Never-Give-Up Fighting Spirit: Lessons From a Grandchild


Is there any real hope of cutting global carbon emissions?  Such negative questions and attitudes are increasing. How refreshing, on cold, windy Thanksgiving Plus One Day, which we spend with our children and grandchildren, when I went outside to shoot baskets with 5-year-old Connor. Connor is very bright, but needs work on his hand-to-eye coordination. I set the basket at a convenient height for him, but his first several shots banged off the backboard off-target. Then he said, very brightly and bravely, “I don’t quit, because I have never-give-up fighting spirit.” It seems his karate lessons are paying off.

Some adults need Connor’s help. A Scientific American article by Michael Lemonick, “Beyond the Tipping Point”, described our 2008 paper “Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?” Lemonick concluded with the almost-obligatory “fair and balanced” opinion, delivered by Steve Schneider. In response to our conclusion that we must get atmospheric CO2 to peak during the next few decades, and then decline back to 350 ppm or less, Schneider opines “It has no chance in hell. None. Zero. The best we can do is to overshoot, reach 450 or 550 parts per million, then come back as quickly as possible on the back end.”

Everyone knows we are overshooting. The 2009 CO2 global mean is 387 ppm and it is increasing 2 ppm per year. In our “Target” paper we showed that, if coal emissions were phased down linearly to zero in 2030 and emissions from unconventional fossil fuels were prohibited, peak CO2 could be kept at about 425 ppm – or even lower if a rising carbon price made it uneconomic to go after every last drop of oil. But Hillary Clinton recently signed an agreement with Canada for a pipeline to carry tar sands oil to the United States. Australia is massively expanding coal export facilities. Coal-fired power plants are being built worldwide. Unless the public get involved, young people especially, CO2 of 450 ppm or higher may become unavoidable.  Continued...


Global Warming Time Bomb:* Actions Needed to Avert Disaster


Club of Rome Global Assembly 2009, Muziekgebouw aan ‘t ij/Harbour Music Hall, Amsterdam, Netherlands. *Any statements relating to policy are personal opinion.

Global warming IS a time bomb.

There may still be time to defuse it, but that requires policy-makers to take the actions that are needed, not the ineffectual actions they are discussing.
Global Warming Status

1. Knowledge Gap Between
• What is Understood (scientists)
• What is Known (public)

2. Planetary Emergency
• Climate Inertia → Warming in Pipeline
• Tipping Points → Could Lose Control

3. Bad News & Good News
• Safe Level of CO2 < 350
• Multiple Benefits of Solution
Despite the publicity that global warming has received, there is a large gap between what is understood by the relevant scientific community, and what is known by the people who need to know, the public and policymakers.

Global warming is small compared to day-to-day weather fluctuations, so it is hard for people to recognize that we have a crisis – but we do.

The climate system has great inertia, caused, e.g., by the 4-kilometer-deep ocean and the thick ice sheets on Antarctica and Greenland – they have only partly responded to the human-made changes of atmospheric composition. But that inertia is not our friend – it is a Trojan horse – by the time the public notices that change is underway the momentum of the climate system may be sufficient to guarantee much larger changes. The climate system can pass tipping points, such that large change continues out of our control.

The bad news is that we have already passed into a dangerous range of atmospheric carbon dioxide. The good news is that if we act smart and promptly it is still feasible to achieve a safe level of atmospheric gases, and the actions needed to achieve that would have multiple benefits in addition to climate stability. Continued...

'Too Big to Fail' Fallout on Capitol Hill


Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) intends to introduce an amendment to the proposed House Financial Services Committee "Too Big to Fail" bill that will require large banks to fund their own insurance against failure. This came after smaller banks and economists raised concerns that the requirements for the smaller banks to pay into the fund would also require those smaller banks to carry the financial burden for the larger banks should they fail -- larger banks that would be helped through crises because they were too big to fail whereas the smaller banks would be left to fail under similar circumstances.
Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) will introduce an amendment to a bill in the House Financial Services Committee to raise the existing threshold to either $50 billion or $75 billion, he told Huffington Post on Wednesday night. Those thresholds could rise in the future should he make them inflation-adjusted, he said.
Policies and proposed legislation involving banks considered too big to fail have also seen bipartisan criticism which has led to the introduction of legislation to provide more transparency into the lending activities by the Federal Reserve:
House pushes for sweeping audit of the Fed
Bipartisan effort aims to get peek into secretive U.S. central bank

WASHINGTON - House lawmakers want to pry open the books of the famously secretive Federal Reserve with legislation that would subject the U.S. central bank to a sweeping congressional audit.

The effort is overwhelmingly bipartisan. Hardline conservatives and liberal Democrats have banded together in their criticism of the Federal Reserve as a major power broker in the financial system that does not answer to Congress.

In Praise of Bad Cooking and Good Mothers: A Thanksgiving Memory


I've never been a big fan of Halloween -- I don't scare easy and I don't believe in ghosts, not the spooky kind. Ah, but Thanksgiving! My favorite holiday; one filled with the real ghosts of my childhood. My mother Lilly -- movie star beautiful, generous, kindly -- would roll up the sleeves of her floral printed housedress, put on a clean ironed apron and meet this holiday as her great culinary challenge: that awesome and awful Thanksgiving dinner. And I would watch her in wonder during my childhood in the nineteen thirties and forties.The first order of business was dealing with the turkey from hell, sent to us live in New York City in a crate by my mother's crazy joker of a younger brother, Albert, who lived upstate near the Canadian border. Less a gift than a curse, the bird was exiled to our bathtub for a week, clucking away, fed birdseed and always on the verge of becoming a pet rather than a feast before being snuck out of our house by my father to meet his fate at the local butcher.

When finally presented at the feast the creature was so overcooked by my mother, who didn't believe in timing her cooking, that it had become mummified enough to be worthy of an archeological exhibition. The corpse was surrounded with a neat row of sliced canned cranberry slabs, a culinary sarcophagus. A pile of store bought soft sugary rolls nestled nearby.

Sweet potatoes with half melted marshmallows inside were passed about, and wintery-pale pink sliced tomatoes resting on a cold crunch of iceberg lettuce were offered as sides, while a dish of defrosted Birds Eye creamed spinach (be still my heart) was followed at last by scoops of Rushmeyer's ice-cream fit for any hungry pilgrim.

There was not a dish or a pot in our home that was not used in making that meal. Each contributed to the creation of the overcooked and the underdone. My mother, a truly marvelous woman, was, as I have suggested, an awful cook. And I dare say that was a small part of what made her so marvelous. Continued...

Road to Copenhagen - Part 6: Money-Changers in the Temple of Democracy


There is a scene in the New Testament (Matthew 21:12) where Jesus throws the money-changers out of the temple. We could use some of that in the halls of Congress.

While the U.S. Capitol is not the National Cathedral, members of Congress are the custodians of a sacred trust: to protect the vitality and integrity of the extraordinary experiment the Founders began. For example, the debate about climate change isn’t just about polar bears and energy prices. It’s about whether a free people will be a responsible people, a capitalist economy will be a caring economy and a democracy will protect the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for everyone, even those not yet born.

Some of this sacred trust is codified in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Some is unwritten and implied. And although the Constitution dictates that we keep government and religion separate, there are places in public policy where secular values and moral values overlap. Stewardship of nature and its resources – called “creation care” in religious circles – is one of those places.

Government’s stewardship responsibility is recognized in the body of laws past congresses developed once we realized that burning rivers, poisoned water, dangerous air, carcinogenic fish and toxic wastes were not in the national interest. In the landmark National Environmental Policy Act, for example, Congress declared:
It is the continuing responsibility of the Federal Government to use all practicable means, consistent with other essential considerations of national policy, to improve and coordinate Federal plans, functions, programs, and resources to the end that the Nation may . . . fulfill the responsibilities of each generation as trustee of the environment for succeeding generations . . . Continued...

Road to Copenhagen – Part 5: Big Hairy Audacious Leadership vs. Nattering Nabobs of Negativism*


Change your thoughts and you change your world.
Norman Vincent Peale

We are only just beginning to scratch the surface of the power of a positive vision of an abundant future…
Rob Hopkins, “The Transition Handbook”

During his 10 months in office, President Barack Obama and his team have assembled a respectable list of accomplishments on energy and climate policy. One might conclude the President has done about all he can do with the powers of his office.

One would be wrong. What energy and climate security require – what the future of the American Dream demands – is audacious big-picture ideas that capture the imagination, stir the emotions, speak to the souls, rally the support and win the involvement of the American people. That’s been lacking so far in the President’s climate leadership.

I don’t see evidence that the American people have reached a “yes, we can” moment on climate action. My bet is that most people are still asking “yes we can what?” President Obama speaks of a “new energy economy”, but that’s an abstraction for many of us. Unless you’re a policy wonk, the climate debate probably is mumbo-jumbo, all about carbon pricing, cap and trade architecture and auction allowances. This is not the rhetoric that ignites a mass movement.

I suspect there is a sizeable segment of the American people waiting to be engaged, waiting to have their imaginations triggered, waiting to understand what a new energy economy looks like and what they can do to build it. I’m not saying that citizens can’t act without top-down leadership. Indeed, as President Obama hinted recently in his “
Grab a Mop” speech, there’s fundamental unfairness, guaranteed stasis and more than a little buck-passing when we citizens stand on the sidelines, some expecting the White House to do everything, others protesting it is doing far too much. Continued...


Road to Copenhagen - Part 4: A New Social Contract


As we approach the climate conference in Copenhagen, politicians are balking and diplomats are burning the midnight oil, deprived of sleep. But we can take heart. Some unlikely new heroes may come to the rescue.

One prospective hero is The Citizen-Consumer. Consumers are not the first group that pops to my mind when I think about environmental leadership. Unbridled consumption without regard for consequences has much to do with the mess we’re in.

Then came a poll by
TIME magazine over the summer. It found that nearly four of every 10 American consumers over age 18 regularly and deliberately choose products made by “socially responsible” companies. If conspicuous consumption got us into this mess, can it be that conscionable consumption will get us out? Maybe. Based on its poll and several other factors, TIME concludes:
In America, we are recalibrating our sense of what it means to be a citizen, not just through voting or volunteering, but also through what we buy…We are seeing the rise of the citizen consumer – and the beginnings of a responsibility revolution.
We might be tempted to assume these green consumers – TIME calls them the “responsibles” – come from the liberal wing of America’s vast customer base. We’d be wrong. According to TIME’s poll, “responsibles” are almost equally divided between people who classify themselves as conservatives, moderates and liberals.

The second unlikely hero is The Corporation. New evidence suggests that companies around the world are beginning to discover that “green” is golden. A significant number of companies apparently are committing to social responsibility and sustainability. Continued...


Road to Copenhagen - Part 3: Re-Tooling Industry


In case we need more evidence that an urgent economic transformation is required to avoid catastrophic climate change, it can be found in a new study commissioned by World Wildlife Fund International.

Conducted by Climate Risk Pty. Ltd. of Great Britain and Australia, the study concludes:
Runaway climate change is almost inevitable without specific action to implement low-carbon re-industrialization over the next five years (emphasis mine)…World governments have a window that will close between now and 2014. In that time they must establish fully operational, low-carbon industrial architecture. This must drive a low-carbon re-industrialization that will be faster than any previous economic and industry transformation…Today, only three out of 20 industries are moving sufficiently fast enough.
By “low carbon re-industrialization”, the authors mean energy efficiency and clean generation technologies, low-carbon agriculture, and sustainable forestry. They have identified 24 critical resources and industries the world will need to develop quickly to avoid climate catastrophe. Among their conclusions:

o By itself, emissions trading will not be enough to cause the necessary re-industrialization of the world economy. We will need massive private investments; tens of trillions of dollars from the investment community; and more aggressive government action to create a stable long-term investment environment.
“Starting with the least-cost mitigation solutions and working our way forward to higher-cost solutions as carbon prices rise – that approach will take too long,” says Sean Kidney, Climate Risk’s manager in Europe. “We need to tackle all solutions at the same time.” Continued...


Road to Copenhagen – Part 2: Risky Business


The evidence is irrefutable: Climate change poses enormous risks to economic stability, public health, ecosystem services, and national security, as well as to the environment.

How should we manage those risks? The first step is to acknowledge them. The second is to start listening to the experts who manage risks for a living.

Over the past two months, I’ve attended several meetings of military and civilian experts in security, intelligence and risk assessment. They were unanimous in concluding that 1) the risks of climate change are growing rapidly; 2) those risks are routinely underestimated by policy makers; and 3) little is being done to plan for contingencies, even in those regions of the world likely to suffer the most and even though the suffering already has begun.

One meeting of security and risk experts was organized by Nick Mabey, a former advisor to Prime Minister Tony Blair and now the leader of E3G, a nonprofit organization based in Europe to promote sustainable development. Our mission was to explore how the science of risk assessment and management should be applied to climate change. In a Whitehall Paper written last year, Mabey explained:
Climate change will be one of the critical forces shaping the coming century…it will fundamentally alter the way we live, the risks we face and how we interact in an increasingly interdependent world.
While scientists and environmentalists have been sounding warnings for years, an open discussion of the security risks of climate change started only a couple of years ago. In November 2007, the Center for Strategic and International Security and the Center for a New American Security issued “The Age of Consequences”; in June 2008, a blue-ribbon panel of high-level former military leaders, convened by the Center for Naval Analysis, concluded that global warming is a “threat multiplier” that will destabilize some of the world’s most volatile regions.

That finding was confirmed a year later by the National Intelligence Council in its first-ever assessment of climate change. It was confirmed again recently by the CIA’s creation of a new Center on Climate Change and National Security to centralize its expertise on “the effect environmental factors can have on political, economic, and social stability overseas.”

On Oct. 28, retired U.S. military officers warned the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee about the risks that climate change and fossil energy pose to national security. “Our economic, energy and climate change challenges are all inextricably linked,” retired Vice Adm. Dennis McGinn testified. “If we don’t address these challenges in a bold way and timely way, fragile governments have great potential to become failed states ….a virile breathing ground for extremism.”

A day later in Washington, D.C., the same message was delivered in a joint statement issued by active and retired military leaders from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin American and the United States. In addition to calling on all governments to work for an “ambitious and equitable” international agreement at Copenhagen, the officers urged governments to make sure the security implications of climate change are integrated into their military strategies.

Mabey notes that climate risks – including drought and famine, loss of fisheries, coastal inundation, invasive migrations of climate refugees, natural disasters and water shortages – could go two ways. They could motivate nations to collaborate more on conflict prevention, contingency planning, economic development and disaster prevention and response; or, they could cause more tensions within and between countries, leading to conflict. Continued...


The Environmentalist Nominated for Changemaker Award


by The Environmentalist Staff

The Environmentalist's founder and managing editor, Janet Ritz, has been nominated for an environmental changemaker award:
The Changemakers initiative aims to identify and engage the leading activists, elected officials, authors, bloggers, actors, musicians and thought leaders who have the greatest capacity to spark change on issues of importance.
We all know how tirelessly our managing editor works to provide us all with an uncensored platform for the environment and are excited that she's been given this recognition

Please cast your vote here to show your support for The Environmentalist's nomination.

Editorial Staff
The Environmentalist


Road to Copenhagen - Part 1: Doing the Climate Shuffle


There’s a familiar dance being performed on the world stage. It’s called the Climate Shuffle. It has been going on for decades, but more people are watching now and every nation is practicing the steps.

The dance is not complicated. The goal is to get everybody dancing together, a kind of Clean Electric Slide. But first, insist you won’t get on the dance floor until everybody does. If you get there and find that everyone is doing his own thing, try the Unilateral Slide (one step forward, two steps back, moving in circles). Most of all, be prepared to dance fast because the music is speeding up.

In this strained metaphor, the music is the increasing pace of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. As it turns out, the scientific evidence on which negotiators and policy makers have depended – particularly the last report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – significantly underestimated the speed at which global warming is occurring.

Poor and low-lying nations already are suffering its effects. Some of the first climate refugeesare being forced from their ancestral islands in the South Pacific because of rising sea levels. Livestock is dying in parts of Africa parched by drought.

The World Health Organization estimated earlier this year that 150,000 deaths occur annually in low-income countries due to climate-related crop failure, malnutrition, diarrheal diseases, malaria and flooding. Nearly 85 percent of the dead are young children.

Rich nations are not exempt. In June, the U.S. government’s Global Change Science Program reported to Congress that damaging climate impacts are here and likely to get worse. Continued...