Archive for the ‘Featured’ Category

This.

Just read an excellent article over on AlterNet, discussing what impact Bill Gates’ big speech of a few days ago might have. Gates just announced that he’s putting his massive resources and personal clout behind the target of getting to zero carbon emissions by 2050. Globally. Zero.

From the AlterNet article:

Gates spoke about his commitment to using his massive philanthropic resources (the Gates Foundation is the world’s largest) to make life better for people through public health and poverty alleviation (“vaccines and seeds” as he put it). Then he said something he’s never said before: that is it because he’s committed to improving life for the world’s vulnerable people that he now believes that climate change is the most important challenge on the planet.

Even more importantly, he acknowledged the only sensible goal, when it comes to climate emissions, is to eliminate them: we should be aiming for a civilization that produces no net emissions, and we should be aiming to live in that civilization here in the developed world by 2050.

I don’t think most of us even let ourselves dream about that kind of goal. Successes in the environmental movement, especially at the global level, are so depressingly few and far between that we have a tendency to define our goals very narrowly, to try to insulate ourselves a little from the cascade of disaster that would otherwise bury us. I can imagine and work towards a bike lane on Ste-Catherine Street. That’s a goal I can see reaching. I don’t think I could honestly focus on the goal of a zero-carbon-emissions world without falling into despair.

Maybe that’s just me. Maybe I give up too easily. But I think a lot of us would be daunted by this scale of work; because we don’t normally work on that scale. And the people who do work on a global scale readily, the CEOs of international corporations and the politicians of nation-states and the generally super-rich, they aren’t thinking this way. (I’m going to define “they” in a very reductionist way here as “anybody who has access to their very own airplane”.)

That’s why everyone’s buzzing so much about this: because Gates isn’t David Suzuki, he isn’t George Monbiot; he’s one of them. And now we’ve got one of them on our side.

Is his goal realistic? I don’t know. Is he, even with all the resources of his foundation, going to be able to have much of an impact here? Maybe, maybe not. But it sure is one heck of a morale boost that he’s decided to try.

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Bike there!

I got all excited this morning when I found out that Google maps is now supporting biking directions. Then, of course, I discovered that it’s not available in Canada yet. Boo! Had a lot of fun playing around with it though, as I’m planning a cycling trip through Vermont in a couple of months. It looks like they are assuming a cycling speed of about 10 miles an hour, which at first I was thinking was pretty slow, but of course I’m used to thinking in kilometers anyway and actually 16 km/h is probably very reasonable for that kind of hilly area. (I’m planning my route to go through as many state parks, national forests, bird sanctuaries, etc as I can manage, and those all seem to be centred around mountains.) So I’m for sure looking forward to using this tool. Can’t wait for it to be available in Canada too.

It’s really impressive the ripples this has made. It’s hard to separate cause and effect in something like this, but just a few days after Google launched the new bike options, the US Department of Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, announced a new policy toward bicycling:

“Today, I want to announce a sea change. People across America who value bicycling should have a voice when it comes to transportation planning. This is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized. We are integrating the needs of bicyclists in federally-funded road projects. We are discouraging transportation investments that negatively affect cyclists and pedestrians. And we are encouraging investments that go beyond the minimum requirements and provide facilities for bicyclists and pedestrians of all ages and abilities.”

About time, is all I can say. If only our government could follow suit. Come on, Harper, you’ve been tagging along after the US on all kinds of bizarre policies for the last few years; how about following them on something worthwhile?

Virtual fossils

Click here to read the transcript of that live chat at the Guggenheim that our own Peter G. Brown was moderating last week.

For those of you in Montreal, Peter will also be speaking on March 24 at Dawson College, at 11:30 am. I don’t have the room number yet; keep watching this space.

Rights of Nature

From the Towards an Eco-Economy blog comes an interesting referral to UK environmental lawyer Polly Higgins and her proposal to expand the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to all life forms.

60 years ago the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was born out of the devastation of the humanitarian crisis of the Second World War. Now we have a planetary crisis. Over the past 35 years there has been an ever increasingly loud voice of those calling for proper protection of the planet. There are over 500 pieces of ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ law, social documents and individual manifestos that refer to the environment, but until now there has not yet been a comprehensive codification of the Rights of the planet, nor a recognition of our role as trustees and the responsibilities that brings with it.

Go there and watch the video; it’s well worth it.

For art’s sake

Peter G. Brown, author of Right Relationship: Building a Whole Earth Economy, is going to be serving as moderator of an upcoming forum called “Beyond Material Worth” at the Guggenheim in New York, February 22-26. This forum will include a one-hour live chat on Thursday, February 25, at 2pm EST. Be sure to check it out!

Glaciergate

Found a great article today by journalist Gwynne Dyer, Climategate and Disbelief. Y’all know how much I love recommending things for you to read, but this is a good one, and quite short.

The weight of the evidence rests overwhelmingly on the side of those who argue that climate change is real and dangerous. Ninety-seven or ninety-eight percent of scientists active in the relevant fields are convinced of it; all but a couple of the world’s two hundred governments have been persuaded of it; public opinion accepts it almost everywhere except in parts of the “Anglosphere.” The United States, and to a lesser extent Australia, Britain and Canada, are the last bastions of denial.

From being the least ideological countries fifty years ago, when much of the rest of the planet was drunk on Marxist theories, these countries have become the most ideological today. Disbelief in climate change has been turned into an ideological badge worn by the right, and evidence is no longer relevant.

This wouldn’t matter much if the countries in question were Bolivia, Belgium and Burma, but one of them is really important.

F(l)ail: How the Establishment Protects Itself While the Earth Declines

Today’s special guest post comes from Professor Peter G. Brown of the McGill University School of Environment, co-author of
Right Relationship: Building a Whole Earth Economy
and author of two previous books.

* * *

HOW THE ESTABLISHMENT PROTECTS ITSELF, OR THINKS IT DOES WHILE THE EARTH DECLINES.

1. DROWNING IN OUR WORRIES. One of the common problems of our news-saturated culture is “idea fatigue”. People are so overloaded by the constant barrage of new things to worry about, that they become narcotized and unable to be roused to action. We get tired of hearing about the environment, about Afghanistan, about the federal government’s latest shenanigans, about the spread of wildfire zones north and south, about countless other issues – precisely because they *are* countless and no-one’s mind can deal with them all at once.

2. APPOINT A COMMISSION. This is another of the ways in which entrenched institutions protect themselves: by encouraging a sense of powerlessness in people who might otherwise feel called upon to change them. The internal reform efforts which are then put forward by these institutions are welcomed despite their toothlessness – because they allow people to put that issue at the bottom of the worry pile, comforted that at least something is being done.

3. NARROW THE MANDATE. The current Angelides “Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission” is very much a case in point. Even leaving aside its actual inquiry process, which remains to be seen, the very questions it is asking fail to do more than scratch the surface of the problem. But, because it’s being trumpeted as a major reform, a lot of people will sit back and think “Well, at least that’s taken care of” and be distracted by the next new thing to worry about.

4. PRESERVE THE FRAMEWORK THAT LEGITIMIZES YOU. The “Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission” principally looks at how to keep capital markets stable, but pays no attention at all to the fact that these very markets are destabilizing the earth’s life support systems on which the well-being of life on Earth depends. With all the talk about the “getting the economy moving again” and the “recovery” they are able to distract everyone from the biggest disaster humankind has ever experienced. Summers and Secretary Geitner have pulled the wool over our eyes.