Archives

Tagged ‘EDF‘

Human Rights vs. Right Based Fishing: The Ideological Battleground in Siem Reap

World Forum of Fishers People

April 28, 2015

By the international secretariat of the World Forum of Fisher Peoples – 26 April 2015

WFFP-679x1024

(2014) Photo courtesy of Masifundise 

On 23-27 March 2014, six representatives from the global fisher movements, the WFFP and WFF, supported by ICSF and a couple of researchers, participated in the UserRights2015 Conference in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Few in numbers, these delegates represents millions of people from indigenous and small-scale fishing communities. The additional 130 participants were from government, inter-governmental organisations, academia, big business, and international conservation organisations.

Even after the five days in Cambodia, it remains somehow unclear what the conference aimed at achieving. Bringing together 140 people from across the world – of whom only about 45 were women – should clearly aim at something more concrete than providing “… guidance on how to support appropriate rights-based systems in fisheries and thereby contribute to a sustainable future:”1

During the five days, it became clear that the dominant, hegemonic view brought to the fore by most speakers and delegates centred around ‘private property’ as a fundamental basis for user rights in fisheries. In fisheries governance this is also referred to as Rights Based Fishing, ITQs, Wealth Based Fishing or Catch Shares by various different players.

There is an irony in this almost fundamentalist belief in private property. On the one hand the FAO – the key host of the conference – and the World Bank aims at eliminating huger and reducing rural poverty. On the other hand, the World Bank – as one of the most powerful players in fisheries governance globally – admitted that the private property system is good for some and bad for many. If the very system aggressively promoted by the World Bank – and many other participants at the UserRights conference – is bad for many, how then can it contribute to eliminating hunger and reducing poverty?

For more examples on the devastating consequences of private property systems in fisheries – or Rights Based Fishing – see the Global Ocean Grab: A Primer.

The WFFP delegates repeatedly argued – from the floor, as panellists and in presentations – that small-scale fisheries must be governed by applying a Human Rights Based approach. The underpinning principles of such an approach include equality, indigenous peoples rights, food sovereignty, gender equity, poverty alleviation for all, customary and traditional rights, traditional low-impact fishing, and participation in governance. Yet, these arguments only gave rise to a minimal dialogue, and on numerous occasions the responses were degrading and unwarranted.

The form of the conference allowed for many short and long presentations but limited scope for real engagement and dialogue. As such, it took the shape of an ideological battleground, where the strongest voice may end up being the one that finds its way into a conference report. Considering that proponents of private property were stronger in numbers and were allocated the majority of slots – air time – at the conference, it is feared that the views of the WFFP will becomes oppressed in the outcomes of the conference. While we do not know what to expect in terms of concrete outcomes, it is speculated that the conference will produce a report that will be used by the FAO with respect to its future work on fisheries governance, including the International Guidelines on the responsible Governance of tenure of land, fisheries and forests (Tenure Guidelines) and the International Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries (SSF Guidelines).

Considering that the FAO recently endorsed the SSF Guidelines (2014) and the Tenure Guidelines (2012), it was expected that the FAO would use the guidelines to set the scene and inform the contents of the programme. Yet, aside from a couple of references on the official conference website and the mentioning of the guidelines in an opening speech, it was only the WFFP, WFF and ICSF who consistently made use of the guidelines to inform presentations and dialogue. Many participants seemed unaware of the guidelines – or outright ignored their existence – and the FAO officials showed disappointingly little interest in picking up on the linkages between the main theme of the conference – ‘user rights’ – and the Tenure and SSF Guidelines.

Considering that the FAO has invested huge amounts of human and financial resources in the development of the guidelines, this almost ignorant position is even more controversial.

The strategic use of language in Siem Reap

While many of the ‘usual suspects’ spoke openly about the need for private property, ITQs and similar terms in relation to fisheries governance, some adapted the language and thereby masked their underlying belief in private property as the one and only solution. This way of adapting the language is used to strategically persuade others – including fisher movements across the world – about their ‘honest’ and ‘sincere’ support and not only in Siem Reap but more generally so. At face value, it can be difficult to distinguish the good from the bad, but by looking just a bit deeper it’s not that difficult at all. One approach is to look where the funding comes from, and another is to do a bit of research on the political positions of the various actors and to find out who is serving on their boards. Too often, and in particular with international conservation organisations, we see a very close tie with multinational agri-businesses, super-market chains or other financial giants, and some are even governed by top-business people from the same funding corporations.

In the light of the above, it should come as no surprise that the overall impression of the WFFP is that the conference failed in ‘providing guidance’ – which was the only concrete objective of the conference mentioned on the website. Yet, the participation in the conference was crucial for a couple of reasons. Firstly, without the interventions of the WFFP and friends from WFF, ICSF and a couple of researchers, the conference would have been an assembly of neo-liberal thinkers and institutions who would have had an unhindered opportunity to develop their own plans for fisheries governance on the basis of private property regimes. Secondly, the knowledge and information about some of the key actors and their agendas, which we have gained by participating in the conference, is critical for developing and refining strategies on how to push for a Human Rights Based approach and the implementation of the FAO Guidelines.

A couple of facts about UserRights2015

Donors/partners: Environmental Defence Fund (EDF), Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) Norad and Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida)

Participants: 95 men and 45 women

1 The only concrete reference to the objectives of the conference on the official website: http://www.fao.org/about/meetings/user-rights-2015/en/

EDF Sells Green Cred to Walmart for the Low, Low Price of $66 Million

Grist

November 6, 2013

EDFLogo9.9.09_sm

Aside from Walmart itself, there is no louder and more enthusiastic cheerleader for the retail giant’s sustainability campaign than Environmental Defense Fund. A quick perusal of the news over the last few weeks finds EDF issuing a press release about Walmart’s green leadership, praising its environmental boldness in a Fortune interview, backing its solar claims in a Fast Company article, and headlining a live chat about Walmart hosted by The Guardian.

EDF, one of the nation’s largest and best-known environmental organizations, is Walmart’s right-hand man in the green game. It turns out, unlike most Walmart jobs, that’s a pretty lucrative gig to have.

Since 2005, EDF has received $66 million from the Walton Family Foundation. The Waltons are the children and grandchildren of Walmart founder Sam Walton. The crucial thing to know about the family — in addition to their mind-boggling wealth, estimated at $145 billion — is that they control Walmart. They not only have several seats on the company’s board, including the chair. They own over half of Walmart’s stock.

Must-Read White Paper: The Politics of a New York State Fracking Moratorium

sierraclub2

Above: A picture worth a thousand words ….

“[P]romoters of “safe fracking” like the Natural Resources Defense Council (“we need better information”), the National Sierra Club (“let’s secure strong safeguards”), and the National Wildlife Federation (“reasonable compromise”; the parent organization of Environmental Advocates of New York), Environmental Defense Fund (partnering with Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, and other industry players in the “Center for Sustainable Shale Development,” PDF), Citizens Campaign for the Environment (pushing for a moratorium, “Let science guide the process”), and New York League of Conservation Voters (whose 2013 spring gala partners included Chesapeake Energy, Scotts Miracle-Gro, and other industry polluters) would like to have an apparent easy win to headline their fundraising letters. Even while many of their staffers recognize the need for a ban, these same staffers have been discouraged from publicly supporting a ban. The grassroots must stand firmly for this position to help these staffers use the courage of their convictions.”

CPNY | Coalition to Protect New York

June 16, 2013

Knowing that the whole country, indeed the whole world, is looking to New York State to stop fracking and lead the way for others to piggyback on our success, we find it especially important that we get it right. We can help not only ourselves but also every other citizenry affected, and we can change the course of history. We cannot waste time; too much is at stake. We can’t play games. We must demand what we need to survive. And we must win.

1. What is the effect of calling for a moratorium? Doesn’t a moratorium buy us time to organize for an eventual ban?

We understand and are tempted by the respite that a moratorium seems to promise. Who wouldn’t like to buy time for rest and recuperation, and to fight more fiercely down the line?

However, after careful examination of the political and economic landscape, we realize that the price of a statewide moratorium is clearly too high — it works against our achieving our ultimate goal of a total and complete ban.

In Rubble of Cap-and-Trade, Big Green Taking a Beating

In Rubble of Cap-and-Trade, Big Green Taking a Beating

In the search for what’s next, a range of options including civil disobedience, state-level action, and continued work on Capitol Hill

By Elizabeth McGowan

Nov 23, 2010

WASHINGTON—Barely a week ago, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid assured West Virginia governor-cum-senator Joe Manchin that any attempt to control greenhouse gases via a cap-and-trade system is dead and six feet under.

Grassroots and left-leaning environmental organizations, however, claim the Nevada Democrat showed up nearly a year late to the funeral of the much-maligned, market-based measure. A majority of them aren’t mourning the evident demise of poor ol’ cap and trade.

For the most part, they abhorred the book-length version of legislation that Democratic Reps. Henry Waxman and Ed Markey of Massachusetts cobbled together and the House eventually passed as the American Clean Energy and Security Act in June 2009. And they cringed at the versions of its evil twin that reared themselves afterward in the Senate.

While they united against compromised legislation, these more progressive green advocates aren’t unified on a single way forward on how to curb heat-trapping emissions—and if SolveClimate News’s interviews of these groups is any indication, consensus will be hard to come by.

Ideas about strengthening the movement are still being floated and vetted. Many agree the focus needs to be outside the Capital Beltway and some want to incorporate civil disobedience into the mix. Others will continue to work the legislative angle in the U.S. Capitol’s corridors.

Sorting Through Cap-and-Trade Rubble

“What needs to emerge from the rubble of cap and trade is a program that makes polluters pay,” Damon Moglen, climate and energy program director for Friends of the Earth said. “Some of the money needs to go to the public and the rest should be used to develop policy and support renewables.”

Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace never jumped on the Waxman-Markey bandwagon. What sticks in the craw of so many of their fellow environmental advocates is that their well-heeled brethren such as the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council confidently led them down what they promised would be a rosy path toward cap-and-trade nirvana.

And many found it was too late to pull a U-turn when it became clear they were headed for what looked to be a hellish destination that was scientifically unsound and provided Wall Street with alarming amounts of Monopoly money.

“What’s changing now is that the climate movement is no longer willing to follow ‘Big Green,’ which they did before to some degree because they had the power and the money,” explained Tim DeChristopher of Peaceful Uprising in Utah. “There’s certainly an awareness that we need to build a serious movement. We need to use these two years where nothing will happen in Congress to take the focus off Washington and build a social movement.”

EDF and Big Green Take a Beating

Fred Krupp, head of the Environmental Defense Fund, ignited a small-scale firestorm that’s still flaming after writing a 1,700-word missive for The Huffington Post last week vowing to ratchet up the fight for climate legislation by playing hardball with corporate polluters and the fossil fuels industry.

“First of all, that’s EDF being EDF,” Moglen said. “It’s the viewpoint of a single organization and not the voice of the entire environment movement … whatever that is.”

But another climate activist who had frequent dealings with Krupp’s organization—who asked that his name not be used so he could speak freely—was less forgiving.

“This is what Fred always says in front of more left and environmental audiences,” the source said in an interview, pointing out that EDF’s tagline is still, ‘We partner with businesses, governments and communities to find practical environmental solutions.’ “And he acts a certain way when he’s with Republicans. I would roll my eyes if anybody took this seriously.”

While those on Capitol Hill might look at the environmental movement as one entity, he continued, it’s ridiculous to include EDF because it categorizes itself as the triangulator and honest broker seeking common ground. He added that EDF should really be cast in a separate arena as a centrist activist group along the lines of the Democratic Leadership Council.

“People need to understand what EDF is and treat them accordingly,” he said. “If they were the environmental policy arm of Blue Dog Democrats’ caucus, I wouldn’t begrudge them that role.”

Cap and trade and market-based solutions were EDF’s “baby,” because the organization’s staffers had the “policy firepower,” he said, adding that Krupp’s employees are not nearly as well versed on renewable electricity standards and other regulatory solutions.

Calls to the Environmental Defense Fund seeking comment for this article were not returned.

One of EDF’s harshest critics is Rachel Smolker, whose now-deceased father, Robert Smolker, co-founded the organization decades ago during discussions in her childhood home on Long Island.

Smolker, an activist with the United Kingdom-based Biofuelwatch accuses EDF of being extremely cozy with industry and unwilling to listen to grassroots voices outside the nation’s capital.

“Cap and trade is a dangerous approach because it gives control to Wall Street,” she said in an interview from her Vermont office. “It’s the least painful and most profitable route for industry.”

Smolker is also active with Climate SOS, which borrowed a line from James Hansen when labeling the Waxman-Markey bill as “worse than nothing.” Hansen, who has been arrested for climate activism, heads the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City.

“Many grassroots groups have no confidence in Washington,” she said. “Once, the idea of working with markets was a good idea and there were some successes. But attitudes toward cap and trade have changed in the last year.”

Copenhagen a Lost Opportunity

Krupp is correct that the environmental community has an urgent need to mobilize more broadly, Friends of the Earth’s Moglen said. Still, Moglen is flabbergasted that the climate situation has deteriorated so drastically since there was such consensus for action a year ago. Green groups are certainly culpable for losing control of a prime opportunity, he said, but he places the onus on President Obama.

“At the very moment (environmental organizations) created a debate space, this Congress and this president were AWOL,” he said. “The people who flooded into that void were the corporations. Then the flat-Earthers were inhabiting the debate space.”

If Obama had been as vociferous in a call for action at the Copenhagen climate conference in December 2009, as he is being now with the nuclear-arms treaty with Moscow, Moglen is convinced strong legislation would be in place now.

“The president failed on that front,” he said. “He could have gone to Copenhagen and changed the course of human history. It was his moment and he chose to hide behind Congress. Then the whole house of cards came tumbling down.”

Without national legislation, he continued, Obama now has to go to the mat for the Environmental Protection Agency so its authority to regulate greenhouse gases via the Clean Air Act isn’t blocked.

With a fractured House and a weakened Senate, Moglen suspects that cutting-edge solutions to global warming will bubble up from the states instead of trickle down from the federal level.

And as much as other observers see the political spectrum’s left and right as polar opposites, Moglen thinks the two could bond over their opposition to subsidies and tax breaks for the coal and oil industries. That common ground might be a starting point for the beginning of a climate conversation.

“We need to hold the fossil fuels industry accountable,” he said, adding that nobody asked corporations for their help when drafting civil rights legislation in the 1960s. “But we need to hold leaders accountable.”

“(The environmental community) bears responsibility and our leaders bear responsibility for not holding up our end of the bargain.”

Needed: Faster Ship With Bigger Guns

DeChristopher, the Utah activist, said he is encouraged that grassroots groups have finally realized they need to step out of the shadow of large, Washington-centric environmental organizations.

“Watering things down and making allies with corporations that really are enemies hasn’t worked,” he said. “We might as well work for something that will make a difference.”

The Environmental Defense Fund and others in the “Big Green” tent could have garnered support from grassroots groups, he said, if they had thought to admit that they were wrong about how to proceed with climate legislation. But that mea culpa hasn’t come.

The 29-year-old is aware that not everybody is willing to go as far out on a limb as he did in December 2008. He is facing a federal trial and perhaps prison time for disrupting the Bureau of Land Management’s auction of federally owned lands in Utah for oil and gas exploration.

“I’m associated with a certain sort of tactic but this movement needs every type of tactic whether it’s schmoozing with lobbyists or actions on the ground,” DeChristopher said.

He is convinced that citizens will rally around the climate cause if activists demonstrate their commitment to the cause by engaging in acts of civil disobedience.

“Beyond the one-day symbolic actions, the movement hasn’t been heard in a way that rises above the normal hum of politics,” he said. “But more sustained resistance is the activism we’ll see over the next several years.

“Our side will be a lot more willing to go to prison. And we need to escalate things to that level. We don’t need to build a bigger ship, we need a faster one with bigger guns.”

Not One-Click Activism

Though no umbrella group has issued any specifics, DeChristopher said he suspects mountaintop removal surface mining sites and urban areas where coal-fired power plants dirty the air would be prime candidates for protests.

While there’s a sliver of a chance that Congress could choose to grapple with a carbon tax or cap and dividend climate legislation, signs point to the Republicans preferring gridlock.

GOP resistance to engage would serve only to ramp up climate activists’ agenda, DeChristopher said.

“People are ready to be told this battle is not going to be easy,” he emphasized. “This is not one-click activism. We need to stand up and dig out the best in ourselves.”

Even comfortable, rich baby boomers could be motivated to participate, he said, “when they see their kids taking serious risks and see the government waging war against their kids. That wakes those people up.”

Compromise, he said, is not a practical tool when you’re waging a revolution against a country’s power structure because such brokering leads to “small goals and hesitation.”

Smolker, the Vermont activist, is also hopeful that the environmental community loses its “we’ll take whatever we can get” attitude when negotiating the next round of climate legislation.

“I understand that compromise has to occur,” said Smolker, who earned a doctorate in biology. “But if you start with a really weak position on a bill, then you end up with crap. You can’t enter the negotiations whimpering and pandering. You have to come in with a strong position.”

http://solveclimatenews.com/news/20101123/rubble-cap-and-trade-big-green-taking-beating?page=3

(U.S.) Senate Climate Bill Dies-Does the Environment Win?

“For over a dozen years, since before the 1997 Kyoto climate summit, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Pew Charitable Trust and other Big Green groups have been unshakably committed to cap-and-trade. Without bothering to consult grassroots activists or more maverick groups like Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth, Big Green anointed cap-and-trade as its climate mantra and forged a high-minded Beltway alliance with corporate giants like Exelon and GM.”

Charles Komanoff

July 28, 2010

Despite a Democratic supermajority in Congress, and despite President Obama’s campaign promise to tackle global warming, there will be no climate bill this year. The demise last week of the Kerry-Lieberman Senate bill makes that official. But that may actually be a good thing: it clears the way for genuine solutions to global warming­­—solutions that ordinary Americans can understand and support. And remember, most Americans do want their government to tackle climate change. A recent Stanford University poll found that 74 percent of the public believes climate change is human-caused, poses real threats and requires government action.

The bill that was withdrawn last week, like the Waxman-Markey bill that squeaked through the House last year and similar measures dating back to a 2003 Senate bill sponsored by John McCain, would have attempted to curb carbon emissions by creating a cap-and-trade market, a corporate-friendly approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Under this system, a “capped” number of carbon emission permits are offered to coal, oil and gas extractors and importers, who can then sell (trade) the permits among themselves. As the volume of emissions permitted by the cap declined over time, the price of the carbon permits would rise, causing fossil-fuel energy to cost more and creating incentives to use less.

Cap-and-trade was popular inside the Beltway—some business interests and many mainstream environmental groups insisted on it—but it is a total loser in the larger battle to excite and mobilize public opinion. Attacks by climate-change denialists took a toll, but the arcane nature of cap-and-trade made it hard to love, and its links to the financial industry, originally viewed as an asset, turned toxic after the housing bubble burst.

There is a better way. Virtually everyone who truly desires emissions reductions agrees that putting a (rising) price on carbon is essential. But there’s another, better way to do that, one that also would deliver an economic bonus to a majority of Americans: the government should institute a fee-and-dividend system.

Like cap-and-trade, fee-and-dividend would limit emissions by building a fee for carbon emissions into the price of gasoline, coal-fired electricity and other carbon-based fuels, thereby giving consumers and businesses powerful incentives to use less. As in cap-and-trade, the fee would be imposed at the wellhead or import dock, eventually to be passed down the supply chain to consumers. But there are two critical differences.

First, fee-and-dividend would turn the proceeds of these higher energy costs over to the American public to spend as they wish, rather than to corporate emitters to fatten their bottom lines or to Washington lawmakers to lavish on pet projects. Under fee-and-dividend, each and every American would receive a monthly check, which for most people would offset the higher energy prices caused by the fee.

The other difference is a bit technical but is just as key. Under a cap, the price on carbon would be murky, since it would be set in a vast trading market and determined by fluctuating factors like the economic growth rate, consumer and producer price elasticities and hedge bets by speculators. With the carbon fee, the carbon price would be set up front and its rising trajectory known in advance, allowing consumers and entrepreneurs to bank on the future value of saving energy. The price incentive to move away from carbon-emitting fossil fuels would penetrate every crevice of the economy, ensuring that few if any opportunities to reduce climate-changing emissions were left on the table.

Fee-and-dividend is superior to cap-and-trade on grounds of both political appeal and economic efficiency. Here’s how James Hansen, the nation’s pre-eminent climate scientist, contrasted the two approaches in an op-ed in the New York Times last December:

Consider the perverse effect cap and trade has on altruistic actions. Say you decide to buy a small, high-efficiency car. That reduces your emissions, but not your country’s. Instead it allows somebody else to buy a bigger SUV—because the total emissions are set by the cap. In a fee-and-dividend system, every action to reduce emissions—and to keep reducing emissions—would be rewarded. Indeed, knowing that you were saving money by buying a small car might inspire your neighbor to follow suit. Popular demand for efficient vehicles could drive gas-guzzlers off the market. Such snowballing effects could speed us toward a pollution-free world.

Hansen’s example applies equally to renewable energy. Under a cap system, a wind farm, no less than his efficient auto, will lower the price for carbon emission permits, thus undermining the price incentive for other actions that would reduce emissions. In contrast, a carbon fee is immune to this effect, since individual actions have no effect on the legislated carbon price.

But can the environmental movement unite around cap-and-dividend?

For over a dozen years, since before the 1997 Kyoto climate summit, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Pew Charitable Trust and other Big Green groups have been unshakably committed to cap-and-trade. Without bothering to consult grassroots activists or more maverick groups like Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth, Big Green anointed cap-and-trade as its climate mantra and forged a high-minded Beltway alliance with corporate giants like Exelon and GM.

The idea was to “put a price on carbon,” but in secret. Decision-makers at utilities and auto companies would use economic models to intuit the extent to which mandated declines in the amount of carbon emissions permitted by the cap over time would cause the prices of carbon permits (and, hence, fossil fuels) to rise, and would retool their power plants and products accordingly. But ordinary Americans, ponying up more for electricity and heat and gasoline, wouldn’t know that the declining cap was driving the higher prices.

That was the plan. Alas, though cap-and-trade had functioned well in a kind of pilot program involving electric utilities and acid rain, it wasn’t up to the job of transitioning the American economy from fossil fuels to energy efficiency and renewable sources. To manage that Herculean task in decades rather than centuries, the rising trajectory of fossil fuel prices must be not just steep but plainly visible to all—from the aircraft manufacturer weighing the use of costly exotic materials to raise fuel efficiency, to local officials wrestling with whether a new school should be built in town, near the bus stop and bike lane, or on the car-dependent outskirts. Millions of similar carbon-critical decisions, from the individual level of riding transit and switching light bulbs to the societal level of ensuring that those options are available, attractive and valorized, must be taken with full knowledge of those prices. A stealth price on carbon, one that’s lost in the noise of fluctuating prices and general inflation, won’t do the job.

The fate of the climate—and perhaps the viability of EDF, NRDC et al. as well—may now turn on the environmental lobby’s willingness to embrace the alternative that has been there all along: a revenue-neutral, steadily rising carbon fee, the proceeds from which would be redistributed to Americans via equal monthly dividends—or, in a variant favored by some economists, in which the regressive and anti-jobs payroll tax is phased out as carbon fee revenues ramp up.

A climate bill based on a revenue-neutral and rising carbon fee would not require a cap-and-trade market in carbon derivatives; would be transparent and hence less vulnerable to the K Street carve-outs that turned cap-and-trade bills into laughing stocks; could be imitated internationally (since carbon fees are fungible while carbon caps are not); and wouldn’t require a PhD in complexity to grasp. Indeed, one such bill, America’s Energy Security Trust Fund Act of 2009, sponsored by Connecticut Democrat John Larson, is all of twenty-one pages, versus upwards of 1,500 for the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill that squeaked through the House last year and the similar Kerry-Lieberman bill that just died in the Senate. Yet the emission reductions under the Larson bill would be two to three times as great as those from Waxman-Markey.

A climate bill like the Larson bill would also honor a fundamental tenet of environmentalism: that the costs of pollution must be internalized into the price of the activities that cause it.

We can drive emissions reductions throughout the economy while protecting Americans’ pocketbooks if we reframe the climate debate. Cap-and-trade is dead, and not a moment too soon. With its simplicity, its transparency and its economic rewards for everyone but die-hard polluters, fee-and-dividend could be a political winner. If environmentalists and others who care about averting climate catastrophe can unite around this approach, the public is ready to be convinced and, one hopes, mobilized. And, as two centuries of struggle for racial, labor and gender justice should have taught us, a mobilized public is essential to winning the climate battle.

http://www.thenation.com/senate-climate-bill-dies-does-environment-win

Methane, U.S. Congress & the “well-funded so-called “environmental” groups like EDF and NRDC that have been seduced into the gospel of endless compromise” …

Published on Monday, July 19, 2010 by CommonDreams.org

Methane Seeps, Tipping Points Feared as Congress Sleepwalks

Dangerous Methane Seeping from Siberian Seabeds

by Gary Houser

“Methane is leaking from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf into the atmosphere at an alarming rate… Release of even a fraction of the methane stored in the shelf could trigger abrupt climate warming.”
National Science Foundation press release (March 4, 2010)

As the U.S. Senate finally prepares to bring climate-related legislation to the floor, it has become painfully obvious that the most crucial ingredient in any such debate – a true sense of urgency – is completely absent. Despite the fact that all future life on the planet hangs in the balance and a point of irreversible runaway warming is being rapidly approached, the Senate is proceeding as if it is sleepwalking in a stupor. It has allowed the fossil fuel industry to sabotage all effort at meaningful carbon emission reductions, and will only be considering legislation that is woefully inadequate to prevent catastrophe.

Those who follow this issue likely have familiarity with the concept of “tipping points”. This innocuous-sounding phrase does not do justice to its vast meaning. It refers to the crossing of a line whereby tremendous natural forces are unleashed and an unstoppable rush of interlocking climate disruptions wreak havoc on the earth and its fragile web of life-supporting ecosystems. Once set in motion, it cannot be predicted how far the devastation would extend. Geological records have linked a severe climate shift with the “Great Extinction” event which wiped out a ghastly 90% of all life forms on the planet.

Serving as a direct counterpoint to this disastrous “disconnect” from reality in the Senate is the stunning news that these tipping points may be much closer than previously imagined. Ignored by mainstream media, recent scientific findings have the potential to turn the world as we know it upside down. Situated off the Siberian coast – in an area containing more carbon than that known to exist in all the world’s oil, coal, and natural gas reserves – is the climate threat of all climate threats. Some call it the “Arctic super carbon pool”. Others call it a “methane time bomb”. The reason for this ominous latter description is the quite real threat of an unstoppable chain reaction which could release much or all of this tremendous stockpile. This is a nightmare scenario feared by many tracking the evolution of the climate emergency.

Methane is a particularly powerful greenhouse gas, at least 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Once the methane – currently in frozen form – begins to thaw and release gas, it either oxidizes in the water or travels to the surface and enters the atmosphere. If the latter occurs, it can act as a strong warming agent and therefore cause even more of the frozen methane to thaw and release gas. The scientific term for this self-perpetuating cycle is “reinforcing feedback”.

The “conventional wisdom” was that this thawing and venting of methane would not manifest for at least 100 years. But as the case has been with much such “wisdom” these days, scientists have encountered great difficulty in accurately predicting the full consequences of the unprecedented alterations being imposed on the planet by greenhouse gases. The reality of climate disruption has continued to outpace the projections. Recent studies of the Siberian methane show that a very serious amount is already venting to the atmosphere.

In their report (summarized in Chapter 6), researchers Natalia Shakhova and Igor Semiletov describe that methane is now being released across a full 50% of a quite sizable study area in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. Based on 5100 seawater samples taken from 1080 different locations, they report that 80% of the bottom water and 50% of the surface water is “super-saturated” with methane. Adding to the seriousness is the fact that this methane is not oxidizing in the water. Due to the shallow depths of these seabeds, the methane is traveling directly to the surface and venting into the atmosphere.

Methane is a volatile gas that rapidly expands in volume as it releases. Referring to the giant stockpile in this arctic shelf, Shakhova and Semiletov warn that it is “highly possible for abrupt release at any time. That may cause a 12 time increase of modern atmospheric methane burden with consequent catastrophic greenhouse warming.” As if this information is not unsettling enough, one then encounters the following staggering fact. This entire scenario is being played out in the most rapidly warming geographic location on the planet: “The Arctic is warming more quickly than the rest of the world, and this warming is most pronounced in the arctic shelf.”

Given the potential for such a catastrophic event and with so many factors lining up that could indeed release the trigger, one would expect the collective scientific community to issue a grave warning to the world. If ever there was a time to exercise the precautionary principle, it would be now. Stunningly, the scientific community is failing to do so. Instead, in a classic exhibition of ivory tower disconnectedness – perhaps in combination with a hesitancy brought on by the aggressive attacks of deniers – it is calling for more definitive “proof” that the thawing of methane is directly related to human-generated warming and not being caused by other natural sources.

The stupendously dangerous flaw in this reaction is that by the time such proof is “definitively gathered”, it could well be too late to stop the runaway chain reaction. In a situation where we may already be too late, it is the height of irresponsibility to argue for even more delay. If a blind person appears to be walking toward a cliff and is only three steps away, does a responsible observer guide that person away from the edge or stand back and wait for more proof? In this case, the blind person is all of humanity. The world needs every precious moment it can find to move back from the precipice.

Because of time consumed to document and verify, IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) reports and projections have been lagging at least two or three years behind what is actually happening in real life. With the thawing of sea-based methane already having been miscalculated, this looming threat that a “methane time bomb” is on the verge of being activated (if indeed it has not already occurred) is only beginning to be addressed by climate modelling and IPCC studies.

The scientific community must immediately ramp up its effort and mobilize whatever resources are needed to either confirm or disprove that this activation is occurring. Even as such effort proceeds, however, it has an immediate and transcendent moral responsibility to issue a strong warning to both policy makers and the public about what is at risk. Testimony to Congress by the National Academy of Sciences that climate disruption is real and human-caused is valuable, but in the current context too measured and mild. It does not convey that humanity is truly perched on a precipice overlooking an abyss. It does not begin to do justice to the monumental urgency of the crisis we are in, how humanity is on the verge of unleashing a beast it will not be able to control.

Why are there so few climate scientists willing to stand beside Jim Hansen and truly speak from their consciences about the disaster that is unfolding? Some say that policy must be left to the policy makers. But it is now obvious that legislation being discussed in Congress is completely out of touch with the scientific reality. The two primary bills – Waxman-Markey and Kerry-Lieberman – were already allowing the industry to stonewall (pdf) actual carbon emission reductions for 15 to 20 years. Now the Senate is capitulating even further. Such a delay would all but guarantee the crossing of tipping points.

We have reached physical limits that cannot be “negotiated” away. Those who have lost their way in the “inside-the-beltway world” of political horse-trading must be brought to recognize this reality before it is too late. This indictment applies not only to the politicians but also the large, well-funded so-called “environmental” groups like EDF and NRDC that have been seduced into the gospel of endless compromise. The passage of such weak and inadequate legislation would constitute a massive triple failure of the scientific community, the mainstream environmental groups, and Congress.

If the scientific community was to empower itself at this time of global emergency and somehow find the much stronger and louder voice that is needed, there is a hope that at least a few members of the Senatemight actually become emboldened to regain their own courage and stand up to the monied interests that have hijacked this legislation. Such legislation could yet become transformed into a saving grace for humanity rather than an unspeakably tragic abdication of moral responsibility.

The “motherlode” of earth’s stockpile of carbon exists on the shallow seabeds off the Siberian coast, for all practical purposes a veritable doomsday beast ready to rise in retribution for humanity’s abuse of the earth and its Faustian bargain with the dark gods of oil and coal. Extremely volatile, it is the same gas believed to have entered both the oil rig in the Gulf and coal mine in West Virginia causing destructive explosions. Some might interpret this as a warning to humanity.

Methane has been found to be thawing and releasing to the surface in 50 percent of a large study area. In a location that is “warming more quickly than the rest of the world”, the release of only one half of one percent of this stockpile has been determined to be capable of causing “abrupt climate change”. If this most feared “feedback” of all – the one which humanity would likely be helpless to stop once activated – has not already started, then it certainly appears that all the factors necessary to trigger it are lining up.

One day, the public release of these findings may hold great significance. It might be seen as the time when at least a handful of scientists tried to warn about the coming disaster. This time might be celebrated as the beginning of the great “wake-up” in which the scientific community spoke out in a unified and bold voice, both policy makers and mainstream enviros re-discovered their backbone, and the cataclysm was avoided. But based on current reality, it may well turn into a time for lamentation. Those clinging for survival in a world ravaged by climate catastrophe may look back with anger and an acute sense of betrayal about the passivity and the silence of those who could have made a difference and mourn the indefensible failure to act while there was still time.

Gary Houser is a public interest writer/columnist, anti-coal campaigner, green energy advocate, and activist with Climate SOS (www.climatesos.org) based in Ohio. He is also seeking support for a broadcast quality documentary on the “methane time bomb”.

http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/07/19-4

Earth Day, Paying Dues and Shades of Green

Published on Thursday, April 22, 2010 by CommonDreams.org

Earth Day, Paying Dues and Shades of Green

by Rachel Smolker

It’s Earth Day and oh how my heart aches.

Yesterday it came to my attention that Environmental Defense Fund, an organization my own father cofounded, is supporting the construction of several new coal plants in Texas! Environmental Defense is supposed to Defend the Environment as I understood it. Haven’t they heard James Hansen the climate scientist repeating ad nauseum his message that eliminating coal is the single most important step we can take to address global warming? Did they fail to even notice the noisy protest outside EPA offices a week or two ago, demanding that Lisa Jackson see firsthand the effects of mountaintop removal coal mining in Southern Appalachia that has resulted in clear-cutting thousands of acres of some of the world’s most biologically diverse forests, burying crucial headwaters streams (nearly 2000 miles already) and contaminating the groundwater with lead and mercury?

EDF’s Jim Marsten reassures us that these new coal plants will be “models” of “green-ness” because they will capture the CO2. Oh good…. Then they are going to use that CO2 for “enhanced oil recovery” — pumping it into nearby oil wells to create pressure that will push the last stubborn bits of oil out.

Hmmmm… burning coal and capturing the emissions to get more oil out of wells… Is that good for the environment, or a little less bad, or perhaps worse?

The plants will also waste less water. That’s good, I think.

But instead of using water to cool the plants, they will use fans run off electricity, which will require more coal burning.

They will also have to burn more coal because it turns out that capturing carbon and pumping it into the oil wells, requires a lot of energy.

So after we burn more coal in order to capture the carbon and cool the plant, what will happen to the more CO2 after it is pumped into the ground to squeeze out more oil? Will it leak out of the wells and into the sky in the end there to mingle with the CO2 from all the other coal burning, and enhanced oil recovery to wreak further havoc on earth? The Greenpeace report “False Hope” says CCS is unproven (a few demonstrations but not likely ready until 2030 at earliest), expensive (nearly doubling plant costs), energy intensive (using 10-40% of the energy produced), risky (CO2 could well leak out slowly or abruptly with severe consequences for human and ecosystem health and climate).

It’s hard to figure how EDF considers this a “victory” for the environment. Maybe board member Stanley Druckenmiller can explain it for us — he knows a few things about coal, what with 200 million shares in Massey Energy.

Massey Energy. They own the mine that exploded a week ago, killing 29 miners and they are responsible for blasting in Coal River next to the Brushy Fork impoundment containing 8.2 billion gallons of toxic slurry waste that, if it were to break, would obliterate an entire community. Somehow EDF’s Earth Day “victory” just doesn’t feel very inspirational. I think I can hear my father rolling over in his grave again.

Johann Hari’s recent piece in The Nation spelled out how the big greens have either prostituted themselves to corporate foundation funders, or become so paralyzed by the constraints on political feasibility within the DC beltway culture (again, a construct of corporate influence), that they have been rendered inert. Hari’s piece was followed by another recent article in Common Dreams by Gary Houser, who passionately implores the big greens to regrow their spines and actually BE green. Maybe that’s possible…

Or maybe it’s up to us once again. Just as the failure of Copenhagen stimulated the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, going on now in Bolivia, perhaps we can light the fires of an alternative environmental movement in the U.S.. Real environmental groups abound — groups like Indigenous Environmental Network, Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, WEACT, Energy Justice Network, Global Justice Ecology Project, Rising Tide and a host of others don’t have the big bucks, nor the “ties that bind” that come along with corporate sponsorship. Nor do they have the Big Green “branding” and name recognition. What they have is the guts and integrity to fight for what is right and to know green when they see it.

I know where my membership dues will go!

Let’s hope next Earth Day offers real reasons to celebrate.

Rachel Smolker is codirector of Biofuelwatch, and an organizer with Climate SOS. She has a Ph.D. in behavioral ecology from the University of Michigan and worked as a field biologist before turning to activism. She is the daughter of Environmental Defense Fund cofounder, Robert Smolker, and she engaged in direct action at EDF offices to oppose their advocacy for carbon trade. She has written on the topic of bioenergy, carbon trade and climate justice. She was arrested protesting outside the Chicago Climate Exchange in November as part of the Mobilization for Climate Justice day of actions, which she wrote about for CommonDreams.org.

http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/04/22-10

%d bloggers like this: