Blue Marble - December 2009

Proof Copenhagen Is "an Elaborate Sham"

| Thu Dec. 17, 2009 4:17 PM EST

For two weeks we've been listening to the story of the leaked emails from the University of East Anglia—a media tempest in an English teapot. And all the time the biggest scandal has been directly under our noses.

This afternoon at Copenhagen a document mysteriously leaked from the UN Secretariat. It was first reported from the Guardian, and by the time it was posted online it oddly had my name scrawled all across the top—I don't know why, because I didn't leak it.

My suspicion, though, is because it confirms something I've been writing for weeks. The cuts in emissions that countries are proposing here are nowhere near good enough to meet even their remarkably weak target of limiting temperature rise to two degrees Celsius. In fact, says the UN in this leaked report, the  cuts on offer now produce a rise of at least three degrees, and a CO2 concentration of at least 550 ppm, not the 350 scientists say we need, or even the weak 450 that the US supposedly supports.

In other words, this entire conference is an elaborate sham, where the organizers have known all along that they're heading for a very different world than the one they're supposedly creating. It's intellectual dishonesty of a very high order, and with very high consequences. And it's probably come too late to derail the stage management—tomorrow Barack Obama will piously intone that he's committed to a two degree temperature target. But he isn't—and now he can't even say it with a straight face.

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The 0.5 Degree Question

| Thu Dec. 17, 2009 2:13 PM EST

In the final 48 hours of the Copenhagen climate conference, one of the biggest differences remains a very small number: half a degree.

While most of the attention here is focused on the remaining divide between the United States and China when it comes to measuring and verifying emissions reductions, a much larger split remains between the 102 countries that have called for a limit on temperature rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius and the much more powerful nations that have called for a 2 degree target.

The nations pushing for a 1.5 degree target include members of the Alliance of Small Island States, the G77, the bloc of Least Developed Countries, the Africa Group, and several nations from Latin America and Asia. But there is significant pressure being exerted on these nations to consent to the 2 degree target that has been embraced the United States, European Union, China, and other nations here seen as the most powerful players in a final deal. But leaders from the 1.5 camp say they are holding firm on their target, and won't sign onto a deal that calls for anything else.

"I will not sign anything less than 1.5," said Apisai Ielemia, Prime Minister of the tiny island nation of Tuvalu, which may become one of the first casualties of global warming. The low-lying Pacific island nation made headlines last week for shutting down talks with calls for a legally binding treaty. Now they're staking out their desire for a deal at this summit that will not condemn them to rising tides, they say. "This meeting is about our future existence," said Ielemia. "We don't want to disappear from this earth ... We want to exist as a nation, because we have a fundamental right to live beside you."

"For developed countries to choose to not use that figure, is morally, politically irresponsible," said Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping, the Sudanese chairman of the G77.

The debate over what figure to put in the final agreement here maybe meaningless, however, if the corresponding emissions reductions goals would not put the world on a path to stay below that limit. A leaked draft analysis from the UNFCCC of the commitments put on the table from developed countries states that what they have pledged so far would lead to a 3 degree temperature rise. If targets aren't raised, "global emissions will remain on an unsustainable pathway," the document states.

Meanwhile, frustrations remain high among developing nations over what they see as pressure from rich nations to consent to a higher target. "We are not yielding to these pressures, because our future is not negotiable," said Ielemia.

The Strange Spread of Climate Change Denial

| Thu Dec. 17, 2009 12:10 PM EST

George Monbiot, the Guardian columnist and global warming author who combines pugilistic defenses of climate science with Monty Pythonesque levity, is struck by a paradox at the heart of the attempt to achieve action here in Copenhagen. For, as he put it to a full room last night at a panel hosted by the Danish science magazine FORSKERForum, "In the past year, there has been a massive upsurge in climate change denial in the United States, even as the science gets stronger."

Opinion polls certainly support Monbiot’s contention. According to results released in October by the Pew Research Center, considerably fewer Americans now believe the Earth is warming (the decline has been from 71 percent to 57 percent over the space of a year and a half). And as for agreement with scientists about the cause of global warming—human activities, human emissions—that too has sloped downwards, to just 36 percent today.

How is this possible?

James Inhofe's One-Man Truth Squad

| Thu Dec. 17, 2009 8:41 AM EST

James Inhofe swooped into Copenhagen on Thursday for very important meetings ... with the media.

The Oklahoma Republcan and strident climate change denier made himself available to the thousands of reporters gathered at the Bella Center in an attempt to "make sure that nobody is laboring under the misconception that the US Senate is going to do something" about climate change, he said. "There's not a chance in the world" that the Senate is going to pass a bill, the upper chamber's self-appointed spokesperson added. "I believe that we in the United States owe it to the other countries to be well informed, to know what the intentions of the United States are," he said. "I just want you guys to have a shot at the truth, because you're not getting it from other people."

The former chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committeee (he said he "probably will be again after the next mid-term election") had previously planned to bring an entire "Truth Squad" of GOP lawmakers to the climate summit. But in the end all he brought was himself and a gaggle of press handlers who told each reporter in the room that the senator was in town and later delivered a printed copy of his talking points. Inhofe thoughtfully gave his remarks in the press filing center, so that plenty of reporters would be able to cover his talk.

Unfortunately, delegates at Copenhagen will not get a chance to hear him. Inhofe only spent two hours on the scene—and at least a quarter of that time in the press room. He has to get back for votes in the Senate he said, as well as a debate on climate on CNN's "Situation Room" with Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), co-author of the House cap-and-trade bill.

With more than 45,000 people gathered in Copenhage for a summit on how to address a problem he doesn't think is real, one wonders exactly who he thinks is responsible for this grand hoax. "It started in the United Nations," he said, but "the ones who really grab a hold of this in the United States are the Hollywood elite." If that's true, I've missed all the celebs—other than California Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who made an appearance here earlier this week. Mostly the conference is filled with diplomats, policy wonks, earnest activists, and tired reporters.

Surrounded by a giant scrum of international reporters, the senator mostly used the forum to repeat his assertions that climate change is a huge hoax, and that the recent "ClimateGate" flap is proof that he has been right all along about this. (No one outside the ranks of climate change denialists seems to have reached that conclusion). Inhofe made multiple references to a speech he gave on the Senate floor in 2003, urging reporters to revisit it.

Questioned about his schedule for his two-hour visit, Inhofe mentioned that he had "already had a couple meetings with some people here." But when asked who those meetings were with, he replied, "It's not significant."

News From TreeHugger: COP15 Protesters & the Police Who Beat Them, Best States to be an Animal Abuser, REDD Success in Copenhagen?

| Thu Dec. 17, 2009 5:36 AM EST

Editor's Note: A weekly roundup from our friends over at TreeHugger. Enjoy!

Whose Summit? Our Summit! Bella Center Erupts in Protest (Slideshow)

NGO access to the Bella Center has been all but cut off. Friends of the Earth and Avaaz had their accreditation revoked. Nnimmo Bassey, head of FOE Intl, was ejected from the venue. The day before Climate Justice Action's Tadzio Müller was arrested preemptively on charges of inciting unrest. This morning marches descended on the Bella Center from locations in central Copenhagen. A bit before noon a group inside the venue began marching outside to meet them. They were turned back at the end of police truncheons.

Will the Biggest Success of COP15 be an Anti-Deforestation Deal?

With expectations getting lowered all over the place, the future of any truly productive results uncertain, and peaceful protests rising up with greater force—and police using force to beat them back—the legacy of the COP15 climate talks is entirely up in the air. Right now, many feel that the most successful results of the talks may come in the form of a finalized, global anti-deforestation deal.

The Five Best States to be an Animal Abuser

The the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) has just release a new report that looks at the best and worst U.S. states when it comes to the legal protection of animals against abuse and cruelty. The comparative analysis tells us what are the best states, but also, what are the "best states to be an animal abuser" (their words). What are those 5 states?

Brutal Use of Force on Peaceful Climate Protesters Caught on Tape

With plenty of coverage focusing on all the protests and demonstrations going on in Copenhagen, it's easy to lose track of the fact that the vast, vast majority of these have been peaceful. But, as this video reveals, the Danish Politti aren't so inclined to take it easy. This pretty brutal use of force was caught on camera, and was employed to push back nonviolent climate protesters.

How History's Biggest Climate Change March Almost Got Lost in the Media Smog

If you were at last Saturday's climate change march—what's being billed as the biggest rally against climate change in history, you would know like much of the rest of the sideline activity in this cozy city, it was mainly about hope, play and compassionate concern. By the time the march ended—with a civil candlelight vigil outside the Bella Center—the greatest violence was registered only in a few broken windows at the foreign ministry. That didn't matter to the mass media, which jumped at the chance to cast the march in tones borrowed from Seattle or Quebec City. That chance came when hundreds of police in full riot gear surrounded hundreds of demonstrators in a pre-emptive strike that resulted in nearly 1,000 arrests of mainly innocent people, only 4 charges, and an untold number of eye-grabbing photos.

Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed is an Eco-Rock Star - Brings Down the House in Copenhagen

"History shows us the power of peaceful protest," Nasheed said. "From the civil rights movement, to Gandhi's Quit India campaign; non-violent protest can create change. Protest worked in the struggle for democracy in the Maldives." Nasheed is the first democratically elected leader of the Maldives. He continued, "My message to you is to continue the protests. Continue after Copenhagen. Continue despite the odds. And eventually, together, we will reach that crucial number: Three - five - oh." Here's the full text of his moving speech.

The Answer Ain't Nuclear

| Wed Dec. 16, 2009 8:09 PM EST

A lot of people, and many countries, think we can solve our emissions problems by adopting more nuclear power. Fast and easy, right?

More like slow and deadly. With a capital C.

"C" for Chernobyl: site of the worst nuclear accident in history nearly a quarter of a century ago. That wretched city inadvertently became the perfect Frankenstein laboratory for studying the long-term behavior of radiation in the wild.

Guess what? Wild radiation doesn't act like a domesticated beast whatsoever.

Despite the passage of 23 years, normalcy is not returning to Chernobyl nearly as fast as predicted, according to Wired Science, reporting from the AGU meeting in San Francisco.

Specifically, the cesium 137 in Chernobyl's soils isn’t decaying as fast as its 30-year half-life. Or as fast as we once thought it might based on theoretically accelerated dispersal rates in the wild. The ecological half-life of strontium is proving shorter than its physical half-life, with natural dispersion diluting the radioactive material faster. But not so for cesium.

Nastiest of all, no one knows why.

And so the idea that Ukraine could repopulate the Chernobyl dead zone in "only" 180 to 320 years is proving pure fantasy. And since the physical properties of cesium haven’t changed, researchers suspect an environmental explanation. Is new cesium blowing across the soil from hotter locations closer to the accident? Is it migrating through the soil from deep in the ground? Or, WTF, you can almost hear the researchers saying.

Nuclear power a solution? Nuclear power needs a solution.
 

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Watch: Eugene Mirman Represents the US at Climate Talks

Wed Dec. 16, 2009 6:24 PM EST

Comedian Eugene Mirman, Grist’s Special Correspondent in Copenhagen, goes to the Bella Center, the epicenter of the U.N. Climate Conference. He unofficially represents the US in this official U.N. conference center. And because he’s Eugene, he makes friends doing it. Like the local whom he makes apologize for the loud dance music played in all the restaurants in Copenhagen.

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This video was produced by Grist as part of the Copenhagen News Collaborative, a cooperative project of several independent news organizations. Check out the constantly updated feed here. Mother Jones’ comprehensive Copenhagen coverage is here, and our special climate change package is here.

Watch: Scwarzenegger, Gore, and Klein on Copenhagen

| Wed Dec. 16, 2009 5:51 PM EST

New footage from Fora TV. First up, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger says the conference is "already a success" and recommends holding another one (in California, natch):

 

Meanwhile, former vice president Al Gore raises the possibility that the North Pole could be ice free during summer within five years:

 

 

And journalist and author Naomi Klein announces the winner of the Angry Mermaid award for especially awful anti-climate lobbying. Congrats, Monsanto: 

 

Watch: Copenhagen And The Press

Wed Dec. 16, 2009 12:17 PM EST

Starting at 1.15pm EST, Nation essayist Naomi Klein, New York Times environmental reporter Andrew Revkin, British columnist George Monbiot, and the Huffington Post's Katherine Goldstein will be discussing the climate talks at Copenhagen. You can watch the panel via a live feed from the UpTake, a member of the Copenhagen News Collaborative, a cooperative project of several independent news organizations. Check out our constantly updated feed here and Mother Jones' comprehensive Copenhagen coverage here.

Gallup Poll: Good News for Climate Change--or Not?

| Wed Dec. 16, 2009 5:30 AM EST

 Is the latest Gallup poll good news for negotiators at the Copenhagen climate summit? It found that 55 percent of Americans support signing a binding treaty that would commit the United States to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions significantly. Thirty-eight percent give it a thumb's down. The 17-point difference is a decent-sized margin, though not a slam-dunk. But the poll does give politicians reason to think twice before backing binding cuts. 

Almost two-thirds of Americans do not believe that laws designed to reduce global warming will help the economy, and 42 percent think such laws will harm the US economy. And when it comes to priorities, Americans want a focus on jobs. Asked which should be a higher priority for President Barack Obama—improving the economy or reducing emissions—85 percent predictably picked the economy. Advocates of climate change action maintain that emissions cuts can boost the economy. But that message may not yet have been absorbed by the American public.

Gallup concludes:

President Obama has a fine line to walk in Copenhagen—living up to his long-standing commitment to be a global leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions while staying mindful of the pitchforks that could be raised at home if he is perceived to be spending too much time on the issue, or selling the U.S. economy down the nearby Gulf Stream.

The climate change summit is hanging from that tight wire.

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