Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Belt and Road

Architect's Newspaper Sept. 2019: "For this year’s international practice issue we looked at China’s massive Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the trillion-dollar project aimed at tying the world to Beijing, and slavery’s role in the global construction industry. The Belt and Road initiative set up by Xi Jinping in 2013 includes hundreds of infrastructure projects financed or constructed in part or in whole by Chinese entities far beyond its borders. "Belt" refers to roads and railways, while "roads" refers to sea lanes, all of which unifies almost the entirely of Asia and Africa. The number and physical size of these infrastructure projects promises to remake urban landscapes - alter, and destroy - natural landscapes and consume untold millions of tons of natural resources, building materials and fossil fuels. The BRI is as much a geopolitcal experiment as it is an economic development strategy."

And it is definitely NOT a "green vision".  An analysis shows that China's BRI is loaded with coal power.

China is by far the biggest player in Asia, having supplied or pledged $36 billion for coal plants in 23 countries, according to the IEEFA. The Chinese government has provided financing from state-run banks and included many of the projects in its colossal Belt and Road Initiative, which is designed to expand Beijing’s influence through investments in strategic foreign infrastructure projects.

China has modernized their one-party dictatorship with market oriented reforms, i.e., its own version of authoritarian capitalism since Deng Xiaoping's rise to power after Mao's Cultural Revolution.His violent suppression of society and the government resulted in primarily military and police state power. This has led to an economic expansion and more wealth for a few Chinese connected to the right party officials and the Bank of China. It's this monolithic structure that Xi Jinping has inherited and continues to expand using economic levers in many countries with BRI as its mechanism.

A new study uncovers China's massive hidden lending to poor countries. Over 50 developing countries' Chinese debt accounts for on average 15 percent of their individual GDP. An example of their methodology is the way China isolates Taiwan with projects in poorer countries; the price of the development is breaking official ties with Taiwan. In this manner, China magnifies its influence over Taiwan without a direct confrontation with the US, which continues to sell weapons to Taipei. Beijing is withholding the $4.9 billion needed to finish the road project in Kenya, once a flagship for Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road initiative. But with concerns rising globally that BRI was loading poorer nations with unsustainable debt, Xi signaled in April that Beijing would exert more control over projects and tighten oversight. Chinese influence in Myanmar is growing. One of China’s biggest projects is the construction of a deep-sea port on the coast of Rakhine State. China’s ambitions for Myanmar also feature oil and gas pipelines to feed its insatiable energy needs. One of the pipelines cuts right through Rakhine State—suggesting an incentive for the Burmese military’s aggressiveness against the people living there. In Belarus, activists are protesting the massive industrial park development, the Great Stone Industrial Park outside Minsk. To quote one activist, "America and Europe won't give money for dirty factories like this, but China doesn't care and wants business for Chinese companies."

Earlier in 2018, the New York Times did an extensive examination of this topic: "We examined nearly 600 projects that China helped finance in the last decade, through billions of dollars in grants, loans and investments. Taken together, they show the scope and motivation of China’s strategy.41 pipelines and other oil and gas infrastructure help China secure valuable resources. We found 112 countries where China has financed projects. While most fall under its infrastructure plan known as the Belt and Road Initiative, Beijing has pushed beyond those boundaries.South Africa turned to China for $1.5 billion for a coal-fired power plant. It is one of at least 63 such plants financed by China around the world, which collectively pollute more than Spain." The Times has recently produced a longer investigation of projects in Kazakhstan, in an inaccessible area on the steppes of Central Asia, "The Trillion Dollar Nowhere".

 It's not too late to "green" that Belt and Road project. A couple of years ago, China even issued its own $2.15 billion Green Climate Bond to finance renewables and energy efficiency. But when it comes to that Belt and Road Initiative, China is not big enough. Although the Party centralized authority in Xi Jinping’s hands, those infrastructure projects come from a variety of sources in China, including different government agencies, provinces competing with each other, and the business sector. It’s hard enough for the Chinese state, even with a new and more powerful Ministry of Ecology and Environment and a cadre of environmental police officers, to impose stringent standards within the country. More to the point, China has shown little interest or capacity when it comes to imposing them outside its borders.

While the Chinese initiative initially received an overwhelmingly positive reception, since mid-2017 the democratic Quad—Australia, India, Japan, and the U.S.—and several European countries have begun to signal major reservations about the BRI. A new multi-country survey found that there is little public support for coal projects in key countries for China's ambitious BRI, knowing that country's penchant for leveraging its investments into control, such as has been experienced lately with Hong Kong.

There is rightful international concern about the agenda behind China's development push, particularly since it imposes its own culture and only honors contracts it sees fit. However, some scholars counter that there is no evidence that China’s plan is to entrap developing countries. Deborah Brautigam, director of the Africa-China Research Initiative at Johns Hopkins University, said the Sri Lanka port is the only one out of more than 3,000 Belt and Road projects that has ended in a 99-year lease. “We’ve not seen a pattern of deliberate entrapment in order to get some strategic advantage,” Brautigam said.

Update 9/23/19: Belt and Road propels Chinese contractors to top of global ranks

Update 9/24/19: China’s BRI: a Marshall Plan in reverse

Update 9/25/19: China’s BRI cargo to Europe under scrutiny as operator admits to moving empty containers

Update 10/3/19: 'Coal is still king' in Southeast Asia even as countries work toward cleaner energy

Monday, August 5, 2019

The 1984 Climate Change Documentary

from Climate State: a half hour presentation

During the late 1970s it became increasingly clear that the planet was warming, culminating in the landmark Charney Report, published in 1979. Forty years ago, scientists accurately predicted climate change. We are living it now.

This 1984 documentary outlines our understanding of global climate change at the time. Topics discussed include, the scientific consensus, weather patterns, sea level rise, adaptation, climate actions, or the greenhouse effect. There's weather, and then there's climate. Weather patterns come and go, but forecasting has become much more accurate through improved meteorological techniques. Climate change is harder to predict. But, as the CBC's Peter Kent shows in this 1984 documentary, it's happening. Carbon dioxide levels in the Earth's atmosphere have been steadily rising.

Program: The Journal / CBC Broadcast Date: Jan. 24, 1984

This and other environmental video libraries are at
Climate State TV
Climate State Patreon

On the global front, the first COP by the UNFCCC was convened in 1995, and began its long, torturous path towards the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, an international treaty which extends the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that commits state parties to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, based on the scientific consensus that global warming is occurring. It came into effect in early 2005.

The global warming issue didn't publicly resurface again for a couple of decades, until Al Gore took his presentation on the road after his electoral loss to Bush in 2000. The "Inconvenient Truth" is a 2006 American concert film/documentary film directed by Davis Guggenheim about former United States Vice President Al Gore's campaign to educate people about global warming. The film features a comprehensive slide show that, by Gore's own estimate, he has presented over a thousand times to audiences worldwide beginning in 2004. That movie is available here. In 2007, Gore was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, along with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, for “informing the world of the dangers posed by climate change.”

Some of the background on that movie and its development from the famous traveling slide show is here. Over time, cynicism and denial from the Bush administration eroded the momentum established by the movie. When the Obama administration laid out its policy for addressing climate change in the 2013 State of the Union speech, it was a signal change for addressing the issue. At that point, Gore bounced back with his Climate Reality project, which continues today in a global climate advocacy movement.

The next big global step from the UNFCCC came with the Paris Climate Accord of 2015 that promised to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. 195 countries adopted the first-ever universal, legally binding global climate deal.

Except that in June of 2017, the Trump administration announced that it would no longer participate in this treaty, which could become effective in November of 2020. With the Trump administration currently holding sway over the denialist movement and in thrall to the fossil fuel industry as well as the Saudis, Gore now continues to advance the climate change agenda with several projects that he's pushing forward, including the earth observation DSCOVR satellite with NASA.

Update 8/13/19: “Kochland” examines the Koch brothers’ early, crucial role in climate-change denial - their role went as far back as 1991.

Update 8/21/19: Readings on the pioneers of climate science

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

A Call to Leadership

Architecture 2030 is a non-profit, non-partisan and independent organization established in response to the climate change crisis in 2002. It was started back then by architect Ed Mazria, who wanted to develop building standards for the industry that embraced the UNFCCC carbon protocols and position the industry to be ahead of the game instead of behind it. At the time, it was a challenge to the American Institute of Architects (AIA), which was mostly involved with incremental code changes for energy efficiency. It wasn't a case of exhibiting leadership in environmental issues.

By 2014, the architecture profession had embraced the radical decarbonization of the built environment outlined by Architecture 2030 criteria and showcased Ed Mazria, FAIA as the keynote speaker at the national convention that year as an industry game-changer. Its ZERO Code is a pathway to zero net carbon buildings and has now been fully embraced by the AIA. At the same time, the International Union of Architects (UIA) World Congress, member organizations representing over 1.3 million architects in 124 countries worldwide unanimously adopted the 2050 Imperative, a declaration to eliminate CO2 emissions in the built environment by 2050

Meanwhile Mazria, who has become something of a building-sector Al Gore, appearing at global conferences with pie-chart slides, says he believes another industry-wide strategy could curb carbon emissions even faster than policy. “Twenty percent of all the construction in the world is influenced by a small percentage of AEC firms. That’s where the power is,” he says.

Mazria praises the precision of the global building sector, which has managed to reduce carbon emissions since 2015 even while floor area has expanded. That success story has been under reported, partly because the world is understandably more focused on record-breaking overall carbon emissions in 2017 and 2018. But Mazria believes AEC firm leaders could flip the graph during the next few critical years. He’s focusing on relationships with CEOs at the AIA’s Large First Round Table, a group that meets twice a year. Nearly all those firms have signed on to the 2030 Commitment, which, since these giant firms bill internationally, has a global impact. Mazria has brokered carbon neutrality commitments from CEOs at major AEC firms in other countries too, including China. “We understand the issue. We’ve had an awakening,” says Mazria. “Now we just have to be very, very aggressive. If we don’t solve it, it doesn’t get solved. It’s as simple as that.”

Recently the AIA has formally set out specific policies to provide a framework for the AIA to prioritize and support urgent climate action to exponentially accelerate the “decarbonization” of buildings, the building sector, and the built environment.

On the first day of the AIA Conference on Architecture on June 10 of this year, a Resolution passed -- overwhelmingly -- for AIA to:
  • declare an urgent climate imperative for carbon reduction
  • transform the day-to-day practice of architects to achieve a zero-carbon, equitable, resilient and healthy built environment
  • leverage support of our peers, clients, policy makers, and the public at large.
This is a victory for AIA's Committee On The Environment and many other groups and people who have been advocating for architects and the AIA to take a leadership stance on climate change, as its impact is seen in every community.

But this is not a proposed solution. It is a call for action.The membership has spoken and the imperative is clear.This means not only a major change in practice, but also a cultural change.

There is big work ahead.

Update 7/19/19:  AIA COTE in conversation with Paul Hawken,  Director of Project Drawdown

Update 8/11/19:  Achieving Zero Framework: Phasing out CO2 emissions in the urban built environment by mid-century

Update 8/12/19: Why Cities Matter: Global Covenant of Mayors

Update 9/20/19:  AIA announces Big Move Toward Environmental Stewardship

Update 9/21/19: Where we stand: Climate Action

Update 9/25/19:  On September 4 in Pittsburgh the AIA Board ratified Resolution 19-11

Update 10/7/19: We are in the midst of a climate emergency and timing is everything.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The USA Moves On

"Whether or not the U.S. decides to take action on climate change, the shape of the country—its towns, offices, homes, schools, roads, farms, and more—is on the brink of a radical transformation. This transformation could be borne out in two ways. The first is external: Escalating storms, floods, droughts, mass migration, food scarcity, and economic instability could dramatically alter the physical landscape and economy. The other is internal: A national effort to retrofit millions of buildings and rethink the way communities are designed could help Americans withstand the ravages of climate change and make the country more equitable."

The resolution known as the Green New Deal, published by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey in February, wants to bring about the latter. The Green New Deal framework describes the monumental changes needed to decarbonize the American economy by meeting 100% of our energy demands with zero-emission sources in the next decade. The full text is here. It will require overhauling major industries like energy and agriculture, but also transforming America’s buildings and construction sector.

At the same time, many cities and states are starting to implement their own climate policies in spite of the vacuum at the Federal level by the Trump administration. California is famously in the lead with its policies and trade agreements with other states and governments. As of September 2018, it has established a comprehensive set of policies and legislation in order to create a rapid turnaround in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

And just now from Climate Mobilization: New York City did something excellent today, Wednesday June 26: the City Council told the truth about the Climate Emergency. We are proud — and thrilled — that New York City has joined the over 650 local governments in declaring a Climate Emergency, becoming the largest local government to declare to date! This declaration has been a strategic goal of ours for some time — New York City’s leadership in the U.S. and on the global stage now takes our Climate Emergency Campaign to another level.

Much credit belongs to Extinction Rebellion NYC, which has done breakthrough work on securing this declaration. We are proud to have collaborated with them, helping to draft the declaration and supporting in other ways. Our executive director Margaret Klein Salamon testified for the declaration before the City Council on Monday, along with organizers from Extinction Rebellion and Fridays for our Future. Here is a text of the declaration. Now, along with a growing list of partner orgs, we are calling on Congress to declare a #ClimateEmergency — an effort that has already gained thousands of signatures within just a few days.

It seems that the political climate is also now rapidly changing in the USA, driven by a vision of abundance in a massive effort to decarbonize and restructure energy and the built environment.

Update 6/27/19: California and Canada announced they will work together to combat climate change.

Update 6/28/19: The American Institute of Architects supports the Green New Deal.

Update 9/24/19: Former Secretary of State John Kerry: “The United States will be back at the table after 2020"

Friday, May 31, 2019

Trees of Life

The film above is from Patagonia Films - Treeline: A Story Written in Rings, available in full for the first time. Follow a group of skiers, snowboarders, scientists and healers to the birch forests of Japan, the red cedars of British Columbia and the bristlecones of Nevada, as they explore an ancient story written in rings. Suzanne Simard, a forest ecologist working in the old-growth forests of British Columbia, discovered that trees “communicate,” or share carbon with each other, through giant fungal networks under the ground. In the film, she explains why we might have deeply rooted (no pun intended) connections to these immobile giants. “When we look at the pattern of a mycorrhizal network,” she says, “when we actually dissect it and look at all the mathematical relationships, it’s the same pattern as a neural network…it’s kind of like a brain.” The principles of this ecology, plus its application to urban planning and urban forestry, is discussed here as being grounded in Frank Lloyd Wright's view of design with nature.

Trees are not just a symbol of life, they are the actual givers of life on this planet, providing oxygen, food and nutrients and absorbing carbon. Yet our human civilization is bent upon destroying these crucial life-giving forests for energy and profits. Extensive documentation of the global dwindling forests has been done over the last 30 years, and time is running out on conserving them. World Wildlife Foundation studies deforestation and and the increasing rate of forest degradation. The main cause of deforestation is agriculture (poorly planned infrastructure is emerging as a big threat too) and the main cause of forest degradation is illegal logging. We’re losing 18.7 million acres of forests annually, equivalent to 27 soccer fields every minute.

Are there ways to push back at the local level? An example is provided by: Planting Trees as Resistance and Empowerment: The Remarkable Illustrated Story of Wangari Maathai, the First African Woman to Win the Nobel Peace Prize. This blogpost examines a lifetime of forest renewal by a woman who used social strategies and organizational protest to protect and expand the Kenyan forests. On October 8, 2004, midway through her sixty-fifth year, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. By the end of her life, the movement she started had planted thirty million trees, re-imagining the ecological and economic landscape of possibility for generations of Kenyans to come, and modeling for the rest of the world a new form of civic agency standing up for nature and humanity as an indivisible whole.

Forest Trends goes further with very specific larger efforts and global financial strategies in their series about how forests are our best climate hedge. There are very specific approaches outlined towards saving and expanding our natural carbon sinks, and there have been historic difficulties in establishing markets for conserving tropical forests, among others.

Our planet is on the cusp of collapsing with its ecosystem decimated by human growth and consumption. A new report explains how close we've come to irreversible changes in our environment, and urges immediate, global action.This report suggests ‘High Likelihood of Human Civilization Coming to an End’ starting in 2050. The climate change analysis was written by a former fossil fuel executive and backed by the former chief of Australia's military.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Bending the Arc of Justice

From the inspiration of Earth Day in the writings and activism of Rachel Carson in her epic Silent Spring documentation to the present-day confrontational actions between the corporate power of profit versus the Extinction Rebellion - portrayed in the graphic above from FT - we have seen Earth Day evolve extensively from its first recognition in 1970. During that time, we have seen 24 COP's come and go; the first COP was held in Berlin in 1995.

The 25th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 25) to the UNFCCC was to take place from 11-22 November 2019 in Brazil. Upon election as President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro pulled Brazil out of hosting the event. So now the Santiago Climate Change Conference, which will feature the 25th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 25) to the UNFCCC and meetings of the UNFCCC subsidiary bodies, is expected to take place from 2-13 December 2019.

This reflects the global turbulence among countries, governments and corporate powers that are all staking a claim on planet earth, resulting in a human-induced crisis of resources, humanity and the very life systems of our environment. In the last few hundred years we've gone beyond our natural limits and show no signs of stopping carbon emissions in spite of all the agreements and discussions to date. Hence, the increasing tragedy of future environmental collapse, and the resistance personified by children like Greta and the powerful counter movements emerging as the alarms are set off by more and more people seeing an unfolding terrible, dark future.

According to a NYTimes report, more carbon has been released into the atmosphere since the final day of the Noordwijk conference, Nov. 7, 1989, than in the entire history of civilization preceding it. In 1990, humankind emitted more than 20 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide. By 2017, the figure had risen to 32.5 billion metric tons, a record. Despite every action taken since the Charney report — the billions of dollars invested in research, the nonbinding treaties, the investments in renewable energy — the only number that counts, the total quantity of global greenhouse gas emitted per year, has continued its inexorable rise.

Like the scientific story, the political story hasn’t changed greatly, except in its particulars. Even some of the nations that pushed hardest for climate policy have failed to honor their own commitments. When it comes to our own nation, which has failed to make any binding commitments whatsoever, the dominant narrative for the last quarter century has concerned the efforts of the fossil-fuel industries to suppress science, confuse public knowledge and bribe politicians.

Because our destructive, profit-focused economic system demands a fiction called GDP that requires physical consumption to increase the ledger sheet balance, the system inherently grows out of control as the markets are expanded. Destroying the environment that provides our life support is a form of insanity that leads to collapse, and that is increasingly recognized now by people all over the world, as well as by governments and the insurance industry. A view delineating this is: Collapse of Industrial Civilization ~ Finding the Truth behind the American Hologram Concerning Humanity’s Future: Interview with Nick Humphrey, Climatologist and Geoscientist. Nick makes the critical point that Nature is in control, not humans. Even our current catastrophes which were sparked by humanity’s activities were ultimately governed by the laws of Nature (physics, thermodynamics, chemistry, etc). We never were separate from it all, but a part of it. We should be telling ourselves to do what we feel is right to respect Nature and its unbreakable laws, accepting our place in the Universe as just one of many species which have a finite existence on this planet.

The enormous effort that it will take for the all the civilizations of the world to stop the self-destruction and change the entire system in time to stave off the worst impacts appear to be unachievable at this point, especially given the rise of demagogues and rampant corruption in many countries, including the US, that block even the efforts by corporations and individuals to change this systemic self-destruction. We have reached our day of reckoning, which was actually five years ago with the issuance of the IPCC's AR5 fifth assessment report, Part 2, ahead of the Paris Climate Summit.

As Chris Hays put it, Martin Luther King's idea that the moral universe inherently bends towards justice is inspiring. ... "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." It means that all of us together will have to bend it with revolutionary fervor, not just foster incremental steps. The time has come, even as the natural world inflicts its wrath upon our efforts to salvage a future for ourselves and our kids.

Update 4/23/19: It’s Not Coming, It’s Here: Bill McKibben on Our New Climate Reality

Update 4/24/19: Club of Rome Climate Emergency Plan (pdf file)

Update 6/29/19: Bonn wrap-up: Shifting the levers of power toward climate justice.

Update 9/24/19: Former Governor Jerry Brown launches California-China Climate Institute.  More on that here.

Saturday, March 2, 2019


16-year old Greta Thunberg is the most recent and astonishing climate activist to emerge since last December's COP24 in Katowice left the planet with no specific agreements or targets. It started with her lone school strike during last September of 2018 that ultimately saw her scolding the adults for not taking action to meet the actual reductions necessary in carbon emissions to keep the planet habitable for her generation. At Davos in January, she told world leaders: 'I don't want you to be hopeful, I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day and then I want you to act.' In an impassioned warning to act now on climate change, Thunberg told her audience: 'Either we choose to go on as a civilisation or we don’t."  She's making common cause with Extinction Rebellion, a fast-growing public uprising that began in October 2018  with a petition in London to the UK government to drive radical change and create urgency around the obvious signs of climate breakdown.

Business as usual on climate change is no longer acceptable to a growing number of people, as well as the UNFCCC participants, which is reaching its own critical milestones. At the recent joint briefing by the President of the General Assembly and the Secretary-General's Special Envoy for the 2019 Climate Summit,  General Assembly President Maria Espinosa said 2019 is a critical year, the “last chance” for the international community to take effective action on climate change on Thursday, during a briefing to announce the UN’s roadmap to the Climate Summit in September. She walked the representatives of Member States through some of the key events of 2019, leading up to, and following, the Climate Summit. All of the events, she said, share two goals: a doubling of commitments and ambition at a national level, and ensuring the inclusion of diverse groups in the process of climate action.

The slowly building movement that has engaged in lawsuits against governments for failing to protect people from the harmful and destructive impacts of climate change is picking up speed as these lawsuits succeed in moving forward, despite government resistance fostered by the fossil fuel industry. In moving beyond politics, these lawsuits provide a mechanism within each country to force the government to act immediately and with significant steps to combat climate change impacts. An array of climate litigation against governments and corporations is now underway under the umbrella of the Plan B organization.

The strategy of suing governments to force action is drastic, but given the lack of progress by the COP process as well as ineffectual emissions reduction standards, it may be the future of climate change action. It involves the connection between climate change and establishing human rights around the ability to live in a world that is habitable and supports life for the billions of people on this planet.

Update 3/7/19:  Greta's story

Update 4/23/19: The speech Greta Thunberg gave to MPs at the Houses of Parliament: 'You did not act in time'

Update 9/20/19: An Hour with 16-Year-Old Climate Activist Greta Thunberg on Sept. 11 - Democracy Now

Update 9/21/19:  Our Planet Is Dying. The Time for Fairytales Is Over.