Thursday, December 27, 2012

Done with Math

"The stark choice is between vasectomies and funerals. The sooner we get on with it, the better."

We complain about the slow progress of the climate talks, but what about the even slower progress on efforts to curb semen emissions?

Consider this: each day the population of humans on the planet expands by more than 200,000. That is one good-sized city, complete with water, food, energy, transportation, communication and sanitation infrastructure. To feed that city may require, if storage and process losses are kept to a minimum, 1 million kilocalories every day — something like a 20-acre stockyard of cattle, a Tyson’s poultry farm the size of a superdome, and a large fleet of Japanese fishing vessels seine-netting dolphins as they scour the dwindling ocean stores for tuna.

And the next day, you have to find somewhere to put another, while still feeding the first.

There are not as many people alive now as have ever lived, but it is close. That is one of the features of an exponential curve; the squares keep doubling. Earth's human population today equals the sum of every population doubling of the past 200,000 years.

Imagine UN negotiators agreeing to an excise fee on babies — or a “birth tax,” if you will. Suppose a prospective parent couple could purchase, for a small, but appreciating, price an indulgence that permitted them to have an extra child over and above the allotted number.

The rules of the exchange might require that privilege be gained at the expense of a fertile would-be-mother somewhere in a poorer, more desperate part of the world, who was willing to sell her quota right for the contract price, less broker fees. The transaction might be recorded on a Chicago Birth Exchange, let us say. It might be further insured, for verification purposes, by surgical removal of the donor’s remaining fertile eggs. Thus the blessed couple would gain another child by picking some “low hanging fruit;” taking some population pressure off poorer countries and shouldering it in a wealthy country, better able to provide.

If we can agree that the “terrestrial parking space” on Earth – the land available for inhabitation — has already been exceeded (a fair assumption given unsustainable depletion rates for most natural resources), we’ll need to set annual birth rations below equilibrium to force a gradual population contraction.

Lets say we want to de-grow global population by 200,000 per day. It would take 70 years just to get back to where we were mid-20th century. Gauging available resources — most importantly a decline in the availability of the high-quality energy that we apply to satisfying food and water demands — we may not have 70 years. We may need to double down and de-grow by, say, 400,000 per day.

We needn’t run all the numbers here, and it would be problematic, but we can just stipulate that a global quota could be set at “X children per fertile female-lifetime,” and that would form the basis for the daily price in contracts negotiated on the Chicago Birth Exchange.

We are a long way from that kind of treaty.

And then, just imagine how it might fare in the US Senate, to say nothing of the Indian Parliament. The alternative, of course, is simply to let nature enforce her own quota, which she usually does by withholding food. Given our other failed negotiation— the Framework Convention on Climate Change — that outcome is in the pipeline. If Peak Oil, GMOs, or the collapsing global economy don’t kill our industrial style of agriculture, killer storms and droughts will.

NYC Homeless Children (before Hurricane Sandy)
Working on the angle of changing agriculture from inefficient, energy-intensive, soil-destroying practices to alternative, organic and permacultural methods that use energy-saving human labor and build nutrient density in both soil and crops, we can only get so far. Studies suggest that going organic could boost global food supply a few percent, at best. Permaculturists and eco-agriculturists could redesign many large-field grain mines to rotate through food forests. They could replace concentrated cattle-feeding operations with free-range animals living sustainably within the confines of those rotations. This can support large populations, but not growing ones, and probably not 7 billion; maybe not even half that.

Sustainable agriculture will not involve genetic engineering. That way of hustling funds from governments, donors and shareholders to fund giant labs packed with biotech grad students is a blown meme – stick a fork in it. No genetically modified organism has ever demonstrated superiority to the natural organism it replaced, or solved any problem for which it was designed without creating more serious ones as a side effect. Period. It is a shuck.

So also is classical economics, that tells us demand creates supply, just wait for it. So is the claim that somehow technology can be substituted for cheap energy. Or that markets are neutral arbiters that will always separate grain from chaff. Stick a fork in all that nonsense.

No, the stark choice is between vasectomies and funerals. The sooner we get on with it, the better.

Wouldn’t it be great if the kids taking to the street in Zuchotti Park, Plaza del Sol, or Doha all had their tubes sewn shut or eggs scraped? What if they wore that fact as a proud badge of personal freedom and planetary citizenship? What would that take? Celebrities? Suppose Chris Hedges, Julia Roberts, Julian Assange, Evo Morales, Naomi Klein, Shakira and Brad Pitt marched out of sterilization clinics sporting little blue ribbons.

Blue for that jewel of a planet that supports us, within limits.

This essay was originally published in Culture Change, December 27, 2012 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Lucia Day 2012

"The North American continent, and much of South America, were cultivated ecologies, kept in near perfect balance for centuries by the subsistence economics and cultural norms of the American indigenous peoples. "

On December 12, 2012, Gaia Trust awarded the Gaia Award 2012, with a prize of 50,000 Danish kroner, to two global peace and sustainability projects, Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) and Gaia Education and their five early organizers. Quoting from the announcement, "Declan Kennedy, Max Lindegger and Albert Bates traveled five continents and created GEN networks in all parts of the world from 1995-2008. They share the prize with the present head of GEN, Kosha Joubert, who just set up an African network, and May East who for 7 years now has been at the head of Gaia Education and facilitated a network in South America. Together they have been important midwifes in giving birth to a new global culture."

Hildur Jackson, at the award ceremony yesterday in Denmark, said, "They get the award on the darkest afternoon, the 12th of Dec 2012, Lucia day. That day the sun starts its return in the northern Hemisphere culminating on the 21st of Dec, the shortest day. The shortest morning is then one week later. We want to acknowledge this major turning of our sun and celebrate the birth of a new culture." What follows are my prepared remarks for that ceremony.

Remarks of Albert Bates
On the occasion of receipt of the Gaia 2012 Award

Thank you for this recognition. I just wish it were more money!

Something Hildur Jackson said in announcing the awards I want to take a moment to speak about. She said,

“Let us think of this as the beginning of a new era—the Gaian Age with the Gaian Calendar, when a new global sustainable culture will be born, a new beginning for humankind. It will be the beginning of a new consciousness, a consciousness of Oneness where we are at one with nature, each other and the cosmos.”

In 19 days I will be 66 years old. I have been hearing talk about the essential oneness of everything since I was a child, going to church every Sunday.

In the early days of the Farm, working out in the hot sun hoeing weeds, we used to say at The Farm, “Work and Body are One; Body and Mind are One; Mind and Buddha are one.”

So I had that in my background and it was an intellectual construct that I accepted. I even had a meditation on occasion where I felt like my mind merged with the universal and it was all One. So you could say that for me it was also a revealed precept.

For the past quarter of my life I have been grappling with the climate issue and I’ve worried about how humans can possibly shift away from tropisms that are deeply embedded in our evolutionary biology, such as our insensitivity to long-term consequences of foolish or vain activities. That search led me deep into the Amazon jungle, to archeological excavations of civilizations going back 8000 years. And in that place I had a new insight about the butterfly effect, because I learned how these ancient peoples, in building their cities, may have added so much carbon to the atmosphere that they created the Maunder Maximum, a period of warming that brought the Moors into Southern Europe.

And centuries later, when they vanished from diseases brought to the New World by the Conquistadors, the amount of carbon drawn out of the atmosphere to create the Amazon Rainforest was so enormous that it may have triggered the Little Ice Age, and given Sweden the means to invade Denmark over frozen ice.

And I was reminded of something I already knew but now came to see as far more profound. That the North American continent, and much of South America, were cultivated ecologies, kept in near perfect balance for centuries by the subsistence economics and cultural norms of the American indigenous peoples.

The forest where I live was once hunted by Cherokee, Creek, Euchee and Osage. They never killed all the deer, only the old ones. If they found three ginseng plants, they would only harvest one. They kept the balance. And the Earth provided them a living. They received an abundance borne of respect.

That was a steady state economy that prevailed over at least half the planet for 50,000 years or more. Each year some fields were burned for the benefit of deer and bison. Each year forests were managed for stand improvement, species diversity and ecological services. The same for the bays, estuaries, lakes and mountains. Millions of people practiced sustainability, ecological restoration, and fundamental ecology, not as some abstract or unique way, but as normal. They were just normal.

Those millions of people achieved a profound balance with the biology of the planet, with Gaia. They created harmonious connection, and it gave them time to pursue deeper self-knowledge, spiritual powers, and a culture of dance, music and poetic discourse. They had no grocery stores but they did not starve. They had no refrigeration, internet or telephones, but they had happy lives, for thousands of years.

It was not always great. Bad stuff happened. But, by and large, they came into balance with Gaia. And Gaia responded, and gave them the Holocene Epoch, a period of profound climate tranquility and productivity. As long as they kept the balance, they could have that.

When Europeans came to the Americas and began to disturb the balance, they were warned by the indigenous elders of terrible consequences, but they ignored these warnings. These warnings have been being given for 500 years and are still being ignored. Offered a choice between heaven and hell, we have chosen hell.

Mother Nature is looking out for our interests, despite all the abuse we give her. Gaia wants to heal the planet. Gaia does that. And Nature will heal us, too, if we let her. She won’t do it if we continue the abusive relationship. We may think we are winning a battle, but Nature is winning. Nature will always win. All we really need to do is to surrender.

Thank you for this moment of sharing, and for all our relations. I love you all.


Monday, December 10, 2012

Through the Doha Gateway

"'There were some winners here — the coal industry won here, the oil industry won here, the fossil fuel industry won here. This wasn’t an environmental or science-driven discussion, this was a trade fair.' — Alden Meyer"

Abdullah bin Hamad Al-Attiyah, Chairman of Qatar's Administrative Control and Transparency Authority and President of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP 18/CMP 8) was visibly ebullient. The Doha Gateway delivered a next step, on time and on budget. See here for a summary of the final text.

It was the first time in several years we can recall the business of the COP being concluded before a Saturday overnight emergency session. With time on their hands, the UN convened a post-conference discussion to raise ambitions, and plan relief concerts for victims of catastrophic weather damage.

Whether US negotiators took the strategy gambit offered them here last week (see The Doha Nuance) or were just swept along with the tide no longer matters. The world’s first international carbon emissions treaty — the Kyoto Protocol — rather than being allowed to expire, as most expected, has been extended and expanded into Kyoto-2. Whether to participate in the carbon-limit regime now becomes an internal debate in the capitals of developing and developed worlds alike, including the US Senate, should the President elect. President Bill Clinton, it must be remembered, never forwarded Kyoto-1 for an up or down vote.

Negotiators have often displayed more ambition than their nations. The US negotiating team in Doha, on the other hand, seemed through the past two weeks to have considerably less ambition than either the public at home or the White House. Called out by Greenpeace Executive Director Kumi Naidoo and Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman,  they retreated into mute silence and simply declined questions. Whether they had a role in Kyoto-2’s adoption (even if by igniting reaction to their consistent opposition) remains shrouded in mystery. Their negotiating position seemed to be, “We like what was done last year in Durban (nothing); we’re sticking with that.”

Kumi Naidoo
Kyoto-2 seemed at the threshold of approval in Copenhagen in December, 2009, we may recall, but newly-minted President Obama dropped in at the last moment to substitute a voluntary pledge program, snatching defeat from the jaws of a potential international victory. Hillary Clinton sealed the deal with a dollar diplomacy pledge of $100 billion per year, which bought off enough opponents of the pledge system to backburner Kyoto until now.

This year, delegates were still looking under sofa cushions for that $100 billion, promised but never delivered, and Kyoto-1 was about to expire, for real, so they ditched the Clinton pledge telethon and put an admission price at the door to a 2-degree warmer world.

The pledge system remains legally in place under the Copenhagen Accord and subsequent COPs, so as a practical matter, Kyoto signatories are being given until 2014 to review their pledges. Those not participating are being detained after school. They have to attend workshops in 2013 to discuss ambition, and tell UN shrinks why they don’t have any. Everyone is anxious to see what lead US negotiator Todd Stern will say. Did the dog eat his homework? Really?

While Kyoto was extended in law, it remains a paper tiger until finance and specific targets are put in place. These negotiations will take until 2015, with implementation thereafter. Germany, China and the UK stood with poor countries and submerging island states and made commitments for Green technology transfer, so development and adaptation can move forward, without fossil fuels or nuclear energy. No excuses there. Korea was given administration of the Green Climate Fund, and Denmark became the first to put real cash into that fund, over the dead body of Canada.

There is nothing in the Doha deal that will keep emissions from going down instead of up. There is nothing to assure that $100 million, never mind $100 billion, will be found for the Climate Fund. There was no solution found for the Hot Air problem, wherein countries who were given low emissions reduction targets at Kyoto in 1997 (Russia and Eastern Europe) but whose emissions imploded as a consequence of economic collapse, were allowed to bank the difference and sell their credits to heavy polluters.

A number of countries in the Doha talks pledged to not buy hot air from Russia, Belarus or Ukraine, and to consider Kyoto-1’s credits now expired. Others were conspicuously silent on the issue.

Extending Kyoto was only a baby step; the reduction target in total is only about 15% of annual global emissions of greenhouse gases. WWF’s Samantha Smith said, “The EU is committed to 20% and they are well on track to do that – they could do that with their eyes closed.” Many countries have more ambitious goals than are likely to emerge from Kyoto-2, even with tweaking, and the real question becomes whether even those more ambitious goals will be enough. The science is not encouraging.

UCS’s Alden Meyer said, “There were some winners here — the coal industry won here, the oil industry won here, the fossil fuel industry won here. This wasn’t an environmental or science-driven discussion, this was a trade fair. This is not the future we need to leave to our children. We know that we need to leave four-fifths of the oil, gas and coal on the planet where it is — underground — that’s the only safe carbon reserve there is.”

Qatari Youth confronting Climate Change
The major NGO players — UCS, Greenpeace, WWF, CAN, tcktcktck, — met to discuss merger and how best to apply their separate strengths into a combined force. Kumi Naidoo said afterwards, “We didn’t get a FAB deal (Fair, Ambitious and legally Binding) in Copenhagen, we got a FLAB deal — full of loopholes and bullshit. And we have the same bull coming out of here in Doha and I think the main message we have to take from Doha is this: yes, we support the multilateral process; yes, we want it to work; but if the people in the world, and especially the young people of the world think that they can invest their futures on a multi-lateral process which is held back by the weak national political will which negotiators bring from their capitals to these negotiations, then they are making a bad tactical error. … We will have to think about the proportionality of our investment, in terms of how much we put here (into the UN process) … and building a robust, broad-based movement. … To young people in particular, I would say, don’t accept that you are leaders of tomorrow, assert that you are leaders of today.”

What is required, in our humble opinion, is a change of narrative. Viewing economic development and climate change prevention as opposites is not a realistic assessment, much less a viable strategy. The economic story demands reframing. Hurricane Sandy’s damage just to New Jersey was greater than the funding sought in Doha for the Green Climate Fund. In our Post Petroleum Survival Guide (2006) we attempted to reframe peak oil and climate change as a joyous switch to better standards of living. This change is what has been postponed with each missed opportunity, and with each postponement the transition becomes more painful and beset with greater risks.

What does Obama and the US Senate have to fear from Kyoto-2, after all? The hot air credits bestowed on former Soviet countries by Kyoto-1 could easily accrue to the US under Kyoto-2. As its own economy collapses, it could wind up selling hot air to India or Brazil.

So now it’s on to COP-19 in Warsaw, in December 2013, and lets win there. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Doha Disappointment

"Mr. President, you have to decide whether negotiators you sent here to Doha advocate for your position. The U.S. position here in Doha betrays people who lost their lives during hurricane Sandy. "

An open letter to Barack Obama on U.S. obstruction to climate treaty

Dear Mr. President,

My Name is Kumi Naidoo, I am the Executive Director of Greenpeace International, I also serve as President of the Global Campaign for Climate Action and serve as Global Ambassador of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty. But, today I write to you as an African, as a person from the developing world and as a parent.

The world needs your leadership now — and for the first time you have immense popular support, with a majority of Americans believing that climate change is a real threat.

In 2009, you received the Nobel Prize for Peace in the run-up to the Copenhagen climate summit. There was a strong expectation that you would lead multilateral efforts to combat global warming. Everyone hoped that you would not make the same mistakes as your predecessor, George W. Bush, who ignored the CIA’s and Pentagon’s warning that climate change is the biggest threat to geopolitical stability, security and peace.

In your victory speech after being re-elected to a second term, you inspired hope once again to people around the world who care about global climate disruption and want to ensure a habitable planet for future generations. You said: “We want our children to live in an America that is not burdened by debt, that is not weakened by inequality, that is not threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.” This hope rose when in a press conference on November 14th 2012 you called for “a conversation across the country…” to see “how we can shape an agenda that garners bipartisan support and helps move this agenda forward… and… be an international leader” on climate change.

A stark contrast exists between what you have said and what your negotiators in Doha are doing. Your negotiators on climate change continue to undermine hope that the U.S. will be an ambitious global citizen on climate. With all due respect, Mr. President, your negotiators’ view does not resonate either with the majority of the people in the world, nor with a growing number of voices of informed public opinion within the U.S. itself.

Although the Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern, and Deputy Special Envoy Jonathan Pershing, say the United States has a “strong and solid” position, they have consistently delivered the opposite. They have continued to block negotiations on developing common rules for accounting for pollution reduction efforts, which are necessary to understanding if global efforts are sufficient. 

Although they have said U.S. climate finance for developing countries will be maintained, they will not commit to increasing it through 2020 despite it being nowhere near the ‘fair share’ of $100 billion that you agreed in Copenhagen. Obviously, the Congress is in a fiscal crisis, but your negotiators have stalled discussions about how to raise climate finance through innovative sources like a very small levy on shipping or global financial transactions. As the Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki Moon said yesterday, developed countries with large historical emissions have a clear responsibility to come up with funding to help poor countries adapt to climate impacts.

Mr. President, a lack of leadership by the U.S. in the climate treaty talks in Doha puts the survival of millions of people on the African continent and the globe at risk. In the past five years, the growth in coal use has caused over two-thirds of the increase in global CO2 emissions, pushing greenhouse gas emissions to a record high. In recent weeks, the World Bank, the CIA and the UNEP have each warned about the consequences of unchecked climate change. Statements by your negotiators that the U.S. is making ‘enormous efforts’ is contradicted by their lack of leadership in calling for enforceable reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gases.

The U.S. position here in Doha betrays people who lost their lives during hurricane Sandy. It betrays people who are facing the effects of intense drought in the U.S. It betrays the aspirations of a growing number of young Americans, some of whom I have met here in Doha, who want the U.S. to recover from eight years of President Bush’s climate denialism that delayed progress in climate negotiations. I feel a responsibility to inform you that this lack of leadership has profoundly disappointed many of the same people who were so energized by your promise of hope and your pledges to rejoin the international community.

Here in Doha, we continue to hear disturbing or unfounded claims by your negotiators. One example is the claim that the U.S. 2020 target of cutting global warming pollution by 17 percent compared to 2005 is based on science, when the world leading climate scientists calls for much higher targets for industrialized countries and a new United Nations Environmental Programme study shows a widening gap between existing commitments and what is required to prevent the worst catastrophic impacts of climate change. Your envoys here overstate U.S. commitments to finance global climate initiatives while the U.S. Export-Import Bank alone is spending five times more on fossil fuel subsidies that will only hasten catastrophic climate change.

Frankly, the tone of your Special Envoy and Deputy Special Envoy also has undermined U.S. credibility. In recent weeks, the World Bank and the CIA have each warned about the consequences of unchecked climate change. In this context, your negotiators claiming that the U.S. is making ‘enormous efforts’ rather than accepting the need for enforceable pollution reductions backed by a consensus of the world’s scientists threatens to sabotage these climate negotiations. Every day with no change of course from your negotiating team, the problem is getting worse.

This year has already seen devastating storms, droughts and floods causing significant loss of life and damage to important infrastructure, including not only in your country, but also in China, India, Africa and Europe. This was yet another warning signal and a test of whether governments will protect their people. In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, and the drought, wildfires and other extreme weather events that have afflicted the American people over the last year, it is time to bring climate politics in line with scientific reality, both nationally and internationally.

Climate change is no longer some distant future threat. At the end of a year that has seen the impacts of climate change devastate homes and families in your country and around the world, it is the perfect time to refute the discredited claims of politicians underwritten by polluters who profit from inaction.

Mr. President, we need you to deliver bold leadership relative to what is actually necessary to reduce the threat of global warming to the U.S. and the world. This must include backing a revolution in energy policy based on clean renewables and energy efficiency in the U.S. and worldwide. It also means ending fossil fuel subsidies and the export of publicly owned coal, rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline, drilling for oil in Arctic waters and making the prevention of climate catastrophes a centrepiece of U.S. foreign policy.

You have to decide whether negotiators you sent here to Doha advocate for your position. If the world is to trust the U.S, it needs to see the bold leadership that ensures that global temperatures do not exceed levels that science has warned will wreak disaster for our planet. This essential goal is only possible with leadership from the U.S. today.

From one father to another, let me close by appealing to you, that what is at stake here is our very children and their children’s future. As someone who was so inspired by your election in 2008 as U.S. President, please allow me to evoke three phrases you used in that campaign in conclusion: “A planet in peril,” “The fierce urgency of now” and “Yes We Can.” I believe strongly, that your message in 2008 was absolutely right and I believe if we recognize the fierce urgency of now, we can address the challenge of a planet in peril and ensure that the spirit of optimism imbued by the words “Yes we can” should now reign supreme.


Kumi Naidoo
Executive Director
Greenpeace International


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Doha Nuance

"Given the volumes of methane leaked in fracking, a carbon tax at the well-head could cancel the pixie dust “North American energy independence” boom/bust debacle overnight. But that is not enough to stave off 4-degrees. "

In an era when public discourse is pushed through the bottleneck of paid advertising minutes and distilled to 15 and 30 second soundbytes or bumpersticker slogans, we’ve lost nuance. When warned by Judge Julius Hoffman to “stick to the facts” during the trial of the Chicago-Seven, Norman Mailer protested, “Facts are nothing without their nuance, sir.”

We guess that, all considered, we are better off with a US President that understands nuance than one that doesn’t. This one we have for the next 4 years has a good science advisory team, and that can’t hurt the understanding of nuance, either. It is perhaps because of nuance that we are a bit more hopeful of progress in Doha than we should be, having reached this giddy condition before, at COPs in Copenhagen, Cancun and Durban, before watching it dissolve in negotiating perfidy.

In 2009 President Obama stepped into the Copenhagen COP at the last moment and substituted a voluntary pledge system for what had been shaping up to be a binding treaty. Global emissions rose 2.6% last year and are now 58% higher than 1990 levels. Pledges are not enough to keep the world on a path to a 2°C limit of climate change. Obama saw an opening in Copenhagen, but did not appreciate the nuance. Pledges are not legal commitments.

Airline Exhaust

Airport Do-The-Math Greeters in Doha
Another example was the COP-18 first week’s flap over air transport rules. On November 27 President Obama signed into law the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act of 2011. The new law authorizes — but does not require — the Secretary of Transportation to prohibit airlines from participating in the European Union's anti-pollution regime. Seen through Republican legislators’ eyes the bill was a triumph of climate denialism — allowing the US to opt out of European progressive democracy.
Europe’s Aviation Directive holds airlines accountable for emissions associated with commercial flights that land at or take off from EU airports. By forcing airlines to become more fuel efficient, the program removes the equivalent of atmospheric carbon added annually by all the cars in Europe. Since US airlines land at EU airports, they would have to comply, were they not prohibited by the new US law.

If the Secretary of Transportation were to implement the prohibition outlined in the bill, it would require unlawful (under EU laws) behavior on the part of U.S. airlines and would risk igniting a trade war with the European Union as US flights get banned from EU air space, and vice versa in reprisal.

Fortunately, the EU blinked. It “stopped the clock” on implementation of the system, to allow time for negotiation. In a statement after the signing, the White House said:

The Administration remains focused on making progress in reducing aviation emissions through the appropriate multilateral forum – the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) — and we welcome the recent progress there in establishing a new High Level Group charged with accelerating negotiations on a basket of measures that all countries can adopt at the next ICAO Assembly meeting in September 2013 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from aviation.
Major beltway environmental groups, EDF, WWF, Earthjustice, and NRDC included, praised the White House move as a positive step, saying “Now the spotlight is on ICAO, and on whether the U.S. will step forward with the real leadership needed to drive agreement on an ICAO program to cut aviation’s carbon pollution.”

In contrast, many grassroots organizations did not grasp, or didn’t care about, the nuance. They sported placards in Doha demanding that the EU start the clock again and that Obama direct his Transportation Secretary to ignore the new US law. If the Obama Administration wastes its year of negotiations within the ICAO or dampens ICAO authority, then the nuance is a distinction without a difference. But if the year of negotiation produces airline carbon reductions that can also apply to US airports, and those in other non-EU nations, then the nuance is important, and no one needs to be tugging at the President’s elbow just yet.

Trick or Treaty

COP18 protest: Note the Artificial Trees
Another example is the question of to whom the burden of counting carbon belongs. Many of the placards held up outside Doha venues call for “climate justice” or “pay your historic debt” and countries like India and Bolivia have latched onto these slogans to go slow on their own commitments. The United States flatly rejects the notion of climate debt, and points to the fact that most emissions come from the developing world, with China being number one in gross carbon pollution and Qatar being the top emitter on a per capita basis. The impasse over climate justice is made out to be a big deal. The nuance is more subtle.

In the United States, electric power plants emit about 2.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide each year, or roughly 40 percent of the nation's total emissions and a quarter of the world’s. The Obama EPA has taken important first steps by setting standards that will cut carbon from automobiles and trucks nearly in half by 2025 and by proposing standards to limit carbon pollution from new power plants. But Obama’s EPA has yet to tackle the hundreds of existing fossil-fueled power plants in the United States, and it is opening up vast new industries in fracking and tar sands.

Civil society, led by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), has a plan to reduce power plant pollution, and it requires no new laws. It is already authorized under the Clean Air Act of 1970, so would not involve confrontation with climate denier committees of Congress to implement. The plan would cut CO2 pollution from America's power plants by 26% by 2020 and 34% by 2025. The price tag: about $4 billion. But the benefits — in saved lives, reduced illnesses, and climate change avoided — would be $26 to 60 billion, 6 to 15 times greater than the costs. Consider Hurricane Sandy.

Naturally, if the US were to go ahead and implement the NRDC plan, it would like to get some kind of credit for the reduction. Maybe even a historical credit.

On the other side of the planet, China is being told it is the number one polluter, but most of that pollution comes from mining and importing fossil fuels to power conversion of petrochemicals to components for iPhones, Fisher Price toddler computers, and Barbies for Wal•Mart. So who should pay for China’s pollution controls?

In our view, the most promising approach is to tax carbon at the mine and well. Raising the price there propagates conservation incentives downstream, at every conversion point. Given the volumes of methane leaked in fracking, it could cancel the pixie dust “North American energy independence” boom/bust debacle overnight. But that is not enough.

There needs to be a financial incentive for countries like India, South Africa and Brazil to adopt pollution controls similar to the NRDC plan for the US. And that is where the minutia of negotiating a second Kyoto period comes into play. Kyoto is the only part of the COP negotiations that actually involves hard deadlines and enforcement of international law against violators. Kyoto-2 is a realistic goal for Doha to accomplish.

Anticipating a renewed Kyoto regime, Korea is spending 2 percent of its GDP on the low-carbon economy. China has embedded energy efficiency and renewables targets in its latest five-year plan and is testing carbon markets in seven of its provinces. The UK has set a 2050 target of 80% reduction in its carbon footprint. The US is silent.

It seems likely that a second Kyoto period will be adopted, beginning in 2015. The debate, as UNFCCC chair Christiana Figueres said in her opening address to the high level delegates, is whether ambition for targets is enough to hold the world to a 2 degree temperature rise, or whether lowered ambitions brokered to get the final deal condemn us to a devastating (for civilization) 4 degrees or more. The nuance, for Obama, is that adopting Kyoto will require a 75% majority in the US Senate, but if he can’t achieve that, he could still go around it with NRDC-like plans for every sector of the economy, using existing regulatory authority given by Congress to President Nixon and recently upheld vis a vis the EPA and CO2 by the Roberts Supreme Court.
“The 4°C scenarios are devastating… The projected 4°C warming simply must not be allowed to occur—the heat must be turned down. Only early, cooperative, international actions can make that happen.” — November 2012 Report for the World Bank by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics.
“Lowered ambitions brokered to get the deal” did we say? This is President Obama’s forte. Is it possible to surprise us? Does he appreciate that nuance actually gives him power here? If so, then what we will see in Doha in the next few days is the US advocating for Kyoto-2, signed, sealed and delivered. It will be a historic reversal of Obama's position in Copenhagen, but who's counting? That kind of nuance is outside the ken of his opponents.

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