Thursday, December 24, 2015

A Shift

Taking a different approach to a classic hymn, exemplified by Franz Schubert's German version of Ave Maria, reveals another variation of the holiday song, of which there are many versions not originating from Gounod's 1859 melody. Originally Schubert didn't even use the traditional Catholic prayer in Latin, but a German translation of some lines in Sir Walter Scott's "The Lady of the Lake" (1825). Traditional words were added later by those who wanted to make it more appropriate for religious occasions, but it doesn't include the Hail Mary prayer.

A shift in the interpretation, phrasing and musical form within a theme is universal in the expression of song and meaning throughout the history of music. In Principles of musical form:

Music exists in time; as an aesthetician, Susanne K. Langer, put it in Feeling and Form, “music is time made audible.” The proper perception of a musical work depends in the main on the ability to associate what is happening in the present with what has happened in the past and with what one expects will happen in the future. The frustration or fulfillment of such expectations and the resulting tensions and releases are basic to most musical works.

This evolution of tension and change over history in time is happening now with our global dialogue - over how we're changing our climate and impacting our planet. The dialogue at the moment is a cacophony of technologies, trade, history, politics, science and the recent evolution of global finance. We don't currently have the tools to resolve these issues; old climate plans are outdated in the wake of COP21 in Paris.

We're also dealing with the end game of destructive resource extraction through wars and political dominance that have given rise to the military-industrial complex that leads to endless conflict for profit, power and planetary destruction. Yet now we seem to recognize that our higher responsibilities lie in organizing our societies and our laws so that we can fully face this issue, and deal with it constructively or we'll be ending our world as we know it. Each country, the United States in particular, will need to revise its laws accordingly to face this unprecedented situation and craft frameworks that respond effectively to our situation. There are many, many ways that these solutions will impact the global system of policies of energy and trade, and there's no way to predict how they will play out.

It's no longer limited to simple statecraft, a single treaty or one melody. The decision has been made that it must all point to one outcome:  the explicit goal to keep the global temperature rise well below 2°C by 2100, pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C, and aim for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Lacking a framework at the moment, our challenge is to craft our human orchestral response in harmony with the natural world as it is able to support our existence.


Friday, December 18, 2015

A Seventh Year, Rain to Come?

This year is supposed to be a big one for rain in Southern California; up in the Pacific Northwest the El Nino is beginning to hit with full force. The North Coast Mountain ranges are now covered in a good snowpack with more on the way. This is a relief, but not a reprieve from the serious drought plaguing the US Pacific Southwest. Everything has changed this year, with the water allowances cut back by 25% and the lawns turning brown and now disappearing. The Los Angeles region is a major urban center that now relies too much on the rains of an earlier generation, and can no longer pull the vast amounts of distant water from the the three big aqueducts that were built in the early to mid 1900's.

We don't know yet how our climate issues will play out. With the culmination of the COP21 Paris climate agreement on Saturday December 12, we're now faced with a necessarily rapid turnabout in our carbon emissions.

To quote Michael Mann:

Finally, global energy policy is beginning to reflect the clear message of climate change research. We have only one atmosphere, shared by developed and developing countries. We have only one planet, and the steady upward march in greenhouse gas concentrations and the consequent warming of the planet and attendant rise in sea level, expansion of drought and increase in destructive extreme weather events will spare none from its impacts. With the Paris summit, we finally have an agreement that holds all countries accountable for taking action on climate.

This means that many, many things will have to happen across the globe and at home in our myriad countries. This is summarized in an article from the World Bank.This is simply a beginning that will encompass every sector of life in all countries.

This means that hope for our common planetary future, while faint now, is still alive for us.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The New Beginning

The season of Advent is a quiet Christian meditation on the event of the dawning light of 2000 years ago, symbolized by the lighting of candles on a wreath. Most consider lighting of the first candle to symbolize expectation, while the second symbolizes hope, the third joy and the fourth purity. A central candle is lit on the 25th of December in a moment of reverence.

This season is unquiet, with the negotiations at COP21 in Paris moving full tilt with dialogues at the UNFCCC about adoption of a global framework for carbon emissions reductions. The California contingent is moving ahead rapidly with Governor Brown's presence in the U.S. ambassador's residence on Sunday to commemorate an international agreement he's promoted between states, provinces and cities. The governor has nearly two dozen events scheduled over five days.

Will this unprecedented meeting of the world's representatives and corporations finally reach a consensus?
Will the knowing of the true dangers that face our planet finally bring us to the light of reason?

This critical threshold has been recognized for many years, and we must now act.

Update 12/6/15: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti was in Paris on Dec 4 to speak with world leaders about the pLAn Climate Action for the city of Los Angeles.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Paris in the Crosshairs

As COP21 in Paris gets underway, Jim Hansen has come out of his corner punching, publishing in an editorial on November 28 that Obama had stonewalled his attempts to have a discussion about the crucial factors creating climate change. The problem, as Hansen sees it, is that the pervasive optimism in the lead up to the climate talks is only so much hot air, the desired result of spinsters in Washington who are promising change while hedging their bets on ineffectual climate policies, in other words, bullshit:

"Hansen, a NASA alum who put global warming on the map in a big way with his congressional testimony in 1988, is no stranger to controversy: he’s called out NASA for censoring his data on climate change, he’s been arrested twice at the White house for protesting the Keystone pipeline, and he’s called for a trial of the CEO of ExxonMobil and other fossil fuel magnates for “high crimes against humanity and nature.” While his latest foray into pot-stirring is less flamboyant, it doesn’t mean the issues at hand are any less pressing."

Hansen is correct that the cap-and-trade mechanism is a failure, Europe's experience with the market has shown this. His argument is for a straightforward carbon tax, which can work as a mechanism but unfortunately will never reduce the carbon emissions sufficiently unless it's tied to some kind of framework agreement that is stringent in principle yet flexible enough to accommodate the changing emissions structures over time. This is the heart of the problem since Kyoto: asking nations to commit to some kind of specific number has resulted in the failure of a global agreement. For this reason, the negotiations are starting "bottom up" this time around, which unfortunately has fallen far short of the necessary reductions in carbon.

In September of this year, a letter sent to Obama, signed by climate leaders, major organizations and individuals (it carries my signature as well), called for him to take leadership on strong emission reduction targets. It cites "Laudato Si" from the Pope as a moral imperative and emphasizes the call for urgent action by the USA.

Politically Obama's options are limited. The USA has long been the monkey wrench in earlier climate negotiations, which have proven to be dialoguing at cross-purposes. Much of it had to do with the demands by third-world countries for financial support in the transition to carbon-free energy sources, embedded in the Kyoto agreement in a way that would have been impossible for the USA to comply with. There were pie-in-the-sky requirements that would have generated immense failures in attempting to extract money from the northern countries in lieu of unobtainable negative carbon goals (below zero!!).

At this conference, Obama is attended by a California state delegation that includes Governor Jerry Brown, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, and Senate President pro Tem Kevin de Leon among others. This group is funded by corporate money, and is proposing a cap-and-trade scheme that is already in place, including Canada, China and India. California has been building this trade agreement structure for several years now. Thus Brown has taken the lead on this trade agreement structure, with the assistance of former Secretary of Commerce John Bryson in cooperation with the Obama administration. Brown has shown great capability in forging this collective approach, but the local citizenry has begun to take a dim view of some of his policies. As he is in his second two-term governorship in California, and his tactics have worn thin for many people.

The New York Times goes into a summary of the potential options for "deep decarbonization", realizing that it will be difficult to achieve the necessary reductions in time to stave off the worst effects of global warming, especially since the planet has already hit the 1C degree temperature increase which is halfway to the absolute 2C maximum goal of these talks. Unfortunately it fails to note that the success of these efforts, and the agreements that underlie them, rely on a framework structure that can equitably balance the emissions measurements against global benchmarks in an internally consistent manner that is also transparent. I can only hope that the Contraction and Convergence structure will ultimately be engaged as the means to that end in a global partnership. It's flexible and incorporates feedback emissions as well as real-time reduction efforts and the critically necessary reforestation that acts as a carbon sink. It is able to calculate and verify the various scenarios under discussion. And the online CBAT is here for public use.

Let it be so.

Update 12/1/15: 'Whole System' Approach Needed to Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Experts Say at Climate Meeting 

Update 12/2/15: Jerry Brown - a little history