CMD contributor Alex Carlin is in Lima, Peru, posting daily updates of his observations of COP 20, the UN Climate Summit.
December 16, 2014
Summation: Trouble in Paradise
COP 20 worked an extra two days, making a nice show of serious staying power, although it produced no earthshaking bombshells. "The Lima Accord" does crystallize a structure that next year will involve every country in eliminating greenhouse gas emissions. But, with current national commitments on emissions much weaker than what science requires, the can was kicked down the road to Paris next year for making a deal that will avoid Climate Ruin. On the Green Fund issues, there were even weaker commitments.
For all its faults, this UN COP process has many elements of what people really want from politics: concrete activities on a reliable timetable that result in agreements to fix a crucial problem. The site changes every year, in an effort to access a variety of perspectives. An observer walking around the COP and the "alternative conference" grounds will encounter people from every culture, speaking every language, evincing every style. In theory, an international paradise of political cooperation.
However, there is big trouble in paradise.
The involvement of the polluting corporations, such as Shell Oil, has polluted this COP process. It is a supreme act of chutzpah: these companies are inside COP to promote their own business activity which creates precisely the scourge, greenhouse gas, that COP is tasked to eliminate. Plus, their business destroys two critical things for keeping our climate livable: forests and indigenous communities. In addition, they waste huge amounts of COP's precious time and resources on self-serving and futile projects such as "carbon capture and sequestration" and carbon trading schemes.
But is this the only reason we are still so far from an accord that solves Climate Ruin? Let's imagine that we throw these money changers out of the COP temple. Would their absence allow the real solutions to rise like cream to the top? Would the plans of the indigenous people to properly steward the forests, to keep the carbon out of the atmosphere, become points of COP agreement? Would countries finally commit to lower emissions enough to avoid Climate Ruin? Would the carbon industries wither away?
It's difficult to imagine fossil fuel companies disappearing before they hammer some final gratuitous nails into the Climate Coffin. But as one successful player in the financial world, Robert Eisenberg, told me in Lima last week: "The market's hidden hand will render the fossil fuel companies moot and eviscerated. I'm talking wind already at 1.7 cents per kilowatt hour unsubsidized! Take that to your local oil refinery!"
Of course, non-fossil fuel societies and economies are here now, often in indigenous communities, and they need more recognition and expansion. In Lima I visited a microcosm of a modern trend in this kind of society, it was called Casa Activa. In this "House of Activity" located in the center of Lima, activists from all over the world were walking the walk and talking the talk. Horizontal democracy was evident in strategy sessions, shirts and posters were being silk screened with materials anybody could walk in and use. Food was free, as drummers tapped into liberating Dionysian rhythms. The "Yasunidos", defenders of the Avatar-like Yasuni forest in Ecuador, exuded the spirit of adventure and daring that is necessary to make it through these perilous times.
Every day the Climate Action Fund gave out awards for the worst performance by players at COP 20. I want to give out my award for the best performance. The winner is Godwin Ojo, from Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth, in Nigeria. We were staying at the same hotel and we had many fascinating breakfast conversations. Here is part of the statement that he made to DemocracyNow!: "Keep the oil in the soil, keep the coal in the hole, keep the tar sand in the sand. Oil has become doom. Oil has become a curse. Oil has become all forms of injustice in Nigeria. Shell and the oil companies, they are laughing all the way to the bank. The communities’ land has been taken. The communities are dying every day. They are crying to the hospital. They are crying to mortuaries. This is why we say, 'Enough of this injustice.' And therefore, oil companies, Shell, they have no part in this COP. We kick them out of this COP. We kick them out of the economy, the future economy of Nigeria. And we kick them out of a sustainable energy future." Overall, the most important message coming from COP 20 is that, to prevent Climate Ruin, the fossil fuel industry must be phased out very quickly, by a combination of market forces and activism.
When the Zapatistas were asked "how will we keep resisting?" the answer came back "we will keep being born." One of the great moments of COP 20 was when a child delivered the petition that called for "100% clean energy by 2050". But is 2050 too late? Do we have the time for one more generation of Zapatistas to reinvigorate us? Science tells us we need to be 100% clean very soon, perhaps 2025, or maybe 2030. Technology tells us we already have all the tech we need to go clean. Politically and socially the question is "can we actually make it happen fast enough?"
This is the question of our times.
See you in Paris next year!
December 13, 2014
At the cafeteria behind the Press Room at the UN Climate Conference, on the last scheduled day of COP 20, the man who directed one of the most influential films of all time wanted to talk to me about Climate Ruin. His name is Michael Wadley, and his 1969 film called Woodstock rocked many lives, including mine. I had noticed Michael, now 75 years old, bounding around the grounds earlier in the week. We had chatted, but this was first moment that his schweppervescence had ebbed long enough for him to give me a sustained interview. Michael holds degrees in physics and medicine from Columbia, he has been a Harvard professor, and he turned me on to The Who. I wanted to hear him make his case.
"Think of the stop signs that control traffic around grammar schools. You want them to be there, right? Well, we need laws like that to stop greenhouse gas emissions". Michael is a believer in the power of governments to use legislation to save lives and save societies. This is an alien concept in Washington today, but Michael is ready with the next level of strategy: action generated from shame. "Per capita emissions. That is what is most important." Yes, China is now emitting more than the USA as a nation, but "per capita the USA is the leader by far. Americans should be ashamed" for squandering the limited amount of carbon we can burn in total. He showed me a graphic on his laptop that illustrated that if all the nations emitted per capita as much as the USA does then our atmosphere would be a Venusian hell. Michael contends that these American emissions have painted the rest of the world into a corner, and the least we can do for our fellow Earthlings is to legislate ourselves down to zero carbon emissions. This would be a proper atonement, as it would lead the world down the right path, away from Climate Ruin.
This idea of the responsibility and accountability of governments was a major theme at the press briefing run by my alma mater the University of California titled "What Now For Climate Justice? Assessing Lima's Outcomes, Identifying Social Movement Strategies for Paris". The brilliant Pascoe Sabido, a sharply articulate Belgian activist with Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), was on the panel, and, from conversations I had with him earlier in the week, I knew I would be hearing scintillating analysis. CEO specializes in exposing the power of corporate lobbying, and it is specifically that phenomenon, corporate polluters in bed with the UN and perverting the process, that has emerged as a crucial factor in the story of COP 20.
When you are in a hole the first step is to stop digging. So why can't we stop digging? Why do emissions keep rising year after year when Science is telling us they must quickly go to zero? Mr. Sabido has some answers. He points out that even here in the UN Climate Conference itself, in what should be the citadel of green idealism and action, "The voices of polluters are drowning out the voices of real people and communities on the front lines...if we are serious about tackling climate change, those driving the climate crisis have no place at the negotiating table...if COP 20 is supposed to be laying the road to Paris, then here in Lima the dirty energy industry has taken control of the steering wheel and is driving us off a climate cliff". The argument is that if these polluters stay in the process, if these corporations remain at the table, they will continue to game the system to keep us all digging until it is too late.
So how do we get this corporate monkey off our back? Mr. Sabido has solutions, but not magic bullets. He envisions an ongoing struggle to reduce the political power and general influence of these corporations by all means available, from direct actions to legislation. We must work to "force our governments to be accountable to us, not to the corporations" and by similar hard work build a firewall between these polluting corporations and the UN. Then, "by linking our movements at the national, regional and international level, we can reclaim the wheel and steer the world towards the real bottom up solutions that are already out there." Ordinary people know how to solve the Climate Crisis, the solutions are at hand, for example a very fast transition to clean energy, but these corporations are blocking the way.
Just before midnight the air was smoky and breezy, with colored lights shining eerily through the mistyness, as many delegates were milling around the COP 20 central plaza waiting for the negotiators to return to the big hall and announce the final deal. I asked a member of the Sierra Leone delegation, Momomdu A. Bah, if he thought that the corporations such as Shell Oil were blocking the success of the negotiations. He told me that he would not speak as a member of the delegation, but he would give me his personal opinion. He believes that the most important thing is to have very ambitious reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. He thinks it is possible that the corporations are blocking this from happening, but he is looking for evidence of that before he comes to a concrete conclusion about it.
With everybody still waiting for the Parties to report, now well past midnight into the early morning hours, I went into the base office of the Russian Federation, and I was fortunate to meet a high ranking member of the delegation, the very intelligent and warmly engaging Mr. Viktor Blinov. He explained how Russia's task to find alternatives to fossil fuels was very difficult. Despite the large land area Russia enjoys, there simply is not a lot of suitable areas for wind and solar power, and even the places that could be suitable are usually very far from population centers, and would require building a lot of infrastructure for the long transmission lines. I pointed out that Russia's citizens are highly intelligent -- the world's best chess players. Perhaps Russian scientists are now inventing some exciting new energy systems that would be suitable for Russia and for the world? Mr. Blinov replied that there are some interesting new possibilities in the area of nuclear fusion. My final question was regarding worldwide fears that the Siberian permafrost was melting, unleashing a Pandora's Box of methane gas releases, which are magnitudes worse for the climate than CO2, and enough to overwhelm any attempts to keep the climate stable. Here Mr. Blinov had some exciting news, perhaps even a news scoop. He said that the latest Russian research shows that the permafrost that has been capping this methane, and keeping Pandora's Box closed for centuries, is much more "perma" and solid than what has been recently reported. I told him that we in the West would welcome this kind of news, since we lose a lot of sleep thinking about scenarios where the Siberian methane escapes and sends us spinning into runaway Climate Ruin. I will be in contact with Mr. Blinov to learn more about this development.
A bit later, about 4am, the high level negotiations were suspended to let everybody get some sleep and come back the next day.
December 12, 2014
Star Time at the Pentagonito
It was star time Thursday at the Pentagonito Conference Center. Al Gore was talking green tech, and shortly thereafter John Kerry gave a half hour pep talk to the troops, including the entire US delegation plus Al Gore in the front row. Unfortunately neither men fielded any questions, but their speeches begged quite a few.
Mr. Gore argued that since "solar costs have reached grid parity in 79 countries and that within six years 80 percent of the people in the world will live in countries where the cost of electricity from solar panels is at or below the average cost of power," this means that even if we must jump off a climate cliff we can still land on our feet. Mr. Kerry built his speech around two points. One, that "we have the answer, and that answer is energy policy", meaning if we make our energy policy green and clean enough we can beat Climate Ruin. Kerry's second point was the free market argument that, since the 90's economic boom in the USA was created by a new high-tech economy that was merely in the one trillion dollar range, and since the new clean energy market is in the ten trillion dollar range, therefore there is no reason on Adam Smith's earth why we can't prevail through this climate crisis and create a wealthy society at the same time.
The big question is, even if this sustainable and clean energy future is really so close, albeit eternally just beyond our outstretched fingertips, don't we still need these gross polluters to quickly stop drilling, extracting, selling, and emitting that amount of greenhouse gas pollution which is ruining our climate? Are these two superstars ready to advocate new rules to stop that pollution? Or will the unseen hand of the market save us all before its too late?
Mr. Kerry talked some big talk as he laid out the case for why we need to achieve a zero carbon economy. But if the Obama administration was walking Mr. Kerry's walk it would be impossible for Obama to stake out that "all of the above" energy policy that includes so much new, dirty and climate busting carbon sources that it makes a mockery of Mr. Kerry's speech. My question to the Honorable Mr. Secretary of State would have been "why can't you get Mr. Obama to agree with one percent of what you just said? How can Mr. Obama allow that climate killing new shale oil to be mined in the USA?"
Mike Burke, producer for DemocracyNow!, told me his question would have been simply "what about Keystone?" Keystone is the international pipeline that requires Mr. Kerry's approval as Secretary of State, and since the amount of tar sands oil slated to run through that pipeline would add so much greenhouse gas that Nasa scientists have warned it would be "game over" for a livable climate, what is preventing Mr. Kerry from doing his job and simply denying the approval? If there is a political reason for this, Mr. Kerry owes us a clear explanation.
Without clear government policies that draw the line and prohibit greenhouse gases emissions (policies that Mr. Gore and Mr. Kerry seem to want but never push hard enough to achieve, because to do so would step on too many corporate toes) we seem to be left with two avenues to a livable future. One is that the invisible hand of the market works so quickly that demand for fossil fuels goes to zero before the time that science says its too late, about ten years. Two is where people on the ground level block the pipelines, block the extractions, block the selling, and block the emitting, all through direct actions.
Mr. Gore and Mr. Kerry seemed to be preaching the first option. For the second option, I interviewed a bright young activist, Ms. Brenna Owen, from the Canadian Youth Delegation. She and her colleagues are focused on blocking the Alberta tar sands oil's voyage to the Pacific Ocean where it can be shipped to the big markets in Asia, where, once it arrives, it can burn away any chance we have for a livable climate. I asked her how important is the role of the indigenous people in Alberta and British Columbia (the two provinces through which that bitumen oil must travel) for blocking that transport of death and misery. Brenna said that "ironically indigenous people are the final backstop. They will not let it through. Our groups are working on all fronts to block it, but if we fail, the indigenous people will find a way to not let it pass through their lands."
One of the biggest issues being hammered out at the Lima Conference is The Green Fund. This is money that the rich industrialized countries will pay to the poor developing countries to facilitate their using clean energy rather than fossil fuels as they develop. The concept involves the principle that the rich countries could not have become so rich without being able to burn fossil fuels so easily, and in doing so they used up the planet's "carbon budget", the maximum amount of carbon we can burn before ensuring Climate Ruin. Therefore, since there is almost no more carbon left in the budget for the poor countries to develop with, and going "over budget" spells Climate Doom for everybody, the Green Fund came about to subsidize and encourage the poor countries' transition to a clean energy economy. This money also helps poor countries pay for the damages being caused by this warming that was not the fault of these poor countries, and what is termed "adaptation" to the brave new world.
These principles are generally agreed to, however there is a big debate about the amount of dollars. At Copenhagen COP 15 in 2009, Hillary Clinton, representing President Obama and the other rich countries, announced that this amount would be $100 billion dollars. These days the rich countries seem to be reneging on this figure, and the poor countries are so angry and frustrated about this that it is threatening to scuttle the entire COP process and prevent a successful agreement on Friday. So, it was significant that Mr. Kerry, in his speech here, when he talked about the Green Fund amount, not only presented the grand total to be only $10 billion dollars, but he announced that meager and miserly amount as if it was a great victory for the process. It was similar to Austin Powers announcing his ransom demand to not blow up the world with the ridiculously small figure of "one million dollars". Has Mr. Kerry , like Mr. Powers, also been frozen for 30 years like Rip Van Winkle, and does he think that $10 billion dollars is going to impress anybody?
December 11, 2014
Corporate Capture of COP?
Fifteen thousand people marching in the streets of Lima, Peru, and it felt good to have the issue of Climate Ruin out in the bright sun, and to see the drive, the passion and the smiles of all the people involved. Ordinary citizens of Lima staring out from their immobilized buses and cars seemed in sympathy, but also in shock that negotiating their late morning traffic clog had become as difficult to solve as, well, Climate Ruin.
Isaac, an exchange student from Australia, informed me that while his country was taking a depressing step backwards with recent reversals of smart national climate policies, even canceling a carbon tax, the deal that Obama made with China phasing down coal was a big step in the right direction. He hopes the deal means that Australia's coal industry can no longer count on eternally huge Chinese markets for coal, and they must scale back their mega levels of coal extraction accordingly.
At the destination of the march, in a classic Latin American plaza surrounded by ornate white palatial hotels, a giant stage launched many high spirited speeches, including a North American (USA) indigenous man who denounced the Climate Conference for condoning the "privatization of the water and the air, and the carbon trading schemes" that will never bring us to zero carbon emissions. The theme that our basic elements of life should never be commodified was repeated all day, and in different parts of town.
After the rally, a large contingent of activists moved to another sector of this giant metropolis, to the upscale neighborhood called Miraflores. A direct action was planned for 4 p.m. to confront the blue chip corporations who were meeting in the Hilton Hotel to discuss how they could influence the Climate Conference. The activists met in Kennedy Park, a 20 minute march away from the Hilton.
Corporate capture of the COP agenda was the issue. Since the task of this COP 20 Conference is to create a draft agreement that will succeed in stopping the fossil fuel barons from emitting enough carbon to ruin our climate, should these same corporations be allowed to have any influence on what would be the language of this draft? The problem is that, analogous to the ALEC scandals in the USA, these corporations want to position themselves inside the process and write the rules to their advantage.
Of course these corporations present themselves as being good faith partners in finding a way to a cleaner economy. But the protesters were not accepting that line, they were opposed to their entire operation, and they tried to march to the front door of the Hilton Hotel and stage a "die-in", that is, to collapse in a mass "death" scene at the entrance to the hotel. However, the police were clever, and they very effectively blocked the path, forcing the march to stop in an alley in front of the police station, but in sight of the gigantic Hilton. Still, this spot was a suitable area for the dancing, chanting, and impassioned demonstrators. One of the chants sounded great in Spanish: "oro, plata, cobre -- el pueblo sigue pobre ", which means "There is gold, silver and copper -- but the people are still poor."
There is a large question floating around all such protests: will these actions bear fruit? One of the activists I spoke with there was Malika, from France. She described how actions by groups (including Attac France, Bizi!, and Friends of the Earth France) had recently led the large French investment bank Societe Generale to back out of bankrolling a large coal project in Australia. They accomplished this by using only non-violent actions that anybody could employ.
Initially, they occupied several branches of the bank every Thursday dressed as kangaroos. Having gotten the attention of the bank, and some public awareness and sympathy, they declared an ultimatum: the bank must withdraw from the coal project or the group would dump 1.8 tons of coal on the entrance to the bank (the development of the coal project would lead to the release of 1.8 billion tons of CO2.) The bank did not withdraw, and the coal was dumped. Finally, the group offered the second ultimatum: withdraw from the deal or the group will destroy the bank's reputation with a relentless series of publicity actions that would expose myriads of the bank's faults and scandals, continuing inexorably for a full year until the Paris UN COP 21 Climate Conference in December 2015. At this point the bank relented and backed out of the coal deal. Malika attributed that decision in large measure to the pressure from the protests.
Watch the protests and get live reports from Lima, at DemocracyNow!
December 10, 2014
Tell Them No Oil Destruction in the Yasuni
Anybody in Lima lacking credentials to get into the official conference hall is now in luck. The Peoples' Summit is currently open and running strong, with plenty to offer. And rather than being located out in the dreary banalia of surburbia, it is smack in the middle of bustling vibrant Lima.
I had my first visit there on Tuesday. After sampling some indigenously tasty burning hot sauce poured on chips made from blue potatoes grown in the Peruvian highlands, I spotted a mobile radio broadcast running from a laptop, with a sign saying "RadioActiva." The operator said his progressive programming was being syndicated all over Latin America, as well as available online at www.caravanaclimatica.org. For more information he advised me to speak with Maria and Lucia, who were his colleagues in "Caravana Climatica", and hear their story.
The caravan (actually one 40 seat school bus) was a recent international news item because it was confiscated by police in Ecuador a few weeks ago. As it was winding its way from Mexico to this Lima UN Conference they were stopping in communities suffering from Climate Ruin, spreading helpful news and advice on tactics. Their plan on arrival in Lima included telling about President Rafael Correa's double cross regarding the Ecuadorian Yasuni National Park forest, and planned to describe Correa's decision to go for oil development, after he seemed to be protecting this Hope Diamond of species diversity. Especially disillusioning was the realization that the groundbreaking rewrite of the constitution in 2008 that established "The Rights of Nature" would fail to preserve even this first class forest.
Caravana Climatica had, a few weeks earlier, sent a few members ahead to Lima as reconnaissance to line up accommodations and logistics. However, these folks were met there by Ecuadorian government agents warning them to not cast aspersions on President Correa regarding that forest. These threats were not heeded, but the next level of intimidation was eight or nine haltings of the bus, back up in Ecuador, followed by a nighttime seizure of the vehicle. The riders (including the niece of Amy Goodman from DemocracyNow!) were unceremoniously put out on the road in total darkness to fend for themselves. It was not a safe place to be, but they survived to tell the tale.
Chris was not happy to have the bus, which was in fact his house and home, confiscated. But he said the voyage as a whole has been very valuable. He summed up the political essence of the tour by saying "no son ellos, somos nosotros," which in literal English would be "its not them, its us." An accurate translation would convey that for climate solutions we do not need to look to governments, corporations, or even the UN Conference leadership. Chris believes that the answers to Climate Ruin can be found in the behavior of the people living sustainably on the front lines and resisting the polluters: farmers, indigenous people, activists.
Maria then introduced me to Weiya, a strong leader of the indigenous Waoroni from the Yasuni forest. She had traveled to Quito, the capital city, to speak before the parliament to defend the Yasuni. Right before her time to speak, someone from the government handed her a pre-written speech to read. She refused it. Instead she gave the following arguments: This forest is home to two "Uncontacted Tribes" (tribes with no contact with the outside world, voluntary isolation), which by a law designed to avoid "ethnocide", makes the forest off limits to extractive industry. Also, the roads built by the extracting companies had created divisions in the forest that previously had no divisions at all, and were free roaming areas. Over time these "borders" led to lethal "border battles" between tribes. In addition, there were even more battles because the "isolated" tribes blame the Waoroni for "letting the outsiders in" and opening the door to the destruction that comes with the roads and the industry. Furthermore, she argued that the pollution of the water and air, and massive tree loss, will be virtually certain once the oil business gets going. Finally, the biodiversity of this old growth forest is record shattering.
Weiya asked me to tell the readers of PR Watch that "the Yasuni forest is not only for her tribe but it is for the whole world, and we want any help you can give for us to stand up to the government and tell them: no exploitation in Yasuni, no oil destruction in Yasuni."
The Spirit Of Amazonia
The exciting news out of Lima today was that the negotiators are working with language that includes a "Total Phase Out of Fossil Fuels by 2050", according to Ruth Davis, Political Director of Greenpeace UK. But are these companies going to take orders from us and go away?
If you haven't read Naomi Klein's amazing new Bible on Climate titled "This Changes Everything", then you may not have seen the evidence that this behemoth industry, that until recently seemed unassailable, is now showing signs it can be phased out before it phases us out. When your business plan is defined by a commitment to put enough greenhouse gas into the atmosphere to guarantee Climate Ruin, you are likely to face a committed and united opposition to the bitter end. Sure enough, all across the USA and Canada, Cowboys are joining Indians and burying the hatchet to stop ruinous fossil fuel projects. Hedge fund managers are writing letters to the likes of Exxon and Shell telling them that they no longer believe their asset evaluations, voicing concerns that the ability to sell these fossil fuel assets in the future can no longer be guaranteed when it is tantamount to societal suicide. And The New York Times just two weeks ago reported that when energy utilities want new energy sources, its already cheaper to go with wind and solar than with oil and coal, and its getting cheaper all the time.
But of course the extractive industries and their allies in government are not quite ready to surrender just yet. An Ecuadoran indigenous opponent of a large Chinese open pit mine, who was on his way to speak at COP 20, was murdered days before the summit. Since 2002, at least 57 environmental activists in Peru have been assassinated.
But activists continue to fight on and "The People's Summit" -- an amalgam of civil-society organizations, networks, social movements, research centers, and ordinary citizens – will sponsor events every day in Lima, including a big march on Wednesday. The first week of COP 20 was for the most part taking place inside the UN Conference main complex, the Pentagonito, situated away from the center of the city, in a sterile upper class neighborhood. However, these alternative activities will be located in the historic and charming center of the city.
The fight continues Inside the Pentagonito as well. On Monday a group of more than one hundred credentialed observers and Conference participants from various organizations, including Friends of the Earth (FOE) and Climate Action Network, interrupted a presentation by Shell Oil. As George Kamese from Uganda's FOE told me, Shell "has no moral authority to take up time and space at COP 20." Their action succeeded in shaming Shell to stop their rather grotesque, unseemly and inappropriate corporate profit driven public relations display at a venue where such PR moves are, at best, absurd.
Lets hope that this unbridled initiative and creative optimism carries through to the end of the week. If we are going to get to zero carbon emissions, as a point in the COP 20 draft agreement, or as a society before its too late, we are going to need plenty of it.
December 5, 2014
The Shell Answer Man
"Do you feel like you are in enemy territory?" That was as tough as the questioning got. Nobody asked Mr. David Hone, the "Climate Change Advisor" for Shell Oil, "is it fair to say you are a shill for Shell?" But ad hominem attacks are never as good as the facts. So let me start with full disclosure: I was not in the hall when he gave his speech. But from what was reported to me by Portland, Oregon Radio KBOO journalist Yana Maximova, I feel that I must speak my peace. But not because Mr. Hone delivered the speech that we all expected. The shock is that nobody at the large IPCC event at COP 20 in Lima on December 3rd debunked his testimony.
He made two main points. One was "leaving that oil in the ground is unrealistic". In plain English that means "you can't stop us". Well, time will tell on that one, but somebody should have undressed him for being so arrogant. Is he really saying that if Science determines that selling that oil will destroy our society, that Shell's position is "we don't care if we destroy society, we will sell that oil willy nilly"?
But here is his second point, which would make everything ok, if only it was not a lie: he essentially said don't worry, because carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) works. Folks, CCS does not work now, and it will not work any time soon. CCS on tailpipes of cars? CCS sucking carbon out of the wide open skies? Its science fiction. Mr. Hone talks about it as if it is a given fact, as if its ready to implement. But he made no announcements of such technological breakthroughs. Instead, he had the chutzpah to simply assert and assume that CCS works, and then make it the linchpin of his argument. Read his blog here where he talks about this very speech and see for yourself.
The bottom line is, yes, Mr. Hone, we must "leave that oil in the ground". If we don't, we will be so far beyond our carbon budget, the amount of carbon in total that the world can safely burn, that all the worst case nightmare scenarios of Climate Ruin will come true. Thank you, Dr. Shell Shill.
Meanwhile, back in the jungle, I arrived in the Amazon today and talked with Dr. Paul Roberts, the education director of a group called Allianza Arkana that works with indigenous Amazonians. He is working with the Shipibo people in the area of Peru near Pucallpa. Along with providing many services that you might predict in education, agriculture and health, Alianza Arkana has come up with an additional remarkable innovation.
The Shipibo have many settlements, around 130, with populations between 500 and 1000. Two have been devastated by oil companies and loggers, but luckily most have not. But the ones who have been victimized have been hit very hard. Paul says "When I first visited these communities I was shocked at the physical and psychological health damage that had been caused by the forty year presence of oil companies operating on their territory and their exposure to crude oil"
The problem for the Shipibo settlements which have not yet been assaulted is communication - they don't receive news about what has happened to their tribal brothers and sisters. And understanding the situation is critical because there is an element of chess playing in this business, as at any moment the oil companies can make a move, and the next thing you know you will be checkmated. Because of the 2011 Peruvian law that gives the Amazonians the right to be "consulted" before the oil company can start drilling, these companies need to get the tribes to sign off. They do this by coming in and offering money and various benefits, jobs and resources. If a British fellow like Paul would try to go around and counsel the tribes regarding this he would have limited success for reasons of trust and cultural misunderstanding. So Arkana implemented a program of presentations whereby Shipibo who have gone through the devastation of an oil or logging invasion are brought to the settlements, and through these discussions they are being brought up to speed and warned of what is coming down the road.
The more time I spend in Peru the more I see that if we are going to come out on top of this Climate Ruin quagmire, its going to be, in large measure, because of actions by indigenous people, and by the rest of us learning from their experiences and wisdom. If you want to learn more about Allianza Arkana click here.
December 4, 2014
We Want You to Tell the World
The Climate Crisis has many parts and pieces, and none is more critical than how we generate our electricity. Coal is at the top of the list of the worst power sources because it emits so much climate ruining greenhouse gas. Poland uses coal almost exclusively, without much sign that they want to change the mix. So, when I was walking around the pavilion that housed a dozen nations' work stations, and I saw the word "Poland" written on the door, I was compelled to walk in and ask them about this.
Two remarkably intelligent and able chaps were in this meeting room, Przemek Sobanski and Krzysztof Bolesta. Przemek is the "Head of the Climate Policy Unit" for the Department of Sustainable Development. I am very often in Poland, and with Poles showing almost no visible interest in the climate issue, I would never expect to see such a job title, but there it was, and its quite inspiring to see Poland jumping into the action that way. Przemek concurred with that assessment up to a point. He said "until recently, any discussion of the climate issue in the Polish newspapers would be about whether its a problem or not a problem. But now this question is finally settled, and the articles are about things like how much will it cost to deal with the problem." I complimented him on the fact that this means Poland is way ahead of the USA on that score. Then I asked Krzysztof if, with so many eggs in the coal basket, Polish people are concerned that they could be in trouble when the day comes that coal burning becomes severely restricted, or even banned? He said "Polish people are not thinking at all about that. They are trying to figure out how to buy that car or pay those bills."
Around the corner from "Poland" is an area where the indigenous Amazonian people have a fascinating exhibit with highly informative videos and posters. I was looking for Amazonians to interview and I saw four fellows relaxing on the carpet, so I joined them. By luck, these guys were working directly on the issue I wanted to know about, the struggle to keep the oil companies and the loggers out of the forest. Their land is in the south east part of Peru, wild forested territory near the borders of Bolivia and Brazil.
The Peruvian government says these Amazonian people have a right to their land, but the catch is that they do not have a clear right to the things under their land. So, when oil is known to be under a village, or under a precious old growth forest, the government claims the right to allow an oil company to come there and go get it, and destroy everything on the surface and surrounding area. One of the only defenses is a 2011 law that gives the indigenous people a right of "consultation", which can be effective in blocking this destruction. But some of these oil deals were made before 2011, and this has resulted in difficult court cases where the Amazonians must, among other things, convince the court to apply the 2011 law retroactively back to the date of the original oil deal. How can the outside world help in these cases? The most important thing they want from the outside world is support from pollution experts, for example they told me they want "university field research teams, that can come and document the damages done by these oil companies", because this greatly strengthens their legal position.
They showed me a fascinating movie about "Uncontacted Indians", a category of tribe that is almost never seen by other humans. The Peruvian government, to their credit, accords special protection to these amazing tribes. Nonetheless, the oil and logging invading companies recently devised a devious plan to take advantage of the fact that in some cases these tribes are not seen for years. Their tactic: claim that these tribes don't really exist, since they are unseen. If they can get a court to rule that the tribe does not exist then they are free to plunder. Luckily the tribe somehow found out about this ruse, and impending doom caused the tribe to make a rare appearance for the video cameras, just to make sure their legal protection will not vanish. Watch the video to see for yourself.
When our informal session on the carpet ended it was soon to be continued in a major press conference in a big hall nearby. Edwin Vasquez, Coordinater of COICA, a group that organizes Amazonians, was an impressive speaker, his speech had the effect of well crafted sound bites. Speaking to us, the journalists, he said "we want you to tell the world" that when the world allows these oil companies and loggers to do their destructive work, "it doesn't hurt only the Amazonians." Referring to the beneficial role forests will play in surviving the coming hotter climate, he stressed that when the forest is destroyed, "it will not be there to save the world". Ominously, he cautioned us that "deforestation happens when we are not there", so "let us do what we traditionally do." The Amazonians will not stop trying to work within the Peruvian national legal systems, but Edwin let us know that "the government promises preservation, but we get destruction."
The Amazonians of Peru are very focused on the coming threat of Climate Ruin. They have many deep ideas, advice and concrete plans regarding how we can survive the coming climate driven troubles and tribulations.. For more information google the names of their organizations, Fenamad and Coica.
December 3, 2014
Fight for Your Right to the Land
How will the climate drama finally play out? Despite thinking that we have no chance at all, will we keep trying every angle, every last strategy, and in the end, will we prevail? Personally, I did prevail on Day 2 of the conference when I was finally given my firmly denied press pass. In my case Rationality reigned, thanks to the wise judgment of Nick Nuttal, the Head of Communications and Outreach and Spokesperson for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. But would rationality reign in the case of humans vs. greenhouse gas?
I sat down with 2 South American reporters for Reuters News Service, and asked them how they would characterize the sense of urgency there at the conference. Both of them felt that the level of urgency was low--that the delegates were doing their jobs but without a lot of hope for radical change. I decided to get a wider sample as the conference progresses and see how true their reading really is.
Next was a press conference of a very passionate young Peruvian Indian named Ely wearing a traditional headdress. He was urgent. His village is being decimated by the loggers. Logging companies had been given the rights to their land by virtue of some colonial style land grab masquerading as a legal procedure. I asked him what would be the one thing he would want the American people to know about his plight. He said "land rights", meaning that they were fighting a legal battle to confirm their land rights and thereby throw off these invaders. You might ask why a climate conference was a proper forum for this. The reason is that the fight for indigenous rights such as these are at the front lines of the climate wars. When the loggers win we lose a lot because destroying these forests causes a lot of carbon emission. Plus, to maintain a stable climate our planetary body needs healthy lungs. It is crucially important to stop this litany of horrors that these loggers inflict on the very folks who for centuries have been doing such a great job of tending the planetary lungs that we call the Amazon. (You can email Ely at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.)
China and the USA are the 2 biggest emitters of greenhouse gases. When I saw a room that said "CHINA" on the door, it was time to "Enter the Dragon," and ask some tough questions. We agreed on the background, that while China was burning cornucopias of climate killing coal, they were also producing mega ultra amounts of climate saving solar panels and wind power hardware. Plus, before the polar ice caps melt, the Himalayan glaciers will go liquid and China, being downhill, will flood and then soon after be dry as a bone. So, was China getting ready to stop burning coal and save the water supply? They said that the government plan was to increase the production of clean energy systems and keep growing them, while in parallel keep burning coal until their people in poverty had sufficient development, and then swiftly stop burning coal. I asked them if they had estimated how many years that would take, since it is crucial that the Himalayan glaciers survive that amount of warming. They pondered that, and then told me they were not aware of any such estimations.
As most delegates went home for the night, there was a circle of teens darkly visible in a grassy area who looked and acted similarly to Occupy People. They were planning what to do on Youth Day December 4. One of them, a Brazilian named Iago, from"Engajamundo," told me the plan was to make one symbolic action and one invited speech in front of the full Plenary. The symbol was Captain Planet, and this costumed crusader would go around to the various countries' delegations and hand them a green card if they were worthy, and a red card if they needed to improve. The speech to the Plenary was not yet written. Finally, I asked him, if we could get a huge number of people, say, one million, to do one single action at the same moment, just to demonstrate that people who wanted to save the climate could act powerfully outside governments, and show our strength in big numbers, what would that action be? He developed a fine idea right there on the spot: each person should get a green flag and put it in some visible spot such as on your car or bike or house. This kid can think on his feet.
December 2, 2014
"The SUN is the Answer"
Its the first day of COP 20--the UN Climate Conference in Lima, Peru--and Greenpeace has made the papers again with a massive projection of words onto the mountain face towering over Machu Picchu: "Save The Climate--the SUN is the Answer." Reading the local paper, sandwiched into a human mass called a "bus", I read the lead story that was headlined "Planetary Inferno." Between Greenpeace and the tabloids, the UN was at the center of some full blown excitement.
Is the UN is trying to turn the Titanic around on a dime? How is that done? I was ready to ask these questions to as many delegates as I could.
The Conference is held in an army installation known as the Pentagonito. What an irony for the UN to be housed in a Pentagon--a metaphor for war. But the hope is that the UN isn't pussy footing around anymore. This time they mean it. The first 19 COPS were "good cops". This time they are the Bad COP 20. And there were plenty of military policemen around to emphasize the point, but they were apologetic and very friendly when they said I could not take any photos of them. They told me to enter at GATE 4, at the first left turn. After 30 minutes of walking around that impregnable perimeter in the tropical scorch of UN collective security, GATE 4 appeared.
I needed to get my press credentials in order to cross through security to interview delegates. The problem was I had simultaneously entered Franz Kafka's "The Trial by Bureaucracy." To make a long story short, I still had some waiting to do to get my pass.
So I interviewed the fellow who's job it was to let people out the door--and he was fascinating. I asked him what stood out for him on this first day. He had witnessed my Kafkaesque ordeal and, smiling bittersweetly, he told me that while I was going to get my pass tomorrow, there were 10 Peruvian Indians who were turned away and will not get in at all, including several mayors of Andean villages. They had traveled a long way and had simply assumed that they could get inside and offer their considerable wisdom to the world gathering. I told him it surprised me that some UN official didn't at least bring them inside for a few moments and give them some courtesy coffee after their long journey. His feelings were only incredulity that they were turned away for any reason at all. This is Peru, they should have been welcomed with open arms.
I explored a bit more of the waiting area and found the TV crews, who were in ready position to film the VIPs should they want to do an interview with the UN COP 20 banner in the background. I was trapped in a sector with no chairs, toilets, or electric power outlets, but they, and only they, had electric power for my laptop, and they gladly shared it. Before we finished discussing how we were going to prevent that power from being generated from fossil fuels, it was time to leave the Pentagonito, and come back fresh the next day, to enter through the security zone and begin asking the tough questions. After all, this IS our last year to put our heads together and figure out how to turn that Titanic around on a dime.
December 1, 2014
New Round of Climate Talks Launches in Lima, Peru
LIMA, PERU -- Greetings to PR Watch readers! It has been 5 years since Copenhagen, and it feels good to be back providing firsthand reports from another important UN Climate Conference. You may recall the big expectations the world had for Copenhagen in 2009--and that crushing realization as the conference closed, that governments were not ready to act on what Science is telling us, as instead they opted to keep the world safe for carbon industries.
This time, it is South America's turn to show what can be done.Today is the opening of the Lima Conference, and there are reasons for optimism. Certainly, Obama's recent agreement with China on greenhouse gas emissions bodes well. The Copenhagen disappointment was largely due to the inability of the USA and China to cooperate--and to find a position on emissions they could both endorse. That particular monkey is now off our backs, and that provides momentum as we begin today.
My taxi driver from the airport, Jhamson, told me that the climate crisis is on people's minds here, and that he and his friends were excited about the world coming to their town around this issue. We were talking about the big police presence at the airport--could it be extra intense because climate hero Leonardo DiCaprio will arrive tomorrow?
One big reason that this year's conference is particularly important is because it is setting up next year's conference in Paris, which has acquired an imprimature as Humanity's Last Chance. In Paris, one year from now, the feet of all the nations will be held to the fire to make some specific commitments to keep us from catastrophic climate disruption. The consensus is growing that the window for action is closing so soon now that if we don't succeed in Paris then the chances for success become dramatically worse. I will be interviewing the delegates, asking them about how exactly this Lima round will facilitate getting those Paris commitments ready.
I will also ask these delegates about their opinion on what the citizens of the world should do if Paris fails. We, the people, need a plan of action if our governments fail us, and I will be pursuing this line of reasoning as the conference progresses.
As I cleared customs at the airport, the first thing I saw was a COP 20 (thats the official name for the conference) welcoming station, and I asked the man there, Victor, what was his hope going in? He said he wishes that by the end of the meeting all the countries will sign a letter that will encourage and help Paris--Humanity's Last Chance--to succeed. What Victor was referring to is the draft agreement on limiting greenhouse gas emissions that COP 20 is hoping will facilitate a strong result in Paris.
Alex Carlin serves as a Director of The Leo J. and Celia Carlin Fund. A graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, he lives in Krakow, Poland. He is the organizer of ROME IS BURNING and his writings include 100 Miles of Mirrors: A Simple, Feasible Plan for Averting Global Climatic Disaster for In These Times.