Archive for June, 2009

Greenpeace volunteers blockade UK coal ship

Reposted from Greenpeace’s blog today comes this video:

“Last night Greenpeace volunteers boarded E.ON’s moving bulk freighter Sir Charles Parsons, carrying thousands of tonnes of coals to restock the Kingsnorth coal-fired power station.

They intercepted the freighter using rigid inflatable speedboats just after midnight as the ship sped up the River Medway towards Kingsnorth, then attached climbing ladders to the vessel and scaled the 15 metre hull. Three teams comprising nine people succeeded in boarding the ship. They then scaled the ship’s huge funnel and the towering foremast to stop the ship from unloading.

The ship is now docked at the Kingsnorth quayside, but no coal has yet been unloaded. The intention is to delay the offloading of the coal cargo for as long as possible. Police are on the scene and have already made six arrests, but we still have four volunteers aboard with enough food and water to stay for several days, if necessary.”

Talk about direct action! This is certainly a brave thing for them to be doing. Let’s hope it raises some people’s awareness.

Update: The standoff has now ended after the four volunteers still on board were served with an injunction.

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Holy Agendas, Batman!

The members of the Moral Economy Project have been doing a fair number of radio interviews recently. You can see the complete list of the ones we have archives of here. I haven’t been blogging all of them, but there was one last week that deserves a bit of discussion.

Click here to listen to Rob Johnson of KMPH 840 AM (Modesto, California) interview Geoffrey Garver of the MEP. (The interviews are in alphabetical order, so you’ve got to scroll about a third of the way down the page.) In brief, Johnson doesn’t believe climate change is happening. It’s an interesting interview; the questions are as revealing as the answers.

Johnson’s evidence for the supposed non-existence of climate change appears to come mainly from the Science and Public Policy Institute, which is headed by Robert Ferguson, the former director of the Center for Science and Public Policy, a project of the Frontiers of Freedom Institute, which receives funding from ExxonMobil. Make of that what you will.

Johnson also stated that Britain’s highest court had banned Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” from being shown in schools because it contained scientific errors. Not quite. From a BBC news article about the case: Mr Justice Burton said he had no complaint about Gore’s central thesis that climate change was happening and was being driven by emissions from humans. The ruling was that the film did contain nine errors, and information about which parts didn’t accord with mainstream scientific findings (for instance, Gore’s claim that snowmelt on Kilimanjaro was expressly due to human-caused global warming, which the judge ruled “cannot be established”) should be distributed to teachers along with the film.

(Also from the BBC article: Children’s Minister Kevin Brennan had earlier said: “It is important to be clear that the central arguments put forward in An Inconvenient Truth, that climate change is mainly caused by man-made emissions of greenhouse gases and will have serious adverse consequences, are supported by the vast weight of scientific opinion.”)

So, Johnson doesn’t have his facts together. He’s not necessarily lying about the case deliberately; let’s be charitable and assume he didn’t understand what he was reading. The court did award the complainant two-thirds of his legal costs, so maybe Johnson thought that meant he’d won on getting the film banned too? I don’t know. Regardless, he’s wrong.

Some people say it’s pointless to try to engage with men like Rob Johnson. They say that having these kinds of discussions only fosters the illusion (which ExxonMobil and their ilk would like very much to promote) that there’s actually still some kind of scientific debate going on about whether climate change exists. It’s a reasonable point, but unfortunately, ignoring these people won’t make them go away. I think that even if there’s no chance of convincing the person we’re talking with, there’s a very good chance some of the listening audience will, at the very least, decide to look into the topic further.

Call me an optimist, but I honestly believe that most people are capable of evaluating the legitimacy of a source if they have enough information about it. That’s one of the major advantages of the data-rich society in which we live: all the information is out there to be found. Rob Johnson cited a source he considers credible, and everyone can look at it and decide for themselves what its agenda is. Geoffrey Garver gave some of his sources in turn; George Monbiot is one. Everyone can evaluate that too. (Nelson Mandela and the United Nations have given their opinions already.)

Update: Geoff has also blogged about the interview.

The Breathing Earth

I’m a sucker for cool animations, and this one (thanks to @sugardayfox on Twitter) is definitely the coolest I have seen today. The Breathing Earth shows average birth rates, death rates and CO2 emissions by country, as the “breath” of the planet. It makes a surprisingly impressive visual.

(Warning, if you’re at work: it plays sound automatically.)

Videos!

I was trying to post a new video from our May 15-16 symposium this morning, but unfortunately it looks like WordPress doesn’t allow embedded Vimeo videos. Stay tuned and I’ll try to make it work. Meanwhile, here’s the one video from the symposium that’s on YouTube instead: Bill McKibben, head of 350.org, in a pre-recorded address to the symposium:

Thanks again to everyone who attended!

GreenPrint

So this is interesting: GreenPrint. It’s a software add-on that checks your printouts for waste pages, like those legal disclaimers, logo pages, blank pages with nothing but a URL on them, etc., that often show up when you print from the web. It makes suggestions for which pages might be wasted, so that you can remove them from the print job before it starts. You can also remove images and banner ads from webpage printouts. GreenPrint also works with Word documents.

The Windows XP/Vista version is free; the Mac version seems to be a 30-day trial. There’s a PDF writer included, which is handy if you want to make PDFs of webpages with banner ads removed. GreenPrint runs in your system tray, so it’s on in the background all the time.

The software can tell you how many pages you’ve saved in total since you started using it. They have a counter on their website showing how many pages, trees and pounds of CO2 have been saved by their product – if these are accurate statistics, that means the downloaded software is tracking printouts and sending that information back to them. So depending on what your privacy concerns are, that’s something to keep in mind.

Anyways, it’s a neat idea. We try to reduce paper waste around this office as much as possible – we only buy recycled paper, and we do all our for-internal-use printing on blank-on-one-side pages that I salvage from the photocopy room at the university library. But anything that cuts it down further is very handy. I’ll let you know if I have any problems with this program.

(found via the SFWA’s Writer Beware blog)

The American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACESA)

An analysis of the American Clean Energy and Security Act
by Peter G Brown and Geoffrey Garver

We assess the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACESA) approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee on the basis of “right relationship” as described in our book Right Relationship: Building a Whole Earth Economy (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler 2009). In the current political climate, with Republicans and conservative Democrats still likely a major obstacle to truly effective legislation to control greenhouse gases, a bill like the ACESA may well be the strongest bill that can be adopted. But this law is acceptable only if it represents a transformational step toward an economy that lives within its ecological means. On this criterion, the bill is a modest effort at best.

The fundamental problem human society is facing is that continued dedication to ‘economic growth,’ per se, will destroy the Earth’s ability to provide a healthy home for most life forms. Quite simply, sticking with an economic model that is a major driver toward ecological catastrophe will kill us. We must think of two budgets: the ecological budget and the economic budget. The ecological budget is the one on which all life depends. The human economy exists within the ecological budget and is strictly and completely dependent on it.

The ecological budget is already in dramatic deficit: September 23 was Earth Overshoot Day in 2008. The period after September 23 represents the time the human population causes an ecological deficit, using up the Earth faster than it can regenerate. Every year, Earth Overshoot Day comes earlier. This moving date tells the story of a global environment rapidly losing its ability to support life: a story of accelerating climate change; the loss of species and habitats; declining fisheries; the proliferation of ocean dead zones; diminishing freshwater resources; and more.

Here are four steps toward an approach to climate change and broader ecological issues that will allow Americans, and all people on Earth, to live fulfilling, healthy, lives that are respectful of the Earth’s capacity to support the whole array of vibrant life. The ACESA does not measure up well to any of them.

* We must acknowledge that unlimited growth on a finite planet makes no sense. We face a moral choice and challenge: bring the global economy into a right relationship with the planet and its human and non-human inhabitants. Our new ecological and climate reality demands new ways to live within the means of the Earth. Unfortunately, the ACESA reflects the widespread political unwillingness to touch the growth dilemma: it implicitly works from an agenda that ranks control of greenhouse gases second to infinite economic growth, and so adopts fairly modest goals. A truly effective climate change bill would be attuned to the limited capacity of Earth’s biosphere to provide for humans and other life and to assimilate their waste. Ultimately, this means the objective of climate change legislation or agreements, both nationally and internationally, must be tied to unbiased scientific information on the limits on atmospheric carbon dioxide levels that will ensure humanity’s long-term survival. Right now, the most respectable limit is 350 ppm – a level surpassed sometime in the 1990s. It is safe to say the ACESA comes nowhere close to attaining that limit, either by 2020 or 2050.

* Acknowledge that we need new institutions. An economic renewal tailored to the 21st century would establish institutions committed to fitting the human economy to Earth’s limited life-support capacity. Money should be understood as a social license to use part of Earth’s life-support capacity. Accordingly, we need something like the central reserve banks, but which look after shares of the Earth’s ecological capacity, not just interest rates and the money supply. Part of this essential work is the continued development of honest, rigorous scientific information on the atmospheric greenhouse gas levels that cannot be surpassed, and the relationship of greenhouse gas emissions to those levels. Yet, the need for more rigorous scientific study must not delay the prompt action that is urgently needed to reverse the disastrous course we are on. The ACESA is better than nothing.

* Fairness matters. The rules for the developed countries that are responsible for the current ecological crisis must be different from those for developing ones. The new economy must recognize that “free” trade as it is currently understood helps entrench the addiction to consumption; and it is often pursued in a manner that ravages the bio-productivity of developing countries, and impoverishes their citizens. On this criterion, the question of offsets in the ACESA warrants a critical eye. Ecological restoration is a vital part of the ecological renewal we – especially rich countries – owe the planet, but the ACESA gives too much credit to the prevention of forest loss in places whose destruction contributes to lavish overconsumption in the U.S. and elsewhere. The activities that give rise to these credits should happen, but not as a way to avoid real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

* Look beyond technological fixes. Bold leadership is needed to focus on all four policy “theatres” relevant to human ecological impact: technology; population; wealth and consumption; and morals and customs. Leaders must provide the moral footing that will help people, individually and collectively through government, to choose lifestyles with radically lower impact. Furthermore, more public support is needed where private money has little incentive to go, like massive investment in creating or restoring natural systems that rebuild the bioproductivity of Earth’s ravaged ecosystems. The ACESA does have provisions that will support renewable energy and investments that will promote energy conservation – like improved standards for green building. However, the bill is built on the assumption that the U.S. must remain a consumer-oriented society with an outsized ecological footprint.

Perhaps most difficult to come to grips with, in this legislation and other efforts emerging in the current political climate, is that the United States is an overpopulated country in an overpopulated world. Each American takes far too great a share of what the Earth can withstand – roughly twice the average European and many more times the average in the developing world. We should escape from the current treadmill that considers more people necessary for more growth. The America projected by the census bureau for mid-century of around 440 million people is a global disaster.

This is a critical year for climate change legislation, both nationally and internationally. The ACESA is weak, and every effort should be made to strengthen it. It will be useful to remember, as the bill goes forward, that we are not principally “consumers”, but citizens of the Earth, and guardians of life’s prospect on a beautiful and finite planet.
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Peter G Brown is a Professor at McGill University. Geoffrey Garver is an environmental consultant and lectures in law at Université de Montreal and Université Laval. They are co-authors of Right Relationship: Building a Whole Earth Economy (February 2009). Read more about their work at the Moral Economy Project homepage.

Robert Howell interviewed on GreenPlanetFM

Dr. Robert Howell, CEO of the Council for Socially Responsible Investment in New Zealand, talks about Right Relationship and the need for a whole earth economy on GreenPlanetFM in New Zealand (click to listen). Robert Howell is one of the five authors of the book.

“At the [Montreal] seminar, and at various other symposiums that I’ve been at, people say, well, this idea of a world federation and so on is a pipe dream. And my argument is, no, there have been very major changes to the world order of this kind that have been made. At the end of the First World War, five empires went out of existence. At the end of the Second World War, Bretton-Woods was imposed on us by the Americans which established the international economic model that we have been living with. It established the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and so on. It established a model of which growth was a fundamental premise. And that rewrote the world order. So there are times where these major structural changes occur, but they occur at times of great crisis. And there’s a quote in the book for which I’ll take credit, which is that you should never waste a good crisis, because when you have a real decent crisis, the unthinkable becomes thinkable.”