports. By forcing airlines to become more fuel efficient, the program removes the equivalent of atmospheric carbon added annually by all the cars in Europe. Since US airlines land at EU airports, they would have to comply, were they not prohibited by the new US law.

If the Secretary of Transportation were to implement the prohibition outlined in the bill, it would require unlawful (under EU laws) behavior on the part of U.S. airlines and would risk igniting a trade war with the European Union as US flights get banned from EU air space, and vice versa in reprisal.

Fortunately, the EU blinked. It “stopped the clock” on implementation of the system, to allow time for negotiation. In a statement after the signing, the White House said:

The Administration remains focused on making progress in reducing aviation emissions through the appropriate multilateral forum – the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) — and we welcome the recent progress there in establishing a new High Level Group charged with accelerating negotiations on a basket of measures that all countries can adopt at the next ICAO Assembly meeting in September 2013 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from aviation.
Major beltway environmental groups, EDF, WWF, Earthjustice, and NRDC included, praised the White House move as a positive step, saying “Now the spotlight is on ICAO, and on whether the U.S. will step forward with the real leadership needed to drive agreement on an ICAO program to cut aviation’s carbon pollution.”

In contrast, many grassroots organizations did not grasp, or didn’t care about, the nuance. They sported placards in Doha demanding that the EU start the clock again and that Obama direct his Transportation Secretary to ignore the new US law. If the Obama Administration wastes its year of negotiations within the ICAO or dampens ICAO authority, then the nuance is a distinction without a difference. But if the year of negotiation produces airline carbon reductions that can also apply to US airports, and those in other non-EU nations, then the nuance is important, and no one needs to be tugging at the President’s elbow just yet.

Trick or Treaty

COP18 protest: Note the Artificial Trees
Another example is the question of to whom the burden of counting carbon belongs. Many of the placards held up outside Doha venues call for “climate justice” or “pay your historic debt” and countries like India and Bolivia have latched onto these slogans to go slow on their own commitments. The United States flatly rejects the notion of climate debt, and points to the fact that most emissions come from the developing world, with China being number one in gross carbon pollution and Qatar being the top emitter on a per capita basis. The impasse over climate justice is made out to be a big deal. The nuance is more subtle.

In the United States, electric power plants emit about 2.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide each year, or roughly 40 percent of the nation's total emissions and a quarter of the world’s. The Obama EPA has taken important first steps by setting standards that will cut carbon from automobiles and trucks nearly in half by 2025 and by proposing standards to limit carbon pollution from new power plants. But Obama’s EPA has yet to tackle the hundreds of existing fossil-fueled power plants in the United States, and it is opening up vast new industries in fracking and tar sands.

Civil society, led by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), has a plan to reduce power plant pollution, and it requires no new laws. It is already authorized under the Clean Air Act of 1970, so would not involve confrontation with climate denier committees of Congress to implement. The plan would cut CO2 pollution from America's power plants by 26% by 2020 and 34% by 2025. The price tag: about $4 billion. But the benefits — in saved lives, reduced illnesses, and climate change avoided — would be $26 to 60 billion, 6 to 15 times greater than the costs. Consider Hurricane Sandy.

Naturally, if the US were to go ahead and implement the NRDC plan, it would like to get some kind of credit for the reduction. Maybe even a historical credit.

On the other side of the planet, China is being told it is the number one polluter, but most of that pollution comes from mining and importing fossil fuels to power conversion of petrochemicals to components for iPhones, Fisher Price toddler computers, and Barbies for Wal•Mart. So who should pay for China’s pollution controls?

In our view, the most promising approach is to tax carbon at the mine and well. Raising the price there propagates conservation incentives downstream, at every conversion point. Given the volumes of methane leaked in fracking, it could cancel the pixie dust “North American energy independence” boom/bust debacle overnight. But that is not enough.

There needs to be a financial incentive for countries like India, South Africa and Brazil to adopt pollution controls similar to the NRDC plan for the US. And that is where the minutia of negotiating a second Kyoto period comes into play. Kyoto is the only part of the COP negotiations that actually involves hard deadlines and enforcement of international law against violators. Kyoto-2 is a realistic goal for Doha to accomplish.

Anticipating a renewed Kyoto regime, Korea is spending 2 percent of its GDP on the low-carbon economy. China has embedded energy efficiency and renewables targets in its latest five-year plan and is testing carbon markets in seven of its provinces. The UK has set a 2050 target of 80% reduction in its carbon footprint. The US is silent.

It seems likely that a second Kyoto period will be adopted, beginning in 2015. The debate, as UNFCCC chair Christiana Figueres said in her opening address to the high level delegates, is whether ambition for targets is enough to hold the world to a 2 degree temperature rise, or whether lowered ambitions brokered to get the final deal condemn us to a devastating (for civilization) 4 degrees or more. The nuance, for Obama, is that adopting Kyoto will require a 75% majority in the US Senate, but if he can’t achieve that, he could still go around it with NRDC-like plans for every sector of the economy, using existing regulatory authority given by Congress to President Nixon and recently upheld vis a vis the EPA and CO2 by the Roberts Supreme Court.
“The 4°C scenarios are devastating… The projected 4°C warming simply must not be allowed to occur—the heat must be turned down. Only early, cooperative, international actions can make that happen.” — November 2012 Report for the World Bank by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics.
“Lowered ambitions brokered to get the deal” did we say? This is President Obama’s forte. Is it possible to surprise us? Does he appreciate that nuance actually gives him power here? If so, then what we will see in Doha in the next few days is the US advocating for Kyoto-2, signed, sealed and delivered. It will be a historic reversal of Obama's position in Copenhagen, but who's counting? That kind of nuance is outside the ken of his opponents.

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