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

Update 3/4/20: One of China’s Most Ambitious Projects Becomes a Corridor to Nowhere.

Update 4/29/20: Is China’s 2013 Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) a debt trap?

Update 4/30/20: Belt and Road Tracker.

Update 10/3/20: China's Imperial Overreach

Update 9/12/21  China's transcontinental grid of railroads, oil pipelines

Update 10/2/21: The Winner in Afghanistan: China

Update 5/8/22: China's Belt and Road is so enormous that its impacts could accelerate climate change.

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.

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.

Update 12/15/19:  Vatican calls Greta Thunberg ‘great witness’ of Church’s environmental teaching

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

It's Complicated

For those who want to really understand what's happening with big private money driving political demagoguery that disrupts the rule of law, get your hands on the book, Dark Money, by Jane Mayer. This documents in depth what has been shifting the political climate in our country to the point that democracy is now in danger via billions of dollars of undisclosed private money. An excerpt:

Lewis Powell, a corporate attorney who was appointed to the Supreme Court by Richard Nixon, was the author of a brilliant battle plan detailing how conservative business interests could reclaim American politics. In 1971, he issued a memo to the business community to fight back against liberal policies.

"He urged America's capitalists to wage "guerilla warfare" agains those seeking to "insidiously" undermine corporate America. Conservatives must capture public opinion, he argued, by exerting influence over the institutions that shape it, which he identified as academia, the media, the churches and the courts. He argued that conservatives should control the political debate at its source by demanding "balance" in textbooks, television shows, and news coverage. Donors, he argued, should demand a say in university hiring and curriculum and "press vigorously in all political arenas." The key to victory, he predicted, was "careful long-range planning and implementation" backed by a "scale of financing available only through joint effort."

Thus was kicked off the conservative think tank structures funded by the Kochs and the ALEC corporate network which has proceeded to do exactly that. So what we have now is a corporate coup fronted by a carney barker. They are dismantling the government agencies and eliminating their tax liabilities, with the intent of removing Medicare and Social Security safety nets, as is laid out in detail in Mayer's book.  There are all the covert strategies outlined in there as well.

The strategy applies *in spades* to the climate change issue, because all of these billionaires, thinktanks and agencies that are heavily invested in fossil fuels, which rely on being extracted and burned to retain their value. Bill McKibben understood this early on as he discussed the Rockefeller Foundation grant that supported his position.

 "For example, Trump may be uniquely hostile to the rule of law, ethics in public service, and a free press. But the assault on our democracy didn’t start with his election. He is as much a symptom as a cause of what ails us. Think of our body politic like a human body, with our constitutional checks and balances, democratic norms and institutions, and well-informed citizenry all acting as an immune system protecting us from the disease of authoritarianism. Over many years, our defenses were worn down by a small group of right-wing billionaires—people like the Mercer family and Charles and David Koch—who spent a lot of time and money building an alternative reality where science is denied, lies masquerade as truth, and paranoia flourishes. By undermining the common factual framework that allows a free people to deliberate together and make the important decisions of self-governance, they opened the way for the infection of Russian propaganda and Trumpian lies to take hold. They've used their money and influence to capture our political system, impose a right-wing agenda, and disenfranchise millions of Americans."

The informal system of offshoring wealth to avoid taxes by these big money entities has been extensively documented. It helps to remember that many of them are financially bigger than most countries in the world, hence have a place at the table of the formation of global trade policies that undermine the ability of these governments to defend their citizens from destructive profit schemes embedded in these trade agreements which state that they overrule local governance policies and don't offer a means of recourse. Hence the emergence of conservative populists in governments across the globe that promise to enforce geographical borders and retain local economies and jobs. Unfortunately these populists devolve into the corruption of cronyism and self-dealing, directed by the big money that drives their real agenda - an escape from taxes and undermining the social support systems. The government budget allocations are then driven to military budgets that feed the corporate contracts and instigation of wars for profit, usually the fossil fuel and weapons industries.

From Insurge: "We are currently in the midst of a global phase-shift signalling that the prevailing order, paradigm and value-system are outmoded and unsustainable. The breakdown of the global system has led to a heightened state and speed of indeterminacy across political, economic, cultural and ideological structures and sub-systems. We experience this in the increasing confusion across all these systems, particularly expressed in the ‘post-truth’ dislocation of our prevailing information systems."

Again, from Insurge: "When NATO intervened in Libya, when the US and UK backed Saudi Arabia’s indiscriminate aerial bombardment of Yemen, it only destabilised the region further. The arc of collapse across the Middle East and North Africa resulted from a fatal combination: an earth system crisis, compounded by short-sighted and self-serving responses from human systems...The earth system crisis that erupted in Syria triggered a wave of human system destabilisation of which Brexit was merely the first eruption. And so the Syria crisis is indeed a taste of things to come. Europe is already a post-peak oil continent, whose domestic fossil resources are in decline."

So you can see that the systemic implementation of global trade policies are driven by energy costs and those that profit from them. This has the tragic consequence of planetary destruction from carbon emissions because of the embedded fiscal profiteering in these influential industries and the big money of the one percent. They are defending a system that is structured to run on fossil fuel investments that have to be burned to provide the cash flow for these profits. Which is a major factor in the failure of the COP processes that are dwarfed by the annual build-up of atmospheric carbon emissions. In some respects the Paris Agreement hinted at a potential step change but this moment of hope has quickly given way to Byzantine technocracy the rulebook, stocktaking, financial scams and corporate disinformation that undermines the world's governments that are trying to create a global agreement.

Update 1/17/19: How the forever-war crowd holds the reins on US foreign policy and its budget

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Timeline is now Zero

Climate change segment from Aaron Sorkins "Newsroom" drama

 Its Not Stopping: New York Times Opinon, December 29, 2018: Going Nowhere Fast on Climate, Year After Year. Three decades after a top climate scientist warned Congress of the dangers of global warming, greenhouse gas emissions keep rising and so do global temperatures.  By Paul Bledsoe, who lectures on environmental policy at American University. The opinion below:

Thirty years ago, a NASA scientist, James Hansen, told lawmakers at a Senate hearing that “global warming is now large enough that we can ascribe with a high degree of confidence a cause-and-effect relationship with the greenhouse effect.” He added that there “is only 1 percent chance of accidental warming of this magnitude.”

By that, he meant that humans were responsible.

His testimony made headlines around the United States and the world. But in the time since, greenhouse gas emissions, the global temperature average and cost of climate-related heat, wildfires, droughts, flooding and hurricanes have continued to rise.

This fall, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released an alarming report warning that if emissions continue to rise at their present rate, the atmosphere will warm up by as much as 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) above preindustrial levels by 2040, resulting in the flooding of coastlines, the killing of coral reefs worldwide, and more catastrophic droughts and wildfires.

To avoid this, greenhouse gas emissions would need to fall by nearly half from 2010 levels in the next 12 years and reach a net of zero by 2050. But in the United States, the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, President Trump continues to question the science of climate change, and his administration is rolling back emissions limits on power plants and fuel economy standards on cars and light trucks, while pushing to accelerate the use of fossil fuels. Other major nations around the world aren’t cutting emissions quickly enough, either.

So what has happened over the last 30 years? Progress has been made in fits and starts, but not nearly enough has been done to confront the planet-altering magnitude of what we have unleashed.

(complete timeline in the opinion at NYT)

Update 1/14/19: Silent Spring - Why it’s time to think about human extinction | Dr David Suzuki on economic growth and why we can still change this

Update 1/15/19: A Planet in Crisis -The Heat’s On Us  by Dahr Jamail

Update 2/28/19: NYT: Time to Panic

Update 3/1/19: After 40 Years of Government Inaction on Climate, Have We Finally Turned a Corner?