[ Random Image ]
Restore the Wetlands. Reinforce the Levees.

Archive for January, 2012

IEA Sees “Irreversible Climate Change in Five Years”

Saturday, January 21st, 2012

“I don’t know who and where the climate leadership in the administration is. It doesn’t exist. There is no resolve in the Obama administration to do anything.”Tim Wirth, U.N. Foundation president

“What do you get for pretending the danger’s not real?” —Pink Floyd, “Sheep” (Animals, 1977)

*

With apologies for our habit of running a bit late sometimes, behind the curve of the news, we call to your attention, dear fellow earthlings, a report in a recent issue of The Guardian Weekly titled “Irreversible Climate Change in Five Years.” The stark warning is based on a study of the world’s energy infrastructure conducted by the International Energy Agency that was released released before the recent Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa. (By the way, were you aware that there was an international, UN–sponsored climate change conference in November and December?)

The IEA’s data, notes The Guardian’s environment correspondent Fiona Harvey, “is regarded as the gold standard in emissions and energy, and is widely regarded as one of the most conservative in outlook—making the warning all the more stark.”

The world is likely to build so many fossil-fuelled power stations, energy-guzzling factories and inefficient buildings in the next five years that it will become impossible to hold global warming to safe levels, and the last chance of combating dangerous climate change will be “lost for ever,” according to the most thorough analysis yet of world energy infrastructure. 

Anything built from now on that produces carbon will do so for decades, and this “lock-in” effect will be the single factor most likely to produce irreversible climate change, the world’s foremost authority on energy economics has found. If this is not rapidly changed within the next five years, the results are likely to be disastrous. 

“The door is closing,” Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency, said. “I am very worried—if we don’t change direction now on how we use energy, we will end up beyond what scientists tell us is the minimum [for safety]. The door will be closed forever.”

The Guardian observes that the IEA’s new research shows that “current choices in building new infrastructure are likely to commit the world to much higher emissions for the next few decades, blowing apart hopes of containing the problem to manageable levels.” The Guardian’s Fiona Harvey continues:

If the world is to stay below 2C [3.6°F] of warming, which scientists regard as the limit of safety, then emissions must be held to no more than 450 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; the level is currently around 390ppm. But the world’s existing infrastructure is already producing 80% of that “carbon budget”. . . . If current trends continue, and we go on building high-carbon energy generation, then by 2015 at least 90% of the available “carbon budget” will be swallowed up by our energy and industrial infrastructure. By 2017, there will be no room for manoeuvre at all—the whole of the carbon budget will be spoken for, according to the IEA’s calculations.

The IEA’s report was released before the recent Durban conference, a United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The conference ended with a legally binding agreement among developed and developing countries to work for the first time on an agreement to cut greenhouse gases, but the agreement would not even be written until 2015, and would not come into force until 2020.

Scientists and environmental groups said the Durban deal would not be enough to avert catastrophic climate change, and the U.S. special envoy Todd Stern infuriated the European Union when he warned that there would have to be a long preparatory period before any sitting down to haggle over details. The election of Barack Obama has altered the rhetoric but has made little difference in the United States’s actions to curb global (warming) climate change.

As a little background on international efforts to reduce global warming, the Kyoto Protocol was agreed to in 1997. In 2001 newly inaugurated President George W. Bush announced that the U.S. would not participate. United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009 produced little more than bitter disappointment (see below) and a vague agreement to take steps “to reduce global emissions so as to hold the increase in global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius” over the next century.

America’s Energy Conservation Policy: “Running on Empty”

The disconnect between one of the world’s most prolific producers of carbon emissions (industrial and automotive exhaust) and the acceptance of responsibility for the environmental consequences of is staggering. The Republican presidential candidates (except for Newt Gingrich, occasionally) either ignore or dispute the inconvenient truth, and they are not asked about climate change in their many corporate media–delivered debates. Barack Obama, who in his 2008 campaign led supporters to believe his administration would bring in a breath of fresh, lower-carbon-emission air, either does not really care or is afraid of giving further ammunition to those who accuse him of being “anti-business.” See “Obama’s Climate Betrayal” by The New Yorker’s Elizabeth Kolbert and these remarks by Tim Wirth, the U.N. Foundation president and former U.S. senator quoted in the epigraph above.

About the Copenhagen Accord signed in 2009, Elizabeth Kolbert wrote:

Two years ago, at a meeting in Copenhagen, world leaders agreed on the goal of limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius, or roughly three and a half degrees Fahrenheit. The so-called Copenhagen Accord, which Barack Obama personally helped negotiate, contained no mechanism for meeting this goal, so even though the President called it a “meaningful and unprecedented breakthrough,” many others questioned whether it was worth the proverbial paper it was printed on. Unfortunately, it now seems, the many others had a point.

And, in a bitter denunciation of the Copenhagen cave-in quoted in this blog at the time, climate change writer George Monbiot fumed (“Copenhagen Negotiators Bicker and Filibuster While the Biosphere Burns,” The Guardian):

First they put the planet in square brackets, now they have deleted it from the text. At the end it was no longer about saving the biosphere: it was just a matter of saving face. As the talks melted down, everything that might have made a new treaty worthwhile was scratched out. Any deal would do, as long as the negotiators could pretend they have achieved something.

*

For More Hot Reading . . .

Obama’s Climate Betrayal” (Elizabeth Kolbert, New Yorker, Dec. 30, 2011)

Top 10 Signs We Are Living in a Warming World, 2011 Edition” (Elizabeth Kolbert, New Yorker, Dec. 12, 2011)

Two Degrees of Disaster” (Elizabeth Kolbert, New Yorker, Nov. 11, 2011)

Copenhagen Climate Summit: Five Possible Scenarios for Our Future Climate (Guardian, Dec. 18, 2009). With talks in Copenhagen descending into chaos, the prospects for stabilising temperatures ‘dangerous’ levels look increasingly slim. Here are five possible scenarios for our future climate.

Science Museum Unveils Climate Change Map Showing Impact of 4C Rise (Guardian, October 22, 2009). A new map of the world that details the likely effects of a failure to cut carbons emissions has been developed by Met Office scientists.

International Energy Agency, World Energy Outlook 2011

And read these writers’ excellent, fact-based environmental reporting: Fiona Harvey (Guardian), Elizabeth Kolbert (New Yorker), and George Monbiot (Guardian).

United Nations Climate Change Conference web site

Text of 12-paragraph Copenhagen Accord

Dot.Earth (Andrew C. Revkin’s climate change blog @ NYT)

Global Climate Network

Grist.org

More Levees Not War Coverage of Climate Change

Copenhagen Climate Accord Better Than Nothing (Sound Familiar?)

Polar-Palooza and the Singing Glaciologist

Penguins Are Melting

Swiftly Melting Planet 2007

Diagnosis of a Stressed-Out Planet

*

 Top photo by Hipgnosis for Pink Floyd, 1977. Bottom photo courtesy of Salon.com.



“There Is a Creative Force in This Universe”

Monday, January 16th, 2012

The Poor People’s Campaign, 40 Years before Occupy Wall Street

“Oh America, how often have you taken necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes. . . . God never intended for one group of people to live in superfluous inordinate wealth, while others live in abject deadening poverty.” —from an imaginary letter from St. Paul to American Christians in a 1956 sermon by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

*

In a time of resurgent, emboldened racism and a deliberate, legislated taking away of voting rights in states all across the land; in this time of meanness and hostility toward the poor and the “differently colored” from political candidates (mostly white and privileged); in these days of cowardice by public officials and those in a position to defend the weak, the poor, and the marginalized; and, more hopefully, in these days of a people’s movement toward economic fairness through Occupy Wall Street and other activism, we take some comfort and courage from the words and the actions of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Especially relevant today is his work on the Poor People’s Campaign.

We focus today on Rev. King’s remarks in the speech “Where Do We Go from Here?”, his last address as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to its members, in Atlanta, on August 16, 1967. The ideas of social and economic justice expressed in this address underlay his and the SCLC’s Poor People’s Campaign, on which Rev. King was working when he was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis. At the time of his death he was lending support to the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike. Selections from “Where Do We Go from Here?” follow. (See also King’s book Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?)

Where Do We Go from Here?

What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love. And this is what we must see as we move on. . . .

We must develop a program that will drive the nation to a guaranteed annual income. . . . Now we realize that dislocations in the market operations of our economy and the prevalence of discrimination thrust people into idleness and bind them in constant or frequent unemployment against their will. . . .

. . . our emphasis must be twofold. We must create full employment or we must create incomes. People must be made consumers by one method or the other. Once they are placed in this position we need to be concerned that the potential of the individual is not wasted. New forms of work that enhance the social good will have to be devised for those for whom traditional jobs are not available. In 1879 Henry George anticipated this state of affairs when he wrote in Progress and Poverty:

The fact is that the work which improves the condition of mankind, the work which extends knowledge and increases power and enriches literature and elevates thought, is not done to secure a living. It is not the work of slaves driven to their tasks either bay the task, by the taskmaster, or by animal necessity. It is the work of men who somehow find a form of work that brings a security for its own sake and a state of society where want is abolished. 

 

Work of this sort could be enormously increased, and we are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished. . . .

. . . Now our country can do this. John Kenneth Galbraith said that a guaranteed annual income could be done for about twenty billion dollars a year. And I say to you today, that if our nation can spend thirty-five billion dollars a year to fight an unjust, evil war in Vietnam, and twenty billion dollars to put a man on the moon, it can spend billions of dollars to put God’s children on their own two feet right here on earth. . . .

. . . as we talk about “Where do we go from here,” . . . the movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society. There are forty million poor people here. And one day we must ask the question, “Why are there forty million poor people in America?” And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. . . . We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life’s marketplace. But one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. . . .

When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrow. Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.

*

Click here for a slide show of the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike and the immediate aftermath of King’s assassination.

King’s Last March by American Radio Works. See also ARW’s special features Beyond Vietnam; New Front in the Fight for Freedom; The FBI’s War on King; and From the Pulpit to the Heart

Read “Dr. Martin Luther King’s Economics: Through Jobs, Freedom” by Mark Engler in The Nation

And see the fine American Experience (PBS) documentary “Freedom Riders,” available through Netflix.

*

The excepts above (except the epigraph) were transcribed from Martin Luther King Jr., I Have a Dream: Writings and Speeches That Changed the World (1986, 1992), with a foreword by Coretta Scott King, pp. 172–79. ¶ Top photograph by Dan Weiner: Martin Luther King, Jr., Montgomery, Alabama, 1956. Middle photo by Horace Cort for Associated Press.

Below: Memphis, 1968: National Guardsmen block the entrance to Beale Street in Memphis. Two days after the March 28 demonstration that King had led in support of striking sanitation workers turned violent, people continued to protest in Memphis (Mississippi Valley Collection).

 

 



How the World Has—and Has Not—Changed in 50 Years

Friday, January 6th, 2012

*

Portraits of Courage, Struggle, and Defiance

This is the mug shot of Joan Trumpauer, a 19-year-old Duke University student and SNCC member who was arrested by the Jackson, Mississippi, police with eight other activists as they arrived on a train from New Orleans to participate in Freedom Rides in early June 1961. Joan Trumpauer had already participated in lunch counter sit-ins in Greensboro, N.C. (She is the student having sugar poured on her head in this iconic image.) The photos above and several dozen other powerful images from 1961, mostly by American news photographers, are part of an impressive collection posted by The Atlantic Monthly. See more below. (H/T to A Continuous Lean.) Some of the viewers’ comments on the photos are instructive; others, particularly about civil rights, are disturbing, depressing.

The caption to Miss (not yet Ms.) Trumpauer’s mug shot explains:

A Jackson Police Department file booking photograph of Freedom Rider Joan Trumpauer provided by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, taken on June 8, 1961. 19-year-old Duke University student and part-time secretary in the Washington office of Senator Clair Engle of California, Trumpauer arrived in Jackson, Mississippi to take part in the June 4, 1961 Mississippi Freedom Ride. She and eight others were promptly arrested and refused bail. Trumpauer served three months in jail, later enrolling in traditionally black Tougaloo college, which had just started accepting white students. 

In a column worth reading in full, “Toward a Manifested Courage,” Ta-Nehisi Coates, a senior editor for The Atlantic, quotes a prison superintendent’s reply to Trumpauer’s mother (a native of Georgia whom Joan later described as “an unrepentant segregationist”):

Your daughter is receiving plenty of food, has been provided with a toothbrush, tooth paste, and whatever else she actually needs. 

I notice that you state that as a mother of a minor that you want to be notified in the case of any emergency. What I can not understand is why as a mother you permitted a minor white girl to gang up with a bunch of negro bucks and white hoodlums to ramble over this country with the express purpose of violating the laws of certain states and attempting to incite acts of violence.

The Trumpauer photograph appears among many other portraits in Breach of Peace: Portraits of the 1961 Mississippi Freedom Riders by Eric Etheridge. Click here to see more images. And see the gripping American Experience (PBS) documentary “Freedom Riders,” available through Netflix.

We detail the Joan Trumpauer experience at some length here out of admiration of her (awe-) inspiring personal courage (“Now if whites were going to riot when black students were going to white schools, what were they going to do if a white student went to a black school?”) and as a prelude to, an early honoring of, Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Monday, Jan. 16).

Now, some selections from the Atlantic photo feature “50 Years Ago: The World in 1961.”

*

George Lincoln Rockwell, center, self-styled leader of the American Nazi Party, and his “hate bus” with several young men wearing swastika arm bands, stops for gas in Montgomery, Alabama, on May 23, 1961, en route to Mobile, Alabama. (AP Photo)

A policeman orders his dog to attack a man who was too slow in obeying his order to move away from in front of police court, shortly before nine African-American college students went on trial for sitting-in at a (white) public city library, on March 29, 1961, in Jackson, Mississippi. (AP Photo/Jackson Clarion-Ledger)

 

 A Freedom Rider bus goes up in flames after a firebomb was tossed through a window near Anniston, Alabama, in May of 1961. (AP Photo)

*



As We Enter 2012, Best Wishes to All

Sunday, January 1st, 2012

May the new year bring you all the good things you wish for.

We’ll be brief with our greetings and good wishes, as last night’s champagne slowly wears off, and as there’s some house-cleaning to do before guests arrive for the New Year’s Day dinner . . .

For all our readers here in the “upper blogosphere” and for everyone beyond, we wish a year of good health to all, steady employment, rewarding work, and, while we’re at it, good luck and bon courage in putting the “progress” in “progressive.”

State. We wish for a calm, boring hurricane season for New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, steady recovery from the wicked hellacious storms of yesteryear, and strong, robust flood protection and generous funding for coastal restoration of the eroding Louisiana coast. We also pray for no BP-style oil spills in the Gulf—or any other kind. 2010’s Deepwater Horizon disaster was enough to last for quite a while, thank you. Let those who are still recovering from that catastrophe find abundant catches of healthy seafood in clean waters, and may those still making their way back home to New Orleans and environs find affordable housing in safe neighborhoods and steady employment.

Nation. The United States has its own peculiar, festering, largely neglected problems amid the stresses of the world. During this 2012 presidential campaign season, which had already overstayed its welcome long ago, we hope that the ideas and priorities generated by the Occupy Wall Street movement will take even stronger hold on the public imagination and find their way into debates, policy, and actual programs. May the good ideas be fulfilled. Let’s keep reminding public officials and reporters and editors that there is a terrible and increasing wealth disparity in this nation, an endangered middle class, and an even more threatened (and growing) population of struggling poor people: our brothers and sisters. We are not holding our breath waiting for Congressional action—we expect nothing but continuing obstruction from one party and particular, and the other party ain’t much better but for a few individual exceptions—but we do detect energy and ideas in the Occupy people across the U.S. and around the world. Good work; keep it going, please. Long live the 99 Percent!

World. Among our wishes for world peace and goodwill among peoples, we wish the citizens and the economies of Europe in particular good luck in finding workable solutions to their ongoing crises, and we wish for renewed energy for all nations’ reformers and progressives. As 2011 was not a good year for despots and dictators, let 2012 be a good year for fair and honest leaders. Looking around the globe, we hope the activists of the Arab Spring will succeed in making a better life for themselves—not forgetting their women—and we pray that cool, sane heads will prevail (this is possible) in Iran and in its foreign relations; good luck to the Green Revolution reformers in that troubled land.

Here at Levees Not War we’ll work hard to bring you, as regularly and steadily as we can, reporting and commentary that is based in reality and in hopes for stronger, durable infrastructure, a healthier and better-sustained environment, and more peace, less war. (Click herehere, and here for New Year’s greetings from previous January 1’s.)

We hope you enjoy this new year, and hope it brings you all the good things you wish for.

Well, we meant to be brief. And now, there’s some more house-cleaning to do . . .

*