Blue Marble - December 2009

Eugene Mirman Tackles the Big Issues ... and Climate Skeptics

Mon Dec. 14, 2009 1:58 PM PST

Comedian Eugene Mirman, Grist’s special correspondent in Copenhagen, joined tens of thousands of protesters for the a rally and march during the UN Climate Change Conference. Amidst a colorful display of activism at Parliament Square, Eugene tackles the big issues. He talks to everyone, including protesters protesting the protest. He also speaks with a VERY cute dog.

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.

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Econundrum: 10 Greener Gift Ideas

| Mon Dec. 14, 2009 1:58 PM PST

[We interrupt our Copenhagen coverage for this week's Econundrum:]

This year, my Christmas shopping goal was simple: No gadgets. But I’m beginning to think an electronics-free Christmas might be harder to achieve than I thought: According to Amazon’s weekly list of top-selling Christmas gifts, grown-ups are going crazy for Kindles, while kids are clamoring for something called Chuck My Talking Truck (“Not only does Chuck have over 40 spoken phrases and sounds, he also drives to you when called and shakes his bumper and dump bed while chatting and ‘working.’”) Creepy.

Doubting my ability to resist booty-shaking dump trucks, I decided to prevail upon the MoJo hive brain. Courtesy of our smart, thrifty, and eco-minded staff, here are ten greener alternatives to Amazon’s top ten gifts. (If the idea of buying more stuff doesn’t appeal, sit tight till next week: DIY gift ideas are on their way.)

1. Instead of: Baby Einstein Takealong Tunes
Try: Animal Dolls are huggable plush toys based on kids’ drawings. Made of organic materials, 100 percent compostable. Completely free of “high quality and enjoyable classical melodies.” ($24.99 at animaldolls.com)

2. Instead of: Hoover Vacuum Cleaner
Try: A National Parks Pass. No lint in the great outdoors! ($80 at nps.gov/fees_passes)

3. Instead of: Bakugan 7 in 1 Maxus Dragonoid Figurines
Try: Anyu, the organic cotton ice pixie who hails from a polar ice cap. And you know what evil forces are at work up there. Just imagine the dramatic play possibilities. ($22.46 at greenfeet.com)

4. Instead of: Givenchy PLAY Eau de Toilette
Try: A pretty Japanese Furoshiki. Wear it, giftwrap with it, or carry your lunch in it. ($9-$34 at furoshiki.com)

5. Instead of: Amazon Kindle
Try: Something retro: A used book. Bonus points for a childhood favorite, or a cool one that’s gone out of print. (prices vary; try your local bookstore or powells.com)

6. Instead of: Lego Ultimate Building Set
Try: BPA-free tea set made from recycled milk jugs. ($25 at potterybarnkids.com)

7. Instead of: Bare Escentuals Make-up
Try: Something frivolous: Mercy Corp's Women’s Leadership kits. “Give women the resources to turn their ideas and energy into successful small businesses.” ($50 at mercycorps.org/mercykits)

8. Instead of: Levi’s Jeans
Try: Recycled shirt from Stella Neptune. I like this one, which features a jaunty skull wearing a slightly askew crown. ($68 at stellaneptune.com)

9. Instead of: Crocs
Try: Acorn Eco-Wrap Slippers, made of earth friendly fibers, including hemp, wool and yak. ($25.74 at sierratradingpost.com)

10. Instead of: Playskool’s Chuck My Talking Truck
Try:  Recycling truck from Green Toys, Inc. Made in the USA from recycled milk jugs; shipped responsibly. Never too early to learn proper sorting. ($21.95 at greenfeet.com)
 

Study: ClimateGate Emails "Don't Support" Skeptics

| Mon Dec. 14, 2009 1:28 PM PST

Climate change skeptics can no longer complain that the mainstream media has glossed over ClimateGate. Yesterday the Associated Press published a virtual exegisis of the 1,073 emails stolen from climate researchers at East Anglia University. It was written by five AP reporters who reviewed more than 1 million words between them and then sent the juiciest passages to seven experts in research ethics, climate science, and science policy. The experts were underwhelmed, to say the least. "None of the e-mails flagged by the AP and sent to three climate scientists viewed as moderates in the field changed their view that global warming is man-made and a threat," the AP reported. "Nor did it alter their support of the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which some of the scientists helped write."

The AP examined an email that is cited more often than any other by global warming skeptics, a message in which climate scientist Phil Jones says: "I've just completed [climatologist] Mike's [Mann] trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years [from 1981 onward] and from 1961 for Keith's to hide the decline [in temperature readings]." Skeptics have cited the message as evidence that climatologists are cooking the books, but the AP saw it differently:

Jones was referring to tree ring data that indicated temperatures after the 1950s weren't as warm as scientists had determined.

The "trick" that Jones said he was borrowing from Mann was to add the real temperatures, not what the tree rings showed. And the decline he talked of hiding was not in real temperatures, but in the tree ring data which was misleading, Mann explained.

Mark Frankel, director of scientific freedom, responsibility and law at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, saw "no evidence for the falsification or fabrication of data, although concerns could be raised about some instances of very 'generous interpretations.'" Dan Sarewitz, a science policy advisor at Arizona State University, added: "This is normal science politics, but on the extreme end, though within bounds." (And that's coming from a guy who works at the same university where climate researchers have taken more than $1 million from oil, coal and utility interests).

Ultimately, the AP found no evidence that the emails revealed a "culture of corruption," as some Republicans have claimed. The story makes clear that the climatologists were under siege from lawsuits and FOIA requests from skeptics eager to twist their raw data. Despite these pressures, the emails show that the scientists respected their critics so long as they were professionals who published through the peer-review process and not Internet cranks eager to feed a "den of disinformation." 

No. 1 Scientist on Copenhagen: "All Very Baffling"

| Mon Dec. 14, 2009 9:31 AM PST

Regular readers of my coverage of the Copenhagen climate summit know how complicated the proceedings have been. There are many points of contentions—about substance and process—being discussed on different levels and on different tracks. Journalists stuck in the Bella Bubble—the cavernous conference center where this all takes place—routinely complain about the complexity of the negotiations and about trying to figure out what's really going on, if anything. They need not feel too inadequate. Moments ago, I spotted Dr. Ranjendra Pachauri, the head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the UN-backed and Nobel-winning group of thousands of scientists, which has produced the scientific research that underpins all these talks. I asked him to assess the current state of play in the negotiations. Shaking his head and smiling, Pachauri said, "It's all very baffling to me." Really? Yes, really, he said. And this guy knows how to run scientific models of the atmosphere. 

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

Does the US Owe a Climate Debt?

| Mon Dec. 14, 2009 1:01 AM PST

One of the most hotly contested issues at Copenhagen is the question of what, if anything, the US and other industrialized countries owe the nations least responsible for the accumulation of planet-warming gases in the atmosphere.

The United States has said that over the next three years it will commit $1.4 billion annually to a $10 billion short-term fund intended to help developing nations cope with the effects of climate change. The European Union volunteered last week to chip in $3 billion.

But that still leaves the question of how much rich nations will pony up over the long haul. The United Nations estimates that poor countries will need as much as $170 billion per year to adapt to climate change—$50 billion more than developed countries spent on aid in 2008. Other development groups have estimated that this task could cost two to three times that much. So far, rich countries have indicated that they're only prepared to offer around $100 billion.

Developing nations, many of which are especially vulnerable to climate change, have balked at the prospect that Copenhagen may not produce a sizeable financial commitment from the countries that have contributed most to the warming of the planet. Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping, the Sudanese chairman of the Group of 77, the bloc of least-developed nations, suggested on Thursday that an appropriate fund should total around $200 billion. On Friday his estimate had risen to $400 billion. Dessima Williams of Grenada, who chairs the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), has suggested a figure in the range of 1.5 percent of the GDP of developed nations. "It must be responsive to the damage that's already done," said Williams.

Whatever the number, the prevailing sentiment in the developing world is that the United States and other big polluters must pay up. "It was not us who put the waste in the atmosphere, but we are the first to suffer from that," said Antonio Lima, a delegate from Cape Verde and the vice president of AOSIS. "Those who put the waste in the atmosphere have to clean it." But negotiators for the most vulnerable nations worry that the matter of climate aid will not be adequately addressed. "We are afraid they are not going to take care of us in this process," Lima said.

Seattle Meets Copenhagen

| Sun Dec. 13, 2009 9:48 AM PST

It felt, at the start, a little like Seattle at the start. The same kind of joyful spontaneity that marked the first hours of the WTO protests, before the cops and the bandana-clad anarchists started trading blows. People gathered in front of the Danish Parliament building in the first sunshine seen for days (and it doesn’t last long at this latitude in December) to march to the conference headquarters about four miles away. The crowd—as many as 100,000 strong—was incredibly diverse: young people from around the world have swarmed into Copenhagen for the week, and they were dressed as penguins and polar bears and dinosaurs, singing, dancing to stay warm against the cold breeze. There was one other odd thing—many carried photos of other protests from the year past, ones they’d helped organize in their home countries. We saw shot after shot from our Oct. 24 350 rallies; it was as if people were delegates to some kind of global convention, carrying the hopes of their friends back home.

And meanwhile, back home: there were some 3,000 vigils around the world, organized by 350.org, Avaaz, and other members of the TckTck coalition. Most were candlelight affairs, solemn gatherings from people filled with hope and faith that something may yet be accomplished in these fractured talks. That’s what was different from Seattle: this gathering was just the tip of the iceberg, and a very large berg it was. By the time the long line had reached the Bella Center (mostly avoiding the few clashes with police taking place in other parts of town) the sun had, of course, gone down, and the candles had come out here as well. The pictures are quite beautiful, and they merge with the images from all over the world. A global movement is a beautiful thing.

Nearly two decades after writing a book that popularized the term "global warming," MoJo contributing writer Bill McKibben founded http://www.350.org/. He is chronicling his journey into organizing with a series of columns about the global climate summit in Copenhagen. You can find the others here

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Parodying an Oil Spill

| Sat Dec. 12, 2009 3:26 PM PST

A 1:42 break from Copenhagen to deconstruct the most rational explanation of an oil tanker spill I've heard. Thanks to the legendary John Clarke and Bryan Dawe from Australia's A Current Affair.

Based on a real oil spill off Western Australia when the the front fell off the Kirki.

Protesters Call for More from UN Climate Summit

| Sat Dec. 12, 2009 10:24 AM PST

Tens of thousands of protesters marched from downtown Copenhagen to the United Nations climate summit on Saturday, a public display of support for measures to address climate change. The protest included both those simply looking to urge negotiators toward a better deal at the summit and others from anarchist and anti-capitalist groups, though the unifying message was that world leaders have not done enough about climate change.

Organizers estimated that the crowd numbered 100,000, while other observers said it was closer to 60,000.

They came dressed in in polar suits, painted blue to symbolize rising sea levels, and wearing masks of world leaders. Some carried signs proclaiming that "There is no planet B," while others waved banners bearing a sickle and hammer. Across the crowd, however, sentiment was strong that the United Nations process underway across town was not likely to produce a meaningful commitment to action on climate change.

"This is what Earth democracy looks like," Indian environmental activist Vandana Shiva told the crowd. "What's happening at COP15 is the death of democracy."

It was, for the most part, a peaceful rally and march, though at one point black-clad protesters threw bricks through the windows of government buildings, prompting the police to fire off cans of smoke. The vast majority of the march was jubilant, however, with carts basting bangra music, a marching band, and several mariachis. The group marched nearly 4 miles from the Danish Parliament to the conference center, where they concluded with a candlelight vigil.

Here are some photos from the day's events:

Island Nations Make A Splash In Copenhagen

| Fri Dec. 11, 2009 5:20 PM PST

They may be the least powerful nations represented in Copenhagen, but those facing imminent threats from a warming planet have made it clear that their future depends on a meaningful agreement here.

The Alliance of Small Island States and the G77, the bloc of the world's most impoverished nations, are presenting a united front against proposals from the developed nations that are neither legally binding nor as strong as they would like to see. The level of warming that would be allowed under the proposal will mean certain catastrophe for some nations, say the leaders of the AOSIS negotiators.

"Some of the delegations need a dose of reality. We bring that reality," said AOSIS chair Dessima Williams of Grenada. "We will go underwater. There's no doubt about that."

Delegates from the AOSIS nation Tuvalu, one of the first victims of a warming world, drew attention earlier this week for walking out of one meeting over this issue. Now the bloc has produced its own PROPOSAL as a counter to the draft from developed nations, calling for a legally binding deal and a maximum of 1.5 degrees Celcius warming. They also call for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to be limited to 350 parts per million—a figure that has been endorsed by a number of climate scientists but has not been included in draft agreements from developed nations so far.

Eugene Mirman Reports from Trash Can in Copenhagen

Fri Dec. 11, 2009 2:11 PM PST

Comedian Eugene Mirman is Grist’s special correspondent in Copenhagen. And by “special,” we mean “e-special-ly” hilarious. Eugene hits the ground running in the Danish city hosting the U.N. climate conference, chatting up birds, babies, buddies, and Bangladeshis on all manner of climate concerns. This is the first of many Mirman reports from Copenhagen, so stay tuned.

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.