by Nina Kahori Fallenbaum.
Recipe: South Vietnamese Bitter Melon
This is the kind of dish we have only at home, never in restaurants: Mix shrimp paste, sugar, red pepper and lots of lime juice into a sauce. Shave raw bitter melon very thinly. Dip in sauce and eat over rice.
-- Jennifer Vu, New Orleans native
The uncertainty in the seafood industry goes beyond those who work the ocean. Many Asian Americans have capitalized on New Orleans' food-loving culture, infusing their own flavor into a plethora of boiled-crab takeout joints, seafood po'boy shops and other small restaurants (one popular New Orleans Japanese restaurant serves edamame with chili sauce).
Beau Nguyen and his wife, Laura, operate Singleton's Mini-Mart, a convenience store with a small lunch counter, in the Uptown neighborhood of New Orleans. Their shrimp po'boy is a hulking mass of fried seafood on a French bread roll, best washed down with a cold beer or iced tea.
Since the oil spill, the couple has seen fewer customers and higher seafood prices; oysters were off the menu for almost a year after the sensitive bivalves and their nesting beds reacted to the spill. The couple struggled to convince customers that their food was safe. To recoup their losses, they added a new Vietnamese weekend menu: grilled pork with rice noodles and pho advertised as a "Hangover Remedy" for nearby Loyola and Tulane students. The new menu is popular, but it's much more work to produce two entirely different menus.
Beau and Laura's success can be attributed not just to their food but also to the relationships they have built in their multiracial neighborhood. Beau stayed in the shop through the terrors of Katrina, and customers still talk about the food he gave to neighbors and the big pig he barbecued in his parking lot after that hurricane. Although Uptown is considered a wealthier neighborhood, the specter of poverty is never far in New Orleans. I saw a range of characters wander in and out of Singleton's, ranging from the just-down-on-their-luck to the indigent. All got a kind word from Laura and sometimes a snack to get them through the day.
Very early on Saturday mornings, a strip mall parking lot in New Orleans East, about 20 minutes outside of the city center, transforms into a bustling morning market. Browsing the stalls are local African American, African, Mexican, and South Asian families who think nothing of cruising a parking lot at 5 a.m. to get the best produce. For them, "fresh and local" aren't gourmet marketing terms. They simply define what the highest quality and cheapest food is.
Parking spaces overflow with huge bundles of basil, bags of mung bean sprouts, chayote (or mirlitons as they are called in New Orleans), cucumber, persimmons, green onions, bitter melon, steamed buns, chicken over noodles, and sweet sticky coconut rice just packed that morning. There's a man with eggs, and the chickens who laid them. And fish, of course -- so many fish.
New Orleans East is the Vietnamese community's historical and cultural heart. This is where refugee families were hastily settled after the war, in a public housing complex called the Versailles Arms Apartments. Those apartments are now boarded up, as families have been able to buy homes, move into town or join relatives in other parts of the country. The area is now roughly 33 percent Asian American and 50 percent African American, with a 26 percent poverty rate. Many Vietnamese still live nearby and return regularly: The Catholic church and Buddhist temple, the popular Dong Phuong Bakery, and ethnic markets are all there.
Food -- and access to nutritious food like the kind sold at the Saturday market -- has always been a priority for the area's residents, many of whom lived in multiple refugee camps before settling in the American South. Leo S. Chiang's 2009 film, A Village Called Versailles, depicted this area's residents finding their political voice when a post-Katrina landfill threatened to pollute the kitchen gardens where they grew their food. Food security, defined by the World Health Organization as "access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life," is paramount for residents; that definition also includes access to familiar Asian foods, freshly grown and free of pollutants.
The BP oil spill highlighted the necessity of this local market, and Versailles-area residents are ramping up food production for both survival and income. Xuy En Pham and her husband, Joseph Mai, have attracted local notoriety for turning their entire yard into a miniature urban farm. Their house on East Lamont Street was so badly damaged by hurricanes Katrina and Rita that they bulldozed it, moved in with friends, and began to grow vegetables on the land. After the spill, they lost their jobs shucking oysters for Captain John's Seafood, a local restaurant and seafood wholesaler. At that point, their hobby became a full-time pursuit with the urgency of finding a job and having something to eat.
Their skill is evident: long, neat rows of kohlrabi, mustard greens, onion, cucumber, and squash. Mai built intricate trellises from discarded boards and plastic twine, strong enough to support heavy gourds and squashes. They eat about 70 percent of the vegetables they grow and sell the rest at the morning market where they make around $30 to $40 a week.
While they received some relief payments from BP, those ended in December 2010. From then until the hot day I visited six months later, nothing. "We need help for living expenses," Pham said through a translator. "We need help from BP to live." The 63-year-old mother of 10 never stops working as we talk, her smooth skin and wide smile protected by handkerchiefs and a canvas hat.
Mai and Pham may never be able to reclaim what's owed to them by oil companies or the government, but at least they know where their next meal will come from. It will come from their hands, their friends, and the strained land they have coaxed back into productivity.
This Vietnamese grandmother's survivalist approach to rebuilding has inspired other local food- and agriculture-based development projects. Mary Queen of Vietnam Community Development Corporation, an economic development group affiliated with Mary Queen of Vietnam church, is planning an urban farm and land-based aquaculture fishing project for the community that would provide jobs and subsistence food for former fishermen as well as those returning from other parts of the United States after evacuating the area post-Katrina.
And people are returning. According to a Tulane University study, Vietnamese New Orleanians had one of the highest rates of return after Hurricane Katrina among all ethnic groups. Despite the setbacks, something holds Vietnamese Americans here and gives them hope for the future. It might be something in the food.
Recipe: Coming Home Chicken Soup (Chao)
Chao is just rice cooked with a lot of water. I call it swill. You can do many different flavors, but the most common is chicken.
Boil a chicken with onion, and take out the chicken. Separate the meat from the bone, and drop the carcass back into the juice. Keep on simmering, boiling it, and just when you're almost ready to eat, drop a handful of rice into the pot. Not too much. After about half an hour, it should be ready. In the meantime, break the chicken down into smaller pieces. Before you serve, you can put all the chicken meat back in or keep it separate and let people put their own in as they eat. Normally you would add green onions, chopped cilantro, and a little bit of black pepper. If it's not salty enough, add a little fish sauce. That's it. It's good for sharing.
-- The Rev. Vien Nguyen, who often serves this to guests and family members returning from long trips.
This OnEarth story was written by Bruce Barcott.
In a creaky wood-floor office overlooking San Francisco Bay, the documentary filmmaker Mark Kitchell removes his glasses, runs his hand through his hair, and glares at a computer screen filled with thumbnail images of film clips. Kitchell, 59, is in the throes of a dilemma. He's spent the past 10 years making A Fierce Green Fire, an epic documentary about the 50-year evolution of the modern environmental movement. He has two hours and 12 minutes in the can. And it's good. "The material is vast, and it's an incredibly dynamic film," says Cara Mertes, head of the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program, who has seen a rough cut. "It's shaping up to be the documentary of record on the environmental movement. I think it'll be hugely successful." So Kitchell has buzz. What he doesn't have is an ending. On this beautiful spring day, with a breeze blowing in from the bay, Kitchell is forced to confront his film's ultimate question: What does the environmental movement mean?
He looks over columns of index cards tacked to the wall. Each represents an interview, a quote, a moment, culled from hundreds of hours of film.
"Let's try that Paul Hawken clip one more time," he tells his film editor. "It's 8:12 into the interview."
As the editor cues it up, Kitchell turns to me and recalls a recent moment at Hot Docs, an annual documentary film festival in Toronto. During a pitch session where filmmakers present works in progress to prospective buyers and distributors, Kitchell spoke and screened a three-minute trailer. "A guy from the BBC stood up and said, 'So, what is the moral of the story? The images in the film are uplifting, but your words are pessimistic. Which is it?'"
Kitchell smiles wanly. "That's the rub, right? Which is it?"
Hawken appears on the computer screen. The author of Natural Capitalism talks about environmentalism as a leaderless movement. "Nobody invented it," he says. "Nobody created it. Nobody's in charge."
Kitchell halts the clip. "Do we cut it here or let him play out the metaphor?" he asks. Silence fills the room. "We've got to have the lightest touch. Short and sweet. It is the end of the film!"
Kitchell likes the Hawken clip but he's not yet sold. He paces. He consults the index cards again. He turns to me. "I think the world is still waiting for the environmental movement's defining film, a movie that brings the pieces together into a big picture and delivers the meaning of environmentalism," he says. "It's got to be done in an intelligent, compelling way. No pounding people over the head. The brass ring is there for us to grab, and I think we're going to grab it."
He takes a deep breath and returns his attention to the screen. "All right," he tells the editor. "Let's bring up that Carl Pope bit ... "
I first came across Kitchell's film in April, when he sent me a fundraising email. He was trying to gin up a few bucks through Kickstarter, a website where entrepreneurs of all sorts can appeal to the masses to crowd-fund their projects. The director's name jumped out at me. Kitchell's previous documentary, Berkeley in the Sixties, chronicled the stirrings of student activism at the University of California, from early sit-ins to the battle over People's Park. Released in 1990, the film became a defining document of the '60s. Berkeley was nominated for an Oscar and won the National Society of Film Critics award for best documentary.
I'd always wondered what Kitchell had done after Berkeley. The idea of creating a film history of the environmental movement struck me as audacious and, frankly, financially insane. Intrigued, I called him up.
"We're just about done," he told me. "I'm figuring out how to open and close the film. You're welcome to come watch us work."
I hopped a plane to San Francisco and found him in his office, which is in a former military hospital in the Presidio that's been converted into a warren for local nonprofit groups. Kitchell is a laid-back Californian, melancholy and mellow. He keeps a lot of art on the walls. One arresting piece looks like a whirlpool of trash. "It's based on the Pacific garbage gyre," he told me. "Oceans. One of the many strands I had to leave out of the film."
Before we talked further, he sat me down with a rough cut and a pair of headphones. "I'll be anxious to see what you think," he said. "See you in two hours."
A Fierce Green Fire unfolds in five acts, each following a strand of the modern environmental movement. There's David Brower and the Sierra Club fighting to keep dams out of the Grand Canyon in the '60s. The Love Canal saga of the '70s explores the ravages of industrial pollution. Greenpeace's "Save the Whales" campaign marks the beginnings of direct-action activism. Chico Mendes and the Amazon rainforest story exemplify the globalization of the movement. And, finally, there's climate change, embodied by catastrophes both physical (Hurricane Katrina) and political (America's 20 years of inaction). Five acts to capture the entire half-century of modern environmentalism. It's an epic work of history. At the film's heart are the three middle acts -- Love Canal, Greenpeace, and Chico Mendes -- stories of unlikely heroes who risked their lives (and in Mendes' case, lost it) to stop profit-driven destruction. We're so far from Love Canal today that it's nothing short of shocking to relive the story -- the water poisoning and birth defects caused by routine toxic dumping, the uncaring government officials, the radical action taken by housewives. As Kitchell later remarked, "These women took EPA officials as hostages! Can you imagine?"
The film left me emotionally drained and profoundly hopeful. I've read a lot of environmental histories -- Ted Steinberg's Down to Earth and Philip Shabecoff's A Fierce Green Fire are among the best -- but none has the power of film. None leaves you with images of early Greenpeace leaders Paul Watson, Bob Hunter, and Rex Weyler putting their bodies between a sperm whale and a Soviet whaling ship firing exploding harpoons.
"I came home from the Oscars in 1991 with a year-and-a-half-old daughter and my wife about to give birth to number two," Kitchell told me over a lunch of vegetables from the common-area fridge. The success of Berkeley was gratifying but not world-changing. To make rent, he directed TV shows and short documentaries. While scouting for his next big project he kept returning to the idea that had captivated him in Berkeley: people forcing change. In 2001, he said, he found his subject -- the history of the environmental movement.
Kitchell is obsessed with movement, whether it's kinetic energy on screen, political movements in the world, action forcing change. Berkeley in the Sixties opens with a rollicking scene of cops hauling student protesters down a flight of stairs -- bumpety-bumpety-bump -- over a soundtrack of Little Richard's "Keep a-Knockin'." It was Kitchell's way of telling viewers this would be no sleepy documentary.
"That's what attracted me to environmentalism -- the movement," Kitchell told me. "I read every environmental history I could get my hands on. They all started with 150 pages of prologue: Thoreau, George Perkins Marsh, John Muir." He mimicked a man falling asleep. "I decided I wasn't gonna do 'em. I wanted a film about the environmental movement, the story of people fighting for change. And that really kicked off in the '60s, with David Brower fighting dams in the Grand Canyon."
Making a low-budget historical documentary means finding archival footage on the cheap. Kitchell spent years poring over previous documentaries, TV station archives, private home movies, searching any closet that might contain crumbling celluloid or videotape. There were some unpleasant surprises. In the decade since he shot Berkeley in the Sixties, the corporations that own local TV stations realized that their old images could be milked for money. "In the mid-'80s, I bought rights to the entire news archives of three San Francisco stations for a dollar each," Kitchell told me. "By 2001, when I went looking for Love Canal footage, TV stations in Buffalo were demanding $60 per second."
The project eventually grew into a six-part series. "There were so many great stories," Kitchell said. "The snail darter and Tellico Dam. The stopping of New York City's Westway freeway. Even NRDC's story, evolving from an environmental law firm to this concatenation of expertise and global organization."
Then in 2003 he traveled to Cambridge, Mass., to see the biologist Edward O. Wilson. Wilson, who has written both dense scientific treatises and more breezy best sellers, gave Kitchell some advice. He could make a comprehensive reference work seen by few or a movie seen by many. But he couldn't do both.
"The audience does not want six hours, Mark," Wilson told him. "They will stop watching. They will walk out on you."
"He was right," Kitchell told me. "There are hundreds of great documentaries out there that get seen by no one." When he got home, Kitchell killed everything except the five most gripping segments. Gone was Westway. Gone was NRDC -- "I interviewed [NRDC founder] John Adams for four hours," he recalled, "and had to lose all but a few quotes."
Modern documentary films can be neatly parted into two epochs: before Michael Moore and after. The Before Moore period was marked by gritty cinema vérité classics such as Frederick Wiseman's Titicut Follies, Albert and David Maysles' Grey Gardens, and Barbara Kopple's Harlan County, U.S.A. -- brilliant, highly regarded films seen by small audiences in art-house cinemas.
Then came 2002 and Bowling for Columbine. "Michael Moore blew the top off what a documentary could do at the box office," says Ward Serrill, whose movie about a high school girls' basketball team, The Heart of the Game, was a minor hit in 2006. "Bowling for Columbine made more than $20 million, and distributors all over the country said, 'Whoa! Documentaries can make money!'"
Other factors came into play. Netflix made obscure documentaries available to the masses thanks to Ted Sarandos, the company's chief content officer and a big documentary fan. And reality TV introduced new viewers to nonfiction. "Reality television helped change the audience's attitude," says Ruth Hayler, a Seattle-based film buyer for the Landmark Theatres chain. "They realized nonfiction didn't have to be dry and boring."
"I'm wary of message-oriented films," says Andrew Herwitz, president of the Film Sales Company, a New York-based distributor that handled foreign rights for Fahrenheit 9/11, the top box-office documentary of all time (it grossed $119 million domestically), as well as the Oscar-winning Born Into Brothels. "There's still a tendency for people to feel they're medicinal." But environmental films can make money. Davis Guggenheim's An Inconvenient Truth brought in $24 million, the sixth-biggest box-office haul among documentaries. Eight of the top 10, in fact, are either politically charged (such as Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, Sicko, and Bowling for Columbine) or related to the natural world (Earth, African Cats, and March of the Penguins, the No. 2 documentary of all time with a $77 million gross).
"I don't know that environmental subject matter works for or against a film," says Cara Mertes, whose documentary film program, which offers support to 50 documentaries every year, is an arm of the Sundance Institute. Two years ago A Fierce Green Fire was picked from among more than 2,000 applicants for Sundance backing. One advantage for Kitchell, she says, is the existence of "a long list of environmental stakeholder groups and their allies" that could provide a core audience.
Those groups may be interested in seeing the film. But that doesn't mean they're eager to fund it.
There are a handful of documentary filmmakers, like Moore, who can walk into a room and line up $1 million with nothing but their name and a good pitch. For filmmakers like Kitchell, though, fundraising is a constant struggle. In 2004, despite the new popularity of documentaries, A Fierce Green Fire ran out of money. So Kitchell had to teach filmmaking at the University of California at Santa Cruz and work as a location scout for film and television. By 2008, he'd scraped together enough cash to restart the film.
"I had enough to pay two editors," he said. "The bad economy meant we could get a couple of great interns." But he still needed to shoot the final act, about climate change. That's when he found his angels. Patricia Matthews, a documentary producer, was a big fan of Berkeley in the Sixties. She asked her husband, Edwin, to watch a rough cut of A Fierce Green Fire. Edwin Matthews founded Friends of the Earth International and now runs the private Gould Family Foundation. He liked what he saw, and persuaded the foundation to give Kitchell $100,000 in grants to help finish the project.
With a five-act rough cut, Kitchell landed more funding from the Sundance Institute Documentary Fund. Then he went after bigger game.
In the past few years a pitching circuit has developed for documentary filmmakers. These confabs happen a few times a year in cities like New York, Los Angeles, Amsterdam, Toronto, and Berlin. Producers and distributors sit and listen as dozens of filmmakers pitch their works in progress. It's speed dating for filmmakers.
In May 2011, Kitchell pitched A Fierce Green Fire to a roomful of international buyers at Toronto's Hot Docs film festival. "It's like being the prime minister during question time in Parliament," Kitchell told me. "You show three minutes of the film, then talk another three, then nine minutes of questions. Fifteen minutes, time's up!"
Nick Quested, executive director of Goldcrest Films, was intrigued. His London-based company has financed or distributed a slew of award-winning films, including Gandhi, Chariots of Fire, and Local Hero. Restrepo, the Academy Award-nominated documentary, was finished at Goldcrest's postproduction studios.
Quested sidled up to Bruni Burres, a consultant for the Sundance documentary film program who had introduced Kitchell onstage. "I can put up the money to finish that film," he told her.
Kitchell tracked down Quested the next day. "We bonded over our shared love of Marjoe," a 1972 documentary about a child preacher on the revival circuit, Kitchell recalled.
What's it going to take to finish A Fierce Green Fire, Quested asked, and Kitchell laid out his completion costs. Twenty thousand for graphics. Ten each for music and narration. Twenty for audio design and mixing. Thirty to dig up and remaster archival footage, and 50 for the rights to footage that didn't qualify as "fair use." (Copyright law allows filmmakers to use bits of copyrighted film without permission as long as they're part of a social, political, cultural, or historical critique.) Thirty for staff, travel, and overhead. Another 30 for the online edit.
Bottom line: With $200,000, Kitchell could have A Fierce Green Fire ready in time for submission to the January 2012 Sundance Film Festival. He and Quested shook hands. They didn't have a deal, but they had a deal to work out a deal.
I continued to follow Kitchell's progress over the next few months. When I spoke with him in August, his lawyer was talking with the lawyers at Goldcrest. "They're going over the fine details," he told me. "My fate may get decided as I sit here."
Goldcrest's distribution strategy was turning into a point of dispute. "I'm insisting on right of approval on that," Kitchell said with a sigh. "It's the whole rolling-out of the film. It's the biggest part of filmmaking that some people don't pay attention to, to their detriment. I learned that on Berkeley in the Sixties. There are two ways to open a film. You can open on one weekend in 40 cities nationwide, and it flies or dies. That won't work with this film. It's better to go city to city, cross-promote with local environmental groups, get publicity from local papers and radio stations."
Six weeks later Kitchell called with bad news. "Well, the Goldcrest deal fell through yesterday," he said.
"The main sticking point was my right of approval over distribution," he told me. "But I think the bigger unspoken reason was money." Kitchell had asked for half of the necessary $200,000 in cash, and half in in-kind postproduction services -- in other words, the use of their equipment. "The deal just got too big for their comfort on the cash front."
I asked where he went from here. He told me he already had interest from other quarters. A Fierce Green Fire was being considered by the Independent Television Service, which broadcasts documentaries on PBS. And a Bay Area film distributor had contacted him after seeing a rough cut of the film. "He's got a studio capable of doing the final picture edit," Kitchell said, "and we're talking about ways to parcel out the other pieces among people in the business willing to do us favors."
"So I've got Plan A, B, and C," he said. Plan A required another angel to front $200,000 cash. Plan B could be done on $70,000 and a lot of in-kind contributions from friends and colleagues. Plan C would use $15,000 to take the film as far as Kitchell could on Final Cut Pro editing software and show that version at Sundance, which could lure a buyer. "I'm due to submit to Sundance in 10 days," he told me. So ... for now, it's Plan C. "If they decide to take the film, the race is on to get it done in time for a January premiere."
The good news, Kitchell said, was that he'd found the film's closing. "That question from the producer at Hot Docs stayed with me all summer," he told me. "What's the moral of the fable? What's the meaning of environmentalism?"
"How did you answer it?" I asked.
"I got it down to about 45 seconds of narration at the end," he said, "but it didn't have the gravitas and brilliance that I'd hoped for. So we cut it. But that's okay. Because then I can turn it over to Paul Hawken, and he leaves us with the idea that everybody's always declaring the environmental movement dead and gone. But it's not, because it's not even a movement, in the traditional sense." He played the clip for me. Hawken describes environmentalism as humanity's immune response to the industrial despoliation of the planet. It's an intriguing idea: thousands upon thousands of grassroots groups, causes, and movements acting like so many white blood cells all over the globe.
Kitchell paused for a second.
"It's always the toughest trick on these films," he said. "How do you finish them?"
He hung up the phone and returned to the task of doing it.
A Fierce Green Fire will screen at Sundance on Jan. 23.
by Tony Davis.
As international leaders trek home from Durban, South Africa, after a week of plotting the world's response to global warming, the debate rages here at home -- over whether Americans even care.
The New York Times ran a story in October headlined, "Where did global warming go?" that cited polls suggesting that Americans had lost interest in climate change, or just didn't believe in it. Climate activists have blamed the declines in some surveys on flawed questions. But polls by Gallup and PEW have shown similar recent declines. And one of the leading thinkers on the matter, Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, says the numbers are not just an aberration.
In the fall of 2008, Leiserowitz conducted a poll gauging Americans' thoughts on the matter. Seventy-one percent of respondents said they believed global warming was happening, while 57 percent said humans were causing it. Fast forward two years, and only 57 percent of respondents to Leiserowitz's poll believed global warming was real, while just 47 percent blamed humans.
There was no smoke and mirrors. Leiserowitz asked the same, straightforward questions both times: Do you believe global warming is happening? Do you think it is caused by humans, by natural environmental changes, or something else?
It's not just Tea Partiers who doubt the severity -- or existence -- of the problem. In a third poll conducted this May, Leiserowitz and three other researchers found that only 36 percent of independent voters -- the ones who swing most national elections -- thought global warming should be a high or very high priority for the president and Congress. Only 43 percent of independents said they thought global warming is caused mostly by human activities, compared to 62 percent of Democrats and 36 percent of Republicans.
Why can't Americans seem to get their heads around climate change? While the recession, the Tea Party, a lack of media coverage, and other forces have taken a bite out of public support for the issue recently, the problem has its roots in human nature, researchers say.
Columbia psychology professor Elke Weber was among the early researchers to look at why the seriousness of climate change was not getting through to the American public. She and her fellow scholars have pointed out that climate change is intrinsically challenging to understand: Its main causes are invisible, its impacts are distant and far off for most Americans, and its signals are often hard to detect.
Even those who understand the problem may have a hard time reacting to it, however. In her 2006 paper, "Why global warming does not scare us (yet)," published in the journal Climate Change, Weber wrote that fear is often the driving force causing people to try to extricate themselves from dangerous or risky situations. But statistics make lousy scare tactics. Peoples' reactions to a risky situation often have little relationship to the statistical likelihood of the risk becoming reality or the magnitude of the catastrophe that could befall them.
People are much more likely to react to personal experience than to numbers, Weber wrote, and climate change hasn't smacked Americans in their guts enough to prod them into action. If she is right, we're the proverbial frog in a pot: As long as the water warms at rates that are not easily perceptible, we'll be frog soup before we realize it's too late.
Leiserowitz, in a previous job as a research scientist in Oregon, found in a 2005 study that many Americans are convinced that climate change is warming someone else's pot altogether. In his national survey of 673 U.S. adults, published in the journal Risk Analysis, 68 percent of respondents were most concerned about global impacts such as declining living standards, water shortages, and damage to nature. They rated local impacts "as somewhat unlikely," with only 13 percent most concerned about those. Of 24 categories of images associated with global warming, people responded most heavily to melting glaciers and polar ice.
In other words, he found that most people think "It's the polar bear's problem, not mine -- and as long as it's not my problem, I frankly have more pressing things to worry about."
Kenneth Broad, director of the University of Miami's Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy, and his fellow researchers have found that an increasing number of Floridians believe that global warming is happening now or will happen in the next decade -- but that most of them think the problem will happen somewhere else.
"Miami is the only city in the developed world that is on the ‘top 10 most vulnerable' list of cities for rising sea levels," Broad said. "But Floridians still associate [climate change] with melting ice -- It gets two or three degrees hotter here, big deal."
In fact, two or three degrees would be a huge deal. Experts project sea levels in Florida will rise by three to five feet by 2100. With a two-foot rise, water would cover 28 percent of South Florida and wetlands would be lost as far from the coast as Homestead, about a 125-mile drive from Key West. Miami would become a barrier island.Some (including Grist's own climate hawk, David Roberts) say that in order to startle Americans out of their apathy about climate change, we need to ring the alarm bells even louder. Some scholars, however, warn that approach could backfire. In part 2 of this post, we'll discuss how they think it could be done differently.
by Ask Umbra.
Send your question to Umbra!
Q. Dear Umbra,
I strive to reduce/reuse/recycle, but as someone who is sensitive to chemicals, purchasing used clothing presents problems. Sometimes soaking the clothes in borax or vinegar, and washing as much as a dozen times (in less toxic, unscented detergent) fails to remove the ferocious stink of the previous owner's detergent and fabric softener. Any suggestions?
A. Dearest Rebecca,
Forgive me if I begin by gently stating the obvious: While your commitment to reducing your impact by buying used garments is admirable, especially as we learn more about the toxic effects of clothing production, you might want to avoid items with a detectable "ferocious stink." No graphic tee or wraparound skirt is worth the effort (and water usage) you describe, however fetching it might be -- and especially when your health is at stake.
That said, I know ferocious stink can sometimes sneak up on us. And it is troubling true that the "fragrance" in conventional detergents and fabric softeners is less reminiscent of the promised Misty Mountain and more akin to Musty Migraine. As always, I advise all my dearest readers to stay away from these products and seek alternatives.
Given that you've already purchased some stinky garments, Rebecca, what can you do to make them less offensively odorific? You mention white vinegar and borax, which are definitely go-to solutions. I hope you have also tried baking soda. Each of these common products can be used either for pre-soaking or right there in the rinse cycle of your wash, and are often all you need.
If they're not doing the trick, I've dug up a few other options. While I can't personally guarantee their performance, people seem to swear by them. Let's call them the Five S's of Solving Stink:Soak clothes overnight in water mixed with up to a quarter cup of milk, powdered milk, or salt.
One other thing to consider, Rebecca, is that the quality of your water or your washing machine could be affecting how your clothes come out. You might experiment by washing them with baking soda or vinegar in the machine of a friend or family member to see if the results are any better.
Of course, your concern goes beyond a simple distaste for stink -- this stuff can really make you sick. You are certainly not alone in facing this infuriating dilemma. I spoke with Alison Johnson of the Chemical Sensitivity Foundation, who says one study suggests that 7 million Americans have been diagnosed with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, a particularly cruel byproduct of our modern lives. Here are three thorough discussions of what laundry day really means for those with chemical sensitivities, which might provide solace, solutions, or both.
by Joseph Romm.
Cross-posted from Climate Progress.
We don't get to marry Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie. We're not going to be as successful as Oprah Winfrey or Steve Jobs.
So we generally grade ourselves on the basis of what we think was plausibly achievable, not what is theoretically possible.
On that basis, the Durban Agreement or Durban Platform (details here) was a pretty big success, committing the entire world -- not just rich countries -- to develop a roadmap for reductions, along with a serious Green Climate Fund. It's worth noting that the alternative was not a binding agreement to stabilize at 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) warming, but a complete collapse of the international negotiating process.
On the other hand, from the perspective of what is needed to avert catastrophic climate change, the agreement was, sadly, lacking. As noted earlier, Climate Action Tracker analyzed the impact of the frameworks agreed upon at COP 17:
The agreement in Durban to establish a new body to negotiate a global agreement (Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action) by 2015 represents a major step forward. The Climate Action Tracker scientists stated, however, that the agreement will not immediately affect the emissions outlook for 2020 and has postponed decisions on further emission reductions. They warned that catching up on this postponed action will be increasingly costly.
The Climate Action Tracker estimates that global mean warming would reach about 3.5 degrees C [6.3 degrees F] by 2100 with the current reduction proposals on the table. They are definitely insufficient to limit temperature increase to 2 degrees C. [Emphasis added.]
Recent science suggests that if you go substantially above the 2 degrees C target (450 parts per million of CO2 or ppm), it becomes increasingly hard to stop at some intermediate level of warming, like 3.5 degrees C (600 ppm) because of the carbon-cycle feedbacks. And you probably lose the Greenland ice sheet, albeit over a long time. And you likely turn large parts of the arable and inhabited land of the world -- including the U.S. Southwest -- into dust bowls, with devastating consequences for our ability to feed 9 billion people by mid-century.
And let's remember what the formerly staid International Energy Agency reported last month about delaying action until 2020:
Delaying action is a false economy: for every $1 of investment in cleaner technology that is avoided in the power sector before 2020, an additional $4.30 would need to be spent after 2020 to compensate for the increased emissions.
Of course, you can make the argument that no target-based deal was possible because the U.S. simply can't commit to one, primarily because of the fatal decision by U.S. conservatives to embrace climate science denial and demagogue all climate action. But that table scrap won't feed anybody in the year 2040.
That said, we needed to get China onboard an international climate regime to ever have a shot of getting a climate deal that would pass muster in the United States.
Here's what Center for American Progress Chair John Podesta and Senior Fellow Andrew Light (who was in Durban) had to say:
Podesta: "I want to congratulate Todd Stern, Special Envoy for Climate Change, and his team on a successful outcome at Durban and applaud the strong interagency process that the administration employed to shape this agreement. The Obama administration saw an excellent opportunity here to push China into an agreement to play by the same rules as everyone else and took it. China is in line to be the world's biggest cumulative emitter by mid-century and as early as 2035. From the perspective of solving this problem we cannot get to any workable resolution unless we can trust the reductions China takes and have a roadmap to get them to strengthen their ambition."
Light: "The Durban outcome succeeded in accomplishing many things, most importantly advancing the implementing document of the Green Climate Fund so that it will become a reality in the coming year. The new fund will anchor a global compact to advance mitigation and adaptation efforts in response to a warmer world. Equally important, it is designed to become the key instrument for mobilizing private capital to advance sustainable prosperity around the world. From the point of view of getting additional tons of carbon out of the global system during this decade the new roadmap will start a process but cannot result in an additional reduction of emissions until after 2020. In contrast, the Green Climate Fund, in conjunction with other instruments that resulted from last year's successful Cancun meeting, can soon begin working to advance projects around the world that could get additional emission reductions above and beyond those that countries have already pledged to do themselves. The U.S. Treasury Department and State Department deserve credit for engaging with the global community to produce an inspiring outcome."
I'm very interested in your thoughts on the agreement.
by Robert Lalasz.
Cross-posted from Cool Green Science.
You've probably heard about coral bleaching -- the mass die-off of coral reefs because of warming sea temperatures, a dynamic that can be attributed at least indirectly to climate change. It's a problem of growing concern to the hundreds of millions of people whose lives depend on reefs and the fish they shelter. But as ocean temps continue to rise, is there any hope for coral?
Science to the rescue! Researchers are learning tons about which kinds of coral species are either resistant to bleaching or bleach more quickly -- and using that data to figure out which reefs are going to be more resilient to climate change ... which will feed into where to focus protection efforts. As part of the work, marine scientists often need to do painstaking fish and coral surveys in beautiful but remote locations -- which is why The Nature Conservancy sent a science team led by Joanne Wilson and Sangeeta Mangubhai to spend two weeks in November in the Indonesian archipelago of Raja Ampat, known as the global center of marine biodiversity. I caught up with Wilson and Mangubhai -- barely dry from all their diving -- to get the skinny on what they found, including giant clams and an anchovy fish ball.
Q. You found less coral bleaching on this expedition than you'd thought you would. How significant is that finding? Should we be less worried about coral bleaching than we were before?
Joanne Wilson: Coral bleaching occurs when water temperatures are warmer than normal -- for example, during La Niña events like the one we experienced last year. The increasing frequency and intensity of these warming events is associated with climate change. Fortunately, during our expedition, water temperatures were within normal ranges, so corals on Misool reefs were not bleaching. But with bleaching events predicted to increase in the future, we are still vigilant and concerned about Raja Ampat's reefs.
Q. OK, so we're still concerned about bleaching -- but what can we really do about it?
JW: We can help build reef resilience. During the surveys we did find a few pale corals, indicating slight temperature stress. These corals belonged to a species that is very sensitive to temperature stress. Studying those corals will help us better understand the different responses of coral species to increased water temperatures. By combining this new knowledge with information on the distribution of coral species, we can predict with increased accuracy which reefs are likely to be more vulnerable to bleaching in the future -- which can in turn can guide reef resilience efforts.
Q. Marine protected areas like the one you were visiting often have "no-take" zones where fishing is restricted or banned. You were studying whether fish were bigger and more numerous in these zones -- essentially, whether these zones were serving as "fish banks" for the rest of the region. Are they?
Sangeeta Mangubhai: Our expedition took us to the Southeast Misool MPA [marine protected area], which is still in the process of being zoned, though there is currently one 425-square-kilometer [164-square-mile] no-take zone that is being actively enforced. Our data show that the fish biomass and abundance were higher within the existing no-take zone, especially in areas with high current (often at the points of islands) where many fish species tend to aggregate. We also recorded more sharks in the no-take zone as compared to other areas of the MPA where fishing continues. So yes, the existing no-take zone is acting as a fish bank. However, given how overfished the reefs are in Misool, it will take a few more years before the no-take zone accumulates enough fish to spill over into adjacent areas.
Q. How do you determine whether fish are bigger and more abundant in a particular region? How do you know you're not just finding a lot of big fish that day?
SM: Over the last two years, we've been classifying the reefs in Misool to give us a better understanding of the range of coral reef habitats there. We do this because we know all coral reefs are not the same -- they differ depending on the habitat and oceanographic conditions they are exposed to, and so do their fish populations. The fish population in a lagoonal reef is going to be different -- both in terms of species and numbers -- from the fish population in an adjacent reef that's exposed to waves and wind.
When we do our reef health surveys, we make sure that we are surveying similar reef habitats so that the data is comparable. We also survey multiple reefs belonging to the same habitat type, so that we can develop an average that reflects the general condition of the reefs. In addition, we know which fish tend to spread themselves out on a reef, and which tend to aggregate in large schools, and we take this into account when we do our surveys and when we interpret the data.
Q. Speaking of aggregation, you also found a "fish ball" of anchovies -- which I'm guessing isn't something that goes into a Caesar salad. What is it? Why is it significant?
JW: An anchovy fish ball is an aggregation of perhaps millions of these small silver fish. By following the principle of safety in numbers, these anchovies were hoping that at least some of them would escape being eaten. Anchovies form the base of the food chain -- they're a staple meal for fish like tuna, for sea birds and for many whale and dolphin species. They are also caught by the ton and then dried and sold for human consumption in Indonesia. So it's important that anchovy habitat is protected and the anchovy fishery is well managed to provide for both a healthy ecosystem and a sustainable harvest.
Q. One scientist I know described the fish and corals in the Coral Triangle (CT) like something out of a Dr. Seuss book -- totally wild. You both have done a lot of diving in the CT -- did you see anything this time you'd never seen before?
JW: Absolutely. This is the center of reef biodiversity, so we certainly saw a lot of creatures that are not commonly found in other reefs and had us poring over photos and reaching for the reference books each evening! Some of the coral species form weird and wonderful fragile shapes in very sheltered coves among the limestone karst. We found a strangely shaped anemone that looked a lot like a black fern and also came across mating octopuses on two occasions.
Q. A number of Indonesian scientists helped you do the monitoring on this expedition. Does that presence help the credibility of your findings with the people who live in Raja Ampat? And how are your findings going to be used there?
SM: There are a number of reasons we have mainly Indonesian scientists on our trips. First, the Conservancy feels that if we work in a country like Indonesia, it is important to invest in long-term capacity and empower local scientists to lead the monitoring work themselves instead of relying on outsiders. Second, it does create real credibility for our findings at the local level as well as a great sense of pride for communities to have locals involved in an expedition and collecting data on their reefs. And third, it is the Indonesian scientists that will be working with outreach staff and the local communities to finalize a zoning plan for the MPA -- to do this, they need to be experts with firsthand knowledge and understanding of the reefs, to enable them to stand on equal footing with local communities while discussing the communities' resources and how best to manage them. Local scientists know how to speak to their government and communities better than outsiders.
Q. Everybody thinks diving is fun and glamorous, but Raja Ampat isn't an easy place to work -- you had to bring in everything you needed from a town 98 miles away across open ocean, which I understand is 16 hours by steamboat. What was the most challenging thing about this expedition?
SM: Given how remote this region is, we had to put a lot of thought and planning into the trip before it began. There was no shop we could duck into to pick up something we had forgotten, so we needed spares of essential equipment. We had to be prepared to fix any equipment that malfunctioned or broke down ourselves. Every night, on top of entering our data, we also had to take inventory -- check how much fuel we had used, investigate the state of our gear, and decide where we could safely anchor the boat each night, taking into account that there were many unmarked reefs we couldn't afford to damage. In some areas, we had to rely on the local knowledge of our community monitoring assistants to safely navigate narrow passages. With no accurate information available on tides and currents, we had to make sure that, when we chose dive sites, the currents were not too strong. And we had to be prepared to put into place additional safety measures, if they were required for the dive.
Q. Coral reefs are in trouble worldwide -- most everybody knows that. But are you as scientists more hopeful now than you were before the expedition about our ability to protect them? Why or why not?
JW: We came away from the expedition with mixed feelings. Raja Ampat is certainly a very beautiful and diverse area, but even this far-flung corner of Indonesia, the reefs showed signs of overexploitation and damage from bomb fishing.
But we saw strong positive signs, too -- all of the local community members on our expedition used to be illegal fishermen, and now they're now active conservationists. There's now an agreement between Misool Eco Resort -- a local dive resort -- and local villages to sustainably manage local reefs while creating livelihood opportunities. We're also supporting the local government's efforts to develop management plans for all of Raja Ampat's marine protected areas. This will give some communities their first opportunity to affect the decisions that determine how their resources are used and accessed. So while there's still reef exploitation, these developments give us hope.
by John Farrell.
Back for a second round, the Open Neighborhoods organization in Los Angeles has organized another group purchase of residential and commercial solar PV, bringing the lifetime cost of solar well under the cost of grid electricity even for individual homeowners.
The savings from the group purchase are enormous. With prices are around $4.40 per Watt installed for solar, Open Neighborhoods gets residential solar for $2 cheaper than the average residential-scale solar prices reported by the Solar Energy Industries Association for the second quarter of 2011. That equates to a 6-cents-per-kilowatt-hour savings on solar over 25 years. Even though solar power is typically cheaper in California than elsewhere in the U.S., the group purchase promises savings of as much as 33 percent on a residential solar array.
The low group purchase price means that those who go solar will have cheaper electricity from their rooftop panels than average grid electricity by 2015 (assuming retail grid prices rise by 3 percent per year). If the solar user is on a time-of-use pricing plan, they'll have cheaper electricity from solar on day one, during peak hours. The comparison assumes the homeowner accesses both federal tax incentives: the 30 percent tax credit and the depreciation bonus (possible through a lease or power purchase arrangement).
The following chart illustrates the cost of power from a group-purchased rooftop solar array versus grid electricity over the next 25 years:
The results are promising and show that economies of scale can be achieved even with residential solar, if folks work together.
Unfortunately, not all residential customers can get this grid-beating price. There are two federal tax incentives, a 30 percent tax credit and a depreciation tax deduction. The latter can't be used by homeowners who own their solar array, making the economics for them a lot less favorable than for those who lease their system. The following chart illustrates how much of the cost savings from solar are lost when a residential customer can't access the depreciation benefit:
The potential cost reductions from group solar raise hopes for more distributed solar power development, but residential solar may not flourish as it could without changes to federal solar incentives.
by Project Survival Media.
The Occupy movement grips people from all over the world. At COP 17 in Durban, South Africa, it appeared in the form of general assemblies held outside the sanctioned conference to discuss alternative solutions for the Earth's collapsing systems. We spent some time speaking with participants to learn why they occupied Durban, and what motivates them to continue fighting for influence in what seems like a failing process.
by Andrew Light.
Cross-posted from Climate Progress.
The expected endgame of the international climate talks in Durban is shaping up to be a fierce standoff.
A showdown has emerged between the E.U. and other parties over their conditions for agreeing to a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. The first commitment period will expire in 2012. If it is not renewed, the fate of the instruments that support the world's fragile carbon market is uncertain.
Japan, Russia, and Canada have all signaled that they are unwilling to continue with a second commitment of binding emissions cuts for the treaty, leaving only the E.U. ready to move forward.
But the conditions the E.U. has asked for at this meeting to preserve the Kyoto Protocol are steep. In exchange for their commitment, they expect everyone else -- in particular the other large greenhouse-gas emitters like the U.S., China, and India -- to begin a road map for a process that will create a binding agreement on reducing emissions later in the decade. What we now know as the "mandate" debate has pulled everyone into a discussion over the fate of the Kyoto Protocol -- including the U.S., which is not a party to it.
While the fate of U.S. emissions is not bound to the fate of the Kyoto Protocol, the fate of many of the most important achievements of the Obama administration in this forum are now tied to Kyoto through the mandate debate. Included in this list are the institutions that were created out of last year's meeting in Cancun -- such as the Green Climate Fund (tasked with mobilizing a large chunk of the promised $100 billion a year in climate financing by 2020) and the Clean Technology Center and Network -- as well as progress they have made on pushing for a more rigorous system of transparency for measuring, reporting, and verifying (MRV) promises for emissions reductions.
The dominoes could fall like this: If the U.S. and other parties say no to the E.U. demand for a mandate on a process of a new binding agreement, then the E.U. could in turn say no to a recommitment to the Kyoto Protocol.
If the E.U. passes on the Kyoto Protocol, then the G77 (the group representing most developing countries at this meeting) -- which has been adamant in its insistence this year that the extension of the Kyoto Protocol was absolutely critical to it -- could walk away. And if that happens, then all parts of the climate architecture moving through this process could come to a halt. The result would be that the final negotiating text that has been worked out here on the Green Climate Fund, the Clean Technology Center, and MRV could be left abandoned with no possibility of approving it before the parties go home. We'd have to wait another year until these valuable institutions were potentially picked up again and made a reality.
With this much at stake, why would parties say no to the E.U.'s demands? The key is the insistence that the outcome of the new road map to emerge from this meeting end in a "legally binding" agreement. The E.U. wants some assurance that they will not be the only countries bound by an international regime to reduce their emissions. Currently, all other parties that have registered emissions-reduction targets have only done so through their official submission to the Copenhagen Accord in January 2010 -- which is not legally binding.
The E.U. is also concerned about the math and physics of the matter. If they are the only party to continue with the Kyoto Protocol, then only 15 percent of global emissions will be bound under an international treaty. On the other hand, the combined pledges from the Copenhagen Accord cover countries representing over 80 percent of global emissions. If we're going to get an agreement that binds everyone to a common set of rules and standards aimed at limiting temperature increase to 2 degrees C [3.6 degrees F], then a greater percentage of global emissions needs to be covered under a new instrument.
But so far there is little indication that the U.S., China, India, and several other parties like the idea of signing onto this package. While no serious objections have been voiced about authorizing a road map to come out of this meeting that will continue work on a new agreement in a stipulated amount of time, parties disagree on the idea of agreeing ahead of time to a legally binding outcome for this process.
This week several parties, such as the U.S. and India, expressed reservations that they can enter into a process that guarantees an agreement a legally binding outcome when they don't yet know what the content of the agreement would be. The U.S. has also repeatedly demanded an all-inclusive binding target in order to craft a workable climate agreement. According to our lead climate negotiator Todd Stern, the U.S. is not necessarily opposed to a legally binding outcome, but rather to an outcome that, like the Kyoto Protocol, is binding only to some parties and not to others -- regardless of the size, scale, and growth of their emissions.
The E.U. has been lockstep behind Connie Hedegaard, its commissioner for climate action, who claimed in a press conference on Wednesday that parties who don't commit to b inding actions take on an "unbearable responsibility."
But the insistence that parties agree on a process to create a legally binding outcome does not mean that those parties entering into negotiations have to say yes to anything that this process produces.
In an exclusive interview with Climate Progress, E.U. lead climate negotiator Artur Runge-Metzger explained that the E.U. was after something more akin to a couple getting engaged. If two people get engaged, then they aim for a particular legally binding outcome. As a process of achieving that outcome, they embark on a list of things to do -- picking a date, a location, an invitation list, etc. -- over a discrete period of time. But as everyone knows, an engagement, even a good engagement, is not necessarily a successful engagement.
Engagements can even end at the altar.
Similarly, Runge-Metzger acknowledged that if parties agreed to a road map leading to a legally binding agreement, they can pull out if it takes a turn to something they don't want. The U.S. has been clear that it will not tolerate an agreement that once again leaves China in the position of not having legally binding emissions cuts while developed countries do. If the U.S. agrees to the E.U.'s proposal for a road map toward a legally binding outcome, and it loses the fight during the creation of a new instrument somewhere along the way to ensure that the agreement is reciprocal, then it can drop out of the process.
Nonetheless, many parties are still wary of signing on to the E.U. process. Right now, throughout the International Convention Center, negotiators are hard at work trying to find the sweet spot between the language the E.U. prefers for the outcome of a new negotiating process, and something that can garner more support.
This afternoon, a new text was introduced from the South African hosts of the meeting floating a compromise. Instead of initiating a process that leads to a legally binding commitment, it would "launch a process in order to develop a legal framework applicable to all under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change after 2020."
Unfortunately, reports from the floor are that the E.U. will reject this language. These reasons are certainly not without merit from the perspective of their aims in initiating this process. After all, the current Kyoto Protocol is a legal framework, that China has signed onto, but it does not bind China legally under an international process of scrutiny, review, and enforcement to report or reduce its emissions. Similarly, the original treaty that created the UNFCCC is a legal framework, ratified by the U.S. Senate, but it does not require the U.S. or anyone else to reduce emissions.
As negotiators go back into meeting rooms late into the night to try and hammer out a new compromise on the E.U. roadmap, the U.S. should aim to broker a deal to get to "yes." The stakes are far too high not to.
As long as the U.S. is absolutely clear on its conditions for signing onto a legally binding deal down the road, it can sign onto a road map for a legally binding instrument with fair warning to all parties that if conditions are not met the engagement will be off. Some will worry that this could be the U.S. in Kyoto all over again.
In the run-up to Kyoto, the U.S. worked hard to create a climate treaty. But, months prior to Kyoto, the U.S. Senate voted 95 to 0 to not even consider ratifying a treaty that divided the world into two categories, requiring emissions reductions for developed parties and not for developing parties -- regardless of the size, scale, and trajectory of their emissions. Since the U.S. worked so hard to shape that treaty, it was a huge disappointment, and a blow to our international credibility to have to bow out of the process.
But this time around is not like Kyoto. The U.S. has been perfectly clear the last three years that we will not accept a non-reciprocal, non-conditional agreement on emissions reductions from developing countries. If our conditions are not met, then we do not have to sign on to the final product (nor does any party if their conditions are not met). On the other hand, if our conditions are clear, then we can work toward an outcome that would make for an agreement that would pick up where the Kyoto Protocol and the Cancun Agreements will leave us off in 2020.
And if we don't make a deal, and this meeting ends without an outcome, the Obama administration risks losing everything it has worked for over the last several years and the progress that has been made which, though unsatisfying to many, nonetheless gives us critical means for moving forward.
After all, whether the E.U. gets its way or not, the outcome over the mandate debate will not ensure that another ton of carbon gets reduced from the world's overall emissions. At best, the process the E.U. has proposed would lead to an agreement that would require reductions in emissions after 2020, given the time it will take to finalize a treaty and enter it into force.
On the other hand, the Green Climate Fund is the only measure that could overcome the twin "gigaton gaps" that exist from the pledges made so far out of the Copenhagen Accord. As we argued in a report published last year, it is the key instrument for mobilizing the finance needed to increase the ambition of parties under the Copenhagen Accord, as well as a critical means to provide directed financing to close the gap between those pledges and a path by 2020 that gives us a chance of stabilizing at 2 degrees Celsius.
If this meeting collapses over the mandate debate then we risk the postponement, and worse, the abandonment of this effort. It is not clear when we will get a chance again to put all the major carbon emitters on the road to a common effort.
by Brad Johnson.
Cross-posted from ThinkProgress Green.
During the two weeks of the international climate negotiations in Durban, South Africa, millions of people have been affected by extreme weather disasters. Our poisoned climate is fueling more extreme and dangerous weather, as the super-heated atmosphere brings heavier rains, harder droughts, and fiercer storms. These eight climate disasters that took place while the world's governments debate whether to address climate pollution have killed dozens of people, displaced tens of thousands of people, and disrupted the lives of millions, and yet are far from the most damaging of 2011:
8. Canada weather bomb
Dec. 8: Hurricane-force winds in a fast-moving "weather bomb" system, including 92-mph gusts, knocked out power for 68,000 people in Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. Heavy snowfall blanketed northern New Brunswick, Newfoundland, and Labrador, forcing schools to close.
7. Scotland weather bomb
Dec. 8: Severe winds of up to 165 mph from another weather bomb battered Scotland and northern England, forcing hundreds of schools to close, destroying a giant wind turbine, and leaving more than 56,000 people without power. According to Metro: "The storm's winds were so strong as its pressure dropped by 44 [milibars], almost double the qualifying amount for a weather bomb, in the 24 hours to 6am this morning. The winds today were stronger than the 80-mph gusts seen when Hurricane Katia hit in September."
6. Los Angeles Santa Ana windstorm
Nov. 30: A powerful, late-season Santa Ana windstorm with gale-force gusts "left much of the Los Angeles area strewn with toppled trees and downed power lines on Thursday, slowing rush-hour traffic," canceling hundreds of flights, and knocking out electricity to over 430,000 residents. "Public schools in Pasadena and 11 other districts in San Gabriel Valley, northeast of Los Angeles, were closed for the day." Thousands are still without power.
5. Colombia landslide kills family
Dec. 5: "Heavy rains set off a landslide that swept over a home in central Colombia, flattening it and killing seven members of the same family." "Five women and two young girls died in the disaster, which was caused by heavy rains in the Herveo municipality. The husband of one of the women survived."
4. Killer Kenya floods
Dec. 2: "Three children were killed in a landslide as the rains drenching the country continue to wreak havoc. Thousands more have been forced to flee flooded homes." A total of 14 people have been killed as bridges and roads have been washed away in "some of the heaviest rainfall [Kenya] has seen in 50 years." Meanwhile, crippling drought continues in northern Kenya.
3. Record Colombia floods cause bus-burying mudslide
Dec. 8: A Colombia mudslide swallowed a bus, killing six. "One of the victims managed to call for help by cell phone and told relatives she was trapped before she died, said Cesar Uruena, rescue director for the Colombian Red Cross. The five other victims of the accident Wednesday night included a police officer and the bus driver and his young son." Heavy rains flooded about 3,500 homes south of Bogota, with waters up to five feet deep in places. "Up to 10,000 people have been affected by the floods and the cresting of Bogota's river." Colombia's unrelenting rains have caused at least 127 deaths since September.
2. Indonesia landslide kills 35
Nov. 30: "Heavy rains triggered the landslide on the island of Nias, burying at least 37 houses." Thirty-five people were killed. "Heavy rains the past three days had caused the hill to crumble. We are now still trying to pull out trapped victims from the landslide," district disaster management agency official Robertna Mendeva told AFP on Dec. 1. "It's difficult as it is still raining very heavily now."
1. Durban's killer climate-talk floods
Nov. 28: 10 people along South Africa's east coast were killed, 700 houses were destroyed, and thousands were left homeless following torrential rains that struck the city hosting the international climate talks. The destruction was worst in the shack towns that surround Durban, highlighting the vulnerability of the poor to climate disasters.
This year's climate devastation has shattered records. There have been 14 billion-dollar climate disasters in the United States alone, costing at least $53 billion total. The floods in Thailand were that nation's worst. "Weather-related catastrophes in Asia have more than tripled over the last 30 years," Munich Re reports. "In China alone, weather-related disasters have more than quadrupled since 1980."
by Greg Hanscom.
If you drove down I-15 in San Bernardino County, Calif., outside of Corona, last Friday, you may have noticed a giant, digital billboard exclaiming, "WE BUY USED GUNS." But if you'd looked at the same sign from the opposite direction, rather than being socked in the mouth with a solicitation to sell your sidearm, you'd have seen a crystal clear window -- a view right through the sign of the undulating ridge of the Santa Ana Mountain Range beyond.
The image was the handiwork of 25-year-old Los Angeles-based artist Susanna Battin. She spent weeks getting the image just right, befriending the assistant manager of a nearby hotel, who let her up on the roof to take pictures of the mountains, then using Google Street View to make sure she had the perspective perfect to create the illusion for motorists. The image, displayed digitally, was set to slowly fade, as though a clear day was gradually turning smoggy.
"Oftentimes our interactions with the natural world are mediated by our lives as consumers," Battin said of the piece. "It's not about going out into the environment, it's about purchases -- what you're wearing or how you look. Maybe you don't even leave your house. You watch a documentary. You see the world through someone else's window. This is my window."
Battin's work was a part of the Billboard Art Project, a nationwide effort hatched by Richmond, Va., artist David Morrison. Since its start a few years ago, the project has displayed the work of hundreds of artists on digital billboards around the country, turning a landscape of corporate advertising into supersized, outdoor art galleries.
Intrigued, I threw a few questions at Morrison via e-mail, and he was gracious enough to respond.
Q. How is it that you came to be the mastermind of this thing?
A. The impetus for the Billboard Art Project came probably a little over five years ago when I worked a short stint as a car salesman. I was stuck in some slow-moving traffic on the way to work when a digital billboard was being installed. They were running test images from a Windows operating system -- the stock wallpaper photos of a field of flowers, the Golden Gate Bridge, a desert landscape -- and it was striking to see these images ... in a space dedicated to corporate hawkings. I wanted to replicate that experience for drivers and pedestrians on some level by putting up some images of my own.
Years later, I approached a Lamar Advertising representative about renting a billboard for 24 hours. Once I got a contract, I started discussing the opportunity with friends and they wanted to join in. Opening up the venue to other artists seemed like a natural extension of the original idea of humanizing this corporate space, so word got around and we ended up having artists join in from all over the United States and a few from other parts of the world. The first show consisted of 36 different artists and over 3,000 images ... Lots of people came out and it was such an experience that there was sort of this nagging [feeling] that we had to do it again. And again and again.
Q. How is the Billboard Art Project funded? Do you have to pay for the "advertising" time on the billboards, or does the company donate it?
A. Up until recently, I've footed the bill for the entire project. We've been working to get 501(c)3 exemption status ... since July and it is taking longer than we expected. We pay full price for the billboards. Some advertising companies are inclined to donate time on their vinyl billboards, but not the digitals.
Q. Does the owner of the billboards see this as devious or subversive? It's something of an anti-advertising message, no?
A. To date, we've been working with Lamar Advertising exclusively, not really by choice so much as out of the convenience of not having to forge new relationships with companies that are not used to providing the type of service we need. You see, CBS, Clear Channel, Lamar, Adams, Next Media -- they sell advertising space, simple contracts that consist of a few images that get displayed for months on end. We come along and want to rent a board for a day and put thousands of different images on the display, interrupting a native schedule and creating more work in the sense that they have to go through all those images for the sake of public decency. We are essentially asking someone who makes cars to make airplanes instead.
I've never spoken to the owner of Lamar about their opinion of what we do, but in general, I think the company and the local markets just look at the project as sort of an oddity and a paycheck ... Clear Channel in San Antonio [recently] did something similar to what we are doing when they showcased art from 40 different local artists on 19 different billboards all over town. I believe the art was interspersed with advertising, but their effort to reach out to the community with this new medium makes sense on so many different levels. It is a good thing for the artists to have that exposure, it's a good thing for the advertising companies because people might actually pay attention, and Clear Channel demonstrates a social conscience through its participation with the community. Everybody wins.
To your query about it being devious or subversive or something of an anti-advertising piece, it really isn't. The Billboard Art Project is about so many different things. We're challenging people's normal, everyday expectations by giving them something they are not expecting in a place they'd never think to look. We're giving artists an opportunity to develop sight-specific work for a new form of digital media that seems to be getting more and more pervasive. We're democratizing art on some levels by accepting artwork from everyone and just putting it out there for everyone to enjoy.
There's nothing intrinsically evil about advertising. People and businesses need to get a message across to other people about what they do so they can keep doing it. Sometimes you may not like what they do or what they are selling, but that is something totally different. And maybe you don't want to be treated like a consumer 24/7, but that is what people do. We just want them to consume something a little bit more benign and maybe infuse their day with a little beauty and thoughtfulness.
Q. Can you give me a sense of the range of different pieces that you've run?
A. I can only touch on some of the things people have done. Some artists put up previous work and adapt it to the billboard. Some people develop things specifically for the format, like Susanna [Battin]. There are a lot of sequential submissions that work as a unit as well as individual images. Some artists play with the fact that it is a sign and create pieces around that. Visit our website and follow the links to Flickr and YouTube. There's some exciting stuff.
Q. What next?
A. Plenty more to come. We want this to happen on a massive scale. On a national level, we are hoping to incorporate the works of local students -- K-12 and from colleges and universities -- as well as artists from all over the world. We are also looking to make much longer buys in each market we visit to gain higher visibility and give more people who might not experience art the chance to discover something very wonderful.
Once we get that 501(c)3 tax status, the sky is the limit (pun intended). It's ... not [going to happen] without the help of sponsors and donors.
This is not my project; it's an idea that I happened to discover and execute. Anyone could have done this and probably would have if I had not. But look at the Billboard Art Project as an opportunity for everyone interested to change their public landscape, to humanize it in a small way and make it fresh and new and exciting. When people get charged and excited about something positive like this the way they do, it can't help but spread.
by Nina Kahori Fallenbaum.
Editor's note: This is the first half of a feature story from Hyphen Magazine's Survival Issue.
Some say that Asian America began in Louisiana. In the late 1700s, Filipino sailors escaped Spanish galleons and started shrimping the hot, humid Gulf Coast, where the weather reminded them of Southeast Asia and the water teemed with oysters, lobsters, scallops, crab, crayfish, and shrimp. After the Vietnam War, new waves of Vietnamese and Cambodian immigrants settled in the area, indelibly shifting the region's mix of food, culture, and history.
But neither history nor affinity could protect New Orleans-area Asian Americans from the multiple disasters of the last six years. Neighborhoods were just beginning to recover from 2005's Hurricane Katrina when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in April 2010. Fishermen watched the news nervously, hoping the spill would be contained quickly. It wasn't. The oil -- between 55,000 and 62,000 barrels a day -- flowed for 87 days into the gulf before it was capped.
For the Vietnamese Americans in the area whose labor -- fishing, cleaning, sorting, packing, cooking, and selling -- makes up about one-third of the gulf's seafood industry, any hard-won stability after Katrina suddenly vanished. But this disaster presented no riveting Superdome, no wrenching images to engender sympathy and assistance -- only an ongoing series of setbacks and recalculations for this community that has been so central to the ocean economy for decades.
They now face protracted compensation battles, diminished business, and skepticism about the future. Yet as local Vietnamese Americans apply some entrepreneurial thinking and a rolling up of sleeves to work the land instead of the sea, a new chapter of Asian America seems set to begin in the region.
"The bread will rise again -- it just kneads time." - sign on Vietnamese-owned Le Bakery and Cafe in East Biloxi, Miss.
Shortly after the spill, the Rev. Vien Nguyen of the largely Vietnamese New Orleans parish Mary Queen of Vietnam travelled to Cordova, Alaska, to understand how long it would take for New Orleans to recover. What he saw there, at the site of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, alarmed him. Cordova's local fish, such as herring, continued to appear for the first three years after that spill, but then disappeared. Scientists say herring need four years to grow from spawn to eating size; the spill occurred right at spawning time. When Nguyen visited over two decades later, the fish still hadn't returned to Cordova. "Will it ever return to normal?" he asked. "We don't know."
When the BP oil spill started gushing into fishing waters, it hammered an industry that had been struggling for years. Until the early 2000s, the gulf provided most of the shellfish eaten in the United States. In the last decade, however, the growth of commercial fish and seafood farming in Southeast Asia (and the subsequent influx of low-cost seafood) has bitten deep into the American seafood industry. Vietnamese Americans had been picking up the slack in a backbreaking industry few Americans wanted to do, but these economics have made it even harder for them to make a living.
Phuong Nguyen has worked in and out of the crab industry for 30 years. He learned how to fish in Vietnam before immigrating in 1982, eventually buying his own boat and house after many years of hardscrabble work.
"They say fishing is for people without degrees," he said. "When you have a degree, you find some other job." He said, laughing: "There is no college or anything down here. We're 20 miles to the end of the world."
Before the spill, Phuong Nguyen worked full-time as a commercial crabber for seafood restaurants and wholesalers in the New Orleans area. Now he passes time by tending his backyard chickens, trimming his rosebushes, and watching the ocean and his finances in equal measure.
Most of his neighbors work two or three jobs, trying to diversify their incomes while they wait to learn whether the gulf is safe. He raises chickens for eggs and meat and grows herbs, zucchini, cauliflower, and other vegetables in his backyard. While he received some relief money from BP, he's not sure if fishing in the area will ever become a viable occupation again.
As a fisherman who still eats his own catch (the waters are sporadically opened for fishing), Phuong Nguyen feels confident about the safety of gulf seafood post-spill, primarily because local health department officials check contaminant levels almost daily before determining whether fishermen can sail out.
While some customers may have hesitated after the spill to buy frozen seafood labeled "Gulf Coast," consider this: 84 percent of seafood eaten in the United States is imported, and almost none of it is checked for impurities or the presence of antibiotics, which are routinely used in high-density fish farms to quell infections. This gaping hole in our food safety regimen has increased interest in wild-caught, domestic seafood -- the kind that Phuong Nguyen catches.
To get to Phuong Nguyen's house in Buras, you take Louisiana Highway 23 about an hour and a half from New Orleans, along the final threads of the mighty Mississippi River before it empties into the Gulf of Mexico. On your left are hulking white cylinders and the triple-fenced security perimeters of the refineries. This is the oil economy, processing the oil that we pump in our cars, that becomes plastic, that fuels our air conditioners. According to the Department of Energy, approximately 37 percent of the energy Americans use comes from petroleum. Its main use is for transportation: cars, trucks, and planes to carry us and the products we consume. The agency reported in January that American oil refining was at its highest levels since 1982, with almost half of that refining going on in the Gulf Coast.
On your right is where the locals live. From rambling houses dotted with chickens and old cars, local anger and pride spill equally from hand-scrawled signs tacked to the fences: "Damn BP!" and "God Bless America." Gas stations stock fishing lines and nightcrawlers in plastic foam boxes next to the Cokes. This is the fish economy.
To the tourists enjoying New Orleans' restaurants or Biloxi's casinos, the fish and oil economies are largely hidden from view. Even more hidden are Vietnamese American families and their contributions.
"The government and BP claim they have scooped up 75 percent of the oil," the Rev. Nguyen said, a note of anger rising in his voice for the first time. "But will we be like Alaska, where the first three to four years we don't see it? But then when we see it, it's too late?" he asked. Mother Jones reported that oceanographers found the chemical dispersant used to break up the oil as far as 200 miles from the well head, and three months after the accident, much of the oil still had not broken down. Government agencies responsible for both environmental and human health agree that the use of this chemical is experimental, with unknown effects.
The twisted relationship between the oil and fish economies is nowhere more evident than in the protracted compensation battles that began almost immediately after the spill.
For families whose income came in both dollars and fish, it's difficult to quantify the losses from the spill. Local fishermen like Phuong Nguyen have long eaten, traded, and shared their commercial catch. People fished for their own families, brought crabs to church picnics and traded for things they didn't catch.
When BP and the U.S. government began devising a system to compensate losses, these non-commercial "subsistence uses" were either left out or worse, accused of being fraudulent. A group of pro bono lawyers and community activists are now advocating for Asian American fishing families who've suffered significant loss of subsistence use. They hope to convince Kenneth Feinberg, claims administrator for BP's compensation fund, that not all losses can be shown in ledger books.
There are laws designed to protect victims of large-scale environmental disasters (the Oil Pollution Act and Clean Water Act among them), but their parameters are hard enough for native English speakers to understand, let alone those that struggle with written English or are not literate in any language.
Jennifer Vu is a New Orleans native and former staffer of former Rep. Joseph Cao (R-La.), the first Vietnamese American elected to Congress. Her office joined local groups to hold multilingual information sessions after the spill and criticized BP for failing to provide information for limited-English speakers.
"Feinberg still hasn't held an interpreted town hall," she said, six months after the spill. While over 16,000 subsistence use claims have been submitted to the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, just two Vietnamese families have been paid so far, at less than $5,000 each. According to Vu and others assisting the claims process, what's most needed now is nationwide awareness and legal assistance as residents and community groups prepare for what may be long, drawn-out court battles.
Next: Hear from the owners of a lunch counter on the impact of the BP oil spill on the Asian-American culture in New Orleans in Part 2.
by Sean Casten.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has ruled that the Bonneville Power Association (BPA) unfairly discriminated against wind turbine owners when it curtailed the production of power from wind assets last spring in response to high hydro production.
Wind owners are understandably happy, having argued that BPA was essentially favoring hydro over wind. The technical argument went like this: BPA entered into contracts to sell all of the power available from their generators; if BPA (or any other grid operator) has the ability to unilaterally curtail wind generation, it would reduce the effective value of future wind contracts and limit the ability to finance future wind projects.
Purely as a matter of contract law, it's hard to argue with FERC's decision. However, it strikes me that there are bigger issues at stake here than wind, hydro, and BPA -- issues that potentially impact all intermittent renewable contracts.
The Pacific Northwest has the highest penetration of renewables of any part of the country. The challenges they face integrating intermittent generators into their system are the challenges that much of the rest of the country will face as renewables continue their market penetration. Specific to BPA:There's a lot of wind installed in the region, but it is extremely unreliable. From a system-planning perspective, BPA cannot afford to presume that the wind resource will be available during system peaks. See this website, updated every five minutes, showing BPA's total load-serving obligation and the instantaneous output of the hydro, wind, and thermal capacity on the system. For all the value that fuel-free megawatt-hours bring, BPA must maintain generation able to ramp up at a moment's notice to serve load, which wind cannot do. The transmission system is not infinite, so when the total regional generation exceeds total regional demand plus export capacity, something has to be curtailed. BPA has fairly limited flexibility to curtail power from hydro. To the extent that reservoirs are not full, they can shut down turbines and let reservoirs fill. However, once reservoirs are full (as occurs in wet springs), fish considerations come into play; they cannot simply spill any excess water over the dam. When supply exceeds demand, the price of power falls to a point where it is uneconomic to operate any power plant. In an ideal market, no generator would run in that circumstance, but when many generators are operating under long-term, extra-market contracts (and/or receiving production tax credits in excess of power price that make them marginally profitable even at a slightly negative power price), "irrational" market behavior follows. The potential result is that the grid manager is either forced to "dump" power in resistor banks, or else pay customers to take it -- both of which are decidedly suboptimal outcomes.
Put all those pieces together and it's not surprising that BPA would seek to curtail some wind generation, nor that FERC would look askance at the contractual consequences of such action. My gut tells me that while this may be a near-term victory for wind, it may put an immediate constraint on the execution of new contracts that don't include explicit curtailment rights. It will be very interesting to watch what follows, especially in light of other parts of the system (like West Texas) that are on a path towards similar physical constraints.
by Daniel Klein.
New York City: A lot of unusual things happen beneath the surface here. You don't notice most of them until someone points them out. Madani Halal slaughterhouse is a great example; it's down a backstreet in a little-known neighborhood in Queens. Every day, folks line up around the corner to choose their own live chicken or goat, watch it get slaughtered, and then take it home for dinner. In this video, we meet Imran Uddin, who left a career in corporate advertising to run the business his father started in 1996. He shows us the process and talks about how the business attracts working-class people looking for a lesser-known alternative to grocery store meat. WARNING: This video is a little graphic.
by David Roberts.
Like I said, go ahead and pour yourself a stiff drink.
So, what does this grim situation say about our current climate policy efforts? The paper also contains some important insights on that front. Here is how Anderson and Bows frame it:
Over the past five years a wealth of analyses have described very different responses to what, at first sight, appears to be the same question: What emission-reduction profiles are compatible with avoiding "dangerous" climate change? However, on closer investigation, the difference in responses is related less to different interpretations of the science underpinning climate change and much more to differing assumptions related to five fundamental and contextual issues.
(1) What delineates dangerous from acceptable climate change?
(2) What risk of entering dangerous climate change is acceptable?
(3) When is it reasonable to assume global emissions will peak?
(4) What reduction rates in post-peak emissions is it reasonable to consider?
(5) Can the primacy of economic growth be questioned in attempts to avoid dangerous climate change?
Keep question (5) in mind. It is almost never raised explicitly in these discussions, but it turns out to be central to how we answer the other questions.
Long story short, Anderson and Bows argue that we are systematically blowing smoke up our own asses. (Though, ahem, that's probably not how they would put it.)
The thing is, we have ostensibly answered question (1). The Copenhagen Accord has been signed by 141 countries representing over 87 percent of global emissions, including the U.S. and the E.U. It explicitly recognizes "the scientific view that the increase in global temperature should be below 2 degrees Celsius." Climate communiques the world over are full of categorical language: we "must" avoid 2 degrees C! (Despite the fact that new science reveals 2 degrees C to be well within extremely dangerous territory.)
We pretend that 2 degrees C is our threshold. Yet the climate scenarios and plans presented to policymakers do not actually reflect that threshold. As Anderson and Bows say, "most policy advice is to accept a high probability of extremely dangerous climate change rather than propose radical and immediate emission reductions."
Note, also, that most popular climate scenarios include an implausibly early peak in global emissions -- 2010 in many cases, 2015-16 in the case of the Stern Report, the ADAM project, and the U.K.'s Committee on Climate Change.
Why do climate analysts do this? Why do they present plans that contain wildly optimistic assumptions about the peak in global emissions and yet a high probability of overshooting the 2 degrees C target?
The answer is fairly simple, and it has to do with the answer to question (4), regarding what level of emissions reductions is reasonable to expect. According to the Stern Review and others, emissions reductions of 3 to 4 percent a year are the maximum compatible with continued economic growth. And so that's the level they use in their scenarios. Yet reductions at that pace offer very little practical hope of hitting 2 degrees C.
In other words, climate analysts construct their scenarios not to avoid dangerous climate change but to avoid threatening economic growth.
That would make sense if being richer would help us prosper in a 4 degrees C [7.2 degrees F] world. But ... no such luck. Says Anderson in his slideshow presentation:
There is a widespread view that a 4 degrees C future is incompatible with an organised global community, is likely to be beyond "adaptation," is devastating to the majority of ecosystems, and has a high probability of not being stable (i.e., 4 degrees C would be an interim temperature on the way to a much higher equilibrium level).
To be sure, there is plenty of uncertainty about the impacts of particular levels of temperature rise. (See: recent controversy over climate sensitivity.) Predictions are hard, especially about the future. But if the "widespread view" Anderson identifies is correct -- or even half correct! -- it completely scrambles conventional approaches to the problem. It implies that 4 degrees C must be avoided at literally any cost.
So, what would it mean to take that seriously? To create scenarios that actually do target 2 degrees C, or something very close to it, at a reasonably high degree of certainty?
To begin with, you'd want to stop lumping together the changes that developed nations and still-developing countries need to make. Many climate scenarios aggregate these numbers into a single global carbon reduction pathway, showing a global peak and decline. But that conceals the scale of the task facing rich industrialized economies. Things look different when the total carbon budget is divided between Annex 1 and non-Annex 1 countries (to use the U.N. jargon).
Say our carbon budget for the century is 2,000 gigatons. How much of that should be allotted to the U.S. and E.U., and how much to countries like China and India? Should it be divided up based on population (i.e., per-capita)? Past emissions? Present emissions? A thousand gigatons each?
If we widen our view to this century and last century, an argument could be made that the developed world has already spent its fair share of the carbon budget -- that it's in carbon debt, as it were.
China currently emits more than the U.S. on an absolute basis, but historically speaking, Annex 1 countries have emitted far, far more carbon. And they've benefited by becoming extraordinarily wealthy. Developing nations, by contrast, have spent far less and are still busy bringing millions of people out of abject poverty.
It's impractical to think developed countries are going to stop emitting on a dime, but it seems clear that they are at least due a smaller portion of the remaining budget. If nothing else, just as a practical matter, rich countries are capable of more rapid emission reductions. In U.N. jargon, this is known as the "principle of common but differentiated responsibilities."
So non-Annex 1 countries get more of the carbon budget that's left. That recasts the task facing countries like the U.S. in an even harsher light.
Say global emissions must peak by 2020 to have any chance of avoiding dangerous climate change. There's no way in hell China et al. are going to peak their emissions by then -- not practically, not morally. So we decide to give non-Annex 1 countries until 2025 to peak (that is, to put it charitably, at the very outer edge of the realm of the possible). If that's true, developed countries must compensate by peaking before 2015.
I'll give you a second to check your calendar. ... Yup! You are correct that 2015 is a mere three years away.
(The paper gets into considerable detail about a variety of scenarios for Annex 1 and non-Annex 1 countries, depending on treatment of variables like deforestation and CO2-equivalent gases. Dig in if you like, but the above works as an approximation.)
Soooo ... where does that leave us? What would it mean for the U.S. and other developed countries to peak their emissions in 2015 and decline them by something on the order of 10 percent a year thereafter?
It's safe to say that no carbon tax is going to do that. It's tough to imagine any "market mechanism" that could ratchet things so quickly, at least on its own. We won't get there through innovation or new technology, even if we spend a trillion a year for the next few years. We won't get there by tweaking our current system. The only conceivable way to produce that level of reductions is a full-scale, all-hands-on-deck mobilization, what William James called "the moral equivalent of war."
The vast bulk of the reductions available in the near-term are on the demand side. Of course this means driving efficiency as fast as possible while taking measures (like raising prices and setting standards) to avoid the rebound effect. But it also means (gasp!) conservation. Actually, "conservation" is too polite a word for it. It means shared sacrifice. Climate campaigners have sworn until they're blue in the face that reducing emissions is compatible with robust economic growth. And it's true! But reducing emissions enough? Maybe not, at least not for the next little while.
This is the stark conclusion drawn by Anderson and Bows: "The logic of such studies suggests (extremely) dangerous climate change can only be avoided if economic growth is exchanged, at least temporarily, for a period of planned austerity within Annex 1 nations and a rapid transition away from fossil-fuelled development within non-Annex 1 nations."
I know what you're thinking. It'll never happen. It's political suicide to bring it up. Conservatives will use it against us. Very Serious People will take to fainting couches across the land. I'll address those questions in my next post.
But for now, it's enough to say: It is what it is. As Anderson says, we're currently mitigating for 4 degrees C and planning for 2 degrees C. That is ass backwards. It is, almost clinically, insane. We need to be doing the opposite -- mitigating for 2, planning for 4 -- as soon as possible.
by Twilight Greenaway.
Rebecca Klein wasn't expecting a lot when she signed up to attend last week's Farm Bill Hackathon. This public health expert from the Center for a Livable Future at Johns Hopkins University had never heard of a hackathon -- a gathering of computer programmers who lock themselves in a room to tackle epic projects with unrestricted creativity -- until around two weeks before the event. While the idea of bringing together other sustainable food advocates with computer programmers interested in helping them build tools appealed to her, it also seemed a little ambitious.
The event, which took place last Saturday, was designed to encourage multiple teams of participants to take a project (infographics and online tools) from concept to execution in a single day. "It just seemed like too little time," says Klein. "I'd never been to an event to tackle an issue where the attendees weren't hand-selected in advance." The results -- an array of infographics, apps, and other tools made by over 120 people who attended either in person or via the web -- surprised her. "The energy in the room was palpable and the power of bringing such diverse expertise into one room was inspiring. This one day planted a whole bunch of seeds for projects and ideas that would have never existed without coming together in that room (and via the web) for that concentrated time," she says.
Hackathons have been taking place for years, and contrary to how the word might sound, they don't only involve getting together to wrangle secret information or shut down corporations (although there's no doubt those things have been tried). At the core, Hackathons are about collaboration; from the beginning they've been a way to build programs and applications using the hive mind.
The Farm Bill -- that beast of a piece of legislation that comes up for authorization every five years and shapes our food and farming landscape -- is complex to the point of opacity for many Americans. So, thought the minds behind media company Food and Tech Connect, why not host a hackathon in hopes of making the bill more accessible through technology?
The mood"This is perhaps the first hackathon that addressed a piece of legislation," says Food and Tech Connect's Beth Hoffman, co-organizer of the event. "It brought together data people from the U.N., food policy experts, hard-core designers, etc." And while participants like Klein may already be eating, sleeping, and breathing farm subsidies and other details of the legislation, Hoffman stressed that many came who "knew nothing about either the Farm Bill nor about tech design. There is a huge populace of people looking for ways to be involved with the Farm Bill discussion."
The event was sponsored by GRACE Communications Foundation (the organization behind Sustainable Table, Ecocentric, and The Meatrix). GRACE's Destin Joy Layne says she saw the event as a unique educational opportunity. "It was thrilling to experience a new convergence in food consciousness." And a way to "start to uncover the hidden truth of our conventional food system."
The first-place prize went to "FARM BILL of Health," a series of visualizations about the difference in support for fruit and vegetable crops versus commodities in the bill.
Third prize was awarded to a work in progress looking at the international implications of the Farm Bill and the idea that crop subsidies in the U.S. drive further hunger and poverty in foreign nations.
Fourth place went to ongoing work to map the congressional districts of the Agricultural Committee members. The maps will allow users to see who is on the committees, where they are from, their website and contact information, and other pertinent information like who is supporting them financially and what is grown in their region.
Read more about the winners on Food and Tech Connect.
More cool projects
This runner-up graphic sought to illuminate meat production and industry consolidation:
Two more that caught our eye:A free mobile app for farmers to use on smart phones on-site at farmers markets and farm stands called FarmTab that would let customers run a tab.
by Greg Hanscom.
When Puget Sound Energy announced plans to build a new substation to meet rising electricity demand on Bainbridge Island, Wash., in 2009, it apparently didn't know who it was dealing with. Bainbridge is a well-to-do suburb of Seattle (a 35-minute ferry ride will drop you right in downtown), and home to more than a few techies, computer programmers, and folks who have letterhead with lots of fancy degrees in front of their names.
Eric Rehm, a software-engineer-turned-marine-biologist, says that "a mosh pit of community organizations" came out to community meetings to discuss the electric company's proposal. "There were enough geeks there that we said, ‘Can we see the [electric grid] load data? Can we have that data in real time?'"
Rather than cutting down a bunch of trees to enable the island to use more electricity, they wondered, "Can we just use less?"
The question spurred a unique experiment in community energy conservation that may hold lessons for the rest of us as we try to cut back our electricity use to save money and the climate.
Under the banner of Repower Bainbridge, a coalition of local residents, organizations, and government officials has set out to cut the island's electricity use by 15 percent in three years. With $4.9 million in stimulus money via the U.S. Department of Energy's Better Buildings Neighborhood program, Repower Bainbridge has conducted more than 1,500 free "home energy check-ups" -- a quicker version of a home energy audit that shows you how to trim down your energy use. The initiative ultimately aims to do 4,000 of these checkups, with the goal of inspiring 2,000 home upgrades -- that's almost a quarter of the homes on the island -- and creating a few green jobs in the process.
To help the community get its head around the challenge, Positive Energy, a local nonprofit organization, working closely with Puget Sound Energy, has created a first-of-its-kind, web-based community energy "dashboard." This color-coded oh-shit meter provides an up-to-the-minute look at how much juice the island is sucking from the electric grid. When the needle dips into the red, the message is clear: Cut down your energy use or the power company will be here cutting down trees for that new substation.
For those who don't obsess over the energy dashboard day in and day out, Positive Energy has installed dashboards all over the island. Bainbridge Bakers, Bay Hay and Feed, the Treehouse Café, Eagle Harbor Books -- they all have dashboards on digital display. So do some of the ferries that shuttle island residents back and forth from the mainland.
To augment the dashboards, Repower Bainbridge sends out suggestions and promotions via Twitter and Facebook aimed at getting people to conserve energy -- and when that's not possible, to shift energy use to "off-peak" hours. On the island, like anywhere, the real crux of the problem is just a couple of hours a day when the electric grid is pushed close to its limits -- typically midmorning and early evening, but with big spikes on hot summer days when we fire up the A/C.
By convincing people to wait to do their laundry and dishes until late in the evening, turn down the heat on their hot water heater, or throw on a sweater and dial down the thermostat, Repower Bainbridge essentially creates more capacity for the grid, building a little more wiggle room into the existing system.
Another technique the islanders have tried is sparking a little friendly competition. Inspired by the Tidy Street Project in England (and using the same open-source software), Repower Bainbridge launched an energy conservation competition last summer called "Electric Avenue." The group stenciled giant graphs onto two streets on the island, charting neighborhood energy use over the course of three months. The idea was to raise awareness of energy use and convince locals to join the good fight.
While the project did not significantly decrease energy use, Rehm says islanders learned some valuable lessons. First among them is that what worked in a dense urban area in England was not necessarily a recipe success in a more suburban or rural area. The street that trimmed its electricity use more in the Electric Avenue challenge was a little more tightly laid out, making the street graph more visible to the frequent passersby on the sidewalks. The other street was more spread out and hilly, making the graph less prominent and probably leading to less interaction among neighbors. "Some neighborhoods are more neighborly than others," Rehm says.
But here again, the islanders may have devised a tech-tastic end-run around the problem. The groups involved in Repower Bainbridge are now talking about firing up the Electric Avenue project using "virtual neighborhoods" -- church groups, for example, or local members of the Sierra Club. Rather than painting the results on the streets, organizers could display them on the Web. It'd be like a community softball league for energy geeks.
I know, only on Bainbridge, right? But islands tend to be harbingers of what's coming for the rest of us. Maybe it's time to fire up a little neighborly competition in your community. It's tough to save the world by yourself.
by Brad Johnson.
It's just a guidepost, guys. No need to panic. Cross-posted from ThinkProgress Green.
China limits commitments
This week, China's top climate envoy said that the nation would be open to signing a formal treaty limiting emissions after 2020 -- but laid down conditions for doing so that are unlikely ever to be met.
Xie Zhenhua, the head of the Chinese delegation, has refused to confirm that China would, as he had suggested, accept a binding international obligation to slow the growth in its emissions.
U.S. stance on climate risks increasingly absurd
The limit of 2 degrees C [3.6 degrees F] warming above pre-industrial levels is just a "guidepost," U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern told reporters.
350.org's Jamie Henn writes that "the U.S. has taken on an even more insidious role by pushing a proposal that the international community adopt a ‘mandate' to negotiate a new climate treaty that will take effect in 2020," and "the 2020 timeline seems to be gaining traction here at the talks," even though it "isn't just a delay, it's a death sentence."
The mandate for a climate treaty that goes into effect in 2020 was actually suggested by the European Union's top climate diplomat, Connie Hedegaard, before the Durban talks even began.
Avaaz.org is asking Brazil, China, and the European Union to "save and strengthen the Kyoto Protocol and work together to agree on a more ambitious legally binding deal no later than 2015."
"A legally binding agreement after 2020 would be disastrous for humanity; global temperature will rise at least 4 degrees-plus," Bangladesh Environment Minister Hasan Mahmud said in an interview.
A U.S. climate official admitted that it is not at all clear whether current targets will be enough to keep the world below 2 degrees C of warming, but that the pledges made in Cancun were "as far as we could go."
"I think the U.S. position is becoming more and more paranoiac," said Pratap Pandey from the Center of Science and Environment in Delhi. "It's fine to resort to rhetoric, but it's pathetic to take recourse to nonsense."
"We have not won enough under 2 1/2 years of Obama," European Parliament environment committee chair Jo Leinen said. "So if the next would be a Tea Party president and Congress, the world cannot wait."
Alex Lenferna: "In order to deviate from the Cancun Accords pathway towards a 2 degree (never mind 1.5 degree) target, the effort that would have to be taken from 2020, as opposed to if we implemented the new treaty on 2015, would be monumental, and, quite frankly, politically impossible."
Green Climate Fund framework moves forward
South Africa, which heads the current round of climate talks in Durban, has, after informal consultations, taken the view that the climate finance mechanism, or Green Climate Fund, will work under the oversight "and function under the guidance" of the Conference of Parties, or the general assembly of all the countries.
"The U.S. actions to throw obstacles in the way of any discussion on sources of finance for the Green Climate Fund risks condemning the fund to kick off as an empty shell," said David Waskow, policy adviser for Oxfam.
by Claire Thompson.
As the U.S. delegation drags its feet at the climate talks in Durban, South Africa, this week, a pack of kids back home is trying to force the old folks into action, the American way: They're suing the bastards.
In May, a group of young people, led by 17-year-old Alec Loorz (founder of Kids vs. Global Warming), filed 10 lawsuits, one against the federal government and the others against individual states, to compel the government to take action on climate change.
"The generations before us ... just kind of thought of the world as limitless," said Glori Dei Filippone, 13, a plaintiff in the case who hails from Des Moines, Iowa. "My generation and the one after it are going to have to work hard to fix this mess."
By the time Filippone is old enough to run for office, it could already be too late to reverse the destruction wrought by climate change -- all the more reason to put pressure on the government today.
The lawsuits are based on a legal theory developed by University of Oregon law professor Mary Wood called "atmospheric trust litigation." The theory "rests on the premise that all governments hold natural resources in trust for their citizens and bear the fiduciary obligation to protect such resources for future generations," according to Wood's web page.
Julia Olson, of Our Children's Trust, a nonprofit group supporting the lawsuit, likened this obligation to the duty parents have to protect money in a kid's college trust fund. If the trustees of that fund went and squandered the money, the child could sue them. So these kids are expanding that idea and suing the government for squandering their future.
While most of the state-level cases are facing motions to dismiss, Olson said she feels optimistic about the federal case. A judge in Washington, D.C., will hear arguments for a preliminary injunction in the case -- the plaintiffs want the judge to force the government to take immediate action, arguing that any delay could create further harm, and possibly irreparable damage, to those involved.
Specifically, the motion for preliminary injunction asks the federal government to prepare a national climate recovery plan by March that caps national CO2 emissions at 2011 levels and, starting in 2013, reduces them by 6 percent each year.
"There's never been a case that's asked the government to have a national coordinated climate recovery plan," Olson said. "It's really a first in terms of going to the judge and asking for something really substantive."
The preliminary injunction hearing was scheduled for Dec. 15 in San Francisco, but it was recently transferred to Washington, D.C., due to the national significance of the case. No word yet on the date.
Atmospheric trust litigation expands on the public trust doctrine, an ancient common-law principle traditionally applied to water resources or wild land that establishes the government's duty to protect such assets for the benefit of the public. Wood's theory declares that the atmosphere, too, is "a fundamental natural resource necessarily entrusted to the care of our federal government ... for its preservation and protection as a common property interest," as a brief from the lawsuit puts it.
The public trust doctrine has been used in environmental law for years, but targeted at specific regulatory decisions or government agencies. By contrast, Olson explained, "if the court orders the government to create this plan, I see it as sort of an umbrella over all the climate work that's happening right now."
With climate legislation repeatedly stalled in Congress, and the president turning his back on climate change to focus already on reelection, the lawsuit is betting on an alternate route through the judicial branch.
"I really feel like this is going somewhere," Filippone said, "so I'm glad to be a part of it."
Hear from more of the youth plaintiffs and find out why they got involved here.
by Patrick Crouch.
Edith Floyd is the real deal. With little in the way of funding or organizational infrastructure, she runs Growing Joy Community Garden on the northeast side of Detroit. Not many folks bother to venture out to her neighborhood, but Edith has been inspiring me for years. I caught up with her on a cold, rainy November afternoon. While we talked in the dining room, her husband Henry watched their grandkids.
Q. You haven't always been an urban farmer. What did you do before this?
A. I worked at Detroit Public Schools. I started out with the Head Start Center and then I went to the middle school, to the Ed Tech, [which is] now the Computer Lab. I started farming because they laid me off and didn't call me back. Farming is not making a living, it's just keeping food in my freezer. I try to sell some so I can get some more equipment, so it will be easier for me to farm.
Q. What neighborhood are we in? What is it like?
A. This is the northeast side -- near the city airport. It's surrounded by graveyards on three sides and then the other barrier is the railroad track; we are surrounded by railroad tracks, and sometimes those trains stay for like 30 minutes, so you are trapped; ain't no way out.
Q. How long have you lived in this neighborhood?
A. Let's see. I came here when my son was 4, so about 36, 37 years.
Q. So you've seen a lot of changes.
A. Yeah, when I came it was beautiful -- there were grocery stores in the center, like in the middle of the neighborhood, but when the city came though here and bought everything up, they said [they were going to] enlarge the city airport. They bought up three and four blocks of houses and then left the rest of them there. They came in and ruined our neighborhood, and said they ran out of money and left us over here like that. I'm still here and I'm gonna stay here, 'cause I don't want to go somewhere and start all over again. I don't think I'd be able to pay for another house, and this one is already paid for. There was like 66 houses on this block, and now [there are] about six that people live in, and three need to be torn down, and the rest of it is empty. That's where I'm putting my farm on, all the lots. [Editor's note: some are calling this practice "blotting." Here's a recent NPR story on blotting in Detroit.]
Q. How many lots are you farming now?
A. It's like 28 lots.
Q. What are you growing on those lots?
A: Across the street I have my strawberry lot. I try to plant by lot. I have a collard green lot, a kale lot, an okra lot, an eggplant lot, green bean lot. I had a corn lot, but it didn't work so well. Right now I have a garlic lot, I had a tomato lot, cucumber lot, squash, cabbage, broccoli, watermelon, cantaloupe. I like flowers, so I planted some of them. I had potatoes, mustard greens, turnip greens.
Q. That's a lot of food!
A. Well, if it comes up it's a lot, but I give some to the Capuchin Soup Kitchen. I sell some at Eastern Market, and Wayne State Market, but the cabbage does not sell so I don't take cabbage there. (I still have about two of 300 pounds of cabbage I need to harvest.)
Q. So how much money are you making in a season?
A. I was trying to reach for 3,000, but I only made it to two something. I have to add up the last bit; I haven't got my last check. Every year I try to up it; the first year I made 1,000. The second year I went 2,000; this year I was trying to go for $3,000.
Q. So 28 lots, $3,000 -- that's a lot of work. Aren't there easier ways to make money?
A. Well, I'm not doing this just to make money! I'm doing this because I love it. I love to see things grow from seeds.
Q. Do you come from a farming family?
A. Yeah, I grew up in a family that sharecropped, you know, the old-fashioned way. Near Orangeburg, S.C., but we lived out in the country, out close to the swamp. When our house burned down, a guy offered that if my dad worked for him, then we could stay in his house for free, because he had another house ...The first year we worked our behinds off, we farmed 300 to 400 acres of cotton, plus the wheat, rye, oats, and corn. When you sharecrop you do the work, you get half the crop, and you split the cost of the fertilizer. After the first year we didn't make nothing! After that first year, he would just take a bunch of cotton and hide it in the woods, or we wouldn't make a dime. My mother always canned and had a lot of food so she always had like 500 jars of tomatoes, corn, squash, everything. She kept enough food to eat, and even had enough to feed the neighbor[s' family], and he had 12 kids.
I think that's the best time of my life, because we learned how to get food out of the woods, like all kinds of berries; gooseberries, blackberries, raspberry, strawberry, plums, and these little black berries we called sparkleberries.
We would collect hickory, walnuts, and pecans. My mama would make us get big five gallon buckets and crack them and she would make fruit cakes. She would add a little dried fruit, but mostly it was nuts. They were good.
Q. So why did your family move up to Detroit?
A. They didn't, just me! I came for one summer to stay with my aunt, and somehow my daddy talked them into having me stay, saying it's better for me, and I don't have to work. But I thought work was fun then.
[My aunt] had a store and I would work there before school and after school. Then I met my husband and he would walk me to school every day; he was there when I got out of school to walk me back home. That was nice because at the time it was the riot.
When we got married and moved to this neighborhood, we were the second black family on the street. It was so beautiful, there were houses everywhere, an apartment building down there, a restaurant, barber shop, hardware store, a bar, a steakhouse. There was a greenhouse with lots of flowers and plants, and a welding shop. We got along real well on this street until Devil's Night started. Then they started lighting fires. We would stay up just about all night watching for fires, cause the houses were so close together, and the next day we would sleep. Mostly the teenagers would start fires. We had a nice big garage that you could drive your car into, with an apartment upstairs. They burned that down, and the one next door. Then people started moving out, and I didn't blame them.
Then the [General Motors] Hamtramck plant closed and the rest of the people moved out because they lost their houses. They would pay somebody to burn it down to get insurance money, and they'd take the money and go. My husband got laid off for about a year, but they called him back. After that people just started moving out one by one until just about everyone was gone. All the younger people are gone, one or two older people are still here. Me and the girl next door and the people down the street are about my age, some are a little older. The rest are gone. I'm not gonna try and run with the rest of them, I just want to plant some food. Every time a house comes down I try to dig it out and plant some food, so that's how I started.
When I first came over here I had a garden in the backyard, and when people started moving out, I started one lot, then moved on to the next lot, and I kept at it. Three years ago I started the lot where the greenhouse is. It still has a lot of rocks, and I'm still trying to get the dirt better. I'm trying to get more leaves and grass so I can make a big compost pile.
I found out that tomatoes will grow anywhere. I don't care what kind of dirt you put tomatoes in, they will grow. String beans and okra will grow anywhere, and lima beans and peas, but they are slow-growing.
I'm really hoping the city will give me some answers. I want to buy the land, but I don't know.
Q. What's next for the farm?
A. The big plan is to have them let me close everything down and plow it all up. I want to go clear down to the five-acre park at the end of the street. You can't really make too much with beans or peas unless you have an acre or more. I had one lot with lima beans and I [harvested] about 100 quarts off the one lot, and I would have had more if I had planted earlier.