In Math We Trust


As Congress gets ready to debate an economic recovery package – and President Obama gets ready to sign one – they should use a simple test to determine who and what gets the money: Is the project friend or foe in regard to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing America’s energy security?

At some point, our energy producers, road-builders, auto manufacturers, building contractors and other sectors of the economy need an unequivocal message from Washington that public funds must pass a strict litmus test from now on. Unless there are legitimate overriding factors of national security or economic trauma, public funds will no longer support global climate change and our dependence on fossil fuels.

In other words, when it comes to taxpayer money, the carbon economy need not apply.

If climate change and the prospect of more resource wars are as urgent a set of problems as we believe – and they are – then we simply cannot justify making them worse, particularly with the money taxpayers send to Washington with the assumption it will be spent for the public good.

At the moment, the Obama transition team is being inundated with ideas – many of them good – about how to stimulate the economy with near-term green investments. Joe Romm has featured one green shopping list developed by the Center for American Progress (CAP). The Presidential Climate Action Project has created an on-line library of the policy and investment ideas sent
to Obama by CAP and other elements of the “green community”.

By picking the best of these recommendations and applying some common-sense criteria (for example, has a proposed infrastructure project been given adequate environmental review; will it reduce or increase vehicle miles traveled; will it avoid development in floodplains
and other hazard areas; is it socially just; will it produce or prevent carbon emissions), Congress and the next administration can do a pretty good job constructing a rapid investment program that delivers both economic and environmental progress.

Longer term, however, we need a far more sophisticated, objective and transparent standard for allocating public funds. We should develop a performance standard that counts not only easily measured factors such as carbon emissions, water consumption and energy intensity, but also counts factors critical to sustainability but still considered unquantifiable.
.. Continued...


Macedonians plant six million trees in a single day


A renowned Macedonian Opera singer, Boris Trajanov, UNESCO's 2005 Artist for Peace, has successfully initiated the planting of six million trees in a single day to replace those lost in wildfires.

SKOPJE (Reuters) - Thousands of Macedonians took to the hills and forests on Wednesday to plant six million trees in a single day as part of a mass reforestation drive in the Balkan country.

The main aim of the campaign was to replant Macedonia's forests after extensive wild fires over the past two summers, and organizers trumpeted the scheme's environmental benefits at a time of global warming.

"Our goal is to make Macedonia "greener" and make people more aware of the needs of this planet," said Macedonian opera singer Boris Trajanov, who initiated the project.

"If Macedonia, a country of two million people, can plant six million trees, we can only imagine how many trees can be planted in other, bigger countries," Trajanov told Reuters.

From Macedonia's official Tree Day website:
The purpose of this initiative is to plant more than 2 million tree seedlings corresponding to the population of the Republic of Macedonia in a single day, on March 12, 2008. The action shall be entitled « Tree day ».

For this purpose we have also created an Initiative Board, composed of about one hundred renown citizens, distinguished members of society, creators of public opinion, artists, representatives of the scientific milieu, music stars...
Trajanov says he hopes to extend the reforestation project across the Balkans.


How to Plant a Christmas Tree


Tip O’Neil, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, once declared that “all politics is local”. The same might be said for climate change. While its consequences are global, its root cause is the greenhouse gas emissions each of us emits directly or indirectly from our vehicles, buildings and appliances.

If anthropogenic climate change is the result of the millions of energy decisions each of us makes in the course of our lives, then it stands to reason that the solution to climate change lies in making those decisions differently. Each of us must sign a treaty with ourselves, a personal Kyoto Protocol. Without that individual commitment, no international agreement to mitigate global warming will be worth the recycled paper it’s written on.

This point came home recently when I met a woman named Clare Dakin in London. Clare is the UK’s representative for a program called Project Green Hands. Its objective is to reverse the desertification of Tamil Nadu, the seventh most populous state in India, by planting 114 million trees within the next 10 years.

So far, six million trees have been planted by 1 million people in three years, including 850,000 in a single day, a Guinness Book world record. The people who plant the trees are volunteers who each pledge to care for a single sapling for two years.

Clare is evangelical about this work. “The project is rare in its beauty, its wisdom, its depth of understanding of people and nature and its immediacy, logic and global significance,” she says. “It is aforestation on barren farmland…to tackle water scarcity, soil erosion and community rehabilitation through mass education around sustainability and mass participation in planting and tending.”

So far, Clare says, 1,000 villages have joined the project. The goal is to increase tree cover in Tamil Nadu from 17 percent to 30 percent or more – and to do it in a way that can be replicated in other parts of the world. Continued...


Why Obama's pick for NOAA Matters: Jane Lubchenco


President-elect Obama has shown that he is serious about picking the right person to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) with his choice of Jane Lubchenco, an expert in overfishing and climate change who would have firsthand knowledge of the collapse of fishing along the Oregon coast.

As reported in The Environmentalist last April, Salmon Fishing Canceled off the Oregon and California Coasts, the Chinook salmon run in the Sacramento River has collapsed:
Scientists are studying the causes of the Sacramento River chinook collapse, with possible factors ranging from ocean conditions and habitat destruction to dam operations and agricultural pollution.
Fisherman normally loathe to shut operations supported the cancellation of the season in the desperate hope they would see a return of salmon to the river in 2009.

"For the entire West Coast, this is the worst in history," Don McIsaac, exec
utive director of the Pacific Fishery Management Council, said before several close votes led to the fisheries plan for 2008.

As the Pacific Fishery Management Council relies upon NOAA to approve such plans, it becomes imperative that NOAA's mission is not impeded by politics or greed as was reported in this related article
from the Washington Post that explored Vice President Dick Cheney's possible involvement with the earlier Klamath Falls, Oregon salmon collapse.

In Oregon, a battleground state that the Bush-Cheney ticket had lost by less than half of 1 percent, drought-stricken farmers and ranchers were about to be cut off from the irrigation water that kept their cropland and pastures green. Federal biologists said the Endangered Species Act left the government no choice: The survival of two imperiled species of fish was at stake.

Law and science seemed to be on the side of the fish. Then the vice president stepped in. First Cheney looked for a way around the law, aides said. Next he set in motion a process to challenge the science protecting the fish, according to a former Oregon congressman who lobbied for the farmers.

Because of Cheney's intervention, the government reversed itself and let the water flow in time to save the 2002 growing season, declaring that there was no threat to the fish. What followed was the largest fish kill the West had ever seen, with tens of thousands of salmon rotting on the banks of the Klamath River.



Uncle Sam: Superhero?


I’ve just returned from Europe with a new understanding of what the world expects from the United States on global climate change, now that Barack Obama will be president.

In a word: Everything.

I spent two days in Poznan, Poland, at the 14th Conference of the Parties – the gathering of nations now underway to work on a global climate deal scheduled to be signed one year from now in Copenhagen. From there, I went to London for a series of meetings with business and environmental leaders. Because I’ve been involved in proposing a climate action plan for the next president and Congress – one of dozens undoubtedly descending upon the transition team – everyone wanted my take on what President Obama will do.

The weather in Poland was cold and gloomy, the weather in London was cool and foggy, but the mood in both places was sunny in anticipation of U.S. leadership. Obama’s approaching inauguration has filled international climate activists with hope.

But – and this will be good news for the president-elect – I came away with the sense that the world community isn’t expecting Obama to be Captain America, single-handedly preventing a tragic decline in the Earth’s hospitality to our species. The world expects the superhero to be America, the nation. Obama’s election isn’t seen as the anointment of a miracle-worker; it’s seen as a sign that America has returned to its senses, has reasserted its ideals in a way that surprised even us Americans, and has become in the words of one colleague in London, “cool again”.

(At one event in London, I spoke to a gathering of environmental leaders at the historic East India Club, where the walls are adorned with portraits of the United Kingdom’s heroes. As the stern visage of Winston Churchill looked down upon us, I was reminded of something he said that perfectly summarizes the state of climate policy in the United States as Obama takes office: “Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing…after they have exhausted all other possibilities.”) Continued...


One Step Forward on Deforestation in Poland...But More Should Have Been Achieved


For the past week and half, climate negotiators have been trying to push forward agreement on important elements of the global efforts to address deforestation and forest degradation emissions. We took one step forward (but unfortunately many hoped we could have taken two steps forward or more). The draft agreement (available here) is touted as a: Deal struck on forests in climate talks by some (Associated Press).

Modest progress has been made on one important element -- we will now be able to negotiate on the tricky political issues of how incentives will be created, to whom they will they flow, and under what rules. This is a positive step forward as we will now be able to get down to the "nitty gritty" details on the deforestation debate (as I discussed here, a number of us were stressing this message in a joint letter).

Unfortunately, a number of us had hoped to begin to get agreement on some key details that aren't caught up in the broader political debate. These are extremely important elements, but not necessarily as "political" (or so we thought). In particular, we were hoping to get agreement on:

  1. Protection of biodiversity
  2. Protection of indigenous rights
  3. Ensuring that the full emissions from deforestation were accounted and that deforestation reductions can't be directly "offset" by replanting of forests

So, how did these important details fair this week?

Protecting indigenous rights? Ensuring that indigenous lands are preserved and the rights of these indigenous peoples are protected has always been a key issue. It looked like there was an emerging consensus from the negotiations in Accra, Ghana on this point. However, some countries have legal issues with an international agreement that enshrines the rights of specific individual groups. This seems to be the U.S. negotiators stated problem. Some developing countries also pushed to have it either excluded or seriously watered down. They either don't respect the rights of indigenous communities, acknowledge that they exist, and/or want the international community to tell them what to do on this issue. Continued...

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Connecting the Dots on the Mumbai Attacks


There has been a great deal of reporting, speculation, finger pointing and denials on the Mumbai attacks, much of which has focused on trees (dots) instead of forests.

After reading with empathy and horror of the death and destruction, the question remained, who was behind this and why? The Indian government has stated the surviving terrorist they've captured was Pakistani from the Muslim Punjab region who was trained as part of the
Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani based Kashmir separatist group with purported ties to both al Qaeda and the Pakastani ISI.

Which leads to the following (dots) about the attacks:

  • =>The style of attack was military - a special forces/commando type raid - in nature.

  • =>The military training of the attackers purportedly by ex-Pakistani military officers.

  • =>The repudiated claim by Hamid Gul, the ex-head of the Pakistani Intelligence Service (ISI), reported to be involved in the formation of the Taliban, that al Qaeda was not behind either the Mubai attacks or 9/11, blaming instead (on this Sunday's edition of CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS) an "Israeli Zionist Neocon Conspiracy" which matches his ongoing denial that Bin Laden is a terrorist (George Stephanopoulos asked Condolezza Rice on THIS WEEK Sunday about reports that the U.S. has asked for Gul to be turned over for indictment. Rice declined to comment).

  • =>The capture of a fishing trawler out of a Pakistani port.

  • =>Initial targets that were designed to draw first responders away from two targets of note: the Taj Hotel and the Jewish Center.

  • =>The Taj is owned by the leading industrialists of India, the Tata Group (Tata Steel, Tata Auto...), descendants of Zoroastrian priests known for their tolerance of others. The Taj was built in 1903 by Jamsetji Tata, India's pioneering industrialist, after he was denied access to a "whites only" luxury hotel, as a comparable (or better) facility that would accept everyone.

  • =>The Nariman House Chabad Jewish Center established as a welcoming center to both Jewish travelers and the Mumbai Jewish community.

  • =>The recent attacks in Pakistan that destroyed vehicles necessary for transporting supplies over the Khyber Pass to NATO forces in Afghanistan.

  • =>The expectation of an Afghan Taliban offensive in the spring.

This raises the question, if the attacks originated in Pakistan, who is in charge there? The democratically elected government or the elements of the army and intelligence services that are seemingly aligned with (and/or in charge of) the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba, al Qaeda and other similar groups? The prevailing wisdom is to do as much as possible to support the democratically elected government.

That seems to be the approach thus far with India's thankfully measured response. It also may be because India was not the only target when all the dots are connected. In the larger chess-board that is South Asia, the focus shifts to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and the traditional spring offensive that can be expected from the Taliban. Continued...

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Slow Progress in Poland Climate Negotiations…but Some Key Issues Emerging


The first week of the Poland Climate Negotiations has ended and progress is slow. This isn't a surprising outcome at this stage in negotiations. Without the new US leadership in place and with many of the key pieces of the post-2012 international agreement likely only woven together in the "final deal" this was the anticipation as "no major breakthroughs were expected".

But, some emerging debates have arisen that will be central to the negotiations next year as the world leads-in to an international agreement in Copenhagen (Dec. 2009).

Timeline for an international agreement and will it be a "final" detailed agreement in Copenhagen? Recent news stories coming out of Poland have contained mixed messages from key players on whether an agreement can be reached in Copenhagen and how much detail will be in that agreement (see Greenwire (subs. req.), Associated Press, and Agence France-Presse). There is a lot of soul searching about what the Copenhagen agreement will actually have in it. Will the agreement coming out of Copenhagen contain enough of the key details to be ratified or otherwise implemented right afterwards (e.g. with enough details that countries will know exactly what they are getting into) or will it be an agreement on the main framework with the details to be worked out later?

Clearly the U.S. Congress and the new Administration will need to move hand in glove and only commit the U.S. internationally to what it can actually implement in domestic law. So, NRDC and 17 other major US environmental and faith groups submitted a letter to all delegates in Poznan saying that:

We all will be devoting our efforts and resources over the next year to help President-elect Obama resurrect America's lost leadership on global warming and the environment. With diligent efforts by all countries and a renewed spirit of American international cooperation, we are confident that an agreement on climate change can be reached by the end of next year.

Emissions Reduction targets and "shared vision". There is an extensive debate on developed countries committing to reduce their emissions 25-40% below 1990 levels in 2020 and developing countries undertaking a 15-30% cut below what their emissions would have been otherwise in 2020 (so-called business as usual cut). The EU is pushing the 15-30% range for developing countries and the developed countries are pushing to get agreement that developed countries as a whole will reduce their emissions 25-40% below 1990 levels in 2020.

This won't get resolved here in Poland, but it is a "coming attraction" for the year to come. This back and forth between what level of reductions developed countries will undertake and how much action developing countries take will be one of the main points of debate in the lead-in to Copenhagen. Continued...