Three Years Ago Today


Three years ago today, in what scientists refer to as the Great Sumatra-Andaman earthquake,
the resultant tsunami caused more than 225,000 deaths in eleven countries along the shores of the Indian Ocean.

The 2004 tsunami has since been estimated as the ninth worst natural disaster in modern history, which deserves (at least) 225,000 moments of silence and reflection.

For the people of Java, Indonesia, however, which has
again been hit by rising waters, the monsoon rains that have impacted their region on the tsunami's third anniversary don't leave time for reflection as they run from landslides that are forcing thousands from their homes:
At least 80 people have been killed or are reported missing after floods triggered landslides in the central Java region of Indonesia. Local officials say they fear the death toll could rise. Thousands have been forced to seek shelter after their homes were buried or washed away. Landslides and floods are regular in Indonesia and many blame deforestation.

Also devastating, but receiving less notice was Cyclone Sidr in Bangladesh last November. The reason it received less notice? The Bangladeshi Government acted responsibly and evacuated their citizens. But >3000 people still died and a great part of their coastal region was wiped out in a harbinger of damage that rising sea levels may cause in the future.

This was because Cyclone Sidr was supposed to have been just another strong cyclone in cyclone season in a low lying country that had been devastated by cyclones in the past. But it wasn't like those other cyclones. This was a cyclone that sped up as it approached the shore, resulting in a storm surge that emulated a tsunami; which raises the question: What new kind of weather events will climate change bring in the future?

There's more

E.P.A. Denies California's Emissions Waiver


Just after the Bush Administration signed an auto fuel efficiency bill, they denied a request for a waiver by California to tighten their own emission standards.

The Bush administration said Wednesday night that it would deny California’s bid to set stricter vehicle emissions standards than federal law required as part of the state’s efforts to fight climate change.

The E.P.A’s decision was a victory for the American auto companies, and came just hours after President Bush signed legislation that will raise fuel economy standards by 40 percent to 35 miles a gallon in 2020.

Had the E.P.A. agreed to the waiver, California and other states would have enacted rules requiring the auto companies to achieve a 30 percent reduction of emissions by cars, trucks and sport utility vehicles by 2016. The rules were set to begin taking effect with 2009 model year vehicles, some of which go on sale as soon as next month. Link.

California's effort to adopt the new emission standards was halted by the E.P.A.'s refusal to grant a waiver for the last two years. Twelve states, California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington, then sued the E.P.A. to demand they make a decision on the waiver.

That is the decision that came down tonight -- just after Bush signed an auto fuel economy bill that he praised as a step toward energy independence....

“This decision is like pulling over the fire trucks on their way to the blaze,” said Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense. Krupp has sent out a general e-mail asking everyone to send an email to EPA administrator Stephen Johnson to condemn the decision.

With the twelve states involved and the
governors of Arizona, Colorado, Florida and Utah saying they intend to follow California's standards, as well, the next step would be for the states to sue the E.P.A. Given the prior court decisions over the past two years in the effort to get the E.P.A. to make a decision on a waiver, which resulted in rulings in the states' favor, it is likely the E.P.A.'s position will not hold up. However, the amount of time involved for such a court process will likely have the same result the E.P.A. is trying for: to delay the implementation of standards as long as possible in support of auto makers.

Auto fuel efficiency bill signed into law


A bill raising auto fuel standards for the first time in over thirty years was signed by President Bush today, requiring that automobiles average 35 miles per gallon by 2020 and raising federal support for alternative fuel and conservation programs.

It passed by a wide margin in the House, but was stalled momentarily in the Senate when Republicans filibustered out a provision that would have eliminated tax breaks for oil companies and required utility companies to provide a portion of their power from alternative sources.

After which, the head of the Sierra Club referred to the bill as a partial victory and vowed to put through the redacted provisions at a later date.

One area of the bill that has been praised is the instruction to use non-food sources for biofuels (i.e. switch grass and wood chips instead of corn). The other is the raising of the fuel standard itself, which should help to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases currently emitted.

More information here.


Bali: "Lead, follow or get out of the way"


by The Environmentalist Contributors

Following a speech by the representative of Papua New Guinea, where he called upon the United States to: "lead, follow or get out of the way:"

The United States made a dramatic reversal Saturday, first rejecting and then accepting a compromise to set the stage for intense negotiations in the next two years aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions worldwide. The final result was a global warming pact that provides for negotiating rounds to conclude in 2009.

The head of the U.S. delegation -- Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky -- was booed Saturday afternoon when she announced that the United States was rejecting the plan as then written because they were "not prepared to accept this formulation." She said developing countries needed to carry more of the responsibility.

-snip- The [Papua New Guinea] delegate challenged the United States to "either lead, follow or get out of the way." Just five minutes later, when it appeared the conference was on the brink of collapse, Dobriansky took to the floor again to announce the United States was willing to accept the arrangement. Link.

The talks will continue to iron out concerns from India, so it is not complete as yet, but, with the U.S. agreement to compromise, a major obstacle has been removed.

(Note: That compromise removes the specific climate target numbers, but does include the scientific studies that recommend those targets as a footnote).


Bali Climate Change Talks at Risk: Compromise Negotiations Underway


The same day that the University of East Anglia
reports that 2007, despite the cooling effects of La Nina, has been the seventh warmest year on record, word came from the U.N. Climate Conference in Bali that the talks were in danger of breaking down:
European leaders and environmental campaigners reacted angrily yesterday after the United States rejected guidelines for reducing greenhouse gas emissions intended to check global warming.

The proposal, supported by the members of the European Union as well as Brazil, would have set out in writing an ambition to cut greenhouse gases produced by industrialised countries by up to two fifths in the next 13 years.


The row has undermined the hopes of environmentalists for a strong and detailed statement of agreement among the 190 governments attending the United Nations climate change conference on the Indonesian island of Bali. Link.
This has lead to a proposal for a compromise deal. If they cannot come to agreement, participants have threatened to to bypass next month's Bush Administration's climate meetings set for Hawaii.

Al Gore, speaking before the gathered representatives, acknowledged this:

"My own country, the United States, is principally responsible for obstructing progress here in Bali. We all know that. But my country is not the only one that can take steps to insure that we move forward from Bali with progress and with hope. "

From Jennifer Morgan of the Climate Action Network (who did not mince words): "There is a wrecking crew here in Bali, led by the Bush Administration and its minions. Those minions continue to be the governments of Canada, Japan, Saudi Arabia and others..."

And from Yvo De Boer, UN Climate Chief: "I'm very concerned about the pace of things. If we don't manage to get the work done in time on the future, then the whole house of cards basically falls to pieces."

The battle is about the EU's request for a non-binding agreement on carbon emissions. You read that correctly. The "wrecking crew" is balking at a non-binding agreement. There is concern that, if this cannot be resolved, the statement that comes out of Bali will be so anemic as to be useless in furthering the implementation of climate goals in the years ahead.

The U.S. representative, Under Secretary of State, Paula Dobriansky, dismissed that, saying that "we don't have to resolve all of these issues here in Bali." She called instead for a "solid Bali road map, one that sets the stage for robust, constructive and ground-breaking negotiations in the months ahead."

The EU and other member nations disagree, as does the U.N., which put out this robust and constructive road map in February of 2007.

The negotiations for the compromise deal has extended the conference:
The EU has been pressing for the final text to include a specific commitment that industrialised nations should cut their emissions by 25-40% by 2020.

The US and Canada oppose firm cuts - a draft text circulating around contains no figures for 2020.

The Indonesian hosts have been trying to bridge the gulf between the sides. Link.

The Director of Friends of the Earth reports that the pressure on the U.S. from the EU is "immense" right now to agree to the EU 25-40% emission reductions proposed for 2050. It is not known whether the Bush Administration will agree or if the target number will be left out. Friends of the Earth reports that it is not the American people or American business that disagrees, but only the Bush Administration that is standing in the way of the deal.

The conference is set to conclude today.


A New Climate Reality


The world is changing so fast, it's often difficult to see it in context. We watch it from a mathematical point of view, points on a graph, comparative analyses, blips on radar from sensors slapped on the bows of ships, dry bits of brain matter fighting the brain freeze caused by information overload of drought on the Southwest U.S., typhoon caused floods in Bangladesh, tornadoes in the U.S. and where is all that snow coming from?

It begins to look horrifyingly familiar: one person's agony is another's data.

Once in a while, however, we do try to step back and take empathetic stock.

First and foremost with the actual climate events: storm, drought, wind, fire, flood.

There are the forces (forcings) behind those events: The increase in greenhouse gases, the loss of glaciers and sea ice, the inability of the Southern Ocean to function as a carbon sink (in case you were wondering why things seemed to be changing so quickly), the greater wind speeds due to the increased temperature differential between the Northern and Southern Hemisphere, pollution, of course; the C02 released into the atmosphere from the recent fires in Southern California and in Greece last summer and don't get me started on whether the Methane once trapped in the tundra, now no more, is over-hype or horror...

Then there is the impact upon so many species, fully one-third of which the new IPCC report warns may be lost due to climate change. Polar bears are the most obvious indicator, but there are also the diminishing pollinators we depend upon, which could be climate change or misuse of colonies, or disease, or all of the above; the coral in the Great Barrier Reef, the wolves that are about to be removed from the endangered list, so hunters can shoot them and put them back on again...

One might begin to understand why we gravitate toward cold data over warming empathy.

Then there was a curious incident in Northern Ireland recently. Don't know if you heard about it, but a ten-mile wide migration of billions of Mauve Stinger Jellyfish swam, as one, all the way to the Northern Irish Sea and killed every Salmon within their reach (est. 100,000).

The fishermen who desperately tried to reach the trapped fish (there were wide nets placed a mile offshore to create a near-wild farm environment) stopped and stared in shock as they faced a solid block of glowing red jellyfish to the horizon, and then in horror when they realised they could not get through to their prized and beloved stock, the salmon that had been so revered, it had been served at the Queen's table for her 80th birthday. The salmon died.

What makes this alarming, aside from the fact that billions of glowing red jellyfish killed 100,000 salmon, was that they traveled from the warm waters of the Mediterranean to (what are supposed to be) the cold waters of the North Irish Sea to do it.

Scientists have attributed it to global warming. We have not seen their data, but we doubt we've seen the last of this type of bizarre event.

Which is our way saying that, no matter what the outcome of the Bali Conference, no matter who signs onto the resultant climate accord or to its predecessor, Kyoto, as they should have done years ago (thank you, Kevin Rudd), no matter how much time Al Gore spends with George W in the Oval Office showing him his Nobel medal, while the Bush administration insists they can make
a better climate deal than Kyoto...

Without mentioning the deals behind the scenes being worked out between Bush and Putin and Beijing to emasculate the binding portions of the upcoming Bali Accord...

It is time for everyone to adjust to a new reality.

That reality includes the need for increased humanitarian commitment, as evidenced by the US Naval vassels that recently arrived in Bangladesh to provide aid. It includes following Australia's lead and voting in a greener US leader. That's an interesting feature to the Bali Conference, by the way -- the way everyone's talking about how we just need to wait out George Bush -- while not wanting to hear a tall, skinny ex-patriot Scot who tries to remind his colleagues that there's still Putin and the Chinese and the Sudenese and the Burmese (I will not dignify that regime with the name they chose), and the (fill in blank)...

The time is now, not a bit over a year from now, to change policy.

Which has become a written commitment from diverse and, in some cases, unlikely sources. Are you aware that Rupert Murdoch's NewsCorp is among the big business signatories calling for binding carbon targets to come out of Bali? As
this post points out, when even Fox News calls for policy change on global warming, it's time to deny the deniers a voice.

And then there was
this report from the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College warning that climate change will lead to political instability and, potentially, to global war.

Our empathy meter is now pinned with fear.

In the long run, the solution, of course, includes weaning everyone off oil. It includes everyone reducing their carbon footprint. But those are big ideas and far removed from most peoples' consciousness and everyday life.

But, perhaps, not for long. The question of the new reality is how everyone will learn to live in an increasingly unstable climate, where droughts last months instead of weeks, and then years instead of months. Where storms speed up as they approach land (Cyclone Sidr). Where floods happen so fast they defy forecast. Where food becomes less tasty, less nutritious, less interesting, as we lose more pollinators. Where the loss of species becomes a psychic wound upon the planet's soul because we can feel that loss, even if we can't identify the empty hole in both our planet's and our own souls as they go.

We all must do what we can to reverse climate change. No one should give up because we've let it go too far. But it's a new reality that the loss of the carbon sink in the Southern Ocean has sped up the timetable for change and we now have to adjust to that new reality while we work to reverse that change. That includes facing the pain that empathy brings when we peer out from under our numbers and realize that there are millions who will be leading a very different life. It also means facing the many enemies we'll have created as the deprivation of drought and flood topples unstable governments, providing new footholds for extremism where none existed before.

It's been a hell of a fossil fuel party we've been enjoying for the last century or so. It's time to clean up, do the dishes, recycle the garbage, polish the windows, and walk (don't drive) outside.