Monthly Archives: January 2013

Mitigation and Adaptation: Hawai’i Plans for Climate Change

Because we should have started decades ago to minimize climate change by cutting the amount of carbon spewing into the atmosphere, we have to both  mitigate further climate change by slowing carbon emissions through alternative energy sources and adapt to the effects that are already here–decreasing rainfall (up to 30% in coming decades), the decline of healthy reefs and fewer fish, and predicted loss of oceanfront property to rising seas. In a recent cover story in the Honolulu Weekly  Joan Conrow lays out both the threats to our islands and the planning the state of Hawai‘i  is doing on both fronts.

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Richard Wallsgrove studied fresh-water management for a year and produced a white paper laying out some solutions to dwindling supplies such as greater efficiency and a rise in rates to decrease consumption. Although some officials express concernabout the costs of both kinds of responses to warming, Wallsgrove discounted that worry, calling it shortsighted. “The concept that we can’t afford to handle climate change is so myopic it blows my mind,” he told the Weekly. “You can’t afford not to.”

 

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What you can do to be a climate hawk*

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Read a novel that brings the reality of climate change home in beautiful prose with believable characters–Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior–and recommend it to friends.

 

Sign the open letter to President Obama urging him to to fight climate change by executive action, first rejecting the Keystone pipeline and doing what he can by executive action to neutralize the power of the fossil-fuel companies. As the letter says, he is the key leader right now, and his legacy depends on what he does in his second term. It was drafted by Credo and 350.org.

*A climate hawk knows that climate change is real and supports action to combat it. See the Urban Dictionary definition here.

Climate change is ignored no longer–that’s good news

People tend to avoid facing huge problems requiring years of planning and dramatic changes in systems, so of course we’d rather not think about climate change, by all accounts humankind’s biggest challenge. But it’s impossible to ignore in the short term, given news about the havoc climate change is causing worldwide. The world’s people are being plagued not only by heat and drought but extremes of flood, wind, and fire. Hurricane Sandy is now seen as a harbinger of super storms to come. An article in Rolling Stone refers to “the End of Australia.” Climate Change is a topic everywhere you look–on the cover of news magazines, TV specials, podcasts (see Best of the Left, an anthology of progressive voices, on 12/5, 12/8, 1/14), and alternative weeklies (the Honolulu Weekly headline was “Climate Change: Now Showing on an Island Near You“). And although we were holding our breath in fear that President Obama would ignore the problem in his second inaugural address so as not to offend Republicans whose votes he needs for other items on his agenda, he did put  it front-and-center. We’re waiting for action to follow closely on those words.

In the meantime, we can take heart from the fact that most Americans are convinced that climate change is real and must be dealt with. In a January 24 Times Opinionator column on how out of step Republicans are–they’re labeling Obama’s inaugural address and his policies “liberal” as though it were a dirty word–Timothy Egan counters with evidence that if Obama’s positions on immigration, gay marriage are liberal positions, then liberalism is winning. What’s more:

On climate change, a Pew poll at the height of last’s fall’s election found strong bipartisan support for taking steps against many of the effects of global warming. There was a significant increase in those who say the storms, fires, droughts, record-high-temperatures and ice-melting of the last decade or so are human-caused. Only 12 percent — and here’s where the talk radio and Fox wing of the Republican party are glaringly out of step — believe it’s some kind of hoax.

Only 12 percent have swallowed the deniers’ propaganda! And people from both sides of the political spectrum want their leaders to solve the problems associated with climate change. That’s a reason to celebrate in the short term, before turning our energy to working toward long-term solutions.

Obama promises action on climate change–will he deliver?

That’s what environmentalists are asking this week, after the President made combatting climate change a  “legacy goal” in his second inaugural address:   “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.” Mother Jones has run three articles in two days gathering responses of environmental groups who are trying to gauge Obama’s intentions to issue executive orders and instructions to agencies like the EPA, since Congress seems too dysfunctional to produce meaningful legislation in the short term. Indeed, Melinda Pierce of the Sierra Club says that Congress “has become a place where good ideas go to die.”  She lists several things Obama could do through executive orders and do” fairly quickly to demonstrate his commitment to the environment: denying the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, finalizing greenhouse gas rules for new power plants, writing rules for planet-warming emission from existing power plants, and improving fuel economy standards for long-haul trucks and other heavy vehicles.”

Lou Leonard, of the World Wildlife Fund, wants Obama to outline a plan for controlling runaway carbon pollution:  “A sustained national conversation isn’t enough. The president should lay out the steps he can and will take to clean up our energy system, help communities prepare for climate disruption and encourage the rest of the world to ramp up action.” We don’t have time for more false starts. The environmental groups and their members are awaiting the answer to this headline’s question: “Does Obama Mean It This Time on Climate?” Let’s make him mean it; we can take the lead and he will have to follow us. Coming soon: How to mobilize for the fight of our lives.

We need a paradigm shift and a new article says “yes, we can”

It’s a huge, even monumental task, but we have to think big, even grandiose, if we are to avoid the “four horsemen” of apocalyptic climate change: global inequality, ecosystem depletion, “constrained depression” (low demand and high debt), and “resilience deficit” (i.e., our existing water, power, and transportation systems can’t handle coming climate disruption). David Roberts in Grist summarizes a very important article in Foreign Policy by Patrick Doherty, called “A New U.S. Grand Strategy,” that insists the U.S. can solve the monumental problems of climate change by designing our major systems–economic, industrial, civic, and political–around sustainability. As Doherty says, it’s more than a matter of  lowering  carbon emissions;  we need a “global transition to sustainability,” and the U.S. can and must begin the transition. As Bill McKibben says, “Between renewable energy and more efficient engineering, the technology already exists to stave off catastrophic global warming.” Doherty outlines the bigger picture, a strategy to create “a larger industrial, economic, civic, and political system that is designed around sustainability,” where sustainability is not just an add-on.

Roberts’ summary highlights the main features of an America leading the way globally, but first domestically, by creating walkable communities, shifting to sustainable agriculture and economics, and engaging in multilateral diplomacy.

  • Walkable communities: More and more Americans want to live in dense, walkable areas; get rid of regulations that hamper them and start building them.
  • Regenerative agriculture: Farmers can produce “up to three times the profits per acre and 30 percent higher yields during drought” with agricultural techniques that also clean water and restore soils. . . .
  • Resource productivity: “Energy and resource intensity per person will have to drop dramatically.” That imperative can drive “innovation in material sciences, engineering, advanced manufacturing, and energy production, distribution, and consumption.”
  • Excess liquidity: Channel all the corporate cash that’s sitting around in funds into long-term investments in America by taxing waste and creating regional growth strategies.
  • Stranded hydrocarbon assets: Figure out how to devalue the immense amount of carbon that’s still sitting underneath the ground without unduly traumatizing the economy.

This last–leaving the fossil fuel in the ground–is the major goal of 350.org’s divestment movement and collaborative efforts to stop the Keystone XL pipeline, both of which campaigns are gaining momentum. And so this proposal is not just a fantasy; millions recognize that we are already beginning to shift the paradigm toward sustainability. Doherty’s article is long, but it’s clearly written and easy to follow; I recommend it. And let’s make sure President Obama and his cabinet know about it. Isn’t that the implication of the photo on the Foreign Policy website article? grandstrategy

Watch this animated video–you’ll never buy another bottle of water!

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There are several really good documentaries about the growing scarcity of water worldwide and the boondoggle that is the bottled water industry–Flow: For Love of Water and Tapped come to mind, and you can watch them online–but The Story of Bottled Water lasts only 8 minutes, so you can share it easily. Start it on your iPad or computer at work and friends and coworkers will stop by to watch. Show it to your children or students. Post it to Facebook or Tweet to reach thousands more. It’s from Annie Leonard, of The Story of Stuff Project. In clever animation of stick figures, it explains how “manufactured demand” pushes a product we don’t need and adds mountains of plastic pollution to our environment.

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(You can’t even feel good about recycling the bottles, as they are merely downcycled into lower-quality plastic that ends up in developing countries’ dumps.)

It has villains too–look at this quote by an industry executive:

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And it has potential heroes: all of those who decide not only never to buy or consumer bottled water but urge others to stop the waste, too. Did you know that buying a $2 bottle of water is the equivalent of paying $10,000 for a sandwich? That’s because of the cost of extracting the petroleum that goes into making the plastic and bottles as well as transporting it and shipping them.

By all means organize screenings of the other documentaries–it is really important to stop the incredible waste of resources bottled water represents and to advocate, as Leonard says in the video, for access to clean, safe tap water for the 1 billion people who do not have it. They are apparently working–despite the millions the industry spends on making us think tap water tastes bad and that bottled water (frequently tap water itself) is safer, sales are slowing. This video probably helped. It’s had over 2.5 million views on YouTube. Watch it there if you want to be counted.