Tuesday, December 24, 2019


After the disappointment with the failure of global policy progress at COP25 in Spain, the activism of many climate change resistance groups has increased, including eXtinction Rebellion (XR) and the US Mayors' Climate group which is moving forward with public policy in states across the country in spite of resistance from our right-wing government and its climate deniers, funded by corporate fossil fuel money. The Trump administration is the worst offender in this, given the complete capture of the Republican party by corporate money which is dismantling the voting process and undermining democracy itself. It's out-of-control vulture capitalism that obstructs all attempts to deal with climate change.

On this point about transnational, trans-class solidarity and climate justice, it might be worth taking a look at Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si, which has probably been the most important book on these questions in a generation. In a series of statements that Pope Francis makes in that text, he reconfigures Catholic theology as a process of forging a planetary solidarity for humanity, in a world still to come.

A US government climate change advisory group scrapped by Donald Trump has reassembled independently to call for better adaptation to the floods, wildfires and other threats that increasingly loom over American communities. They are moving ahead on their own initiative, as are many independent groups and companies that are taking on climate change on their own initiative.

Thus, Mission 2020: Climate Turning Point has come about, a collaborative campaign to bend the greenhouse-gas emissions curve downwards by 2020. The website is here.

Former New York City mayor and Bloomberg Philanthropies CEO Michael Bloomberg has announced his biggest commitment yet to tackle the climate crisis head on. Bloomberg’s “Beyond Carbon” initiative, made public on June 7, will make grants to organizations, including the Sierra Club, to move the US entirely off fossil fuels. More information is in the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures, which is part of the "Beyond Carbon" initiative. From Bloomberg: "Over the last few years, I have chaired an international effort called the Task Force on Climate Related Financial Disclosures. We created a set of recommendations to help companies measure and disclose information about how climate change could affect their facilities, their supply chains, their labor force, their delivery of products and services and other essential operations."

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

An Eleventh Year - Showers

We've had a recent winter rainstorm now in Southern California, similar to the pattern we saw last year, which is drier. Finally a series of cool days but not like there used to be. The changing climate continues to evolve into dry and warm weather with much less rainfall, and this will evidently progress as our carbon emissions heat up the planet. The global attempts to deal with this have not succeeded in any kind of significant change in human behavior around this. COP 25 in Madrid was a severe disappointment in the face of a climate emergency.

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, on Dec. 11, denounced the pledges of wealthy countries and businesses to curb climate change as hollow and deceptive, calling them "clever accounting and creative PR" in a speech before world leaders at the United Nations' annual COP 25 climate meeting in Madrid. The talks are aimed at finalizing guidelines for implementing the 2015 Paris Agreement, which called for measures to prevent global temperatures from rising more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit and mitigate the consequences of climate change. She says that business and political leaders are misleading the public by holding negotiations that are not leading to real action against warming temperatures, which she referred to as a climate "emergency."

Subsequent to the panel presentations, climate activist Dr. Peter Carter (video here) , Director of the Climate Emergency Institute spoke up with a summary of the proceedings: "It is missing the most important document, the 2018 IPCC report of 1.5 degrees C. It showed that 2 degrees C, the old target since 1996 is total catastrophe and that 1.5 degree C is still disastrous but that is where we must aim. All of the scientists are now agreed that they support the 1.5 degrees C. We are already there now. We must reduce global emissions 50% by the year 2030. Every year matters. Even as every COP has been set up to fail due to the requirement that major decisions will be made by consensus, for which there is no definition of "consensus". So we know that the US, Russia, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia are blocking science from the negotiations."

A reporter in attendance at COP 25 wrote: "The U.S., along with Australia, Brazil, Japan, and Saudi Arabia, has helped create a gridlock in this year’s negotiations. The vacuum left by the U.S. has led countries interested in maintaining the status quo — including Australia, a major coal exporter, and Brazil, led by a right-wing government promoting deforestation of the Amazon — to block stronger rules for a global carbon-emissions trading system that are supposed to go in effect next year"

Carbon dioxide emissions continue to grow amidst slowly emerging climate policies A failure to recognize the factors behind continued emissions growth could limit the world’s ability to shift to a pathway consistent with 1.5 °C or 2 °C of global warming. Continued support for low-carbon technologies needs to be combined with policies directed at phasing out the use of fossil fuels. This paper lays it out.

James Hansen has just issued a position paper called "Climate Change in a Nutshell: The Gathering Storm" as a summary of the issues involved in climate change and a warning to the world. It's part of the support for his Juliana v. United States lawsuit which is on behalf of the young people of the world.

"More sinister still is the growing power of the fossil fuels lobby over the world media and also over governments – not only the floundering western democracies, but also states like Russia, China, Brazil, India and Saudi Arabia. Media organisations such as the Murdoch News Corporation serve as an unofficial propaganda front for fossil fuels, brainwashing an unquestioning audience with a round-the-clock thunder of deceit, half-truths and misdirection."

The centuries-long history of extractive greed continues to subvert attempts to reduce carbon emissions, in the name of profit. Two years after spilling 407,000 gallons of oil in South Dakota, the Keystone Pipeline erupted again. In November, a North Dakota portion of the pipeline leaked another 380,000 gallons – adding to the millions of gallons of crude oil that have spilled from pipelines over the last decade, as Undark has reported. As the climate crisis worsens, the fossil fuel industry has clearly messaged its apathy by continuing to pollute the planet. But these horrific leaks aren’t simply one-off “incidents.” They reveal a long history of oppression on communities of color and the planet.

The results of the unabated carbon emissions are now a frightening climate emergency for this planet. The hope for change now rings hollow.

Update 12/19/19: Oil companies and their trade associations have since gone all in pushing carbon markets, and they’ve been all over COP25.

Friday, November 29, 2019

An Upwelling

The Christian season of Advent countenances expectation, hope, joy and purity in the lighting of candles, culminating in a moment of reverence on Christmas Day. The hopes and expectations of the future during this century are now focused on the climate crisis of our time. It becomes more and more fraught as the COP climate summits pass without concrete actions and benchmarks. COP 24 in Katowice, Poland in December of 2018 was no different, but it has become clear that progress has been stalled by corporate interests and the countries that feed on them, such as the USA, Russia, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

Yet forces are coalescing around the globe and in the US which are countermanding the denial and obstruction we see at the highest levels of global interaction. Professional groups such as the USGBC, which are sponsoring internal conferences, are taking action. Former President Barack Obama spoke at Greenbuild 2019 in Atlanta, on Nov. 20: During the conversation, Obama identified climate change and global economic inequality as the most compelling issues in the world today, explaining the difficulty leaders face in addressing the two “directly connected” issues. The American Institute of Architects has also gotten behind Architecture 2030’s Ed 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.

John Kerry, the former senator and secretary of state, has just now formed a new bipartisan coalition of world leaders, military brass and Hollywood celebrities to push for public action to combat climate change.The name, World War Zero, is supposed to evoke both the national security threat posed by the earth’s warming and the type of wartime mobilization that Mr. Kerry argued would be needed to stop the rise in carbon emissions before 2050. The star-studded group is supposed to win over those skeptical of the policies that would be needed to accomplish that." Meanwhile, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has pledged $500 million for a campaign designed to accelerate the country’s progress toward a 100% clean  energy economy. The Beyond Carbon campaign will seek to close the  nation’s remaining coal plants by 2030 and limit the expansion of  natural gas.

In October of 2019, a gathering of city leaders at the C40 Mayors Summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, seeks to accomplish more, seeking to announce initiatives, plans, and agreements that will make a significant dent in emissions. By bringing together mayors, business executives, scientists, leaders of the Youth Climate Strike, and elected officials, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is giving a keynote address on Wednesday, and Secretary General Gutteres, the gathering reflects what organizers see as the power of cities. Twenty-three states and three cities — Los Angeles, New York and Washington, DC — are suing Trump's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over its decision to loosen vehicle emissions standards. The lawsuit is intended to block the EPA from revoking portions of a wavier it granted California in 2013 to set its own standards for vehicle efficiency and electric vehicles.

While there is now a heightened sense of urgency to reduce emissions — one year later, over 455 U.S. cities have joined the Climate Mayors — not enough of those mayors are looking at dramatically remaking their cities to address the coming crisis.If these mayors agree that climate change threatens our cities, then they must confront the fact that some cities, their cities, must be relocated to confront climate change — or climate change will relocate them first.

This upwelling of environmental consciousness and organizations in the US during this era of Trump and his corporate enablers will move us into 2020 with a gathering momentum for the necessary changes needed by human societies across the globe to forge the solutions that will address climate change.

Update 11/30/19: Watch the US stall on climate change for 12 years (video)

Update 12/1/19: Greta Thunberg call to fight global warming cheers LA rally on Nov. 1

Update 12/4/19:  Climate Mayors to bolster city-level action with steering committee 

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Transit - a Solution?

California is the home of sprawl, thanks to the way the western US was acquired and developed for profit by the corporate railroads back in the early 1900's by the Huntingtons, among others. The local Los Angeles Red Cars were a loss-leader designed to sell real estate for development in the entire Los Angeles basin. The resulting evolution of the freeway grid during the postwar era, which developed along the earlier rail structure, made the region car-centric, and now development threatens to overwhelm the region with traffic. So far, Transit Oriented Design (TOD) that overlays the old rail right-of-ways for a growing light rail system is proving problematic. The system is still developing, and the attempt to use TOD hasn't worked out the way it was envisioned. A large part of the problem is that the development around these transit nodes has resulted in market rate housing which doesn't solve the problems of affordable housing or a reduction in the use of automobiles.

The "fix" that emerged with the subsequent light rail system planning is an acceleration of the rail extension plan to create a wide-flung system of transit that will integrate the region by 2030. It's an attempt to align transit with the existing dense urban land use, which is the reverse of the way that many of the older, east coast cities evolved. Other models of a more hybrid strategy is beginning to emerge with respect to land planning and development, with planning occuring at a more regional level that creates logical transitways within existing centers of subregional density. The linked-nodes strategy works if the centers of transit are directly aligned and permanently linked.

Enter the era of seriously addressing climate change on top of these already dense urban areas which are increasingly spewing greenhouse gasses, the challenge of a lifetime. A California think tank, Next10, has established emissions goals and practices for 2030 that require drastic changes to transit strategies. The new goals Next10 are pointing to call for cutting greenhouse gases another 40 percent over the next 10 years en route to an 80 percent reduction by 2050. And with the transportation sector belching out more than 40 percent of the state’s emissions, the hard work is still ahead:

“Almost all of the success has been in the electricity sector, and almost all of the low hanging fruit is gone,” said Danny Cullenward, policy director at climate change think tank Near Zero. “Meanwhile, the transportation sector is going in the wrong direction.” Still, they won’t be enough to staunch the flow of greenhouse gases from tailpipes, which  Nichols said in 2018 will require a “deep transformation. And changing California’s car culture — that transformation Nichols wants — is widely believed to be a significant challenge on its own. Add to that the state’s battle with federal regulators to manage its own clean-car rules and the goal becomes even more difficult.

When the federal Environmental Protection Agency last month yanked California’s special authority to set its own tailpipe emission standards, officials said they would take the fight to court. “There’s just no way we can reach our goal unless we are able to move forward with that waiver and the provisions that it allows us,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said at an environmental summit.

And compare the California goals with what's occurring at the Federal level under the wayward Trump administration. The US government is now retreating into a retrograde expansion of emissions which makes meeting the goals extremely difficult. How this will resolve the battle will depend upon the politics of the country as they play out over the next year.

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

Update 10/29/19: In Laos, A Chinese-Funded Railway Sparks Hope For Growth — And Fears Of Debt

Update 12/2/19: China’s Renewed Coal Boom - Including India

Update 12/4/19: James Hansen - China's coal emissions

Update 12/14/19: China has invested heavily in the Mediterranean region as part of its Belt and Road initiative and controls a string of major eastern Mediterranean ports, including Piraeus.

Update 12/19/19: Syria plans to join China's Belt and Road Initiative

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.

Update 11/12/19: Mazria - Impact that the architecture and building industries could be having on climate change.