The 300-350 Show: Repay the Climate Debt! - Bonn, Week 2 – Matthew Stilwell (Third World Network), Various (CAN International) (11.06.2009)
We recently reported on the excellent news that the folks at Ghent's town council had announced a weekly 'Veggiedag' for all public servants in the Belgian city - one meat-free day per week. Well, the idea has been catching on since Rajendra Pachauri first mooted it last year, and now Paul McCartney and his daughters are looking to go one better than Ghent - by signing up everyone in Britain to 'Meat Free Monday'.
They're doing well already by the looks of the list of celebrity signatories to the scheme, and it's only launched today. Team Stupid's wishing you luck with it Macca.
The Japanese government has bottled out of making a strong commitment on near-term emissions reductions, despite the fact that the Japanese people have made it clear that's what they want: a recent poll showed that 63 percent of Japanese of voting age favored a cut in greenhouse gas emissions of at least 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 in a U.N. pact due to be agreed in Copenhagen in December.
So how has Prime Minster Aso responded? By announcing an 8% emissions cut by 2020.
Weak, Japan, really weak. The world expected better from you.
News from week one of the UN climate negotiations in Bonn, and an interview with Almuth from Biofuel Watch on the biochar magic bullet.
The 300-350 Show: The Road to Copenhagen - Bonn, Week 1 – Almuth Ernsting (Biofuel Watch), Various (CAN International) (04.06.2009)
The newly elected race-hate MEP Nick Griffin is also, surprise surprise, a climate change denier. As Nick Griffin is the leader of the BNP, it's safe to assume that this is BNP party policy, which fits perfectly with the picture that emerged from a recent study of the ideological positions of climate 'skeptics': of 192 climate skeptic books & reports, 92% were directly associated with right wing free market think-tanks. Vaclav Klaus, the Czech President cited by Nick Griffin in his interview, had the Russian translation of his own book denying man-made climate change paid for by a billionaire oil tycoon. The English translation was funded by Exxon.
Our friend Phil England over at Climate Radio produces regular, extremely informative must-listen radio shows on the science and politics of climate change, called the 300-350 show. Phil's agreed to let us host the shows on Not Stupid as they come out during this year in the run up to Copenhagen, so you can find below this year's first four 300-350 shows to be getting on with. (If you want more, check out the archive over at COIN.)
Climate Radio actually graced us with a 45-minute special on The Age of Stupid earlier this year, timed to coincide with the UK People's Premiere. You can listen to that show here.
The 300-350 Show: The Road to Copenhagen - from Washington to Bonn – Oscar Reyes (Carbon Trade Watch, Transnational Institute) (28.05.2009)
The 300-350 Show: An Economic Crash for Climate Safety – Tim Helweg-Larsen (Public Interest Research Centre), Kevin Anderson (Tyndall Centre), Grazzy Noel (poet & playwright) (21.05.2009)
The 300-350 Show: An Emissions Budget for Climate Safety – Myles Allen (University of Oxford) (14.05.2009)
The 300-350 Show: Climate Safety Event – George Monbiot (The Guardian), Caroline Lucas MEP (Green Party), Jeremy Leggett (Solar Century), Leila Deen (activist) (07.05.2009)
The Pie Chart of Doom image above has been produced by MIT in an effort to communicate the latest predictions of what climate change has in store for us.
MIT's centre for Global Climate Change Science have revised their best guess of temperature rise by the end of the century if humanity continues with business-as-usual - to 5.2˚C. This is well in excess of the median estimate in the worst-case scenario looked at in the most recent IPCC report in 2007. With a 5˚ rise, we all fry of course, but this would still be better than the 9% chance they now think there is of a 7˚ rise. 7˚C!
The conclusions of the MIT study confirm other recent revisions of temperature rise by the International Energy Agency (IEA), which has warned of a 6˚ rise if we remain on our current emissions trajectory, and the MET office's Hadley Centre, which also guesstimated a 5-7˚ rise if we don't change course.
Looking at the Pie Chart of Barely Acceptable Hardship - the one on the left - it's important to note that even with what MIT regard as an 'agressive' global mitigation policy, we're still only looking at a roughly 20% chance of limiting temperature rise to 2˚C or less...
Meanwhile Kofi Annan's charity, the Global Humanitarian Forum, reports that global warming is already causing 300,000 deaths each year, and the Inernational Organization for Migration predicts 200 million climate refugees by 2050. (Franny and Pete P will be speaking alongside Kofi Annan at the Forum's event in Geneva on June 24th.)
All this bad news is what we at Team Stupid have come to expect from the world of climate change geekery. It only serves to remind us that the time to act is NOW. No matter how nice and calm everything seems when you look out of your window today, unless we maneuver our entire society onto a very different pathway within the next few years, within a few decades all hell will be breaking loose.
Let's get on with it.
During the past week there have been two climate policy announcements that have confirmed beyond question that in terms of national policy positions, the United States of America remains the major obstacle to global climate safety.
The first was the publication by China of a document setting out their official policy position with regards to Copenhagen, in which they repeat their insistence that rich nations ('Annex 1', in the lingo, or 'developed' nations) must cut their emissions by at least 40% below 1990 levels by 2020.
This figure does indeed fit with the recommendations of the global scientific authority on climate change, the IPCC, if we are to succeed in avoiding catastrophic warming of 2˚C or more. The announcement comes just a couple of months after news that over 30% of China's fiscal stimulus package was estimated to be made up of spending on climate friendly measures. Lord Nicholas Stern, the UK's former economic adviser on climate change, had indicated that devoting at least 20% of global fiscal stimuli to green measures would be enough to set us on the right course to avert disaster. The equivalent US figure was estimated to be a little over 10%.
The second announcement was made by the US Special Envoy on Climate Change, Todd Stern. Speaking on the eve of a two-day meeting of climate ministers from the world's most powerful economies, Stern told journalists, "We are jumping as high as the political system will tolerate. The 40% the Chinese have talked about is not realistic."
40% cuts by 2020 may well be unrealistic from the US perspective, but this is nevertheless what the science - not just China - demands. Stern went on to say,
"We completely agree it is vital that developed countries get a path that is ambitious and consistent with what science is telling us to do. But perfect is the enemy of good - you can insist on that, say you really need to have it, and you can end up with nothing."
The trouble with this kind of political pragmatism is that you can't negotiate with physics. Cutting deals on the basis of political expediency will not produce compromise outcomes - it will produce failure, as humanity crosses the critical threshold to irreversible, runaway warming. The US target is anything but consistent with what the science is telling us we need to do: it's a measly 6% cut by 2020.
The main problem for us all is that the US is years behind the rest of the world in acknowledging the threat posed by climate change and acting to address it. By refusing to ratify the Kyoto protocol, the US has remained fixed on a business-as-usual high carbon growth trajectory throughout the benighted Presidency of the Global Village Idiot, George W Bush.
So although there is now, finally, a US adminstration that understands the need to urgently reduce emissions, and recognises at least in some small part the responsibility America has to be a central player in this process, they are so far behind that it may not even be possible for them to catch up to where they need to be. The political inertia and resistance to progressive policies to reduce carbon emissions that have built up under the Bush adminstration cannot simply be brushed aside, but must be carefully bridged by the new adminstration.
Yet if they move too slowly they will doom us all.
Team Stupid's favourite politician*, the UK's Climate Change and Energy Secretary Ed Miliband, stepped into the ring with Franny for a third time on Saturday morning, at the Hay Festival. Ed's cheerful fortitude in the face of some fairly harsh dressing downs from Franny and Pete Postlethwaite first at the People's Premiere, and again at the Tricycle Theatre, has earned him a lot of brownie points with Team Stupid, even if we do think he's barking up totally the wrong tree with some of his policies (see for instance the plans for new coal power stations in the UK, with accompanying unconvincing promises to capture the emissions from them).
And true to form, here he was again on Saturday, back to tackle more difficult questions from Franny and an audience who know that his government is still not doing nearly enough to prevent the terrifying future depicted in Stupid from coming to pass. You can listen to some of the discussion by clicking on the mp3 link at the bottom of this page.
Ed has the unenviable dual responsibility to both ensure the security of Britain's energy supply, and also lead international efforts to forge a global deal to drive massive cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. He knows that democracy and populism have an intimate relationship, and that however well politicians might personally understand the scale and urgency of the policy challenge posed by climate change, political progress and public feeling are diffficult to separate. That's why Ed has called for a popular mobilisation to give him and his counterparts around the world a democratic mandate for progressive climate policy.
As Franny put it, "Certain politicians do understand the situation, do want to get the right deal in Copenhagen. But they need the public now to move forward to make a political space." Or in Ed's words, "There does need in the second half of this year a real sense of people saying now's the time to get the most ambitious deal in Copenhagen."
Franny is perfectly clear that it's obvious that the threat of catastrophic climate change is a product of global consumer culture, and that it is unrealistic to imagine that we can tackle one without addressing the other. Ed's view however is that India and China won't buy into an end to consumerism before they've even got started with it:
"If you say to them look, we've had this growth model for 50 years or whatever it is but now we've discovered it's a real problem and you can't carry on growing, there's no way to can persuade them to be part of a global agreement. If you look over the next 20 years about 50% of the growth in emissions is going to come in China. So you have got to get China on board with this."
Ed liked Franny's observations about the climate impact of flying even less. Britons currently fly way more than the people of any other nation - twice as much as Americans - yet the government is still pursuing plans to double or even treble the number of passengers using our airports. If these plans go ahead, aviation alone could consume 100% of the UK's entire allowable carbon budget by the mid 2030s. But if the levels of overall emissions cuts dictated by the science are applied to air travel, then flying would have to drop back to 1960s levels. Clearly there's a policy clash going on here. Ed?
"People have had opportunities to travel that their parents' generation would not have dreamed of. I can't honestly say that taking those opportunities away is necessarily the right thing to do."
Franny had an answer to this, of course: "We have to look at the level of sacrifice. You think the British people wouldn't agree to sacrifice their right to go on holidays and fly as many times as they want to. But in order for them to do that we are therefore going to ask other people in other countries to sacrifice their lives."
"Maybe I'm just less of a preacher than you are on this," Ed replied.
Team Stupid believe it is plain to see that corporate special interests have been and are at least as much of an obstacle to progress on climate change as any kind of real or imagined resistance from the public at large. Political power in a capitalist democracy doesn't just come from the people, but from the people + capital; and unfortunately capital has very different needs to the people. Hence the plans for new runways almost nobody wants...
*That's not saying much. But we do like Ed.
One of the documentary stories in The Age of Stupid looks at life in the Niger Delta, where oil giant Shell has promised the moon to the local people, but has delivered, well...
This week Shell's shareholders have gathered in London and The Hague for their annual AGM, but they've not been alone. Outside both meetings they have been met by activists from ShellGuilty, an international coalition of campaign groups including Platform, Friends of the Earth and Oil Change International. They're there to demand an end to Shell's dangerous and outdated practice of gas flaring in Nigeria, and to draw attention to a landmark human rights case that starts in the US next week.
Shell is to stand trial for their alleged part in the execution of Nigerian writer and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight of his Ogoni colleagues. Saro-Wiwa was a dogged campaigner on behalf of the Ogoni people, leading peaceful protests against the environmental damage wreaked by oil companies in the Niger Delta. In 1995 the Nigerian military government framed and executed him, and the lawsuit alleges that Shell played an active role in this outrage, bribing prosecution witnesses and subsidising a campaign of terror by security forces in the Delta in an attempt to influence the trial. Shell denies the accusations.
Whatever the outcome of next week's case, there is no doubt about the fact that Shell remains guilty of the environmental crimes against the Ogoni and against the climate which Ken Saro-Wiwa worked so hard to prevent. For 50 years now, oil companies have been flaring the gas generated during oil extraction in the Delta, a practice which is featured in The Age of Stupid. Shell etc do this simply because it is cheaper than pumping it back underground, or using it to meet the energy needs of local communities.
This is not merely a waste of energy. It poisons communities with a toxic cocktail of waste gases, devastates local ecosystems and is a vast and horribly pointless source of greenhouse gas emissions.
Gas flaring in Nigeria emits more greenhouse gases in sub-Saharan Africa than all other sources combined.
Nigeria is the only place in the world where this dangerous and wasteful practice, once commonplace in oil-producing nations, still persists. Yet gas flaring has been technically illegal in Nigeria since 1984 - but the corrupt government will not enforce its own laws against the big oil companies who line their pockets. Shell just carries on doing what it has always done with impunity.
Clearly this madness has to stop. To get involved, visit www.ShellGuilty.com.
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