Tagged ‘Compromise‘

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

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 ( based in Ohio. He is also seeking support for a broadcast quality documentary on the “methane time bomb”.

Big Green’s pursuit of carbon cap-and-trade in the U.S. branded the climate movement as servants of Wall Street Elites

Published on Tuesday, July 27, 2010 by Carbon Tax Center

Can Viable Carbon Tax Arise from the Senate’s Ashes?

by Charles Komanoff

And now, ve may begin?

Readers of a certain age, and a certain literary bent, will recognize the words of Alexander Portnoy’s psychiatrist, spoken at the close of Philip Roth’s transgressive 1969 novel, Portnoy’s Complaint.

After lo these many years, they popped into my head last week as I read that Senate Democrats had finally thrown in the towel on an energy bill that would have included a partial cap-and-trade provision for limiting carbon emissions from power plants. The bill, written by Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman, was touted by Washington insiders and some major environmental groups as this year’s last hope for federal climate legislation. Yet it would have relied on carbon offsets and other dodges to postpone the day of reckoning with true, visible carbon emissions pricing – the cornerstone of meaningful climate policy.

Instead, reported the New York Times, Senate Democrats will pursue a limited bill aimed at increasing oversight of oil drilling and tightening energy efficiency standards – with no direct assault on climate-destabilizing CO2. (For a later Times story amplifying the first, click here.)

Yes, now, we may begin – “we” being Americans who care about climate, sustainability, and Earth – to unite around a climate approach that is effective, equitable and transparent enough to win the support of our fellow citizens and a Congressional majority.

I’m referring of course to the idea advanced by climatologist Jim Hansen as fee-and-dividend and by the Carbon Tax Center as a revenue-neutral carbon tax, by which fossil fuel extractors and importers pay the U.S. Treasury fees pegged to the carbon content of the coal, oil and gas they take from the ground or bring into U.S. ports, and the Treasury distributes the revenues to all Americans via equal monthly dividends (“green checks”), or by tax-shifting from regressive taxes such as payroll taxes.

The Senate’s antipathy to even the partial cap-and-trade proposed by Sen. Kerry will doubtless be spun as indicating that for the foreseeable future the well for climate legislation has been poisoned. The Carbon Tax Center says that the opposite may be true: with cap-and-trade out of the way at last, the political well can begin to be de-toxified so that the effective, equitable and transparent carbon fee-and-dividend can be seriously considered.

For this to happen, however, the Big Green groups like EDF and NRDC that for years have dominated climate discourse among environmentalists, and that convinced Congressional Democrats and the White House that the only way to “put a price on carbon” in America was via carbon cap-and-trade, will have to abandon that approach and allow others, and themselves, to try a fresh start.

It will be said that cap-and-trade failed because Fox News and other climate deniers branded it as “cap-and-tax” and, therefore, a carbon tax (or fee) cannot possibly succeed. And it is true that carbon cap-and-trade was looked to, years ago, as a way to build on the success of acid rain cap-and-trade, win over Republican free-marketers, and put a price on carbon without having to parade the dreaded t-a-x word before the public.

In the event, though, carbon cap-and-trade did none of these things.

Instead, Big Green’s pursuit of carbon cap-and-trade tethered the climate movement to complex financial instruments and branded us as servants of Wall Street elites. It opened the legislative floodgates to off-the-charts Beltway deal-making that rightly repulsed the public. Perhaps most importantly, the co-optation of climate advocacy by the cap-and-traders robbed us of the high moral ground we might have shared with abolitionists, suffragists, labor agitators and civil rights workers – true American heroes who fought to liberate our society of oppression and injustice.

If you’re in the climate movement, you recognize that fossil fuels’ assault on Earth’s climate is an ultimate form of oppression and injustice: of rich against poor, of the profligate against the frugal, of the present against the future. Ending this assault will require concerted action on many fronts; and it starts by internalizing the climate-damage costs of coal, oil and gas into their prices, so that the free ride for fossil fuels is ended and all of the alternatives, from energy efficiency, renewable energy and low-carbon fuels to conservation-based behavior and mindfulness toward energy consumption, may compete fairly and effectively.

Political action to accomplish this must be done in bright sunlight, not in Beltway shadows.

Cap-and-trade, let us hope, is dead. And now, we may begin!

© 2010 Carbon Tax Center

Charles Komanoff is co-founder of the Carbon Tax Center.

International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Rio Tinto London

IUCN’s Collaboration Agreement with Rio Tinto

14 July 2010 | News – News story
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The Collaboration Agreement, signed 12 July, 2010, between the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Rio Tinto London Limited (Rio Tinto) commits IUCN and Rio Tinto to focus their collaborative projects on innovative and ground-breaking biodiversity conservation activities and to ensure transparency between and within both Parties.

The key features of the IUCN – Rio Tinto Agreement are:

• Build a business-focused relationship that enables Rio Tinto to improve its environmental management and delivery of conservation outcomes;
• Increase awareness and understanding throughout IUCN of the conservation and business challenges facing the resources sector;
• Strengthen Rio Tinto and IUCN capacities for market-based approaches to environmental management and conservation;
• Jointly contribute to sector-wide improvements in the mining and closely-related sectors; and
• Gain recognition for both organizations as leaders in their respective fields and committed to environmental management and delivering sustainable development outcomes.

• IUCN will project manage and implement the Programme;
• IUCN will administer and coordinate the Programme on a day-to-day basis and, jointly with Rio Tinto, its implementation;
• IUCN’s administration functions and duties include: jointly carry out, with Rio Tinto, all acts necessary for the purposes of the Programme including compliance with all laws and contractual obligations; jointly with Rio Tinto, develop the annual Programme plan and budget; jointly with Rio Tinto, coordinate the development and delivery of the Communications Strategy; maintain accurate details of all monies received relating to the Programme and all Programme Expenses; and jointly with Rio Tinto, prepare comprehensive repots, meeting papers, and any other documents reasonably required by the Relationship Management Committee;
• IUCN will be responsible for the preparation of the annual Accounts for the Programme;
• Rio Tinto will provide the payment of the Financial Contribution for the collaboration Programme; and
• Rio Tinto will provide project contributions including: the provision of assistance to IUCN in the project management of work undertaken pursuant to this Agreement; the provision of all information and documents reasonably required by IUCN for the proper performance of its duties in accordance with this Agreement; the provision of advice and expertise relating to biodiversity and conservation management in the context of the mining industry; jointly develop and deliver the Communications Strategy with IUCN; jointly with IUCN, effect the implementation of the Programme; and take all reasonable action for the performance of the joint functions and duties of this Agreement.

• IUCN, in consultation with Rio Tinto, shall be permitted to utilize local partners and collaborators on any project undertaken pursuant to this Agreement in order to assist IUCN with the performance of its duties thereunder.

• Each Party will appoint a Relationship Manager responsible for the day-to-day management of the Relationship;
• The Parties shall establish a Relationship Management Committee comprised of six (6) members, three (3) for each Party, with each member having one (1) vote on any decisions made;
• The functions and duties of the Relationship Management Committee include: approving the Budget and Programme Plan for each Programme Year; ensure that both Parties contribute their respective Deliverables; ensure that the Objectives and Programme Activities of the collaborative relationship remain consistent with each Party’s organizational and strategic aims; agree on any major changes or additions to the Objectives, Programme Activities, and/or Budget; receive and consider reports and other documents from the Relationship Managers relating to the implementation and management of the Programme Activities, to consider any risks, issues, or new opportunities raised by the Parties, and to provide guidance, direction, and recommendations to the Relationship Managers with respect to the same; agree to undertake activities on behalf of the Relationship as may be required from time to time to ensure the proper and effective functioning of the Relationship, the Programme, and the Objectives; and receive and consider any recommendations arising out of a Review carried out for the Relationship.

• Both Parties may agree upon an independent person to be appointed to review and evaluate the performance of the Relationship and/or the Programme Activities undertaken in accordance with the Programme;
• A review may take place once each Programme year; and
• Recommendations for any variations to the Relationship or the Programme Activities arising out of the Review will be considered at a meeting of the Relationship Management Committee to determine how the recommendations will be pursued.

• The Parties will develop, agree upon, and maintain a joint Communications Strategy, including approval procedures and communication contacts, with an annual communications plan developed by the Parties’ Relationship Managers and approved by the Relationship Management Committee;
• Nothing in this Agreement shall be construed to limit the freedom of IUCN to maintain an objective view of, or to comment in any way on, Rio Tinto and the Rio Tinto Group’s policies and/or actions, nor to limit the freedom of Rio Tinto to maintain an objective view of, or to comment in any way on, IUCN’s policies and/or actions.

• This Agreement ends following a period of three (3) Programme Years, from the Effective Date, unless terminated earlier;
• Either Party may terminate this Agreement without cause by giving six months notice in writing to the other Party; and
• If a Party fails to perform any of its material obligations under this Agreement, and fails to remedy that failure within thirty (30) days of receiving a notice from the other Party requiring it to do so, the other Party may terminate this Agreement with immediate effect by notice in writing to the Party in default.

• Under this Agreement the relationship of the Parties is not one of partnership, joint venture, or agency and nothing in this Agreement is to be treated as constituting or shall be construed to constitute a Party as the partner, agent, joint venturer, employee, or legal representative of the other Party for any purpose.

• A number of projects have been identified, with the initial focus for the three-year agreement to include: verification of Rio Tinto’s biodiversity Net Positive Impact (NPI) commitment (develop, test, and implement an independent verification process to assess Rio Tinto’s compliance against its NPI target); environmental economics capacity and natural capital projects (identify and quantify the biodiversity and ecosystem service values in key regions where Rio Tinto operates, under business-as-usual and conservation scenarios); and general collaboration (benefit from each organization’s specialist skill sets, experience, and networks by working collaboratively or providing input into each other’s projects).

The Spanish version of the above will be available in due course.

A number of reactions have been received in follow up to the signing of the collaborative agreement with Rio Tinto by IUCN. We publish them on this page, together with IUCN Director General’s response (also available in Spanish and French).

IUCN intends to be fully transparent and will continue to post responses on this page. An area for comments has been established below. IUCN welcomes the views of its constituents.

EnviroActivists Continue to Push for Meaningful Campaigns

From: Lorna Salzman <>

Date: July 17, 2010 5:35:52 PM EDT


Subject: we don’t know where stands on energy

Dear Phil at

If you look at my Open Letter to Bill McKibben in the May 3rd issue of The Nation, you will see my concerns about and its leadership.

How can you or Bill purport to build a citizen’s grassroots movement of any kind unless you actually TAKE POSITIONS ON PROPOSED LEGISLATION? Or unless you come up with alternatives? Or unless you tell citizens what you want them to do?

You haven’t done any of this. You just repeat over and over the need for tough serious legislation to get us back down to 350 ppm. But you don’t tell congress what you want them to do to accomplish this. You don’t tell citizens what needs to be done, or NOT done.’s intentions aren’t clear at all. You lead the horse to water and then there isn’t any water there.

I don’t understand where McKibben is coming from or what he expects to accomplish. All his statements are vague, unfocused, general, at a time when we need a strong clear statement. It isn’t clear whether you actually support the legislation in congress, oppose it, or have an alternative.

Why haven’t you prepared your own energy legislation? If you had done this a couple of years ago, you would have had plenty of time to rally the public around it, to tell them to what to do, to provide an alternative voice and platform for the public and the media.

Today it is too late to do this. If you want to regain any credibility, the best thing you could do would be to support Rising Tide and ClimateSOS and come out fighting in opposition to this phony legislation that will actually make it HARDER to get anywhere near But you probably know this already, or should know it.

So why don’t you get off the dime and slug it out with the phonies in Congress? Show some muscle? Show some principle? Show that you know what is going on in DC and that it won’t work? How can you NOT come out and oppose ANY legislation that does not contain specific policies and actions that you know will make a difference?

A carbon tax? Shutting down coal plants…which Jim Hansen says must be our first order of business? Ending all fossil fuel subsidies and tax breaks? A bill with mandatory energy efficiency standards and measures? Surely you know these must be done.

Yet Bill just mumbles that old cliche about “putting a price on carbon”. Is that all he can say? Hey, there IS a price on carbon already. It’s about $3 a ton….and we need a price of $100 a ton or more. Even the existing proposal for cap and trade puts a top limit on the price of carbon.And you have nothing to say about this? WHY?

I dont’ get it. What do you have to lose? Your job? No. Your reputation? That can only improve. What is the paralysis that has gripped McKibben and You tell us there is a crisis but your response is commensurate with a cup of spilled milk. Flab and gab.

I don’t agree with Romm on cap and trade but he will wipe the floor with McKibben in the debate. And rightly so. We have all been conned. is nothing more than a virtual blog. A failure.

Lorna Salzman